Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Writer’s Paradise ~ 2 reviews of the Retreat at Arowhon Pines Resort in Algonquin Park

Writing Retreat at Arowhon Pines
by Joyce Schacter, Ottawa

I’ve just returned from an inspiring weekend of writing with the Quick Brown Fox himself, Brian Henry.  

This retreat reminded me that the craft is an interactive process: write, read, receive feedback, revise.  Brian encouraged, coached, cajoled and helped us apply ourselves to what we love:  the stuff of stories.  He presented key topics, led discussions, organized us into reader-feedback buddies, put us at ease in his kind and funny way, and set up an environment that nurtured the writer in us. 

Mark (one of the participants) and Brian in conference
In one-on-one sessions, our fearless leader applied his laser vision and editorial savvy to our writing projects and brought them to new levels of clarity. 

The beautiful natural setting at Arowhon Pines Resort in Algonquin Park was ideal for a writing retreat.  Ethereal mist moved across the lake in the cool early mornings of mid-September.

We hiked, canoed, kayaked, and swam in the still waters of Little Joe Lake, and had a boat tour of the area.  Though the word “retreat” suggests temples and robes, the only monastic feature of Arowhon Pines is the old-fashioned bell clanging call to the dining hall for delicious gourmet meals.  Dining together gave us wonderful opportunities to connect and draw motivation from each other. 

We were an eclectic dozen, including a feng shui expert, a painter in search of a new artistic medium, an accountant with an interest in Depression-era prostitution, and a retired jail warden, to name a few.

After I slipped into Little Joe Lake for a pre-breakfast swim one misty morning, I was designated  Chief Lemming in the line up for the Go Jump in the Lake exercise that we’re planning next time ...  I’ve already reserved my spot.

Writer’s Retreat with Brian Henry
by Donna Kirk, Burlington

This past weekend, I attended my first writers’ retreat at Arowhon Pines resort in Algonquin Park.

I arrived at noon on Saturday, just in time to hear the 12:30 lunch bell. The meal was beyond any expectations of gourmet. I even ate a dessert, a hard decision, given that there were about twenty to choose from. This was the beginning of two days of epicurean perfection.

After settling in my comfortable room, I realized I’d forgotten to ask for the code to the internet, and trudged back to the office.

"Mist on Little Joe Lake," photo by Joyce Schacter
“No worries about that,” said a pleasant New Zealand girl. “We don’t have internet here. Or cell phone service. But there is a TV in the games lodge where you can watch movies.”

My God. What if I get an urgent email from somebody who couldn’t wait to be my agent? Or a call from a publisher who’s heard via the grapevine about the brilliant novel I’m writing?

The Kiwi girl’s parting shot, “No liquor license either,” was delivered in a voice far too cheery for that kind of message. “But,” she added, “you’re welcome to bring any alcoholic beverage to the dining room or for enjoyment in your own room.”

My husband, who accompanied me to the retreat because we’d heard about Arowhon – the fabulous food and the wilderness location – did a one-eighty and headed back to the parking lot. The nearest liquor store was in Dwight. Teresa, the manager of the lodge, called after him. “Will you please bring me back a Globe and Mail?”

 After lunch, I plugged in my computer and sat down on the verandah of the games room with a view of Little Joe Lake to work on the re-write of the first chapter of my novel. (After all, this was what I was here for). There were no pings of in-coming email, no temptation to procrastinate on Facebook. My company was a loon swimming back and forth on the lake, couples drifting by in canoes, and complete silence.

Naomi – Brian’s wife – had to remind me at four p.m. that it was time for the get-together in Tanglewood Cottage.

We all introduced ourselves in turn. Everyone looked full from lunch but we soon woke up to Brian’s topic for discussion: What you might want to add to a piece of writing to give it the fullness that makes a story seem real. Even though Brian’s hand-outs are excellent, I take notes. The good pointers seem to stay longer in my brain that way.

Over the next two days we enjoyed writing discussions on Point of View, Dialogue, and Ways to Help Yourself Write. After these discussions, we teamed up in pairs to share what we’d been writing. My partners were helpful and honest. And after each session, we returned to our favourite place to write.

Everyone in the group had a personal half-hour session with Brian. This was the highlight for me. Brian is always helpful and honest. Besides saying what’s praiseworthy about a piece, he tells you what doesn’t work, then suggests ways to change it so it does.

I’m back to the drawing board with my opening chapter. That’s what I came to the retreat for – fresh ideas and a different outlook.

Sunday morning a thick mist was rolling off the lake – a eerie and breath-taking. A few brave souls went swimming. I didn’t need that much waking up before our morning writing sessions.

Sunday afternoon, some writers enjoyed a boat tour of the lake. Our guide, a true woodsman, extended his sympathy to those of us who live in cities. For an hour, we listened to him describe the wild life, his everyday companions: loons, moose, beavers, hawks, humming birds, deer and bears.

Monday morning, the group gathered on the dock for a picture. The retreat was everything I’d expected, and more; friendly people, wonderful food and a remote lodge in the middle of a glorious national park.

 When my husband and I checked out, I heard that Brian is planning another for June 2016. Stay tuned on the Quick Brown Fox for details.

The next retreat will be June 10–12, 2016 (see here) and then September 16–18, 2016 (see here), and if by chance I haven't updated this posting recently, you can always find upcoming writers' retreats here. ~ Brian
To reserve a spot, email
To read more about Arowhon Pines Resort, see here.

See Brian’s full schedule here,  including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond. 

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