Looking out across the Saronic Gulf, atop terraces of crimson bougainvillea, if you don’t write here, you won’t write anywhere says Patricia McLoughlin
You fly into Athens, take the X96 bendy bus to the port of Piraeus, the ferry or the flying dolphin to Methana, and there waiting on the quayside is the slender, striking Mariel Hacking, one of the couple who will absolutely ensure that the next week, ten days, fortnight – take your pick – is an oasis of calm where prose pours forth, poetry tumbles onto your laptop.
On my last visit there were ten, then eight, then five, as writers departed back to Holland, Belgium, the UK, all more than happy with what they had achieved during their stay at Limnisa.
Limnisa means little lake, for the pool, which once lay next to the whitewashed house beside the little pebbled beach, and thirty seconds from the sea. If you are in one of the top four bedrooms you’ll hear it surging and sucking, a lullaby as you drift off to sleep.
And here he is, under the awning over the long terrace, Philip Wooderson, author, mentor, benign literary guide. You can join one of his workshops, or write on your own, maybe book a one to one consultation after he has read a few pages of your work.
People come from all over the world. I was once there with an 82-year-old “New York shrink” as Isabella described herself, a couple of stunningly beautiful twenty-something Egyptian girls, a crazily amiable bloke who declared he was “a recovering alcoholic”, whose expletives took some translating for the enchanted Egyptians and who wrote brilliantly. Yes, we still remember our main literary characters from that workshop!
And between chapters, when the inspiration is flagging, there is the yoga in the morning with Mariel, or maybe reiki, reflexology. Or you can join the silent walks, up through the olive groves to the Minoan settlement, or take part in the sunset meditation.
Limnisa lends itself to meditation. “It’s a meditative place,” says Philip. “When we discovered it 12 years or so ago I knew it was somewhere that I could continue to write. We didn’t decide then that it would be a writer’s retreat, that was just life.”
Philip is a published author, with many children’s books, and books for young adults, behind him, mostly historical, he studied history at Sussex University. Latterly, he moved on to adult work, his latest the recently published two-volume ‘Acropolis’, set in the ancient Greece of Socrates.
It all fits together seamlessly, his approach as a mentor is Socratic, like a wise counsellor, a practised therapist, asking questions, drawing out each person’s half written story, their stumbling blocks.
As in life so in literary endeavour, people have frequently literally lost the plot. “Often people have good ideas and characters but can’t find the structure,” says Philip. “I have to ask lots of questions, it is best for them to work it out, find their way. It can be very revealing, there are places that people don’t want to go, once they conquer that the structure comes.”
And it’s true, on the reading nights when you can – but only should you want to – read your work, there is the rich tapestry of lives and writers happily acknowledging ownership.
For the Dutch writers Pauline Slot is often in residence, a much-published author who can advise her countrymen and women throughout an entire week.
Over the past decade visitors have shifted from mostly artists, attending painting workshops with Dutch painters, to writers seeking the perfect place to set down their first ideas, or work on the final draft of a novel.
Mariel and Philip complete house project after project when everyone has gone home, more shaded terraces on which to write, the shower in the garden by the sea.
“We like the fact that people are often working on their own stuff and are seriously into writing,” says Mariel, who grew up in South Holland and speaks eight languages, among them excellent Greek. She writes poetry and is working on a novel.
Philip, who began life in the Surrey hills and a boarding school in Kent, is researching his next book, set in 18th century Venice.
This time my room opens onto the roof terrace, my neighbours a filmmaker and a poet, while downstairs there’s a Dutch couple, like me writing their way through the days. The week is coming to an end and we are heading for a taverna in Agios Nikolas, to share supper dishes on a small terrace beside the moonlit glassy sea.
It has been ten days of oblivion in which to write what I really want to write. On Monday the retreat will be over, Limnisa once again Mariel and Philip’s home until the writers return like homing birds from August 26 to September 22 and again from October 2 to 27th.
Many will stay at the house, some in apartments and studios in Agios Georgios some ten minutes walk away, an interlude that starts and ends each day as they walk along to Limnisa and back.
Oh and I almost forgot, each afternoon at 4pm it’s cake o’clock, fat Victoria sponges or kiwi fruited cheesecake, and just don’t ask why they don’t create a cookbook of all Limnisa’s wonderful vegetarian dishes – you’ll be the 150th who has asked that question!
A week at Limnisa starts at £395 for two sharing and £450 for a single room, all included. You only pay extra for wine with dinner, workshops and Philip’s consultations, Mariel’s reiki.
If you would like more information then visit http://www.limnisa.com/