The 24-hour Retreat

This entry is part 5 of the series Sandy Cove 2003

WEDNESDAY 8th continues:

The Sandy Cove delegates who remained for the 24-hour retreat signed up for the writing track of their choosing. The options were Beginner, Fiction, or Non-fiction. I headed for Non-fiction, because I had attended the Non-fiction continuing class. However I had only been there for minutes when I realised I was in the wrong place.

Heather Gemmen, Kitty BucholtzWhen it was my turn to introduce myself and say something about the writing I planned to work on, I announced, “I’m Shirley Corder from South Africa, as you know, and I’ve just realised I’m in the wrong class!” After some laughter the group encouraged me to switch to the fiction class, where I received a warm welcome from Geni and Sandy, both CWGers.

Our mentors for the fiction group were writer and speaker Sharon Ewell Foster and Kitty Bucholtz, a script writer. During the first session we shared the sort of writing we did and what we planned to work on during the retreat.

AlphaSmartBefore the conference commenced, someone who wished to remain anonymous had presented me with the most incredible gift of a new AlphaSmart. This laptop word processor is smaller and ighter than a laptop computer, weighing only 12 pounds and is popular with writers in America. I first heard of it several years ago when Lisa Wiener, the moderator of CWG, won an AlphaSmart and described it to the list. From then on I longed to own one, but they are not obtainable in South Africa.

Since taking up writing seriously just over two years ago, I had often wished for some sort of portable p.c., but knew it was out of the question. When I realised that the Lord planned for me to come to Sandy Cove I asked Rob, “Do you think I could be very cheeky and ask the Lord for the money to buy an AlphaSmart when I’m there?”

Rob replied in typical fashion, “Why not? He can always say ‘No.'”

Not only did God say “Yes”, He arranged for me to receive it as a gift from someone who knew nothing about my prayer—and in time for me to use it at the conference. What a wonderful God He is, and what lovely children He has.

At last I had a chance to use my new machine. I curled up in a large armchair in the foyer overlooking the beautiful Chesapeake Bay and worked on my prologue.

The writers on retreat had lunch together in a half empty dining room. Many of the original group of writers had left and the incoming Prisoner’s Fellowship Leadership had not yet arrived.

After lunch it was back to work. Mid-afternoon, the fiction group met together once more and we shared how our work was progressing. Half way through the session, one lady read her material to us and we all fell silent. This was not fiction. She was sharing from her heart. It was both emotional and traumatic. No one stopped her or commented as she read this impassioned article, tears streaming down her cheeks.

When she finished, we came alongside her. The rest of the session we built this woman up and prayed with her. It amazed me. Everyone put their own needs and aspirations on hold to support and build up one troubled lady. From the look of peace on her face for the rest of the day, I would say we were successful. We may not have accomplished much writing, but coming alongside this woman bonded us together as a group and hopefully helped her. This was clearly the Lord’s priority.

Several of the Sandy Cove faculty suggested that I help myself to as many of the left-over freebies as I would like to take back to South Africa to share with other writers. When I explained that I didn’t have room in my luggage, they said that Sandy Cove would pay for the postage up to a given amount. Amazing! It was difficult deciding what to take as I had no idea how much the postage would cover, so I limited myself to things I knew the folk back home would use.

StoryBoardingAfter dinner the groups met together once more. This time Kitty taught us about Story Boarding, a novel-writing technique. The two mentors then helped us to work through various story-telling techniques. To end the session, Sharon stretched out her closed hand in front of us. She said we should spend time that evening and “Write a fiction story around . . .” She opened her hand to reveal her Grandmother’s antique brooch that we had admired earlier in the day.

Oh my. It was 21:30. My forehead ached from trying to keep my eyes open. I still needed to pack. Still, this was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion and I need to get the most out of everything.

We went off to our rooms. I packed while Geni sat in bed and rattled away on her AlphaSmart.

It was nearly midnight by the time I was able to close my cases, and Geni was already curled up asleep. I went off to the foyer in the hope that I would be able to force my sleep-deprived brain to be creative. In addition to my AlphaSmart, I took three coins (75cents) for a cup of strong cappuccino coffee.

With the foyer in semidarkness and the armchairs looking so inviting, I was tempted to give up the whole idea of writing about Granny’s brooch. However I put my things down on a chair, switched on a lamp and went to get some coffee. I passed a lady, dressed in pyjamas and gown, pacing the length of the foyer. She explained that she couldn’t sleep, and this was how she combated insomnia, by walking.

I went to the same machine I’d fought with before, confident that we had now established a good relationship. Maybe not. The machine was also tired. It rejected my third quarter. Next to the machine was the change machine, offering to give me coins in exchange for a one dollar note. Only one problem: my dollars were in the bedroom.

Eventually I took a walk back to the room, past the marching insomniac, and crept in as quietly as possible. Our “keys” were flat cards that unlocked the door with a piercing beep. I tiptoed to the dressing table and carefully lifted my purse, wondering why these manoeuvres are always so loud late at night when someone else is sleeping. Geni was lying with a blindfold on so that the light wouldn’t bother her, but her breathing slowed and I knew I had woken her. I whispered, “Sorry!” and slipped back out the room.

I passed the midnight walker once more and returned to the change machine. I fed in my dollar note. It spat it back. By this stage I was positively craving coffee and it was getting later and later. I still had a story to write. The marathon walker came over to see what I was up to. She looked at me sadly, then took the dollar note from my hand and inserted it confidently into the machine. I almost felt relieved when it spat it back at her too. She decided there was something wrong with my note.

Back to the room I trotted. A “beep” . . .” “Humph!” rustle & clink, and “Sorry Geni” later, I returned to the machine. It didn’t like my next note either.

My fellow night owl returned to help. Then she had a brilliant idea. If I fed the dollar into the Coca-Cola machine and pressed “CHANGE” it would give me four dimes, and then I could get my coffee. I was dubious. But it was late and I was desperate. I was also a South African. She understood these machines.

Off we both strode to the coke machine further down the corridor. I inserted my dollar and looked for the “CHANGE” button. There was none. I looked for the “CANCEL” button. There was none. Resigned, I pressed the “COKE” button and collected my tin of well-chilled Coke . . . and one quarter change. Maybe she didn’t know the machines any better than I did.

“Beep . . .” “Humph!” rustle & clink, “Sorry Geni”. This time I brought my entire pouch containing every bit of money I possessed. Of course, I have no idea why I didn’t do that in the first place. When I reached the corridor, I noticed my accomplice had gone. She was probably exhausted and ready to sleep and dream about coffee and coke.

At 02:30 in the morning I phoned Rob to wish him a good morning. He had just woken from a good night’s sleep. I had yet to go to bed. It was really strange being behind him in time. I was used to being the one ahead of my American friends. I eventually clambered into bed knowing it was nearly time to get up.

THURSDAY 9th I awoke a few hours later, bleary-eyed and foggy-brained, to a spectacular dawn. Geni was painfully wide-awake and appeared to have survived her night’s entertainment better than her jet-lagged South African room-mate.

According to some sources, it takes one day to recover from each time zone you cross. That means I was supposed to be recovered as of that day. However the statistics probably expect you to sleep a reasonable amount during that time! I had one day before I would cross four more time zones.Retreat- fiction

We were due to meet for our last session of the Fiction Group at 09:00. Geni and I had agreed to take Kitty Bucholtz in the car with us. After dropping me at Robin’s, they would continue to Baltimore International, the same airport I would be leaving from the next day. I needed to check in at the unearthly hour of 04:00.

Because of the time of Kitty’s plane, Geni and I decided to pack our luggage into the car before the session. We collected one of the conference centre’s impressive, two storied baggage trolleys and loaded all our considerable luggage onto it. We then carefully dragged and shoved it in and out of the lift, through the glass doors, and up a steep slope to the far end of the parking lot where Geni had, for some reason, parked the car. I held the trolley still while Geni opened the boot, or trunk as the Americans call it. We needed both pairs of hands to lift our book-heavy cases, but as soon as we let go the trolley, it started to rotate ominously. I grabbed my leather writing case full of notes and wedged it behind the back wheel.

We gripped the first case and 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . we heaved it into the boot. As it thudded into place we sensed movement and glanced round to discover that the trolley, relieved of part of its burden, had jumped the writing case, and was now careening downhill, gathering speed, complete with the balance of our luggage.

Both of us broke into a stumbling run; not an easy task, since we had been sitting almost continuously for five days. I caught up with the runaway beast and lunged for the handle just as the front wheel hit the kerbstone. I was able to prevent it tipping over and crashing everything to the ground, but the cases on the end slid gracefully onto the dirt beyond the stone edging. Sleep deprived and hysterical, we reloaded the trolley between giggles and pushed it back up the slope. This time we both held one foot behind the wheels and kept the rebel trolley under control.

We arrived late for the session, but neither of our mentors had arrived yet. We both collapsed in a heap, and then I realised – my camera was in my kit-bag in the boot of the car.

I jogged back to the furthest end of the parking lot but couldn’t remember what colour the car was. After some deliberation, I stood facing them all, took a deep breath and pushed the “UNLOCK” button. A dark grey car flashed its lights at me. I quickly collected my camera and arrived back at the room gasping for breath in time for the session.

It was amazing to hear the different stories around Sharon’s grandmother’s antique brooch. With the exception of one, the stories centred on the brooch. In one story the brooch only appeared near the end, although it did have a key role when it appeared. Considering the circumstances I thought it was quite impressive that it appeared at all! It was lucky it didn’t end up in a cup of coffee.

Sandy’s was the shortest. “It was a dark and stormy night as he sashayed across the room . . .”
At that point she had fallen asleep. Now why didn’t I think of that?

It was a hilarious and somewhat noisy session. Twice Sharon Elliot, who was trying to work with the Beginner’s Group next door, came in and stood with hands on hips saying, “You call this work?”

We decided to make a booklet of our “Granny’s Brooch” stories and Bigmouth volunteered to do this. A few of them handed me the stories there and then. Others said they would email them to me. Sharon said she would ask Jim to put them up on the Conference Web site.

After sharing our stories we moved outside for a group photograph. We hijacked an innocent passer-by from the conference to come and take photos of us as a group, with the dock in the background.

How I loved my new digital camera, purchased just before I left South Africa. It was so good to be able to just snap away without worrying about how much it would cost to develop the hundreds of photos I had already taken.

At 11.30, Kitty, Geni and I finally took our leave of Sandy Cove, driving slowly down the long, winding lane flanked with tall trees, clothed in their magnificent, autumn colours.Goodbye Sandy Cove

For Kitty and Geni it was time to go back home. For me it was moving into the next phase of my incredible “Sandy Cove Adventure”. That night I would sleep in Baltimore; the following night I would be in Selah on the extreme western side of North America. I was going to spend time with a good cyber-friend, Glenna Schuchmann, then with a critique partner, Elaine Heys in Bognor Regis near London, England, all before returning to South Africa.