Time to Read Short Stories retreat

Time To Read - Short Stories

Venue: Othona West Dorset, Coast Road, Burton Bradstock, Bridport, Dorset DT6 4RN 

Why short stories? Why in community? Why now?

Is there life after lockdown? For sure, there is. But how do we best help ourselves and each other to replenish our hope? Of course, we can now let rip on our need of togetherness again. We can feel free to see and stay with family or friends. We can go to the sea.

But we do well also to remember what it was about lockdown that we miss: how hope was kept alive by the passing moments of togetherness with strangers who lingered to talk as never before, while the lockdown world around us held its breath. Remember how we exchanged names and told each other stories about how our lives were going, and we came away having glimpsed deeper into their lives than we could have in normal times. 

Short stories are, for those same reasons, just what the doctor ordered for during and after a pandemic. As we read, we get to meet and know and glimpse deeply into others’ lives for a few moments, maybe fifteen minutes at most, and then they’re gone, but they have given us the energy of added life.

We are glad for the predicament we have had in common – more than ever, more serious than ever – and the empathy and consolation that has come from that. We have learned how those we met, like the characters in stories, are coping with what they have had to face. How their hand of cards is different from ours but they have tried to play it against much bigger odds

In 1348 at the height of the Black Death, ten young people left plague-stricken Florence to find refuge in the hills and tell each other stories. The result was Boccaccio’s Decameron. Did these young people really exist? It doesn’t matter. We get to know them as they do each other. Their stories open up yet other lives into which we can glimpse deeply. 

In 2022 we thought to create a chance for ten or more of you to leave the places of your lockdown, come to the sea, and, in the company of others for a few days, share stories by Boccaccio and others, meet their characters in passing, and be left with the energy, empathy, consolation and company they offer us now, when we need good human top-ups of every sort and can get our hope replenished all over again.

What stories can do for us

In his poem ‘Musée Des Beaux Arts’, W H Auden writes that when something momentous is happening, like Icarus falling into the sea, people don’t pay attention to it for long. If at all.

Those of us who love short stories are much less likely to look away. Our eye is often compelled by the sight of someone larger or smaller than life, or by a place or event which seems to be posing a question. Then we want to know more, much more, everything in fact – to follow these people, hang about in these places, gate-crash these events, and be there for what happens next.

That is why we want to read short stories, simply because doing so is like being able to walk invisibly into the somewhat mysterious lives of oddly irresistible human beings, often at knife-edge moments in their lives, and stay alongside them for an hour or a day, until they vanish off a final page we can’t believe is the end. Yet this is all part of the pleasure.

What Will Happen

Time To Read – Short Stories will be a chance to read by ourselves and talk together about some of the best of these stories while relaxing in a restful house by the sea. It is designed to appeal to readers and writers of short stories alike.

We will meet three times a day for short reading and discussion groups in which your own experiences of the stories can be explored with those of others in the group. Personal views are what matters, not some academic correctness or other.

The Resources and the Facilitator

The story writers we will concentrate on are five of the very best across the centuries: Giovanni Boccaccio, Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Shena Mackay and Katherine Mansfield.

You will be provided with books of stories by these authors, along with a 2018 Penguin collection featuring a number of other first-rate contemporary short story writers including Kazuo Ishiguro, A L Kennedy, Zadie Smith and Rose Tremain. The cost of these books is included in what you pay Othona.

Graham Fawcett lectures on the lives and works of poets to live and online audiences and holds workshops on writing. He broadcasted on Radio Three for twenty-five years as a deviser and presenter of programmes on literature, music and Italy.

His interviewing of novelists has included conversations on R3 with Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble, Carlos Fuentes and Ian McEwan. Graham has been leading groups at Othona for nearly ten years.

Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th May 2022. Bookable now. For more details, go to: https://www.othonawestdorset.org.uk/civicrm/event/info?id=2022 

"I know that those who come will be in for a treat. You know how much I appreciate your skills and encouraging presence on the many courses I have participated in".
Sue Aldred, London
about Graham's 2021 Othona course Time To Write
"The group was both supportive and incisive - a rare combination - and you led with a very light hand and great erudition.
Poetry seminar member, London
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Top picture: Othona West Dorset – house, garden, woodland, coast

Writer pictures (from left to right, row by row): 

Giovanni Boccaccio, Portrait by Raffaello Morghen (c. 1822)

Anton Chekhov (unknown photographer, c.1895-1900) 

Kate Chopin (unknown photographer, c. 1890s)

Katherine Mansfield (unknown photographer)

Shena Mackay by Guillem Lopez, Edinburgh International Book Festival 2009

Lower picture: Othona West Dorset – the gate at the bottom of the woodland path, and the sea beyond


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