“Our week had a rhythm …”: Memories of a Grenada writers’ retreat

Guest post by Frances Shepherd

Petite Anse Hotel and Restaurant, Grenada

Petite Anse Hotel and Restaurant, Grenada

By the time I was in a taxi making the drive from the Maurice Bishop International Airport to Petite Anse Hotel on the island of Grenada, thanks to Allyson Latta’s organizational skills I had met all the retreat participants via e-mail and already had an inkling that they were going to be fun. I would be the only Brit among a bunch of Canadians who were flying in from Ontario, but I had lived in Canada and was looking forward to their banter and zany humour.

Seven months earlier, I had received a short e-mail message from my cousin Stephanie in Canada, asking me to join her for this seven-day Caribbean writing retreat. Without hesitation I said yes. She had been drawn to Allyson’s credentials as an editor and writing instructor, and to the retreat destination. Stephanie was born in Grenada and lived there until her late teens.

I too have a Grenada connection; though I was raised in Guyana and live now in London, England, my mother was Grenadian. Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat seemed a wonderful way to revisit the island and also pursue my dream of writing.

IMG_4941Petite Anse is a secluded boutique resort at the northernmost point of the island. Set in a lush forest of palms and tropical flowers sloping down to a small beach, it offers stunning views of the sea from each of its chalets as well as from the dining room, bar, and pool areas.

The owners, Philip and Annie, were the perfect English hosts, and together with their chef, Cecil, their staff, and Richie, their preferred driver, we were made to feel part of the Petite Anse family. Philip and Annie even invited us one special evening to their beautiful hilltop home for cocktails.

As the week unfolded we also became acquainted with Annie’s four-legged companions: Darcy the donkey, who transported Annie over the hilly terrain as she went about the business of running the resort, and three rescue dogs that we were assured, despite their friendliness, doubled as guard dogs.

The little cove at Petite Anse was the perfect hideaway for a retreat that would offer many new experiences. Our week had a rhythm that mirrored the peaceful yet slightly gusty sea breeze that bathed us twenty-four hours a day. Most days consisted of yoga, a writing session, writing and leisure time, and an evening reading salon.

And delicious meals. The restaurant menu, under Chef Cecil, offered a large variety of locally sourced produce, much of it grown in the hotel’s own garden. Allyson also arranged with Cecil for two banquets of local specialties: lambi (conch sew), and oildown (vegetables and fish cooked in coconut milk). And thanks to Stephanie, the group was introduced to a traditional breakfast of cocoa tea, saltfish, and “bakes” (the Canadians took to these, describing them as “Grenadian doughnuts”).

Our days began early with a yoga session on a roofed oceanview terrace led by Dale Synnett-Caron, an instructor from Ottawa. She drew connections between certain yoga moves and the creativity we were tapping into during the retreat. She was truly inspiring, and she wove a thread of serenity through all our activities that week.

In the first morning writing session I learned that for years I have been compulsively freewriting. In our sessions freewriting exercises were often used as a creative tool. Allyson facilitated our learning by nudging us expertly forward with anecdotes from her career as a freelance editor and lecturer, often suggesting exercises that forced us to think in new ways, gain insights, and practise the skills needed to further our writing. We learned, too, through exposure to stories from one another’s life journeys as they were shared over the week.

The writings that came out of the exercises had a great impact on me. How could I ever forget the emergence of one member’s ability to express the sensual nature of relationships, another’s humorous piece of fiction in which we all featured as characters, and the many stories of extraordinary life events and people who helped make us who we are.

At the evening reading salons, held after supper on a balcony with a gorgeous view, we read out our writing assignments and discussed writing craft. Prior to coming on the retreat my greatest fear had been that I would feel awkward about reading my attempts to shape my thoughts and ideas into something others would be interested to hear. I felt quite fragile about my lack of experience. But Allyson’s salons became my favourite part of the retreat: for the first time I was writing for a real audience. I was grateful for the encouraging support given to me by everyone.

My retreat mates came from diverse backgrounds and represented a mix of personalities, but had two things in common: the desire to write and a playful sense of humour. Laughter was never far away, whether we were in a writing session, enjoying a meal, or sightseeing. Each of us had different reasons for wanting to write, and was at a different stage of fulfilling our ambitions. Some had already had work published or won writing competitions. At least two were writing family histories. I was one of only two who had never attended a writing session of any kind. Allyson’s expertise and knowledge coupled with her nurturing style made us all feel comfortable about sharing.

A number of planned trips and events made me feel part of our surroundings, and stimulated my memory and imagination. Among the places we visited were an historical rum distillery, River Antoine, and a famous cocoa plantation, Belmont Estate. We quickly learned why Grenada is called “the Spice Isle” as the smell of nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, and cloves imbued the air wherever we went.

We enjoyed a day trip to the romantic uninhabited Sandy Island, which is just a thirty-minute boat ride off the northern coast of Grenada, with fisherman and tour guide Kevin and several friends. We snorkelled in the crystal-clear aquamarine sea, lazed on the glistening white sand beach, drank coconut water, and ate BBQ fish seasoned with local spices and beer. We attended the popular Gouyave Fish Friday, where we bought fish and seafood in individual p0rtions from more than a dozen vendors and ate at picnic tables or while strolling. This largely local event included drummers beating out infectious rhythms that are part of the African legacy in Grenada, while onlookers danced and swayed in the evening breeze.

Another highlight was our guest speaker, Caribbean-born novelist Oonya Kempadoo, currently a resident of Grenada. Oonya spoke to us about writing from our “defining moments,” and read excerpts from two of her books, including the recently published All Decent Animals.

For me, the most memorable trip was one to nearby Levera Beach, where on a moonless night we watched a  female leatherback turtle — one of an endangered species — lay over one hundred eggs.

Saturday night was our “adieu” party, organized by Philip and Annie, and it was full of fun — including delicious food, Stephanie’s poetry reading, musical entertainment by a couple of British teenagers volunteering at the local orphanage and a young local boy Annie has taken under her wing, dancing, and even a lively limbo.

It was difficult to say goodbye the next morning, but this retreat will be one of the enduring memories of my life — one that will accompany all my future attempts at writing. I know the journey will continue.

Photos by Allyson Latta.

♦     ♦     ♦

Frances Shepherd

Frances Shepherd

FRANCES SHEPHERD obtained her PhD in Indian music and ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in the United States, and has travelled extensively studying the performing arts of different parts of the world. She has a particular interest is oral music and dance traditions and the development of culturally diverse arts education programs for schools. She is currently the Founder/Director of the Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya in the U.K. (www.indian-music-dance.co.uk) and runs projects through which people of all ages can experience and/or learn the performing arts of India. She has recently taken her first steps toward fulfilling her longtime dream of being a writer.

Note from Allyson: Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat 2014 will take place April 6 to 12. Please contact me at lattamemoirs@gmail.com to inquire.

 

Comments

  1. Dohne Malkin says:

    Excellent!
    Well done Frances! Congratulations on your first “guest post” article. I enjoyed it very much! Keep this up and you can “retire in style” as a travel writer at exquisite tropical resorts world wide! Maldives anyone?!
    See, your British West Indian heritage, lifestyle, and education were an important influence
    in shaping your dynamic personality, skills and passionate expression in the Arts…writing now included! Many thanks for a delightful virtual trip to rekindle treasured memories of Grenada, my childhood paradise!
    “Walk good!”
    Your school pal, Dohne

  2. Mary Catalfo says:

    Frances!

    Lovely!

    You took me right back to Petite Anse.

    Mary

  3. Sylvia says:

    Hi Frances! Though I was not at this particular retreat, I have been at a few others with Allyson and company, and I plan to attend the next one in Grenada. Your guest post was a wonderful preview for me, and I can’t wait to go. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Hi Frances, I just love this piece. Your writing took me back to this paradise and yes, it is paradise. I was able to enjoy the week again and go once again to the many places of interest Allyson took us to. Of course taking part in her writing exercises was most rewarding. Meeting and sharing with both new and old friends provides me with a wealth of wonderful memories. I can say it was one of my best vacation/writing experiences, and I am so happy you were there to share this with me. Thanks for this great piece. Kudos to Allyson – you both rock.

  5. Frances Shepherd says:

    I am overwhelmed. I have no idea what to say. I am at the moment lost for words as this is such a very new experience for me. Everyone is so kind.

  6. Rick Brazeau says:

    Congratulations Frances.
    I loved the story, you captured so much of what was there.
    You must keep up the writing, both memoir and fiction (what was his name again?????)
    I hope to see you soon.
    Rick

  7. Millie Paupst says:

    Hi Frances!!! What a fabulous essay!
    I love the fact that you mention
    “Darcy the donkey”!
    It will be so much fun to see you again.

    Warmest wishes,

    Millie

  8. Dale says:

    Hello Frances, thank you for writing this! I have been transported — and my appetite whetted for our return retreat in 2014. You brought me back to Grenada with your words. I think about that sea turtle often… she is connected to all of us now, as we are to each other. Hugs,

    Dale

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