Creative Writing Retreat? Creative Writing Holiday?

Writing holiday? Writing retreat?

Oh, it’s such a conundrum, what do we call our writing weeks?

I worry that writing holiday sounds too lightweight, too much fun, not enough sweat, grind and concentration on difficult stuff. Doubts might linger that maybe you won’t be pushed, won’t learn enough about developing yourself as a writer, won’t grow enough to justify the expense. And you probably already feel guilty about taking such a seemingly, self-indulgent holiday. Holiday has connotations of relaxation and enjoyment, of lazing in the sun, of laughter and of pampering. Of indulgence. Surely not on a writing course?

But ours are different.

Writing retreat can sound arty-farty and joyless. Visions of being marooned in a chilly mansion with un-comfy beds, chewing on mediocre vegetarian food with a group of humourless, well-read intellectuals, all totally convinced of their own brilliance. But tell your friends you’re going on a writing retreat and you sound serious. But will it be like school? And you were crap at English, Miss Boring told you so. And you can’t spell, your handwritings horrendous and you’ve never had anything published. Apart from that ranting email to the Guardian about Brexit.

But ours are different.

And if I add creative in the title – are you creative enough? Last time you tried to use your imagination, you couldn’t find it.

And if I add therapeutic- Good Lord, is it going to be like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or The Dead Poet’s Society?

Rest assured, my friends – our weeks are unique. They combine everything that is best about a holiday – relaxation, escape from reality, gorgeous location, lovingly and expertly prepared food from best locally-sourced ingredients, freshly cooked three times a day by someone else and no washing up, with everything that is best about a retreat – peaceful surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of normal life, time and space to be alone, mindfulness meditation to learn how to live in now and value every day, permission and encouragement to daydream, an opportunity  to celebrate your past life, acknowledge your present  and inspiration to imagine a new future.

And whether we call it a retreat or a holiday, you will blossom and grow. Nurtured and encouraged, you will experience the joy that your writing gives to others and the enormous physical and psychological benefits that you give to yourself, simply and honestly by writing it down. You will be a writer. Because I truly believe you already are.

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Sex And The Single 67–Year–Old Woman


I hate my vibrator, it makes me feel an absolute fool. It’s a big, fondant pink Rabbit, presented to me two weeks into a new relationship, a couple of years ago. Make of that what you will. An acknowledgement of diminutive stature, of unaddressed erectile dysfunction or an obsession with filling two holes at the same time? I know Mr G was 70 but I expected a little more romance and a little less practical instruction. Anyway, I find I need Bunny’s abilities while at the same time hating his inabilities. I feel guilty but elated every time I use him, in equal measure.

What’s a 67-year-old widow with a lust for life, and a rediscovered self-respect, to do? When I drag Bunny out of his hiding place in my bedroom chest of drawers in the afternoon – not the evening, because one of my children lives at home and I’m still getting over the time my son heard it throbbing away on automatic among my socks and pants – I reassure myself that it’s good exercise for my pelvic floor and my mechanical heart, if not my emotional heart. If I read one more article in the dailies extolling the myriad physical benefits of regular sex, and especially orgasms, in later life, I may very well self-combust. Because they’re always illustrated with the stock photo of a smiling, grey haired, Caucasian heterosexual couple. Luckily, I’m good at doing things on my own.

Trouble is, I’m no longer willing to offer up my body for half a bottle of red and a nice dinner, whether via Tinder or  Guardian Soulmates. And if I’m honest about my age I get no punters anyway. The last person a 67-year-old man wants to have a bit of rumpy-pumpy with is a 67-year-old woman, it seems. All I get from app dating is young flibbertigibbets who think I’m gagging for them to teach me a thing or two. I’m not and they couldn’t. When first widowed, many years ago, I was amazed at the rampant reality of the ‘Mrs Robinson’ phenomenon and I didn’t always turn them down. Now, stuck up here on my pedestal of propriety and higher moral boundaries, I look out on a desert peopled only by internet dating geriatrics whose sole friend is a webcam and who have a very dodg y taste in interior decoration.

‘You think I’d want to have sex with you? With those curtains?’

 A friend discovered her 80-year-mother on her knees one summer afternoon, in the throes of giving her 85-year-old father a blowjob. How long is this yearning going to bloody last? I’ve had the menopause, shouldn’t I be bored by now ? Or failing that, fall in love with a woman who loves gardening ? Another single friend was pleased when, in her 50s, she stopped getting quivers of sexual excitement down below. ‘It was a relief not to be worried about that anymore,’ she explained. I wonder if married friends envy my single state, my freedom to sleep how and when I want in my own bed, to turn the light on and off at will. I can even fill the sheets with digestive biscuit or toast crumbs in the winter and, heaven forbid, sand in the summer when I’m by the beach. 

Shamefully, I’m rapidly in danger of becoming a perv. I mentally undress men in the park, fantasising about what lies beneath those Boden cords or Gap jeans. I stare at their packets as I sit opposite them on the tube. I don’t drool, twitch or rub my thighs à la Vic and Bob, but my imagination could get me arrested.

I miss a man’s warm body in my bed with an ache that not even Pepto Bismol could shift and I’m not prepared to accept second best out of sheer desperation. I want to be made love to, I want to be stroked and tickled with gentleness and respect. Not just to be fancied and ravished but also talked to intelligently afterwards, preferably about politics or food.

My children think I should be grateful that I had more than 30 years with their father and leave it at that. But we never went longer than a couple of weeks without sex, even when he was having chemo. After he died, I spent too long throwing myself at any man who could satisfy my urge for a healthy, male body. It was years before I understood that this behaviour was primarily about my urge to feel loved and protected again. The tender memories of my marriage have left me feeling incomplete without a man. So I’m sorry, sisters, if you think I don’t sound much like the feminist I purport to be, but the truth is I like sex, I like it regularly and with the right person, it’s fun. I also like gossiping about our friends at the end of the day, in bed with the dog and Radio 4. But better the high ground than the swamp. So in the meantime, thanks for the Rabbit, Mr G.

This article first appeared in the launch issue of The Amorist.

Elaine runs writing, meditation and walking holidays in Spain & Wales. Visit:








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Why I’m Adding Dancing


Last night I went to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho with my 28-year-old daughter, 40 years after I was a Saturday-night regular with her father and got down to James Brown. Gone are the days of smoke filled rooms but the atmosphere was just as sultry and seductive. On Mother’s Day this weekend, my three kids are taking me to a hip local eatery where, ‘our Sunday resident DJ will be playing all the Motown/Soul/Disco classics that’ll get your mum on her feet’. Like I need encouragement.

I fell in love in the 60s to the growly vocals of John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson and gave birth to my first child accompanied by a mix-tape of Al Green and Bill Withers. Four years later, it was Prince’s Purple Rain that greeted my second son and after another four years, my daughter arrived to The Gypsy Kings. From my early years in ballet classes, learning the mesmerising steps of the tarantella and mazurka, music and dancing have fortified my life – and every live gig  is a shot of adrenaline far more life enhancing than a vegan lifestyle or statins. My memory of dancing alone on a beach in Costa Rica, plugged into my iPod while my man of the moment tried to stand up on a surf board way out on the waves, is an moment for me that symbolises freedom, happiness and how to be truly alive.  Weddings, parties, friends ‘round for dinner – any excuse and I’m up on the floor.  Even my weekly meditation class has movement, a gentle two-step sway to accompany the preparatory chanting.

I hate gyms and am never going to do a marathon but the 15 minutes of disco dancing that I do every morning in the privacy of my own apartment keeps me fit, feels me with utter joy and puts a smile on my face all day. And this is why I’m taking my digital music library and my Bluetooth portable speaker on my writing retreats in Spain this year; so we can all have the opportunity if the music moves us, to dance with the sun on our faces and our hearts full of  celebration for simply being alive.

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The Emotional Power of Clothing to Inspire Writing


An old acquaintance sent me a message a while ago. A photo of my ex’s jacket, draped on the back of a chair.

‘Is this blah-blah’s? Did he leave it here after dinner last night?’

She’d made a mistake. Got the wrong Elaine. My ex had subsequently married a woman with the same name. The image haunted me for weeks. I saw his shoulders, his broad back. I smelt him, felt him. I was in love with him, all over again.

In a small suitcase, in a wardrobe in my office, I have my late husband’s brown leather, Bass Weejun Penny Loafer’s. With coin still in place. They are a death mask of his feet. In the same wardrobe I have my daughter’s hand-smocked, Tana lawn, Liberty cotton baby dresses; my sons blue and white striped Osh Kosh dungarees and brightly-coloured Nipper sweatshirts. I say they are for prospective grandchildren. But they are momento mori of a past life. When I wear a pair of my late mother’s flashy gold earrings, I say a prayer of guilty gratitude; remembering how often I would silently mock some of her more outrageous fashion choices. I used to sleep with my husband’s Gap grey T-shirt when he first left to work in Germany. In 30 years I had never lived without him and I wrapped it around me like a swaddling cloth.

The emotional power of clothing and of accessories is impossible to over estimate.  Still, when I very rarely buy something new to wear from a proper shop, I have to let it settle into my life before I can wear it. It has to hang around my bedroom, waiting to be introduced – like those rigid, crepe-soled, daisy-punched Clark’s leather sandals, bought in preparation for my autumn return to school.

Every garment in my wardrobe has a story to tell; where I bought it, why did I buy it, where have I worn it? Who have I worn it with? I have a ‘lucky’ pink bra that fits me perfectly, bought from a charity shop with the labels cut out so I’ll never be able to replace it. I have a marmalade panne velvet dress, made when I was a fashion student in the 60s and taught by Antony Price. I have the Chelsea Cobbler stack heeled court shoes I got married in, I tottered ‘round the sitting room in them last week and marvelled at my past dexterity.  I have a short sleeved, screen printed, white, Haines Tshirt bought on a buying trip to New York for Fiorucci in ’73. My daughter wore it clubbing in her teenage years and then I did again in my Mad Brighton Widow incarnation in the early ‘00s. It’s in my chest of drawers, ripped under one armhole, ready for it’s next slice of life – probably at Port Eliot Festival in July this year. If ever I had a talisman, if ever a story needed a final chapter, this will be the garment to provide it.

I include workshops on the emotional power of clothing on my writing retreats in Spain and Wales, for more info and on how to book:

This article was previously published on That’s Not My Age


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Mums, Babies and Bumps Creative Writing Workshops

We now invite mums-to-be to join our classes and write down their journey.

You’ve made me a much better Mum. I think what you do for new Mums is remarkable and transformative.’ Charlotte

‘If I could only afford one class a week, it would be this. It’s been one of the highlights of my maternity leave.’ Emma

‘The only place I know where you can go with you baby and feel comfortable and secure AND do something for yourself without feeling guilty.’ Jane

 Where and when? Every Wednesday 10-12pm and 2–4pm in central Stoke Newington, N16.

What? Unique writing workshops that give you space and encouragement to record your life-changing journey as an expectant and new mother.  Small, supportive groups.

How much? £15 per session, no need to pay in advance, includes teas, coffee, homemade cake, biscuits, baby toys and baby cuddles

No writing experience needed, for babies from conception to one year.

TO BOOK: email

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Writing, Walking & Meditation Holidays Spain 2017

‘Think Gosford Park meets Pedro Almodavar!’

Where? Finca Buenvino, Sam & Jeannie Chesterton’s elegant and bohemian Andalucian family home and organic farm, set in 150 acres of the Sierra De Aracena National Park in south west Spain. Recently voted one of the Top Andalucian Hotels by the Times. Recommended by Alastair Sawday. The atmosphere is relaxed, inclusive and down-to-earth. Perfect for solo travellers, couples or groups of friends.


Saturday 17th June – Saturday 24th June, 7 nights

Saturday 2nd September – Saturday 9th September, 7 nights

How much?

£1450 sharing, £1700 single. All rooms have their own bathroom and are furnished with antiques, art, a vast array of interesting books plus super-comfy beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and pillowcases, down duvets and pillows. The only sound you’ll hear is birdsong and all rooms have fabulous views of the rolling, wooded landscape.

What does it include?

Twice-daily writing workshops, twice-daily mindfulness meditation sessions, guided walks, spa visit with massage, visit to Europe’s largest grotto in Aracena, breakfast in local unspoilt pueblos, tapas tour of Seville,  gastronomic dining at breakfast, lunch and dinner, tapas, afternoon tea, all wine with lunch and dinner and G&Ts. See here for the Chestertons beautifully written and illustrated cook book, The Buenvino Cookbook: Recipes From Our Farmhouse in Spain.

We will collect you from central Seville on the morning of the first day of the holiday and return you on the morning of the last.      

Any extras? 

Only your travel to and from Seville. Pay in sterling before.

Tell me a bit more about the writing workshops?

No writing experience is necessary, this is an opportunity to experiment, explore and write down your life in a relaxed and uncritical atmosphere. An opportunity to share your stories in a small, supportive group of like-minded writers, to put your heart on the page and to escape from the confines of technique, grammar and spelling. The workshops give you permission and encouragement to interpret the set exercises in YOUR way, rediscovering your unique creativity and also, give you time and space to let go of your routine and be nurtured, pampered and entertained! With plenty of time for peaceful contemplation, let nature inspire you and good food and good company provide the best sort of writing holiday. You will return home refreshed and reassured, with new skills, new strengths and new friendships.

For more info and photos:

To book and for any more questions please email:




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Writing & Walking Holidays Wales 2017

When? Fri 28 April – Tues 2 May, 4 nights. Fri 22 Sept – Tues 26 Sept, 4 nights

Where? a beautiful, secluded, private, family-owned retreat set in 94 acres of Snowdonia National Park.

How much?  Sharing £600 in twin room or bunk room Single £800 in all rooms. Double bedroom, two people £900. Bunk room has own bathroom. Minimum four people, maximum five. Small, intimate groups to encourage a supportive, noncritical environment. No writing experience necessary.

What does that include?  Collection from Bangor train station by Landrover Defender at 1pm on first day of retreat and return to station on last day for 1pm. Plus all workshops, guided walks, special lunch out  at a super-lovely local cafe, full board, wine with dinner. Tea, coffee, homemade cake, fruit, juice and biscuits available at all times.

Join us in the land of Arthurian legends and magical folk tales, deep in the wilds of Snowdonia National Park. Stay in an enchanting 200 year old, white washed, stone built, Grade 1 listed cottage on Nick and Charlotte Ashbee’s family 94 acre farm. With under floor heating, Welsh blankets, log burners, private hot tub, fully equipped kitchen for early morning cups of tea or late-night snacks, this is a cosy and welcoming hideaway with lots of nooks and crannies, narrow wooden stairs and deep windowsills lined with cushions. A romantic, fairy tale location, a perfect haven to experience the mental and physical benefits of creative and therapeutic writing workshops, guided walks and mindfulness meditation. Stunning natural landscape, constantly changing light sweeping over the hills, pure air and the supportive, uncritical companionship of other writers with inspire you to write down your life and create your own story. You will return home refreshed, rejuvenated and with new friendships firmly forged!   Guests arriving at other times are requested to make their own travel arrangements.




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My Mother’s Diaries

Photo courtesy of Archivist magazine.

When my mother died in 2004, three months after my father, I was convinced they’d hatched a plot to disappear on yet another unaffordable fancy cruise. In their 57 years together, they’d never spent more than two weeks apart and had formed a united front, guarding family secrets and dishing out corporal punishment.

As I was the eldest child, they had appointed me as joint executor of their will, despite our fractured relationship. Accompanied by my younger siblings, I had to sort out their bungalow in Truro and prepare it for sale. The cruises had taken a toll on the equity and we needed to shift it fast. I felt like a burglar, sifting through their possessions. But what I discovered in their loft was to change my life and support me emotionally in ways I had never thought possible.

Among the sets of false teeth, feather boas and dusty bin-liners were fragile cardboard boxes crammed with a written record of my mother’s life. Acceptances to a dance in honour of her “coming of age” in 1946, congratulatory telegrams still in envelopes, birthday cards – their colours still fresh and bright. There were brown paper bags with wedding invitations and acceptances, lists of linen and glassware collected for her bottom drawer. There were pocket-sized household account books from 1949, listing weekly outgoings: “Rent 7/6. Gas 4/-. Football pools 2/6. Money put by for insurance 4/7. Clothes £1. Coal 2/6”. And in March, “Baby £2”.

The problem with you, Elaine, is that you always want to be the centre of attention
Baby was me, born in September 1949. I counted back on my fingers. It must have been when she first found out.

There were diaries – lots of small, battered and bent diaries dating back to 1938. I drove home to repack my booty in Ikea cardboard caskets – where they would stay for another 10 years, moving with me several times.

From the start, I wasn’t the daughter my mother wanted and she wasn’t the mother I needed. The first-born child to Audrey Joan Kilford, nee Bright, I was an alien creature with an independent spirit and overwhelming needs. As a toddler I was often left with my fierce maternal grandmother while my parents went out dancing, my mother smelling of face powder and Goya Black Rose, her ball gown swishing in the dark as she leant over to kiss me goodnight. But I was “naughty” – I stayed awake, crying inconsolably for her return. In later years, kneeling on the lino by the side of my bed, I would have to repeat: “God bless Daddy, God bless Mummy. If I have been a bad girl today, make me a good girl tomorrow.” Fat chance – I had the devil in me.

“The problem with you, Elaine,” she would say, “is that you always want to be the centre of attention.”

I lost my mother when I finally found my voice and contradicted her. This wasn’t in her motherly plan.

“I don’t know where you get it from,” she would remark. “You must be adopted or dropped on the wrong doorstep.” I imagined this happening three doors up the road, where they had window boxes and a nice car.

When I joined CND at the age of 14 and then organised a march through Basingstoke against the council’s closure of a local music venue, my status as a public embarrassment was sealed. Especially when I grabbed the front page of the Hants & Berks Gazette. “What will the neighbours say, Elaine?” Not: “Well done, Elaine, for standing up for what you believe in and having great media skills.”

It’s difficult to love a cuckoo – I understand that now. When children reflect their parents’ aims, aspirations and personal traits, there’s a warm, fuzzy glow all round.

Discovering, when I was 17, that I had a sex life was the last straw for my mother. “You’ll get yellow fever,” she exclaimed as she moulded pastry round a pie dish. “Go and look on the bookcase in your bedroom.”

There, flopped on a ledge, was a knotted, used condom. A no longer rampant symbol of congress with my boyfriend, who was to become my partner for 32 years until his death in 2000.

Years later, when I had my own children, I still couldn’t get it right. Suddenly my mother’s workaholic, skinny, fashionista, globe-trotting daughter, who swore and smoked, metamorphosed into a breast-feeding earth mother who shopped organically and made flapjacks with malt and molasses. Why did I have to be such a changeling? Why couldn’t I stay still, be normal and behave myself? My indefatigable energy made me uncontrollable.

But still I wanted to please my mother, to hear her tell me she loved me. I wanted her to say that she was proud of what I’d achieved, of my children – her grandchildren – of my long, happy marriage and beautiful home. I wanted acceptance. Whatever I chose, whatever path I took, it was always the wrong one for my mother.

Discovering that I had a sex life was the last straw for my mother. ‘You’ll get yellow fever,’ she exclaimed
And now, aged 66, I see how similar we are. Her flirtatious behaviour with men, her obsession with her appearance – especially her hair. Her flashy clothes that weren’t age-appropriate, her love of baking and dancing rather too enthusiastically … Now I, too, smile at babies in prams and take delight in my over-populated bird feeders.

In 2010, after a heart attack and the end of a relationship, I returned to London to a strange flat, a new community and no idea how what to do next. I unpacked my goods from storage and opened up the Ikea boxes. Here were her diaries, her writing clear and readable in fountain pen; here were some of my father’s. His writing, feathery and mostly in pencil, was more difficult to decipher. Dad, why didn’t you use a pen, just once in a while?

I found her love letters to my father, written on blue Basildon Bond. There were acid, unsympathetic letters from her mother when she was living with her in-laws, admonishing her to behave well and complaining endlessly about her own life. In the diaries I discovered a woman I never knew, the woman she would never reveal to her daughter. A woman also insecure and afraid, who longed for a husband, longed for love.

Pompously, I searched for political references. “Had hair done at Olyve Yerbury, Japanese surrendered”; her worries about her appearance triumphed every time. I read about her ill-fated engagement to a Canadian airman, which my grandmother had vetoed. Later she discovered he already had a wife at home.

I read about scabies, sewing, mending and making-do, and about the night she met my father: “Met Alan Kilford, he’s rather sweet.” Luckily, in his GPO union diary, he thought the same. I searched for a diary for 1949, the year of my birth. There wasn’t one.

But for years she had written down her life, recorded her hopes and fears and never thrown the diaries away. I felt special, I felt that for the very first time my mother had spoken honestly and only to me. I had her attention. Her language, so simple and full of hope, was as precious and rewarding as any literary memoir.

Had her diaries been a place she could escape to? Had she shared them with anyone? I have kept notebooks, journals and diaries for the whole of my life – initially because they were the one place I could say how I felt without criticism or condemnation, where I could finish a sentence without being interrupted. Was that the same for her?

“What a shame you didn’t know about them when your mother was alive,” friends say. But she would never have answered my questions. Our relationship was not equal and she protected her “privacy”. It wasn’t until very late in her life that she told me her age, and when doctors ask about family medical history, I have no idea. After death, she has revealed herself. She has linked me to my past and taught me compassion. Now I feel loved – and that is her greatest gift.

This article was first published in The Guardian 23.04.16



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Why You Should Write A Journal

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Yoga & Writing Retreats In France

Find peace to discover the power of therapeutic and creative writing, gentle yoga, mindfulness meditation, guided country walks and wild swimming to uncover  the wonder in your life and unlock your creativity at Little French Retreat. The week is fuelled by an expertly prepared, nourishing, seasonal, vegetarian menu served with local organic wines and includes visits to local markets and a biodynamic vineyard.

Ancient Gascony, July 2-9 and October 1-8, seven nights, all inclusive from £965. Pick-up free from Bordeaux.  Daily writing workshops, daily yoga classes, daily meditation classes, daily guided walks –  full board with vegetarian, home cooked meals prepared using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.


Join experienced writer and journalist Elaine Kingett and classical Hatha yoga teacher Tamsin Chubb, at Tamsin’s lovingly restored 18th century home in the peace and quiet of  secluded, south west France. A week to stretch your mind and body  with writing adventures, yoga practice, mindfulness meditation, wild swimming, guided walks and visits to local markets. Share healthy meals and life stories, make new friends and discover your true path. Give yourself permission to completely switch off from the world and indulge your body and your mind. Return home relaxed and restored with a recipe for a more creative and gentler way of  life and a notebook full of ideas for stories and poems.

TO BOOK and for more information on the retreat and photos see:


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