Mornings start slowly at Local is Lovely's Winter Pracshop - creative story telling. I am keen for a walk and venture out into the atmospheric morning fog. I hear laughter through the mist and recognise the distinctive voices of photographers Luisa and Pip long before I can make them out on the gravel driveway. We are after moody morning pics before breakfast.
This is the fourth of Sophie Hansen's Pracshops, where people sign up for a weekend of creative learning, be it photography, styling, painting or writing. The Pracshops are held at Sophie's parents' Rydal property Kimbri, near Lithgow. They have renovated and extended the house over three decades, to accommodate Annie Herron's residential art classes and students. Now that concept is being stretched further in Sophie's hands.
Annie guides us in a morning session on composition and opens our eyes to view photographs as an artist sees a still life, in tones, shapes, odd numbers, and grid and leading lines.
During breaks for morning tea and lunch, around shared tables of delicious food cooked by Sophie and Pip, our learning continues and we share stories about our work, successes and frustrations, and goals.
Country Style editor Victoria Carey joins us for the afternoon session and gives a behind the scenes insight into the magazine, from how to pitch a story, and how far in advance the team works, to how they achieve flow throughout the pages. Victoria and I have talked on the phone and corresponded by email for more than a decade. I have been freelancing for Country Style and other magazines since we left Sydney nearly 17 years ago. It is the first time we have met and yet we both feel like we have met before, our faces and voices are so familiar.
After such a stimulating and full day, yoga by candlelight and fireplace with Wendy Bowman, is the perfect wind down before dinner.
The next morning we set our alarms to capture the morning fog again, but the weather isn't playing. Instead the sunrise and campfire compete for the most compelling amber glow. Baked apples and yoghurt, served with thermos coffee and tea warm our bellies as the early morning photography class with Luisa Brimble begins and continues later that morning photographing food still lifes. I have learnt so much from Luisa at two of Sophie's pracshops and even I can see that my photography has improved.
I lead a session on writing in the afternoon and it is an opportunity to reflect on what a great time it is to be a story teller. In this post-GFC and September 11 world, we crave stories. I remember a dapper gent sitting in the story teller's chair at a Bellingen farmers market and captivating a crowd of children gathered on a Persian rug under the shade of a canvas tent. Such is the power of story telling. With Facebook, Instagram and blogs story telling is a daily part of life for many. Then there are online and print newspapers and magazines to pitch stories with more depth. For some a book deal is the dream, or already a reality.
We talk about what makes good writing; observation, detail, capturing a mood through the senses of touch, taste, smell, sound and sight, and using the primitive appeal of the elements fire, water, wind and earth. Plus using your own voice, taking care with spelling and grammar (dig out those paper dictionaries and thesauruses), and stretching your vocabulary through reading, joining a book group or attending a writers' festival. As a feature writer I encourage the group to give their subject a bear hug with words, rather than keep their subject at arm's length.
We leave this house and garden reluctantly. Here, we indulge our creative pursuits without a thought for more banal demands on our time. It is a chance to recharge, hone our craft and form new friendships. Thank you for organising the weekend Sophie, for your work Pip, teaching Annie, Luisa, Victoria and Wendy, and company Barbara, Brenda, Chris, Felicity, Nicola, Jasmin, Amanda, Georgie, Jane, Kirby, Erin, and Nat.
Here are some other interpretations of the weekend: