Posts Tagged ‘Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat’

Dipping My Toes in Grenadian Waters: My first residential writers’ retreat

Guest Post by Janet Weiss-Townsend


Photo credit: Janet Weiss-Townsend

Photo credit: Janet Weiss-Townsend


I’m not a person who’s compelled to write. And I’m not a writer since childhood. I’m a reader since forever — but to write? I need a push. During school, I was the “finish my essay at 3 a.m. the night before it’s due” kind of writer. I did my research, reflected a lot, and knew generally what I was going to say.

Yet the direction the words took when I sat down and wrote sometimes surprised me. That’s the part I loved — the unexpected discovery when I put pen to paper.

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Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

“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. ( 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 to inquire.


Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Oonya Kempadoo’s “All Decent Animals” Makes Oprah’s 2013 Summer Reading List

“How am I only now finding out about this writer?” writes Karen Russell for Oprah’s Summer Reading List in O, The Oprah Magazine. “It’s as if she’s inventing her own language, which is incantatory, dense, and lush. The authority and blood pulse of it seduced me. The novel is set in Trinidad, amid the circus-like world of Carnival. You’re a hostage in that island world — there’s nowhere to go, but you’re happy about it.” The influential list is part of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0.

Oonya Kempadoo (Photo: Greg Bal)

Oonya was guest speaker during my Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat in Grenada just weeks before the publication of All Decent Animals. (Read my earlier interview with Oonya.) Her warm manner, candidness about her writing journey, and readings from an earlier novel and a work-in-progress made a lasting impression on the group, particularly her encouragement to “write from the defining moments” of our lives. We’re thrilled for her that her book is garnering positive reviews.

Oonya was also recently awarded a grant under the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence program to teach at two community colleges in Connecticut beginning in September.

Goodreads has this to say about her latest book:

“Oonya Kempadoo’s moving third novel, All Decent Animals, looks at the personal and aesthetic choices of a multifaceted cast of characters on the Caribbean island of Trinidad — a country still developing economically but rich culturally, aiming at “world-class” status amid its poor island cousins. It is a novel about relationships, examined through the distinct rhythms of the city of Port of Spain.

“Loyalties, love, conflicting cultures, and creativity come into play as Ata, a young woman working in carnival design but curious about writing, and her European boyfriend, Pierre, negotiate the care of their friend Fraser, a closeted gay man dying from AIDS. The contradictory Trinidadian setting becomes a parallel character to Fraser’s Cambridge-derived artistic sensibility and an antagonist to Ata’s creative journey.

“All Decent Animals is a forthright inquiry into the complexity of character, social issues, and island society, with all the island’s humor, mysticism, and tragedy.”

Read “Taste and See,” an excerpt from All Decent Animals, in Caribbean Beat (Issue 121, May/June 2013).

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Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat, in gorgeous Grenada — April 7 to 14, 2013

Spice Isle Writing & Yoga Retreat

with Allyson Latta

Write … dream … explore

During this unique and intimate retreat at Petite Anse Hotel and Restaurant, immerse yourself in writing against a spectacular backdrop: the northern coast of the small but diverse island of Grenada, the Caribbean’s famed “Spice Isle.”

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Wednesday, September 5th, 2012