DIY Writing Workshop: It’s All About That Slate

Writing Workshops

In this informal series, I will outline some of the previous workshops we’ve created at Verse Kraken for our participants, and give you prompts for you to do your own version at home.

Today I want to talk you through the second workshop we led at last year’s Verse Kraken Writing Retreat. This time, my fellow tutor Tori Truslow took the lead on it. We brought the writers to a small art gallery called Arts Raden, it was opened especially for us. This art gallery is essentially in the backyard of a family home and is surrounded by fields. We brought them there to show them work created by artist Sezny Peron out of slate, there was also another artist exhibiting there, called Fabien Jouanneau.

writing workshop france

Tori Truslow introducing the artists

Tori’s introduced the writers to Peron’s work and also, as additional inspiration, shared with them poems by surrealist poet and artist Max Jacob. As an aside, later in the week, we brought the writers to Quimper where they were able to count how many bridges, streets, and buildings have been named after Max Jacob (answer: I’m still counting…). From the mixture of these influences, the writers created some stunning pieces, here are a few excerpts:

“All the ages of the earth pass as heartbeats to me.” J Starr

“Tapered to a blade, guillotine sharp shaft, the slate is black-beetle shining, groven from ground ancient and fettled, like armour” Quen Took (full poem here)

“the broken ankles of my father’s house / we pull the bones out slowly / and tar them while we sing / this is new // the weight of all this / holds me in place” John Boursnell

Writing outside of the gallery

Today’s workshop

Step 1

Pick one of these works by Sezny Peron, I’ve included a selection from the exhibition that was running below. Tip: don’t overthink this one, choose the one that speaks to you first.

Step 2

Pick one of these questions and try to answer it.

Answer it in whichever format you want to: poetry, play, non-fiction, flash fiction, etc

  • If the sculpture could speak, what would it say and to whom?
  • What was this sculpture’s life before?
  • How could you describe this sculpture only through smells?
  • If this sculpture were music, what would it be like?
  • This sculpture is presenting a Powerpoint at a conference, what’s the topic?

Share your writing with us

We’d love to see what you come up with!

The next Verse Kraken Writing Retreat will take place 4-11 July 2020, find out more here.

Breton writing workshop

DIY Writing Workshop: Breton Language Games

Writing Workshops

In this informal series, I will outline some of the previous workshops we’ve created at Verse Kraken for our participants, and give you prompts for you to do your own version at home.

Today I want to talk you through the very first workshop we led at last year’s Verse Kraken Writing Retreat. As it was the first day with the group together, I led a workshop introducing them to the Breton language. The particularity of our workshops is that they are rooted in their surrounding environments – we want to introduce the writers to the local culture rather than write in a bubble.

Breton writing workshop

As a local Bretonne, I’m always keen to introduce people to the quirks and wonders of my area, so it was a real pleasure to do this!

I did this by introducing the language in three main ways:

  • A sheet of words for them to take away with common words they would be likely to encounter as they walked around the area (such as “aber”: estuary, or “heol”: sun, or “penn”: head/end).
  • Flashcards with Breton idioms translated literally
  • Teaching them a song in Breton

The writing element was in the flashcard section. Each writer was given a selection of expressions to weave into a new piece of writing however they chose. The responses varied greatly, from weaving the original Breton itself into a tale, to using the expression’s meaning as a launchpad for something new and wonderful. There were poems, observational pieces, and short stories in the mix, which everyone was invited to share.

One of the participants, John Boursnell, handily snapped a picture of a few of these expressions:


View this post on Instagram


Breton words, phrases and sayings #versekraken

A post shared by John Boursnell (@johnboursnell) on

Here are a few for you:

  • Sot evel ur baner – stupid like a basket
  • Ober e gazh gleb – being a wet cat (aka a hypocrite)
  • Pikou panez – ellipsis of parsnips (freckles)
  • Kozh evel an douar – old like the earth
  • Pentañ-lern – painting the foxes (lying)*

*this one is my all-time favourite.

Can any of these expressions spark a new piece of writing from you?

Your workshop

So how can you inspire yourself from that workshop without having been there? You don’t have to learn Breton! Instead, I want you to get weird with your own made-up idioms in your mother-tongue.

I’d like to introduce you to an exquisite corpse game I discovered through Lou Sarabadzic and which is great at unlocking unusual phrases.

For this, you need a page, a pen, and some scissors. Alternatively, an Excel or Google Sheet will work just as well.

Step 1

You will need three columns.

Column A: Write a noun (for example “A dog”, “A dream”, “A concept”)

Column B: write “is” or “isn’t” (whichever you fancy)

Column C: write as weird and pithy a description of the object in column A

To illustrate this, here is a picture of one I did earlier:

Writing Workshop game idioms

Here is its transcript:

A crepe IS an edible moon

A cat IS a hungry shadow

A noise IS a method to warm up your voice

A wardrobe ISN’T a concealer of anything suspicious

A cliff ISN’T an ending but a start

A helicopter IS a chicken who can fly properly

A wall IS a carrier of stones

A teacher IS a book smuggler

A church ISN’T an auto-tuner

In this example, I’ve gone for a selection of random things but if you want to work with a particular theme, you could use this exercise as a way of finding your poem.

Step 2

Cut up Column C and shuffle each definition, then place them in front of a different A object.

Here, for example, is what I ended up with:

Writing Workshop game idioms

And here is the transcript:

A crepe is an auto-tuner

A cat is a chicken who can fly properly

A noise is a book smuggler

A wardrobe isn’t an edible moon

A cliff isn’t a concealer of anything suspicious

A helicopter is an ending but a start

A wall is a hungry shadow

A teacher is a method to warm up your voice

A church isn’t a carrier of stones.

A mixed bag indeed! I could keep shuffling them until I find images I like, or work with what is there. Lou’s method is a collaborative one, with multiple people swapping definitions and words, so the potential for deliciously strange images is even stronger.

Please do share on Twitter your remixed creatures and tag us at @versekraken so we get to see them!

Want to join us on our next writing retreat? Places still available here.



crowdfund writing retreat

The ultimate guide to crowdfunding your writing retreat

Writing Retreats

One of the mission statements of Verse Kraken is to create an affordable retreat for writers. This is why we will always offer a full scholarship place and, when possible, other discounts too. Sometimes, even with our help, taking a week off can still be overwhelmingly expensive: travel costs, loss of income, finding alternative care for dependents, and more. 

One option we recommend is to crowdfund. This can be daunting, of course, so we thought we’d write a little handy guide to the process.

Getting over the fear

The biggest hurdle to crowdfunding is likely to be… yourself. It’s daunting to ask friends, family, fans of your work, and total strangers for help, especially for a writing retreat! But try to remember two things:

  1. Accepting help is not a weakness. You’ll be surprised at how much people are happy to help. It’s a great feeling to support a writer in their quest to get some quality writing time.
  2. You do deserve time to write and develop your voice. Yes, you do.

I haven’t met a writer yet who hasn’t had a little demon nesting in their brain, feeding them negative thoughts about their worth. Please, do yourself a favour, and send that demon off on a holiday long enough for you to set up a crowdfunding campaign. He can come back later, drunk on pina coladas, and do whatever he wants, it’ll be too late.

How much do you need to raise?

You also need to decide how much to raise. The writing retreat may cost x amount in fees, but what isn’t included in that? Consider factoring the following into your total amount:

  • Travel expenses (flights, trains, taxis…)
  • Subsistence (if not included)
  • Accommodation (if not included)
  • Entertainment whilst on the retreat (outings and other excursions)
  • The crowdfunding platform fee (2-5% of total amount)
  • Reward expenses (how much it’ll cost to manufacture rewards)
  • Loss of income for the time you’ll be away (rent and bills still have to be paid)
  • Cost of alternative care while you’re away (whether for people or pets)
  • Insurance

You might not be able to cover everything in one crowdfunding campaign, but it’s better to aim high. 

writing retreat in europe crowdfund

Choosing your crowdfunding platform

These are the three main crowdfunding platforms: Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and GoFundMe. Your country or region may also have specific ones worth checking out (for example in France Ulule and KissKissBankBank are big!). The fees are correct at the time of writing this, but do double check before making a decision.

Here is how they break down:


Full amount or you get nothing. 5% fee on total won + 3-5% payment processing charge on each transaction. 14 day waiting period for funds. The advantages of Kickstarter are the increased visibility of your project, so I would recommend this one if you’re trying to raise £1000 or above. Projects have to be approved by Kickstarter to go ahead, so you’ll need to put more effort into creating a campaign with this one. 


You can choose flexible goals, where you win the amount raised even if it didn’t reach your total goal. 5% fees on total raised, and 3% + 30 cents transaction fees. Indiegogo is the middle ground between Kickstarter and GoFundMe, and my personal favourite. 


Flexible funding is the name of the game, you keep everything you raised. 2.9% + 30 cent processing fee on each transaction. The advantage of GoFundMe is that you do not need to create rewards. The downside is that there is less visibility. Only 1 in 10 campaigns gets funded on GoFundMe. Having said that, a couple of our writers used it last year and were successful, so it’s worth a shot!

Planning a campaign

Your crowdfunding campaign is going to need a few things:

  • A catchy title
  • A compelling story
  • A video would be a bonus but isn’t compulsory
  • At least one photo/graphic 
  • Rewards for your backers
  • A marketing plan

Let’s break these down…

Your pitch

The catchy title and compelling story should put across a few things to your prospective backers:

  • Who you are (a brief history of your writing to date. If you’re at the start of your writing journey, don’t be afraid to say this!)
  • Why you are crowdfunding
  • What it would mean to you if you raised the money
  • A taster of the cool things they can expect as backers.

That last point is probably the least important. They are investing in you, the person, the writer, so anything else is just a bonus. 

Even if you think only friends and family will see it, if you’re using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, your campaign will have a wider reach, so don’t assume people will know anything about you. Feel free to share excerpts of your work, links to things you’ve done, footage or photos of your work…


They say a photo is worth a thousand words, in which case a video probably converts to a million words. Most platforms have the space for a video, which can sometimes be replaced by a photo. If you have the energy, I strongly recommend creating a video. It doesn’t have to have flashy production values, it can just be you, talking to your phone in selfie mode. In a previous crowdfunding campaign, I drew a bunch of silly drawings and text and put them together stopmotion style to illustrate my campaign. It was pretty shoddy (I like to think my video skills have dramatically improved since then) but you know what, I raised the amount I needed to! 

If you really don’t want your face anyway, then try Lumen5. It’s an easy way to create videos using stock images and videos to illustrate your text. 

Even if you have a video, there’s no harm in adding photos to your campaign to bring it to life. Think of: images of you performing your work, photos of your books/notebooks, photos of where the writing retreat will take place, etc…

writing retreat crowdfund

Perks for your backers

Perks definitely require some thinking through. You want to offer a variety to suit every pocket, from the pal who has a spare fiver, to those with deeper pockets that day.

From experience I would suggest three things:

  • Don’t over-promise, especially for things to be created or sent whilst on the retreat. You don’t want to spend your retreat making backer rewards instead of writing.
  • Give yourself a generous timeline for delivering the rewards
  • Think through the costs of the rewards, as you don’t want them to cancel out the money coming in, that defeats the point a little…

These are all mistakes I’ve made so you don’t have to!

Types of rewards can include:

  • People’s names in your next book, or on your website...
  • A handmade/limited-run pamphlet of writing from the retreat
  • Postcards with a short story/poem on them
  • An online or in-person workshop or performance (if in-person factor in travel expenses and maybe restrict this geographically!)
  • Feedback on people’s writing (be precise on how much and what you are offering to critique. You could get a 70,000 novel rather than 5 poems)
  • Any merchandise you have: for example badges, t-shirts, broadsheets, previous books you’ve published… You could print a special edition of one of your poems as a card perhaps…

If you have other interests and talents, feel free to include them here too: drawings, jewelry, cakes. etc etc

Another option is to get your talented friends involved: would they be able to donate some of their work as rewards in your campaign? 

A marketing plan

A marketing plan might feel like a daunting thing, but it can quite simply be a list of things you’ll aim to do before and during your campaign. For example it could be something as small as  this:

  • Email everyone I can think of (BCCing them of course) to tell them about the campaign
  • Post on social media at least once a day. Alternate between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Create a blog post on my website

It’s very easy for people to miss things the first time around on social media, so don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. When I’ve donated to crowdfunding campaigns it’s often been the 4th or 5th time that I’ve seen it. Sometimes you’re just not on the right device, or the right place, to back a campaign, so it’s good to be nudged!

Not everyone can afford to donate, of course, but do encourage your friends and family to spread the word about your campaign on their own social media channels. Private and personal messages can be very effective. Obviously, don’t overdo this though! 

To save yourself some energy, you can schedule your posts in advance using a social media manager such as BufferHootsuiteTailwindCrowdfire, or Tweetdeck.

And of course, keep yourself positive. Crowdfunding is daunting, but keep in mind the real reward at the other end!

crowdfunding writing retreat


European writing retreat

Fabulous Writing Retreats in Europe to Book in 2020

Writing Retreats

Top European Writing Residencies 2020

Writing retreats are the writer’s dream. It gives them space to concentrate completely on their creative work without the day-to-day domestic distractions. However, they are also an investment of time and money. So if you’ve been saving up for a retreat, you want to make sure it’s the right one for you.

In this list, I’ve decided to focus on taught writing retreats, because those provide extra value to what is otherwise just a ‘space of one’s own’. These vary in intensity: from multiple daily workshops, to weekly feedback sessions, from small group sessions and individual tutorials. Some leave your day unstructured with the option of socializing and sharing your writing in the evening. Whatever format works best for you, there’s a retreat out there for you!


Iceland Writers Retreat

When: 29 April-3 May 2020

Where: Reykjavik, Iceland

Cost: £1834-1287 depending on package chosen. Also possibility to extend the stay.

Genres: Fiction

About: Over the course of the retreat, each participant is enrolled in a total of five two-hour small-group writing workshops (max. 15 participants) led by internationally acclaimed authors. There’s also a Q&A panel with all faculty, and numerous readings and social functions.

What people have said about it: “Workshops were amazing. Down-to-earth discussions in a small group atmosphere.” – Sam, Canada, 2015 participant

France Writing Retreat 2020

Verse Kraken Writing Retreat

Verse Kraken Writing Retreat: Brittany

Date: 4-11 July 2020

Where: Brittany, France

Cost: £850 ($1,102). Includes accommodation, food, and tuition.

Genres: All writing genres welcome

About: Inspired by the area where the residency will be taking place, participants will discover spaces where history and present overlap, where nature and urbanity co-exist. The retreats are taught, which means participants will have a mixture of site-specific workshops and tutorials as well as alone time to spend on their writing. There will also be optional excursions.

What people have to say about it: “Verse Kraken was a place of metamorphosis and growth I never imagined possible – beautifully structured with a wonderful mix of workshops with a thread tying them all together effortlessly and designed to make us think in new ways.  It felt like home, a safe place to grow and explore and become more confident being myself, knowing my voice as a writer. ” – Jaime S, writer, poet.

Write Away Europe: Hydra, Greece

When: 17-23 May 2020

Where: Hydra, Greece

Cost: $2400/2800 including accommodation, tuition, breakfast and dinner, as well as a few extra perks.

Genres: Fiction and Non-Fiction

About: Write Away Europe organizes multiple retreats around Europe. This one promises a peaceful retreat with gorgeous views and food.

What people have said about it: “Thanks for the energy and inspiration! What a life-changing week, my notebooks are filling!” -Maureen J., travel & non-fiction writer

The Lemon Tree House: Italy

Date: 16-30 May 2020

Where: Tuscany, Italy

Cost: 2600 Euro

Genre: all writing genres, as well as visual and performing arts

About: The Lemon Tree House is an artist residency program designed to create the perfect balance between social and alone time for creating work. Days are free and unstructured, with cocktails, dinner and craft talks in the evening with the writer and artist-in-residence.

What people have to say about it: “I loved that my ONLY responsibility for two weeks was to create. Grocery shopping, cooking and all of life’s little distractions were taken care of by Julie and the amazing staff. My duty was to write. And so I did. I loved it!” — Sofi Papamarko 2014 Fall Lemon Tree

Writing retreats in europe

Lemon Tree

L’atelier Writers

Date: 31 May-6 June 2020

Where: Chateau Les Bardons, France

Cost: €900-1700, includes accommodation, tuition, food, nightly aperitif and online community. There is a $10 application fee.

Genre: Fiction

About: The heart of L’Atelier Writers is community and this extends beyond the length of the retreat, with opportunities to collaborate and support each other online. The days are a mixture of unstructured time to write and scheduled discussions and readings.

What people have to say about it: Their website doesn’t feature testimonials, but you can get a taster of the goodwill surrounding them by looking at their Twitter feed.

Abri Creative Writing Holidays

Date: to be announced

Where: Gardoussel Retreat, France

Cost: £875 including tuition, accommodation and meals, or £295 for just the course

Genres: Fiction and Non-Fiction

Abri Creative Writing Holidays organizes various retreats across the year to suit different budgets and styles of writing. Keep an eye out on their website for announcements!

What people have to say about it: “What a tremendous week. The writer in me feels recharged, by the wonderful location – the tables in the meadow, the fireplaces to talk around in the evening, the mountain views and even a river to swim in – the nourishing food, the best massage I’ve ever had on site, but above all the company, and our wonderful feedback sessions in the Buddha garden” -Margaret Dolley

Ireland Writer Tours

Date: 28 June- 5 July 2020

Where: west of Ireland

Cost: earlybird pricing (until 15th January): $1,995. The cost includes accommodation, breakfast and some other meals, tuition, transport and fees for the tours

Genre: Fiction

About: A tour of the west of Ireland combined with individual tuition and group workshops from Jennifer Dornbrush and Jill Marr. The theme of the retreat is ‘Thrilling Concepts: how to create best-sellers & become a thriving author’ and is aimed to help writers take the craft to the next professional level.

What people have to say about it: “A perfect combination of writing workshops and seeing Ireland. I left with Ireland in my heart and new enthusiasm for my craft”.–Elin N., Colorado, U.S.A.

European writing retreat

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Write Away Europe: Bulgaria

When: 26 July-1 August 2020

Where: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Cost: $1850 including accommodation, tuition, breakfast and dinner, as well as a few extra perks.

Genres: Fiction and Non-Fiction

About: Write Away Europe organizes multiple retreats around Europe. Writers will stay in 3-star accommodation in the charming city center, nearby the sights and Europe’s longest pedestrian zone, and vibrant Kapana, a Bohemian area popular with artists and creatives with numerous small shops and cafes ideal for whiling away the free afternoons walking, exploring or sitting al fresco and digging deeper into your words and ideas in this captivating, cultural city.

What people have said about it: “I couldn’t possibly have loved it more! Thank you again for putting it on and allowing us all to come together in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever spent time!” Kimberly P., Novelist

Other Writing Retreats in Europe?

If these dates don’t suit or your budget is lower, then don’t despair. There are still lots of option to DIY your own writing retreats in Europe: hire a gite or an airbnb house, invite some friends, and give yourself a schedule or a goal for your time there. Sometimes, even just a weekend or a day can make a big difference!