Rewild Your Words

A weekend writing course on an Irish island


Sherkin Island, West Cork, 13 – 15 October 2017

This course is now full. If you’d like to be put on the waiting list, or informed of future courses, please email me. 

Retreat for two days and two nights to the far western edge of Europe. Sleep by the wild sea. Walk alone on the moors and the beaches. Spend the days with other writers, learning, writing, talking. Let the weather and the wilds and the old spirits in the hedgerows and the waters have their way with you. What will be the impact on your words?

‘The arts are the wilderness areas of the imagination, surviving, like national parks, in the midst of civilized minds’  – Gary Snyder

This is a weekend-long course for writers of any kind, with any level of experience, who want to re-inject some of the spirit of nature into their work. In a time in which our lives are increasingly tamed, monitored, controlled and urbanised, our words and our stories are in danger of going the same way. Our writing may be in danger of becoming too safe – and perhaps a little too human.

What does writing look like when it is exposed to the wildness outside our bubble of convenience? What do the beaches and the hedgerows and the winds have to teach us about what we could do with our stories and our style? How could your writing benefit from letting some more ragged, messy, natural energy come in and toy with it?

The course

‘What can be explained is not poetry’ – W. B. Yeats

Some writing courses focus on making your writing as professional, accessible and saleable as possible. They will teach you about presentation, about genre and about how to give ‘the market’ what it wants. Maybe they’ll even offer you tips on how to write letters to agents and publishers.

This is all useful stuff, and on this weekend we will be doing none of it. On this course, I will be trying as hard as I can to make your writing unprofessional. I’ll encourage you to ignore your audience, forget about whatever you think publishers might want, and instead go direct to the heart of the matter –  why you write, what fires your words, and how you can make them as true to your own vision as possible.

We will focus on following your inner voice with rigour: on writing what you need to write, and on following your words wherever they take you. And we will focus, together, on the role which the non-human world – the world of nature – plays in informing your writing; whether you know it or not.

Questions we will explore together, and which you will explore through your writing, will include:

  • What is the story you were meant to tell?
  • Where do stories come from – and what do they want from you?
  • What is the role of landscape and nature in writing – and how can you listen to what it has to say?
  • What role does image play in creating powerful writing?
  • How can you uncivilise your style – let the wildness in to your writing?
  • How can folk tales, myths and archetypes inform your work?

With the help of writers from Robert Graves to Black Elk, D. H. Lawrence to Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver to R. S. Thomas, we’ll explore the urgency of the writer’s task, help you to discover the fire that lies beneath your words, and give you permission to write not like a machine, but like an animal.

This will be an intense, busy but fun weekend, made up of teaching sessions, exercises, storytelling, time spent outside and time to write and/or relax with other writers.

The teacher

‘We judge writers either as teachers, storytellers, or enchanters, but it is the enchanter who outlasts time’ – Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve been a writer for nearly a quarter of a century.  I have published seven books, taking in fiction, non-fiction and poetry, with a wide array of publishers. I have won, or been nominated for, ten different prizes for my fiction, poetry and essays, ranging from the Man Booker Prize to the Wenlock Prize for Poetry. I have worked as a writer and editor for publications as varied as The Independent, The Ecologist, OpenDemocracy and Greenpeace.

I’ve taught on writing courses, mentored writers and lectured on writing for – amongst others – the Arvon Foundation, the Faber Academy, the Professional Writing Academy, Schumacher College, the Westcountry School of Myth and Story, and Falmouth University. I’ve run my own writing and story courses, sometimes working with other teachers, in places as varied as the wilds of Dartmoor and the heart of New York City. Finally, I’ve also set up and run my own literary movement and publishing house – the Dark Mountain Project – which has been in business, and growing in influence, for nearly a decade.

In recent years, my work as a teacher and mentor to writers has focused increasingly on how writers can bring the non-human world into their work, and how our writing is influenced, whether we know it or not, by nature’s impact on us. Here is an essay I wrote in the Guardian last year which will give you some idea of my approach to both writing and teaching.

Information and how to book

‘You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you’ – Ray Bradbury

The venue for the course is Sherkin North Shore, on Sherkin Island – a small, remote centre on the very edge of one of the legendary islands of West Cork, surrounded by rugged sea rocks, white sand beaches, fields and ancient ruins. Sherkin is comfortable but basic. You’ll be sleeping in bunk rooms, and wifi will not be on tap. That’s part of the point. But there’ll be great food in the evenings, outdoor fires if the weather holds, a convivial atmosphere and the chance to mingle with other writers in one of the most beautiful spots in the west of Ireland.

The course runs from the evening of Friday 13th October until mid-afternoon on Sunday 15th. You will need to be on Sherkin Island by dinnertime on the Friday. Sherkin is accessible by a regular ten-minute ferry trip from the town of Baltimore in West Cork. Full travel details and directions will be provided when you book, as will a kit list of what to bring with you (you’ll need boots and a raincoat…)

The cost of the weekend, including accommodation and meals, is €310 (approximately £275.)

This course is now full. If you’d like to be put on the waiting list, or informed of future courses, please email me.