Posts Tagged ‘writers retreat’

Wordless Wednesday: October 26, 2016


©2016 Allyson Latta

©2016 Allyson Latta


Scroll through more of my photos here.

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Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Survival: Daughter and Father Collaborate on Story of His Time as WWII Air Gunner and Prisoner of War


Survival is the story of Albert Wallace’s dramatic experiences during World War II as an air gunner with the RCAF and a prisoner of war in Hitler’s Germany. This work of creative nonfiction was lovingly conceived, researched, and written in the style of a journal by Barbara Trendos, one of Albert’s daughters, in his voice, with his collaboration.

The seeds of inspiration were first sown in Barbara in the 1980s when her father casually shared the contents of an old file folder he had discovered among his mother’s belongings after she passed away. To Barbara, it was a treasure trove: fragile letters that Albert had written home while he was a prisoner of war; official Air Force telegrams and correspondence that variously reported Albert as MISSING, then as a POW, and finally LIBERATED; dog-eared black and white snapshots that begged identification of people, time, and place.

Barbara was hooked, and realizing that she knew only the highlights of Albert’s wartime story, she naively undertook to fill in the gaps — to what end even she didn’t know.

Her extensive research into World War II, 419 squadron and the RCAF, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Stalag Luft III, prisoners of war, and the Great Escape took on a life of its own.

Barbara says she has always been a writer, even when she was something else. She remembers opening a short story in elementary school with the following sentence: “As he rounded the corner, it was his nose I saw first.” She has no idea what the story was about, who it was about, where it went from there, or why she has never forgotten that line. Perhaps, she says, memory is nature’s way of tethering us to something that matters, as we follow one of life’s many roads.

During one period of her life when Barbara was “something else,” she noticed a sign in a local gardening store about Allyson Latta’s 2010 “Garden of Memories” memoir workshop. Attending the workshop kick-started her writing of Survival, which had been simmering on a back burner for years while she worked in corporate communications. Further spurred on by Allyson’s 2011 Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Tucson, Arizona, Barbara shifted her writing into a higher gear, and Survival finally crossed the finish line in November 2015.

Publishing this book has been an adventure for Barbara and her father. They have signing sessions sitting together at her dining room table — as long as she feeds him lunch, or coffee and cookies, she says. Albert sells books wherever he goes, particularly at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he volunteers in the veterans’ wing. They’ve promoted the book at small events, including one this week at The Canadian Forces College in Toronto. And Barbara says that in the spring, now that it looks like the weather can be counted on, they will plan an official launch.

BARBARA TRENDOS is retired and lives with her husband in Markham, Canada.

There’s more about her writing journey in these earlier essays on this website:

Writing in My Father’s Voice: Honouring His Wartime Experience, Part 1 and Part 2.

Survival can be purchased through Barbara’s website at or Amazon.


Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

A Sense of Place: Mystica Writing & Yoga Retreat

Guest post by Sandra Shaw Homer


Photo by Rick Brazeau (

Photo by Rick Brazeau (


The theme of this year’s writing retreat (a series of workshops — we all worked hard!), a Sense of Place, was perfectly chosen, as it was my strong sense of place that inspired me to suggest that Allyson Latta hold it here on Lake Arenal.

Photo by Allyson Latta

Ever since her first Costa Rican workshop in 2012, to which she invited me to speak about my writing, I have wanted to be a participant. I was so impressed by the creative energy and goodwill flowing all around me. But Allyson had her next couple of winter retreats in Grenada, hard for me to get to.  The only solution . . . to tempt her to Lake Arenal in April of this year.

Fortunately, just ten minutes from my house, there’s a lodge cum restaurant cum yoga centre cum place-to-connect-to-your-inner-truth, Mystica Lodge, overlooking the lake and Arenal Volcano. It’s run by Francesco Carullo, his wife, Lori Myles-Carullo, and Barbara Moglia. Everyone at the retreat agreed it was perfect (excellent food, impeccable service) — with the minor exception of the screaming midnight cicada in Sara’s room (soon gently dispatched). And my house, with its open spaces, broad verandas, and view of the lake and volcano, proved a conducive venue for several of our sessions and a lunch.

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Each session opened with a five-minute writing prompt. The first time, I, for one, sat speechless (or wordless), but in just a few days, what initially seemed like forever grew to seem much too short, and all of us were begging for more time. The quality of light. Windows. First impressions of Mystica Lodge. A place that scared you. Some of these we would read aloud. Then Allyson would read to us — a description, a poem — and get a lively discussion going.  One day there was a stark and evocative video from Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to write about.

I think we all agreed that our favourite — and perhaps most challenging — exercise involved pair work, in which each of us had to describe a place to a partner in a way that the partner could then write about it.  We were all surprised — and moved — to discover how a place so familiar could be so well “perceived” by another after only a half-hour’s conversation.

Alex and LindaIndeed, “perception” is what it’s all about. A sense of place is more than a scene, a theatrical backdrop; it’s how place is perceived by someone. All the senses come into play here. While I was describing to Rick my tour of the engine room of a freighter, he asked, “What does a freighter smell like?” That was a great question, because he made me call upon a sense I had not consciously used when I was there. Interestingly, we don’t forget (memories beget memories), and after a moment of putting myself back there, I was able to come up with a few “smelly” sensations that were nonetheless true for my not having noticed them at the time. This “not forgetting” is something all writers need to tune in to when setting a place down on the page.

And, of course, what I perceive (smell, taste, hear, touch, taste, feel emotionally) in a particular place won’t be anything like what another person does — so that sense of place can tell us a lot about who a character is. It can also convey mood —  cobwebs and creepy noises in the dark, anyone?

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Place itself can be a character. In Evelio’s Garden, my forthcoming memoir (with Allyson’s help, it seems that it will finally come forth), Evelio feels personally set upon by the unpredictable weather. And the wind and rain surge back and forth through the book like waves on a beach, pounding relentlessly, taking on a personality of their own. This is the classic Man against Nature theme, and Allyson reminded us that place can illustrate theme. Without a theme — in memoir as well as fiction — a book can just flounder around without going anywhere.

A strong sense of place will take the reader out of herself, and as readers we all want to be transported to the writer’s world, where things might make a different kind of sense, but sense all the same. We want to see through the protagonist’s eyes and even beyond, to those things the protagonist may not even be conscious of and which also reveal character.

Allyson brought us through all of these points, and more, in our conversations and assignments (including daily homework, even a poem!) in a way that made us all much more conscious of how we can use a sense of place to make our writing more alive, more real, more truthful.

I was powerfully impressed with both the teaching and the writing that resulted from that intense, very special week here on the lake. When can we do it again?

Photo by Rick Brazeau

Photo by Rick Brazeau


♦     ♦     ♦

SANDRA SHAW HOMER has lived in Costa Rica for 25 years, where she has taught languages and worked as a translator and environmental activist. For several years she wrote a regular column, “Local Color,” for the English-language weekly The Tico Times. Her writing has appeared in Oasis Journal 2014 and on a few websites, notably Allyson’s Memories into Story, Off the Beaten Track, and her own blog, Writing from the Heart. Her first travel memoir, Letters from the Pacific, is available in paperback and as an e-book. She is working on a memoir of her life in Costa Rica, Evelio’s Garden, an excerpt of which can be found at Miss Move Abroad.


From Allyson:

Lori and Francesco (photo by Rick Brazeau)

Lori and Francesco (photo by Rick Brazeau)

Muchas gracias to all the writers whose creative writing and sensitivity and mutual support made this year’s retreat special; to Sandy for suggesting it, helping with the planning, and opening her home, and for the gift of that yummy catered meal; to Lori Myles-Carullo, Francesco Carullo, Barbara Moglia, and their wonderful staff at magical Mystica Lodge for their smiles and warm hospitality (not to mention scrumptious food, stunning gardens, restorative yoga with Lori by the river, massages, swimming, and all the guidance and trouble-shooting that contributed to the week’s success); to our amazing driver, Eliecer (Flaco) Carvajal, for getting us where we needed to go on time — including to that stunning lakeside restaurant right at sunset — and entertaining us all the way; to Natalie McDonald of Sapori Antichi for her elegant catering at Sandy’s; and to guitarist and singer-songwriter Hannibal Chévez for his beautiful performance on our last evening. From start to finish, this really was a memorable retreat.

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

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

September Retreat in Kawartha Lakes Combines Memoir & Collage

Turquoise Waters Memoir & Collage Retreat

When: Friday, September 6 (noon) to Sunday, September 8 (3 p.m.)

Where: Sandy Lake; near Buckhorn, under 2 hours drive from Toronto




ALLYSON LATTA, writer and literary editor

HEATHER GENTLEMAN, artist, Hag Atelier in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District

Special guest:

DIANE SCHOEMPERLEN, author and collage artist, Kingston (author page; collages)

Artist Heather Gentleman and I will collaborate with retreat facilitator Janet Markham to present a unique weekend of creativity: writing and art workshops — suitable for beginners —  inspired by my Seven Treasures memoir series.

You’ll be charmed by the venue, a bright, well-appointed 10-bedroom lakefront property with separate art studio.

Your weekend will feature workshops to spark your imagination; lively discussion with a small group of fellow participants, instructors, and our guest speaker; and quiet time for writing or contemplation in one of many cozy spots, whether you prefer an overstuffed chair by a window or a bench-swing by the shore.

Fee includes:

    • private room with queen bed (shared baths)
    • 7 delicious meals, plus snacks and non-alcoholic beverages
    • 3 writing workshops with handouts
    • 3 collage workshops in the newly renovated studio with lake view
    • evening reading salons (you can read, or simply listen) and discussions
    • talk by guest speaker Diane Schoemperlen; more about her collages here
    • basic tutorial on how to self-publish a book, for yourself or others, based on what you create over the weekend
    • free Wi-Fi
Collage by Diane Schoemperlen: "July" from her perpetual calendar.

Collage by Diane Schoemperlen: “July” from her perpetual calendar.

Nurture your imagination in tranquil natural surroundings and enjoy views of one of Ontario’s few turquoise lakes from cottage, deck, dock, hammock, kayak, or pedal-boat. (There will also be swimming or hot-tubbing, weather permitting.)

Fee (including art supplies):

$599 per person (single)

$499 per person (shared). Note: One bedroom offers twin beds.


Registration: Contact to inquire or apply.

Please note:

  • Retreat is limited to 8 participants.
  • Two rooms are on the third floor and may not be suitable for guests with mobility limitations.
  • Alcoholic beverages are not included in the fee. Beverages such as milk, juice, coffee, and tea will be available.
  • Art supplies will be provided. We’ll also send registrants a list of suggested items to bring from home to incorporate into their collages.


IMG_3328Last summer’s 5-day Turquoise Waters writing retreat — with guest author Michelle Berry — was great creative fun. This summer’s retreat will take place the last week of July and is full. (Watch for my interview with guest author Alexandra Leggat on this website soon.)

The Memoir & Collage Retreat is our newest offering. Join us!


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Monday, June 24th, 2013