The Ultimate Fantasy Holiday

The Ultimate Fantasy Holiday

Imagine then the kind of holiday in which fabrication is not only legitimate but matters far more than incipient dark clouds or sea temperature – in which "let’s pretend" and "once upon a time" are more vivid than the beach bar or the effect of last night’s dodgy prawns. 
A fantasy? Well, in a way. It’s a creative writing break, in which it is possible to indulge in good clean make-believe with a group of like-minded people as the realities of real life recede. 
 
The idea of signing up to an intensive break that focuses on the cerebral can seem contrary to the general concept of holiday as a respite from mental exertion, as pure and simple pleasure. So why do it? What can one get out of it? Can it possibly be fun? Who better to answer these questions than those who are currently taking the (non-Med) plunge. I put them to a group who has chosen intense fiction over extreme sport and opted for a five day summer course I am teaching for London’s Faber Academy. 
 
We are gathered in a bright book-lined studio atop one of the country’s most venerable publishing houses, one associated with TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney... the list of literary luminaries is endless and inspiring. The students have converged from as far as Islamabad and California, with backgrounds and interests as diverse. Among them an artist, two high school teachers, a producer, a student – differences in age and sensibilities all disappearing in a common pursuit.
 
"It is a holiday – it feels like one, a real indulgence to let go of everything else in your life and do something like this purely for yourself," says young Pakistani artist Seyhr, who is including this literary foray in a longer London stay. Ann, a retired business development manager who lives in the New Forest, agrees. She sees the course as immersion into mythical Bloomsbury, in which she can legitimately "pretend to be a writer", as well as a city break in London. Theatre trips, museums, and walks make the five days a comprehensive – and exhausting – experience. "In a really good way," she adds. "The inspiring light open space provided by Faber is filled with warm and encouraging people who allow me to be myself and give me helpful and constructive feedback."
 
That sense of being "looked after" as they imbibe the techniques of fiction and open their own work to the scrutiny of the tutor and the group is shared by London producer, Ginny. If a holiday means time out from the everyday this is it, she suggests. "I love walking in here – it feels so calm, such a privilege." For Ewan and Rena, English literature teachers in Oxfordshire high schools, receiving guidance rather than giving it out makes an invigorating change. "It’s wonderful to flip roles and, instead of studying masterpieces, to plumb one’s own depths," says Ewan, "a great immersive experience."
 
And one in which the connections that are made seem to have a lasting impact – or at least, like the best of holiday relationships, there is every intention of staying in touch. The fascinating thing, for me, is to oversee the melding of disparate strangers who share but one thing: the wish to write. And in this protected environment little else matters other than whether a character has depth or a narrative holds up. This means freedom to explore, to risk embarrassment, to daydream, and, importantly, to have a laugh. It’s the perfect hothouse environment in which creativity flourishes. Whatever the weather. 
 
Shelley Weiner is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer, journalist and creative writing tutor at Faber Academy. Her summer course "The 5 Day Short Story" begins on 4 August. To view the summer programme visit www.faberacademy.co.uk @FaberAcademy