History, mystery, magic: writing with Kate Forsyth

It was the year after Milli Vanilli were outed, when Reebok Dance double-tongue sneakers were the only way for your feet to appear in public and neon floral bike-pants with matching hair scrunchies had never been more popular. 1991 was the year I turned eleven and was in year six at public school. It was when Janey Morgan became my best friend, my parents separated, and I was awarded a place at The Queensland Young Writers Camp, a program for young writers from around the state. I spent a week in a recreational camp by the sea with kids who had come from all over, selected by their teachers for their love of writing. The days were divided into writing and outdoor activities. I took to the routine without hesitation. Morning imagining, daydreaming, and writing. Afternoon swimming, kayaking, hiking, and helping prepare dinner and snacks. In addition to writing, the greatest part of it was meeting other kids who geeked out on the joy of making up stories like I did. I was bereft when it was over. I still have the t-shirt (confession: it still fits, I sleep in it sometimes). Up until now that week when I was eleven has been my only ever experience of going on a writing retreat, and has long fuelled my desire to immerse myself in such an environment once again, now, as an adult.

Enter Bookshop Travel, and History, Mystery and Magic with Kate Forsyth.

Tomorrow morning I’m driving to Oxford where I am going to be joining a week-long literary tour based in the Cotswolds with my friend, award-winning Australian novelist Kate Forsyth.

My suitcase is open and I’m turning in circles around the house in a blissful confusion unable to pack a thing. I keep coming back here to re-read the brochure. Things like this are making it impossible for me to focus:

If you’re writing fiction and want to explore history and mythology, or instil a little magic and wonder in your writing, then you’ll love this unique experience. Spend your mornings discovering the art and craft of writing novels that draw upon all the magic and mystery of the past. Spend your afternoons exploring one of Britain’s most beautiful (and literary) landscapes.

Explore Oxford, the “city of dreaming spires” and Stratford-upon-Avon. Visit the Bodleian Library, which featured in the famous Harry Potter films. Wander through some of England’s most beautiful gardens, and have a restorative ale in the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien first shared their enchanted worlds. Be inspired by the romantic setting of castles and yew mazes, mysterious circles of standing stones, and haunted manor halls.

Staying in beautiful accommodation in a classic English village, you will write every day and there will be plenty of free time for you to dream and imagine and ponder and play.

In the afternoons you will be able to write in the solitude and quiet of your own room, or you can potter around Broadway alone. You could also join the others in the group to discover the most fascinating historical and literary sites that Oxfordshire and the Cotswolds have to offer.


I’ve made a cup of chamomile tea (though to be fair I suspect I need a horse tranquiliser at this point if I want to calm down) and am sipping it as I keep flipping through my program package.

You will be staying in the village of Broadway, nestled beneath the Worcestershire hills of the Cotswolds and one of England’s most popular and diverse villages. Visitors are drawn to the historical and natural beauty of this quintessential English village.

It is a bright engaging place with a superb range of shopping opportunities and it is also steeped in history with origins dating back to Roman times. In the 1600s it was a major stop for the stage coaches that travelled between Worcester and London, which often stopped at the world-renowned Lygon Arms – still a famous hotel today.

Over centuries it has been a creative and artistic hub that has attracted esteemed writers and artists. The beauty of the village is growing with age. The artistic influence remains today and Broadway is home to a variety of top class Cotswold galleries, providing a broad range of works of art.

There will be many opportunities to explore other parts of the Cotswolds and surrounding area. Stratford-On-Avon, Cheltenham Spa and Worcester are all within easy access. Local produce and good restaurants make Broadway a wonderful place to eat and drink.

Then there’s the delight of reuniting with the fabulous Kate Forsyth, who is the program’s tour director and writing teacher.

Kate wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and is now the bestselling, award-winning author of 26 books, published in 15 countries. Recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 25 Novelists, she has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation’. Her books entwine history, mystery, romance and magic into a spellbinding whole. I read her novel The Wild Girl first, which I could not put down. It tells the story of star-crossed lovers Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy-tales. I recently read Bitter Greens, which has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’. To be in such a place with such a writer has me wrapped in the fabric of dreams.

In the lead up to setting off tomorrow I’ve been busily ensconced in books. While the blustery, cold ‘summer’ weather in Manchester raged outside I was immersed in Kate’s set reading list for the retreat (yes, best homework ever). With a cup of chai on constant refill I have once again rediscovered the thorough delight of reading for pleasure, burning into the night as, even with my eyes drooping, I’ve not been able to stop turning pages and switch off the light. This retreat is a wonderful experience already.

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While I’m away I’m going to write ‘postcards’, which I’ll post here at the end of every day to share the magic and wonder. Pack your imagination bags, we’re going on an adventure together!

For now, I must pack something other than books and blank notebooks and pens.

Until tomorrow, creative wildflowers.






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