Ahhh, Tuscany, Northern Italy

December 5, 2019

Mention Tuscany and I haven’t found a person who doesn’t go “ahhh, it is on my wish list” or “‘ahhh, beautiful Tuscany, I didn’t want to leave”. I certainly was not ready to leave when my Writing Masterclass Workshop with Dr Sue Woolfe came to an end. 

It may have taken three scenic train trips followed by a ten-minute car trip up the winding hill, but it sure was worth it. Getting there by train was a comfortable option as mentioned in my recent column https://shesociety.com.au/news/a-short-stop-over-in-rome-near-the-train-terminal/ when you stay close to the Roma Termini train station. I would travel around Italy like this anytime. 

I met up with my writing buddy Anne in Rome, and our trip took us through the scenic Italian countryside to the picturesque medieval Tuscan village of Lucca. The original city walls, constructed in 1504, still encircle most of this beautifully preserved magnetic historic town.  During the Roman era Lucca was an important meeting place for Julius Caesar and Crassus. If only I had stayed a few days earlier.

Our final destination was at a small village called Piazza al Serchio and from there driven by car to Caprignana, a tiny village that has one small ‘tabacchi’ (tobacco) shop that caters for the locals and we tourists. It was a peaceful short walk up the steps past the old church where we could buy a cappuccino, alcohol, fresh cheeses, meats and other groceries. Mind you, the high atmospheric thin air made us puff as we walked uphill. 

An Authentic Retreat

I am sure word was out about the ‘writers group’ visiting for a couple of weeks, we were warmly greeted by a wave from local residents as they either drove or walked past. Or a ‘buongiorno’ as we walked into a shop and a ‘ciao or arrivederci’ when someone left, even if we didn’t get to meet. It gives you that warm fuzzy feeling, something we often miss out on in Australia. People wonder why I love Europe; it is the same when I am in Greece. The people make you feel included in the community. It is more than welcoming tourists whom they think will contribute to their economy, it is simply about friendly people.  

The writing group of six (3 beginners class, 3 master class) was organised by Judy Tenzing Journeys who ensured we lived as authentically as possible. We were accommodated at the rustic Villa I Cinghiali (The Wild Boars). To our surprise the owner and host Dr Buzz McArthur is Australian but lives in Caprignana and speaks Italian which was a bonus when negotiating clothes and shoes purchases in nearby villages. 

Buzz purchased her “Tuscan paradise” in 1988, a dream fulfilled now shared with others who seek to experience this idyllic, breathtaking, peaceful, soul searching location. Next door to I Cinghiali is a wonderfully converted loft style barn, Il Fienile (The Barn), superbly spacious and beautifully decorated to accommodate four people. I wouldn’t mind booking this with friends in the future and the wonderful part in summer is access to the huge swimming pool on the large property. 

Buzz prepared daily delectable meals, the majority prepared from locally grown and produced food. Local neighbours Mary and Anna popped in to help out and provided more mouth-watering dishes for our group. We even had our personalised wine bottled for our retreat. Every dish was to die for, needless to say it is taking a few weeks to shed those welcomed kilos at the time. Judy, our organiser never seemed to stop to ensure we experienced the local markets and dined at nearby restaurants. 

Writing our priority

But the main reason we were in Tuscany was to write and for we masterclass attendees who have studied with Sue before at her Greek retreats, there was work to be done before and after we left Australia. Sue required draft manuscripts from each of us, a suggested word count of at least 50,000 words to enable her to do a ‘structural edit’, to see how our manuscripts worked as a whole and what needed to be changed. I emailed 62,555 words one month prior to leaving Australia and I would be kidding myself if I didn’t say I was nervous when I clicked the Send icon. 

At the beginning of our workshops Sue presented us with typed pages of individual feedback and we worked collaboratively on how to link fragments of our story, re-finding our voice, unique character development, creating suspense and making the most of the beginning and end. Most importantly we held vital 1 on 1 discussions about our fears, barriers, achievements so far and our next plan. We had our work cut out for us and it hasn’t stopped, but we left knowing what path to take next. I could not have achieved the stage I am at now without Sue’s patience and guidance. 

For the newbies attending the beginners workshop they needed to familiarise themselves with The Mystery of the Cleaning Lady: A Writer Looks at Neuroscience and Creativity, Sue Woolfe. They were fascinated by this new process of writing from the unconscious mind and came away with renewed inspiration to write. To this day I use Sue’s book for reference. 

Where to next

It was a perfect location for we retreaters, surrounded by history, breathtaking landscapes, marbled mountains, delectable food and stylish comfort. We couldn’t wish for more other than to never leave our isolated piece of magic in the Tuscan hills. Then again there is another workshop in Crete, Greece in 2020. 

Back in 2016 when I began studying Sue’s technique writing from the ‘lull’ I would never have considered writing a novel, it was all too daunting. Now, there is no turning back.  

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