Thursday, June 20, 2019

"Get thee to the Briars," a review of the Briars Writing Retreat, by Mark Baker

You go to a writer's retreat to write, right? Well, sure, that's part of it. I've written some stuff I'm fond of at retreats. But I can write at home too, and I’m really not going to finish that novel in a weekend. No, for me, writer's retreats are really about the things I can't do at home, even about the person I can't be at home. 

See, writers are nuts. We work for a pittance that Oliver Twist would turn his nose up at. We spend hours alone between four walls imagining worlds full of light and color and adventure, worlds peopled by the good and the beautiful, the pious and the damned. And yet there is just such a world outside the room in which we sit scribbling. We're mad, mad I tell you!

The world knows we’re nuts. They treat us as they treat all crazy people, with gentle condescension. "Would I have read anything of yours?" they ask, knowing full well that they haven't read anything other than the back of a cereal box in ten years. "Oh, I doubt it," you say modestly. And there ends the conversation. The normal person can now escape safely without troubling their conscience. They asked a polite question about writing; their social obligation has been met. 

The Briars Resort, full of nooks and crannies,
ideal for curling up with your laptop and writing
Of course, there is one other question we get from time to time. "Where do your get your ideas from?" If you hear this one, back away slowly. People who ask this are crazier than you are. 

But you know the one place that no one will ever ask you these inane questions? A writer's retreat. Because we all get it. Of course we haven't read each other's books yet, because we haven't cracked the best seller list yet. And we have no clue where our ideas come from: life, the universe, everything?

That is why we go to writer's retreats, for there, like Hamlet in England: "Twill, a not be seen in him there; there the men are as mad as he."

A writer's retreat is a place where everyone is just the same amount of crazy as you are, which is almost like being in a place where everyone is sane.

You can sit staring out the window with a notebook idle in your hand and a well-bitten pencil between your teeth and no one will assume you are bored and in want of conversation. No, they will tiptoe by you in silence because they instantly recognize that you are WRITING!

 A writer's retreat is a place where you can sit the the bar, supping wine and discussing the relative merits of Hamlet, Hornblower, and Harry Potter and no earnest grad student will derail the conversation with a Marxist critique or semiotic blither blather. 

What makes a great writer's retreat? It comes down to two things: the facilities and the company. The best place to find both? Probably some literary salon in Paris, London, or New York in the 1930s. But in Ontario in the 21 century, it is Brian Henry's annual retreat at the Briars in November.

(With all due respect to Brian's summer retreat in Algonquin Park, if I want endless grey-green forests and sunrises on still, misty, silent lakes disturbed only by the cry of a loon, I can write them myself, but I can't write a decent glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Briars has a well stocked bar with comfortable seating. Algonquin park has trees.)

The Briars also has history, character, endless nooks and crannies where you can install yourself to write or to chat, as the mood takes you. There are even trees and grass and a lake outside, if you are into that sort of thing. It has good food and good wine. 

Most importantly of all, it has the company of aspiring writers: people who are exactly the same amount of crazy as you are. You can talk about the craft and about books and about your ambition for that book contract that will leave you in penury for many years to come.

You can read your work aloud if you wish. No one will laugh (except at the jokes). No one will back away nervously. Here they are all as mad as we. Get thee therefore to a retreat. Specifically, get thee to the Brian's retreat at The Briars in November. See you there. 
For information about upcoming writers’ retreats, at both the Briars on Lake Simcoe and Arowhon Pines in Algonquin Park, see here (and scroll down). For a report on Arowhon Pines resort where the annual June retreat is held, by someone who does like trees, see here.

Mark Baker is a writer living in Kitchener. His stories have appeared in The Rockford Review, Storyteller, Solander, Our FamilyNew England's Coastal JournalFantasy Book, and The Atlantic Advocate. He is the author of several non-fiction books and is working on a novel (or two).

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including Saturday writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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