Writing on the wild side

Escape. Whether it’s to a sandy beach in Cuba or a steep moun­tain peak in the Himalayas, every­one longs to get away from their day-to-day routine once in a while.

But as well as leav­ing some­thing be­hind, what about mov­ing towards

Me and Shannon after kayak­ing and hik­ing to the Grassy Knoll.

a goal you’ve held close to your heart for as long as you can re­mem­ber? Something you really want to do but some­how there’s nev­er enough time, in­spir­a­tion or even just plain know-how.

That’s ex­actly what happened the last week in May when a small group of people brought their ideas and par­tially com­pleted ma­nu­scripts to a Wilderness Writing Retreat at Seawatch Cabins in Nuchatlitz Provincial Park.

Surrounded by pristine wil­der­ness, we dis­cussed fo­cus, point of view and act­ive voice. We de­bated ways to carve time out of the day to write and the best way to find a pub­lish­er. And we all cre­ated timelines for fin­ish­ing our projects.

Nuchatlitz is a wil­der­ness area and wild­life is plen­ti­ful. The fawn with this doe es­caped be­fore I could take a photo. 

While do­ing so, we watched a sea ot­ter do­ing the back­stroke in the bay and a mar­tin scam­per­ing across the deck each morn­ing. We also saw five bear (from a safe dis­tance) and wolf sign on some of our walks.

I couldn’t have asked for more con­geni­al stu­dents. Everyone was totally com­mit­ted to tak­ing their ma­nu­script to the next stage…and did. I’m sure some found the red ink on their work daunt­ing but when I saw the re­vi­sions they made, I was astoun­ded at the improvement.

Shannon and Yvonne col­lab­or­ate on some revisions.

A bal­ance of private time and group in­struc­tion ad­dressed in­di­vidu­al pro­jects and skill levels,” notes Yvonne Maximchuk. “Paula gave me ex­cel­lent and per­tin­ent in­struc­tion in how to write to my best abil­it­ies and helped bring my mem­oir to a whole new level. I was thrilled!”

Yvonne leads the way on a kayak expedition.

As a new au­thor I had no idea how to edit my work,” adds Dodie Eyer who is work­ing on a children’s chapter book. “It was a real turn­ing point for me. And Shannon made us all feel very much at home. The food was de­li­cious, fresh, healthy and at­tract­ive. I loved learn­ing how to kayak!”

Yes, neither man nor wo­man lives by work alone. When not writ­ing, we feasted on sump­tu­ous homemande meals. Shannon Bailey, host for the re­treat, wowed us with her flair for put­ting to­geeth­er de­light­ful blends of col­our, taste and nu­tri­tious cuisine.

Dodie ad­mires wild flowers at the Grassy Knoll. 

In ad­di­tion to cook­ing and work­ing on a young adult nov­el, Shannon also doubled as wil­der­ness guide and in­struct­or. We kayaked sheltered la­goons, poin­ted our bows to­wards the white-cres­ted waves of the open Pacific Ocean and hiked gravel beaches and wood­land trails. At night, the si­lence was enorm­ous, the stars a cas­cade of light in the sky. 

Some ran­dom highlights:
• yoga on a sunny deck
• the “Aha!” look on participant’s faces
• Shannon’s stun­ning back garden
• lively dis­cus­sions on writ­ing and life in general
• sea­food bisque made with oysters picked off the beach
• the pro­fu­sion of wild flowers at Grassy Knoll
• chocol­ate brownies topped with rhu­barb-straw­berry sauce
• see­ing ma­nu­scripts move from good to very good 


As well as work­ing on writ­ing, friend­ships were formed, ideas shared and pos­sib­il­it­ies ex­plored. What a great es­cape! I can­’t wait to do it all over again later this year.

The back garden at Seawatch Cabins. All pho­tos by Dodie and Paula.