Are you ever too old for a Skyros Holiday? No, definitely not, as I was to discover.
Travelling from my house in London to Shanklin on the Isle of Wight was surprisingly easy: tube to Waterloo, train to Portsmouth, onto the hovercraft from the station platform and exiting at Ryde for a tube train to Shanklin. Yes, the IOW actually has tube trains! Not underground, of course. But, nevertheless, it was unexpected, particularly as it was obviously decommissioned by London Transport quite some decades ago. No matter, it trundled across the island at quite a speed and I was soon at my destination. Even the hovercraft crossing was relatively smooth, despite choppy waters. And, as always, when travelling by sea you feel you are going somewhere special. A proper journey: full of expectation and promise. And so it was that I arrived at The Grange for a weekend writing course.
The Grange is a large Georgian stone house with 17 ensuite bedrooms, which in addition to providing bed and breakfast accommodation also offers weekend courses throughout the year covering a wide spectrum of subjects – more of which later. Very comfortable and reasonably priced it is too.
This weekend it was a creative writing course. Specifically ‘Starting a Novel’ run by the friendly, informative and experienced Steve Attridge, author of at least 15 books and script writer for episodes of many well-known TV series as well as films. So, he knows a thing or two about writing and how difficult it can be to start that novel we all think we can write. As Steve pointed out, though, you can’t become a writer and publish a novel overnight, just as you wouldn’t expect someone to announce they were going to start a new career as a surgeon, without the years of hard work and learning your craft. He outlined exercises a writer needs to do every day and, in particular, how important it is to write and keep a journal. Oh dear, was this weekend going to be relaxing or just lots of hard work?
There were seven of us on the course so it made for a very intimate group, though they usually average 10 with an occasional maximum of 12. There were also other guests staying in the house, but as the course took place in the main lounge overlooking the terrace and gardens we were quite naturally separated from the other guests, so it almost felt we had the whole house to ourselves.
The courses run from Friday evening until Sunday midday. The first evening there was a complimentary three-course supper and we all met in the cosy bar beforehand and helped ourselves to our favourite tipple – repeat, helped ourselves: how often do you get to do that these days? Already enjoying the relaxed ethos and ambience, conversation flowed easily amongst the group, an interesting and congenial mix of people, all keen to talk about their writing experiences; a great ice-breaker amongst a group who had only just met. In writing terms we were a mixed bunch: the majority, like me, want to write but haven’t got round to it, two people who have already written a couple of novels but not yet done anything with them and, most impressively, a charming and dapper gentleman (Ron) who has just self-published his first novel at 90 years old. Inspirational.
Over an enjoyable supper with Steve the tutor and a few more drinks later the majority wanted to retire early to be in good shape for the first session the following morning, but Ron, keen to show off his Scrabble skills, wanted to make a night of it and one of the ladies duly obliged.
The writing aspect of the weekend takes place in three two-hour sessions, two on Saturday and one on Sunday morning, in a relaxed rather than classroom atmosphere, the only visible learning aid being a flip-chart and some very useful hand-outs. The rest of the weekend was given over to free time to explore Shanklin and the Isle of Wight, though personally I would have preferred an extra couple of hours writing tuition. Not that the Isle of Wight isn’t worth exploring. It is. And Shanklin is well placed to explore; at the end of the train line, well connected for buses to nearby Ventnor and Bonchurch and, best of all, close to the wonderful beaches and lovely coastal walks. And if none of that appeals you can quite happily spend a couple of hours comfortably relaxing at The Grange, with its distinct Boho feel and beautiful rambling gardens overlooked by a decked terrace sipping a drink from the Honesty Bar.
So, will I put pen to paper and write my first novel? Well I am definitely trying to carve out more time to make a start and put my ideas down on paper. But Steve, if you’re reading this, I’m afraid I haven’t managed to write every day yet. Life just always seems to get in the way. But you have made me think about the craft of writing and I definitely want to come on another of your longer courses, hopefully on Skyros next summer.
Skyros Holidays, the forerunner of European ‘alternative’ course-based holidays, have now been operating for 34 years, providing a haven of calm, culture, fun and new experiences for people looking to do something different on holiday and meet like-minded people on an unspoilt Greek island that thankfully remains off the main tourist trail. They also offer a couple of winter courses in far-flung destinations: Cuba, Thailand and Cambodia for those looking for year round sunshine. The weekend course breaks at The Grange are great as a ‘taster’ weekend and, as well as being good value for money, offer an insightful introduction into what to expect on a Skyros holiday. Certainly, by the end of the weekend most participants were eagerly awaiting details of the 2014 programme, so hopefully we may meet up again.
Skyros offer a wide range of courses, too numerous to mention here, with a lot of emphasis on living life to the full, exploring creativity and finding yourself. So alongside the singing, painting, writing and yoga courses there are some rather esoteric topics: Passionate Living; Love Your Body and Life; The Path of Happiness. There’s even a Valentine’s Flirtshop. So, Silver Travellers, it’s never too late to try something new and find that inner you that may have been fighting to be set free for years.
I wonder if Ron will be signing up for the Flirtshop? Not that he needs to. He’s still got a twinkle in his eye. No, never too old.
For more information visit www.thegrangebythesea.com or call 01983 867 644.
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