Reviews Relax and Write 3 – September 2018

Last year I subconsciously made a commitment to attend a Relax and Write Retreat having seen a few enticing event invitations and images float through my Facebook feed. When the Evans Head event notice popped up I decided to go for it even though it involved a complicated calendar reshuffle. This effort was rewarded a thousand-fold.

Edwina’s blog covers the details and structure of the retreat, so I’ll just summarise my highlights. I loved the daily yoga and meditation sessions, was at the edge of my seat during the fascinating, emotional and hilarious writing sessions, was in awe listening to the writing of my fellow retreaters, partied at Saturday’s Open Mike Night and felt so pampered having a wonderful dinner cooked for me each evening. As a bonus, the retreat was located across the road from the beautiful Evans Head beach… so was able to have early morning and sunset walks.

I feel confident saying that the long weekend will be in the top 2 of my annual 10 Great Things I Did This Year… and I’ve had a bloody amazing year.

My thanks to Edwina and Helena for not only sharing their experience, industry insights and talent with us, but also for creating a safe and loving space and time for creativity, open heartedness and laughter. Suffice to say, Relax and Write Retreat at Evans Head 2019 is already in calendar.

Jenni Mulligan (Relax and Write 3)

Below is a blog post from Nicola Wardley – a retreat participant in Relax and Write 3 giving you a good idea of how the retreat works – and with some examples of her writing.

Ever wondered what happens on a writing retreat?

Wonder no more … read on, and I’ll tell you. I spent the weekend at the Relax and Write Retreat hosted by Edwina Shaw and Helena Pastor in Evan’s Head.

Why a writing retreat?
Curiosity drove me to this quiet campground set by the beach on a quiet stretch of the Northern NSW coast for my first retreat. What miracles of wordcount would materialise? Who would I meet that would influence my thinking, broaden my experience, perhaps even become part of my ongoing writing community? What does relaxing have to do with writing?

The arrival was what you’d expect: a little awkward, strangers brought together, the joy of the scenery, the mild horror of the shared bathroom (yup: princess moment). We gathered in a timber and stained-glass hall within ears’ reach of surf pounding on Airforce Beach and Edwina gathered us in for what she described as a deep relaxation.

Strangers lying on mats on polished timber floorboards, listening to a dulcet voice urging us to feel our scalps soften, our brains melt, our limbs loosen their memories of action and melt into the floor … at the beginning, I was too busy formulating a fun story to describe this experience to my children at the end of the weekend. By the end I was wondering if Edwina had posted an audio file of her voice onto Youtube that I could download, immediately, to every device I owned. I hadn’t just melted to the floor, I was part of it. Lambent. Pliant. So relaxed I’d forgotten how to spell and couldn’t have cared less.

We eventually roused ourselves and spent some time listing needs and wants. My need-to-dos were practical: finish Chapter One re-write; retrofit some backstory into an old manuscript; submit manuscript to the publishing house I just pitched to. My want-to-dos were a more slippery school of fish: glory, of course, was atop the list; write a novel that book club readers will clutch to their bosoms; write wiser words, clearer words, words that get published; and the slipperiest fish of all: want more time.

Writing prompts: 60 seconds and GO
Helena cracked the whip on the first morning: here’s a prompt, now here’s 60 seconds: GO

Too eager coffee-hands have lifted the black-winged beast up, up its bamboo strut, blocking my sunlight. Gah: the words were flowing, my back was melting, the light was snap-drying my ink … TIME’S UP

Plock. A fat wad of crystal hit the cold bathroom tile, and my colder fingers reached up to my lobe. Damn it. Search and recovery could wait until morning … TIME’S UP

Mr Brixham preened in front of the morning room mirror, swivelling his fat hips and swelling his fleshy chest until he more closely resembled the man he was in own estimation … TIME’S UP

Stuffed with impenetrably-chemicalled peanuts of endless waste protecting it from the sway of oceans, my grandmother’s clock makes its way to me from London at a steady twelve knots … TIME’S UP

Mrs Brixham’s dress strained against her low belly. Another lying-in, another squalling face. Please God her husband’s fat grasping hands could be held off to spare her another.

Writing prompts: 5 minutes and GO

There were a few 5 minute prompts over the days of the retreat, all of them an opportunity to blurt stuff out in an uncensored way – very cathartic; if you haven’t tried it, give it a go. Helena and Edwina used them to have us writing our way into a story, using the senses, dialogue, childhood experiences … and gave us tips for editing.
Here are a couple:

Something I gave away that I wish I hadn’t

I give away books like other people give away their life secrets on Facebook. Status: it’s complicated. That’s not anything I would share. Status: I give away books but secretly it’s like I’ve loaned you the child of my loins and I want it back, spine unimpaired, pages free of hospital corners, and I want it back before so much time has elapsed that I’ve forgotten you and I were ever friends. Verghese, Austen, Cleve, Krakauer, Temple … just font to you: something bold and readable, something that spins no floss from your soul.
But to me: art. To me: the family on my shelves. Status: Nicola is feeling she wants her damn books back.

*Editor’s note: I am actually terrible at returning other people’s books. I had my friend Debbie’s copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban for about 14 years.

What my hands know

My hands found their true use the day I became a mother. I have catalogued that use. I have taken photographs, braided hair, proof read assignments, clutched passenger-side door handles in white-knuckled fear through countless hours of driving lessons.
But the catalogue that is dearest to my heart is one made of flannel. For years, I gathered the flannel pyjamas that my children outgrew. Soup-stained plackets, threadbare knees, 101 dalmations lolloping clumsily through fields of snowy white. Four children – sixty-four years of childhood – gathered, pyjama set by pyjama set, into the hushed darkness of the cupboard under the stairs. The cutting came first. Slice: off came the cuffs. Slice: off came the buttons. Wheel and blade, scissor and ruler, the tops and bottoms re-emerged into rows of neat squares. The stitching came next. Grids and blocks, rows and borders – order restored on a chaotic, fun past. Once the wool was wadded between the stitched pattern and the calico backing, we sat, my children and I, and we regarded this patchwork of time. ‘What will we call it?’ I said. The squabbling about naming rights fell to the side like lint and cotton, remnants from my sewing table. The naming rights became mine and I stitched the label in red and blue onto the creamy back of the quilt. “Myrtle”, XXXX (one for each child) Love Mum.

*Editor’s note: This is one of the few prompts where I wrote something true. We named the quilt after Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter series.

Writing Alone, Together

Food, coffee, wine, tea, huddling together on a beach at the picnic in a biting breeze, sharing our widely assorted skills on Open Mic Night – hanging out with other writers was a lot of fun. I learned (almost) to salsa dance, I discovered the joy of having someone chant a relaxing mantra that totally worked, I heard women read out their poems, their stories, their dreams and aspirations.

At the close of the retreat, everyone shared some words of advice with the group, and the words that have stayed with me from a group member were to remember to “wear your crown”. And this was no princess crown we were being advised to wear – but a symbol to remind us to carry self-confidence, courage and gratitude with us into our writerly lives.

*Editor’s note: there was also a lot of talk about Poldark

REVIEWS OF Retreat 2 – March 2018

Carolyn Nuttall

‘Evans above! Who would have thought so much wellness and so much writing could be achieved in a few days?

Go to ‘Relax and Write’ a short retreat run by two gifted teachers Edwina Shaw and Helena Pastor.

Over 3-4 days, they get you in their sights and recharge you with excellent teaching, yoga, relaxation, good food and time to swim and rest.

Their choice of site, part of effective planning, was inspiring. The  beach at Evans Head was magnificent and the weather was perfect.

I am reminded of one of the writing sessions.- pitching to an audience, I hope Edwina that I have pitched this endorsement well.

Book for the next retreat if you want to recharge and renew your spirit. These women will not disappoint you.

Vahida Berberovic

I attended the relax and write retreat, organised and facilitated by writers Edwina Shaw and Helena Pastor, at Camp Koinonia from 16-19 March 2018. The retreat was organised, as the title suggests, around relaxation sessions in the early mornings, followed by writing workshops in the morning and in the afternoon. There was also time for a swim each day. Edwina has practised yoga for 25 years, and it shows. She was able to get the best out of all of us, and even a novice and highly cynical uptight person like myself managed to relax and let go. Helena’s workshops focussed on getting into the writing groove, and keeping at it, writing dialogue and pitching, while Edwina workshopped character development and structure with us. Both Edwina and Helena showed knowledge and experience of the writing process, as well as the publishing world, but were also understanding and sensitivity towards our individual needs. Helena was kind enough to give feedback to each one of us on ten pages of our writing. The evenings included a delicious meal and wonderful company.
I very much enjoyed all aspects of the retreat – the relaxation, the socialising, the writing workshops, the food. While the accommodation was quite basic, it was not an impediment to our writing, exchanging ideas, experiences and advice. It pales into insignificance when one considers the benefits. The main benefit for me was being in the company of other writers like myself who work mostly in isolation and whose voices of self-doubt often drown out any other voices we might have. I feel refreshed after the long weekend, filled with new energy to approach my writing project and view it from a new perspective. The retreat has definitely enriched me as a writer and as a person (I can’t believe that a socially anxious person like myself spent most of the stay with everyone else), and I look forward to next year.


Retreat 1 – September 2017


Edwina Shaw and Helena Pastor’s Relax and Write Retreat 1st-3rd September 2017 Camp Koinonia, Evans Head, Northern NSW.

Workshops were held in a beautiful small high ceiling church amongst the cabins or outside on the grass, with a rhythm to the day with early yoga, writing workshops, free time to explore the beach and have lunch before another writing workshop and dinner. Edwina and Helena have an easy style of putting people at ease and making each individual feel welcome and they were flexible in altering the program to meet the needs of the participants.


While the accommodation was very basic, this was made clear in the information provided beforehand ‘its not posh, but neither are we’. As it turned out it was exactly how a good beach shack should be, with basic essentials provided, bed, fridge, kitchen, toilet, shower, and the smell of the ocean wafting through the windows.
The majority of the group were beginning their journey of writing their first manuscript and so I had concerns, as an experienced writer, that the workshops may not be useful to me. However, I used the exercises to prompt work on an idea I had for a new manuscript and found some of the exercises offered a different way into my writing that I hadn’t tried before. Overall, it was a great break away, affordable and I left feeling refreshed and with a significant amount of writing done.


Last weekend I attended the Relax and Write Retreat for women in the glorious setting of Koinonia at Evan’s Head, northern NSW. The organisers, hosts and session leaders Helena Pastor and Edwina Shaw are both experienced and successful writers and writing teachers.

The ‘relax’ part of the retreat included excellent yoga and relaxation sessions run by Edwina and a good amount of free time to walk or swim at the beautiful beach just across the road from our accommodation. Evening meals were taken together in the Koinonia Chapel where fresh flowers, lots of candles and a warm and welcoming atmosphere allowed everyone to get to know each other, share stories and have some fun.
The writing part of the retreat was also excellent and covered quite a bit of ground. I certainly came away with a lot of information about entering into the field of professional writing as well as a wealth of ideas and starting points for fiction and memoir writing. The sessions were activity based with succinct explanations and then down to work. This worked really well for me and for others too it seemed. There was enough teacher talk so that we knew what was expected of us and then a good portion of time to get writing. The exercises were interesting and engaging and we were given the opportunity, if we wanted, to share what we had written and to get feedback from Helena and Edwina.
Some of the content we learnt about and practised in the sessions included using our senses in writing, structuring memoirs and fiction, digging deeper into the emotional core of a memoir, identifying key plot points, basic aspects of creating characters, using imagination, and how to write bios and synopses.
Although I have done a lot of academic and report writing throughout my working life I am a newbie to the world of the creative writer. I recently started writing a memoir about my pilgrimage across northern Spain and I attended the retreat to develop skills and motivation to help me complete this task. I can honestly say that my expectations were well and truly met and I wholeheartedly recommend this retreat to anyone wanting to take a first step into the exciting world of writing.