By Diana Plater
Is this how Somerset Maugham would have felt, or perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson or even James A Michener?
Pen in hand, luxuriating in over 30 degree heat and looking out at a picture postcard Pacific island view of coconut palms and bright green foliage against a deep blue bay and mountains in the distance?
How could you not be inspired by the setting of Fiji’s northern and much less-visited island of Vanua Levu , just a kilometre or so up the road from the colourful, post-colonial town of Savusavu, dubbed the Hidden Paradise?
We’re a small group doing a creative writing course at Daku Resort, owned by Brits/Australians Delia and John Rothnie-Jones and our daily morning lesson is conducted in an open-aired room which Delia says is the only “custom built yoga shala in the South Pacific”.
As it’s the end of the wet season it’s hot but it’s made bearable by later dips in the swimming pool or bay and visits to nearby beaches.
The course is called Breakthrough Writing in Fiji. Our teacher, playwright, novelist and performer Jan Cornall, has been teaching writing workshops in Australia and internationally since 2004 when she held her first writers retreat in Ubud, Bali in conjunction with the inaugural Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This is her second one at Daku.
Workshops take place over three hours every morning and we’re expected to use time in the afternoon to complete our writing tasks and get on with our projects. With the emphasis on breaking through to the essence of your writing, the aim’s to learn techniques for establishing an effective daily writing practice and dealing with procrastination and writer’s block.
Cornall uses meditation and creative visualisation to help the words move on the page and gives us instructions and homework each night, around the themes of the points of the compass, elements, colours, senses and so on.
And it works. By day two we’re all writing like troupers. Our group of six are working on a variety of books of very different themes– a memoir, an historical novel, a war history/memoir, and three contemporary novels.
Each day we revise the essential elements of the writer’s craft such as plot and characterisation, and read what we’d be writing, critiquing each other and receiving feedback. We are all pretty gentle with our comments, thankfully.
The resort first started running courses in 2004 and although Delia is a former creative writing teacher their first one was taught by Andrea Stretton, journalist, broadcaster, arts festival director and writer, who sadly died in 2007.
But since then they have mounted all sorts of classes from literature appreciation to painting to bird watching. This year as well as writing they are running painting, singing, beading, snorkelling and marine life and yoga workshops.
“It’s a great place for study holidays, “says John Rothnie-Jones. “It’s peaceful and quiet and away from tourism. Some people like little input from outside.
“The growth in study holidays is vast…it’s a really serious market, particularly with older people.”
Participants in the choral groups also have the pleasure of singing with Fijians in their villages. They’ve even had the Jane Austen Appreciation Society at Daku and John suggests that Charles Dickens might be next.
“Our courses are unique in Fiji,” Delia says. “We’re the only place that brings groups principally from Australia to have an active learning holiday.”
The couple believe their yoga courses have also put Fiji on the map as the newest yoga destination. The resort has run at least 15 successful ones so far – of all different types from Kundalini to Hatha..
Delia points out: “Fijians’ open-hearted joy makes it very relevant as a yoga destination.”
When a course isn’t on Delia still tries to run a yoga session either in the morning or late afternoon. So each early morning while it’s still fresh it’s a big decision to make – swim in the deep blue water surrounded by colourful fish or do a yoga session? I choose yoga two mornings, swimming one morning and writing in my simple bure which looks out across the garden and road to the bay on the other side.
Two of the writers set up their pads and pens on an outside table near the swimming pool and work ferociously from 6.30 most mornings. Others had brought laptops and write away in their bures.
Cornall believes snorkelling and writing go well together. Observing fish in silence gives you the chance to think undisturbed about what you are working on. Also, there’s no television or radios in the rooms and I hardly saw a newspaper all week.
The atmosphere is definitely condusive to writing. (School buses painted with designs of frangipanis and other colourful traffic driving past are only a slight distraction.)
As the course is also aimed at giving you the opportunity to go to a country you have always wanted to visit, you have a choice of excursions such as visiting a village to hear divine singing and watch traditional dancing, known as a meke, or picnic at a beach on the eastern side of Savusavu and snorkel on the coral reefs . Or there’s a great in-house masseur. And the staff at the resort, who are mainly from one family, welcome and farewell you with a kava ceremony.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided as part of the week’s cost and each evening dinner (usually themed such as curry or Chinese night) is served at a long table with other guests, giving you the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people. We meet young Germans and Swiss here to do volunteer diving research work for Dive-Fiji, a couple of American Peace Corps workers involved in marine conservation and setting up a virgin coconut oil business in a village, and a New Zealand dance academic working on a project on a remote island as well as other guests and friends of the owners.
Most evenings before dinner we read to the group something we want to discuss. But on one night we have a break and do a pub crawl – heading to the gorgeous but very expensive Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort along a bumpy dirt road for a cocktail, then into town to a number of quaint bars before dinner at the Yacht Club followed by a boogey at the nightclub opposite the Kava Saloon. Well, Savusavu isn’t always quiet.
You may need to overnight in either Nadi or Suva depending on the Air Pacific schedule. In Suva a lovely hotel overlooking the water with a spotlit view of small islands, is the Novotel Suva Lami Bay.
New General Manager Simon Harper is planning to make its restaurant, Rusk, the new “in” place to go in Suva, with a menu focusing on the flavours of the local cultures – mainly Fijian, Chinese and Indian – as well as Pacific Rim with a Japanese and South-East Asian influence – with the odd steak still thrown in!
IF YOU GO:
Daku Resort: dakuresort.com
Call: (02) 8094-1613 or email: Susan@paradisecourses.com or visit: paradisecourses.com
For more information on writing courses run by Jan Cornall visit: writersjourney.com.au
The writer was a guest of Daku Resort, Air Pacific and the Novotel Suva Lami Bay. Her blog, Landscapes, can be found at: dianaplater.com