I was thrilled recently to be interviewed by Lapidus International – the words for well being association of which I am a member, for their latest journal.
Why do you believe in the importance of writing down your life?
Primarily, from personal experience and subsequently, from studying and reading scientific research on the subject plus witnessing evidence in my workshops and on my writing retreats of the transformative effects of writing down one’s story and when sharing it with others. I discovered the benefit of expressing myself on paper when I wasn’t allowed to speak up as a child, it gave me a way to say what was forbidden, to finish a sentence without interruption! It was a way to find my own voice.
Have you always kept a diary?
Yes – in many different forms. I have a 5-year diary that I kept from 13-18, rough books and art school sketch books, Filofaxes, diaries and notebooks.
What do you believe are the benefits of having a journal?
They are my friends, my constant, comforting companions. I am completely lost without a small notebook and pen in my bag. I use them – and encourage others to use them – for shopping and packing lists, sticking in receipts, feathers, dried flowers, addresses, ‘phone numbers, asking open-ended questions, expressing hopes, fears, anger and desires, observations on daily life and then, in years to come – for reflection. I also use them for creativity – ideas for features, blog posts or writing poetry. Discovering a few years ago that scientific research confirmed the therapeutic benefits was reassuring. Also, I believe we all have a duty to keep a written record of our experiences for sociological reasons. All lives matter, the minutiae matters, as the antiquarian and biographer John Aubrey told us in the 17th century.
What effect did finding your parents’ diaries and letters have on you?
I understood and empathised more with their lives. My mother shared very little about herself with me, not even telling me her age. I had a very difficult childhood and felt unloved and unwanted. I saw more clearly their different backgrounds and felt more able to love people who had found it difficult to show their love for me. The diaries also inspired me to start my business Write It Down! in 2011.
You run writing, mindfulness meditation and guided walking holidays and workshops – why do these things go well together?
All these elements encourage participants to slow down, to use all their senses and observe and accept the world and their place in it, without feeling the need to change anything. They are a way to celebrate our lives and acknowledge and be grateful for what we have, in this very moment, on this very day. They give people permission to sit or walk in silence and allow their subconscious gently to emerge onto the page, without the distractions of everyday life and in the safety of a secure and non-judgemental environment
What makes a Write It Down! retreat so magical?
What makes it work is the combination of the location and the generous welcome from the family who own the hotel and farm plus my passionate belief that everyone is a writer with a unique voice and has an valuable and interesting life story that deserves to be shared and recorded on paper with a pen.
The retreats foster an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect – they are uncritical, supportive and celebratory. No previous writing experience is needed and they are not about spelling, punctuation, technique or publication. There is no wrong way to interpret any of the exercises I suggest and no pressure to share writing. I have found a location that is elegant and stylish but also unpretentious, inspirational and a great deal of fun! A small, five- bedroom family hotel and farm on a 150 acre private estate in a National Park in Andalucia. The food, the accommodation and natural landscape are superb. It is a nurturing, indulgent and empowering experience that enriches everyone’s lives and forges firm friendships. The positive effects of the week last and that is my intention
Tell us about the women’s and mothers’ workshops. Do you think it’s important to have a separate space for women?
I have run Evening Writing Salons and workshops for businesses such as the clothing brand TOAST that are open to all. The retreats are also not exclusively female. The mums, babies and bumps workshops came about because a group of friends who had recently become mothers asked me to facilitate a gathering and, over the years, the workshops have become a safe place for women to meet together and share the particular psychological, physiological, professional and sociological changes of maternity and motherhood. Without a doubt, male energy does affect the dynamic of a group, especially a small group, and perhaps I feel more comfortable with a group of women!
Do you have any workshops or projects that you’re most proud of?
I find every workshop a very moving and inspirational experience. It is a privilege to listen to anyone’s stories – many that have never been shared before. To bear witness to the increase in confidence in writing and ability to communicate, to use imagination and rediscover creativity – the realisation that that their life IS worth recording – is very humbling. I am enormously grateful that everyone puts their trust in me to hold the space and support them.