Two hours away from Vienna a lonely castle stands on a granite hill top surrounded by quiet forests. The floors creak under foot, the wind howls outside the windows, and at night the cold creeps up from the damp dungeons. But luckily the sun was shining 90% of the time and for a few days, for 16 lucky writers, this was home.
Sunday Writers’ Club held our first ever retreat last weekend. For four days and three nights we got to experience life in Burg Rappottenstein, a fortress that has never once been conquered. We wrote stories, attended workshops, and played a card game or two. Some of us were even productive.
The first day of the Retreat, Jasmine and Paul made us feel right at home with a glass of welcome-bubbly and freshly baked bread from the Burgschenke pub just outside the castle walls. We met old online friends in person for the first time, as people travelled from Scotland, France, and the Netherlands to join us on the Retreat. After supper, we gathered in the castle’s Grand Salon to read from books that inspired us. Our tastes are as varied as our nationalities. We heard about the importance of storytelling from Sapiens, learned about points of view shifting between characters in The Poisonwood Bible, got lost in the absurdity of Roald Dahl, and heard some amazing Polish poetry about writing a story.
On Friday, everybody was out of their castle chambers early for Paul’s workshop. We learned about characterisation and how to avoid the dreaded “it was all a dream” trope. Then we set about the most epic and ambitious Story Relay the Sunday Writers’ Club has undertaken. Twelve of us, over the course of thirty hours, wrote an epic story. It had everything: royalty, actors, nepotism, betrayal, a plot twist, and yellow stockings (stay tuned to the blog for when we post it).
Under the watchful eye of a very experienced tour guide (an ex-Head Teacher from the local school) we explored the castle from its darkest, dampest dungeons to the secret garden with a blossoming apple tree near the top of the castle. We heard stories of murder, war, and how they stored the ale in the dungeon rather than prisoners (I was very disappointed).
In the afternoon everyone was free to pursue their own individual plans; to explore the forest, the castle, the Burgschenke pub. Free to write anywhere they could find a comfortable seat. Some of us wrote with sunshine for company on one side of the castle and others preferred the bustle of tourists at the pub. Some went searching for inspiration in the forest while others stayed to scoff Jasmine’s delicious baked goods with a cup of tea or coffee. She made Florentines for everyone.
That night, we gathered at the pub. Keith taught us how to play a card game and Paul used our collective minds to write the lyrics for a SWC song. Then we all had a laugh playing: “Bring Your Own Book”. A game that demands you quickly search through the book you currently have in your hands to find the best line for a randomly chosen category. Do you want to know the best line from a travel guide? Eventually, you will go home. The best quote to use in your email signature? Penguin Power! We pulled lines from writing guides to cookbooks to make each other laugh.
Saturday saw us exploring how description can affect characterisation in a story during Keith’s workshop. He asked half of us to describe the castle as if we were trapped in it, and the other half had to describe it as if it were a sanctuary. It really changed how most of us saw descriptions in our stories and flowed into our writing for the rest of the weekend.
That night, we got to see just how amazingly talented everybody is when they shared their own stories at the Grand Salon Open-Mic Extravaganza. Amongst other wonders we were treated to sleep walkers and insomniacs, a girl who could jump bodies, a person born in space joining in an age-old earth tradition, a lonely ghost, some dangerous neighbours, a person going to circus school, and a few elves on a mission to save Christmas.
The epic Story Relay also made its debut to an appreciative audience. Where we laughed at the reality star turned local theatre king who needed his yellow stockings and the hapless dresser who found them in a most unexpected place. The shared writing made it all the more special.
While the rest of you slept in on Sunday, we were already writing with our castle themed SWC Prompt Menu. Again, we produced some amazing work which we will be sharing on the blog in the coming weeks.
Leaving the castle after having so much fun, writing so many new words and making real-life friendships with online faces was sad but we promised to keep writing, keep sharing our stories and get together again as soon as we possibly could.
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Sunday Writers' Club Member
Reading is not my hobby, I am pretty sure it forms a vital part of my autonomic nervous system. I am never without a book and I will read anything, including cereal boxes. My journalism has appeared in Metropole: Vienna In English, Impact Hub Vienna, Ted x Vienna, and the EU Observer.
Find out more about Jennifer by visiting her blog: The Curiosity Cabinet
It was an amazing weekend!