Saturday, September 8, 2012

Writer's Retreat on Star Island, Part 1

Welcome to the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, complete with Writing Room!
My five-day adventure to Star Island in the Isles of Shoals began well before last January, when I committed to the September writer's retreat offered by Dale Finley Slongwhite, a gifted writer and passionate facilitator who first fell in love with the venue following a summer cruise where paths crossed and the Fates were generous. In 2009, after leaving the writer's group I had been an integral part of for nearly sixteen years, I went in search of other retreats, other destinations, and read of Dale's annual pilgrimage for storytellers to the second largest of the islands in the archipelago, some ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  This year in which I've traveled extensively, attended writing conferences, and retreated to places near, dear, and far, I gave myself the gift of Star Island and Dale's retreat for writers.  The result was beyond fantastic -- dare I believe miraculous? One thing is for certain: the past five days will stay with me for the rest of my life.

But first, let me preface by saying I took lots of pictures.  Lots and lots, on the new digital camera I purchased two days before sojourning to the Isles of Shoals Shipping Company's dock, where I would ride Thomas Laighton to Star Island.  I have very little interest in photography and, as most know, a huge resistance to complicated technological advances.  Give me one or two buttons and I'm fine. Scrolling through numerous screens and multiple steps can send my blood pressure skyrocketing. My darling Bruce, who loves photography and his digital camera -- a Christmas gift in 2005 that still rates, according to him, as the best ever -- completely understands the procedure and gave me an excellent tutorial to keep my pulse slow and steady during the operation of my sweet little Vivitar.  If only he'd told me to download all those many lovely photographs before changing batteries to avoid wiping out the memory card.  Oh well, live and learn.

(The Oceanic Hotel as seen from the deck of the ferry)
I boarded the ferry with Dale and several of my fellow retreaters, all of whom seemed genuinely lovely (and, as our days and workshopping commenced, proved that my first impressions were indeed correct).  A bright Monday afternoon ride across the Atlantic set the stage for a unique adventure.

As the Thomas Laighton charged and rolled forward, the islands appeared, rising up from the blue.  My pulse quickened; the grand old hotel, The Oceanic, materialized.  In 1995, I wrote a novel set on these very islands, a modern Gothic tale of suspense and intrigue called The Strange Goings-on at Brathemore Hall.  My screenplay-in-progress, Agatha Christie, is also set here as well.  I'd never visited Star Island before but in a way I had, numerous times, through my Muse.

I stepped off the ferry, my big backpack stuffed to capacity with everything from my stapler, plenty of blank note pads, and several note cards on manuscripts I hoped to work on to my new laptop and backup pens.  We took in a mandatory orientation on the island and its gestalt -- recycling, water use, fire safety -- and then found our luggage and moseyed to our rooms.  Ours were housed in one of the 'cottages' that run in a line along the hotel, all connected by a boardwalk whose details I memorized and whose route I must have walked a thousand times during workshop breaks. Though set up for a bunk mate, I lucked out again and got private accommodations, my room on the second floor consisting of two basic single beds set beneath the eaves and whose windows gazed out at the island and its two nearest neighbors. A delicious dinner welcomed us -- all of our meals were rustic yet exquisite (apart from the proliferation of black beans that found their way into eggs at breakfast, luscious homemade soups at lunch, and salads at dinner), and then we six writers gathered in the library room with its long writing table, chairs with tufted cushions, and stunning views of both Appledore and Smuttynose Islands.  The first of what would amount to twenty writing prompts in total challenged us to create.  We put pens to paper and, though mostly strangers until our arrival to Star Island, soon formed a bond of respect for one another, creating the first unforgettable memories.

And some damn fine writing.

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post, Gregory. Sounds like a brilliant time. Looking forward to Part Two. =)


    Peter Giglio