Under Rough Ridge
2019 Writers' Retreat
“Such a beautiful, encouraging, ‘real’, collaborative weekend. A community has formed and it would be lovely to have the opportunity to return.”
“Absolutely wonderful. I feel inspired, rejuvenated and connected. Thank you!"
“Organization superb, food fantastic, company wonderful and learning unforgettable. I feel very inspired and motivated to try different kinds of writing.”
“Your team is so talented, experienced, generous, considerate, fun and cohesive. This has been an excellent retreat!
“I found it very helpful in sparking a passion and a new appreciation of writing.”
“A+++++ Incredible weekend. Thank you. I’d recommend it to others but I don’t want too many people to know.”
“A wonderful opportunity for like minded people to get together and enjoy hearing and sharing other peoples’ stories and meet new friends. The level of participation and hospitality extended to us from everyone in the town.”
“The whole weekend was well thought through. A lovely mixture and balance, creating safety and trust to go deep and have fun.”
“It was a wonderful retreat. I loved every minute. I loved the talks, the spaces for quiet, the environment, the company, the support, being able to go to the pub. Thank you for your vision and offering. A very enriching and enjoyable experience.”
Report by a Participant
There were 43 of us, and we had gathered in early September from all over the South Island and as far away as Auckland and Melbourne, all with the same objective – to learn more about the arts of wordsmithing, and to share our own ideas.
We were attending the inaugural Under Rough Ridge Writers’ Retreat weekend, in Oturehua at the northern end of the Ida Valley in Central Otago’s Maniatoto district – a tiny village with a pub and a general store, a population of 34, and a place of peace, tranquillity and enormous wide-sky beauty.
The weekend was the brainchild of a tight group of writers, poets, and word-artists, including Jillian Sullivan, Bridget Auchmuty, Paula Wagemaker and Mike Riddell. Acting in the capacity of benign Godfather was former New Zealand poet laureate Brian Turner, who was available to speak both to individuals and with the whole assembly.
All the workshop tutors live in Oturehua, including film director Rose Riddell, Mike’s wife, who chaired the general sessions. Theme for the weekend was “History and heritage – what is it that we want to save?”, and its object was to inspire and provoke story-telling.
The programme had been almost a year in the making, and included sessions on creative non-fiction writing, led by Jillian Sullivan; poetry, with Bridget Auchmuty; editing, with Paula Wagemaker; and literary fiction writing, led by Mike Riddell.
Jillian Sullivan describes herself as a novelist, poet, essayist, writer, teacher at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and Massey University, and as a builder and earth plasterer. Mike Riddell is a novelist, playwright, poet, screenwriter and producer, and lecturer at both Auckland and Otago universities. Paula Wagemaker works as an editor, author, and an editing/publishing teacher at Whitireia national tertiary institute. Rose Riddell is a retired District Court judge, a speaker, an actor, and a film director. Brian Turner, as well as being a renowned poet, is also an essayist, biographer, an environmental activist and a New Zealand icon.
The workshops, which spanned the weekend and which were held in the local hall and also private homes, were avidly attended, and covered considerable detail in each of the topics, with practical writing exercises and plenty of time for discussion and swapping of ideas, concepts and methods of working on the different styles of writing. There was also plenty of time for informal social discussion, including over drinks and meals at the Oturehua Railway Hotel.
On the Saturday evening, attendees were both entertained and intrigued by illusionist, film-maker and fly-fishing guide Declan Wong, who showed off a truly remarkable display of sleight-of-hand.
As well, several on-site history-related workshops were run in conjunction with the weekend – a visit to Jillian Sullivan’s recently-completed straw-bale home, with its beaten-earth floors and mud, straw and cow-dung walls, and her detailed explanation of the construction; and also a close look at the near-completed wood-floored yurt with its heavy canvas sides and central skylight, which will soon be the home of Feldenkrais practitioner, poet, short-story writer and teacher Bridget Auchmuty.
A tour of Gilchrist’s Store, the oldest such general store in the country still operating, proved a delight to those participating. Storekeeper John Hellier offered a fascinating account of both the heritage and the current operation, setting it in the history of rural New Zealand.
What may be one of the world’s smallest chapels, owned by Rose Riddell, was open to those enjoying the weekend, and a number spent brief quiet times in the beautifully-furnished tiny (10ft square) building, complete with its still operable Mason & Hamilton treadle organ, its miniature lectern and bible, white-draped altar with candles, and single comfortable chair.
At the end of the final session, on Sunday afternoon, there were widespread requests that similar gatherings be held in future, and it is understood the organisers are now giving the proposal serious consideration.
Kingsley Field, Oturehua, September 12, 2019.