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Durham, NC 27701

Writing Workshops & Retreats - France, Italy, North Carolina


It Takes a Villa

Mimi Herman

Guest Post from Sharyn Lonsdale

Sha at Villa Cini.jpg
How do you become the writer you always wanted to be? It takes a villa.
— Writeaways

 When I arrived in Bucine on Wednesday, I thought my picture book was just about ready to go. I’d finish it off and then write a couple of essays, and at least three Writeaways blog posts. I’ve always been a fast writer and I had a whole week. Netflix isn’t working, I don’t have a TV, and it’s pretty quiet here. The big excitement of the day is when the rugged bread man, Fabio, yes that’s his name, drives up with a truck full of carbs. On a really big day, we might go to the grocery.

But my book, now tentatively titled, has demanded more time than I imagined. Apparently my ability to rhyme house with mouse and tail with sale is not enough to seal the deal (you can’t stop me now).

 We are all here to write. And we do that in just about every corner of the villas. Jenn prefers outside, Gene spreads out at the big table in the hall of Villa Cini, while his wife Maddy, a full-time writer, writes upstairs. I prefer my room because it seems to be the warmest place on the property. My gut says Mimi and John, knowing about my thin Florida blood, thought of that when they assigned the spaces.

 Some of us write more than others. Karen shut herself in her room and skipped lunch, writing 20 pages in one day. Gene, who just started writing at Writeaways France, cranked out 5,122 words. They weren’t bragging, just doing what they came here for.

I’m not nearly as prolific, but I’ve written more here in a week, for myself, than I have in a long time, and I’ve thought about my writing and my place as a writer more than I have in decades.

We’re here to write, but also to read. Every day for three hours, we meet for workshop, reading our pages to each other around the long patio table or inside on the Villa’s eclectic mix of plush and straight back chairs. It’s hard to explain how it’s so easy to share something so personal, and sometimes raw, with people you just met. I think that’s what “It takes a villa” means.

My fellow writers and I sip coffee and share what we liked in each other’s work, and also the words or passages that take us out of the moment. Mimi and John call them speed bumps. We also offer “what ifs,” asking the writer to imagine their piece if they changed just one thing.  In my case, “What if the cat and mouse meet up together in the end?”


In a private conference, Mimi helps me understand about rhythm in poetry and that no matter how much I love a word, if it throws off the rhythm, I should try and find a new one. In another conference, John asks about my mouse’s motive. Apparently, “He wants cheese” isn’t enough. He’s right.  I vow to make my mouse more interesting.

I have one more day to get my book ready for our final reading. I hope my friends (because that’s who they are now) can see their suggestions and “what ifs” in my book.


Photos by Dixie and John

Not an "and I"

Mimi Herman


Guest Post from Sharyn Lonsdale

For more than a decade, I defined myself as a writer. That’s because I earned my living writing, as a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and then as a feature writer for magazines. I have edited memoirs and bodice rippers, written restaurant reviews and brochures. I got paid to blog about beauty products (boy, do I miss that gig) and wrote a tight 5-minute stand-up set.

But, for the past 10 years writing has been an “and I.”  I’m a director of marketing “and I” write a little. I work full-time in the arts “and I” write a movie review every two weeks.

I had people in my life who believed in my writing and still saw me as a writer. That included my relatives who couldn’t wait to receive my holiday newsletter and Mimi Herman, a REAL writer, whom I met during my non-writing job at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. (She was the artist, I was the one who picked up stuff at the grocery for the artists.)


Mimi and her partner John Yewell, also a writer, created Writeaways workshops, retreats and getaways to help writers of all levels find the time to write. Mimi and John had suggested I attend before, but I was always too busy, too broke or too scared. This year, I had the frequent flyer miles and blessing from my boss. When they offered me the chance to attend the workshop in Italy at a reduced rate in exchange for helping with the meals and blogging, I was in.

I would be working on my own writing too. I told Mimi that all I had in the works was a picture book for preschoolers. Was that writing workshop material or did I need to start a novel? Mimi and John insisted that my 750-word book about a shelter cat was Writeaways worthy.

After three days of getting lost in the streets of Florence, eating my weight in gelato and seeing a lifetime’s worth of stained glass windows, I got on a train to the town of Bucine in Chianti, home of Writeaways, Italy.  John packed four of us and our luggage into a Ford Focus, drove up the winding country roads to a bumpy gravel path and deposited me in front of Villa Cini, a 15th century stone mini-castle that would be my home for the week. My room was filled with ornate wood furniture I normally wouldn’t be allowed to touch, brocade curtains, a red iron bedpost and a huge armoire that I wish I could fit in the Focus on the way back.

There are seven of us here, nine with Mimi and John. Three attended the Writeaway in France, held just before Italy. We are here to write and rewrite, think and rethink, reflect, talk, eat and drink local wine.  For seven days I am a writer first.  Not an “and I.”

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Chateau Morning

Mimi Herman

Guest Post from April Errickson


It is 7am, time for feet on floor, stumble down the hall, then back again. I shower, dress, arrange my things and try to open the bedroom door without sound. There is no quiet way to leave the gîte. A soft spot in the floor at the head of the stairs starts the multitude of creaks and groans and squeaks, to the front door where the latch kachunks and the foot of the door scrapes across the floor. I look out into the empty space to where the chateau's arm stretches out in front of me. Something above catches my breath, Orion, the constellation that greets me on early morning runs in North Carolina.


The metal grates at my feet make contact with the stone beneath them, and the same low spot where the rains have eroded the gravel, catch my foot and I trip - again before the motion sensor picks up my presence and sends a beacon of light straight into my still dark eyes. My toe catches the first cobble stone - again, and I cross under the ancient stone arch that is overgrown with green vines that I trust thrust into bloom each spring. The scratch of loose sand shifting under my shoes is now the only sound besides a few lonely birds starting their day before sunrise. The looming outline of this castle, chateau, in French is starting to make itself known in the dim reflective light of the distant sunrise.

The knob on the forest green chateau door is in its center. It took days to deftly twist it to unhook the latch on the inside. I swipe the sand off my shoes on the jute mat that rests on the black and white stone tile floor. A spiral staircase to the left beckons me to explore, but the promise of coffee, croissants, pain au chocolate and yogurt is the first order of the day. 


Sometimes I am alone when I enter the chateau, other times when I take a detour to the kitchen, off to the left instead of to the right, in the salon, a lone figure sits before a glowing screen, writing. Wandering into the second salon, another figure reclines on a sunflower colored fainting couch, screen softly glowing there, too. Not wanting to disturb their morning, I head back through the entry hall, into the dining room that is lined with enough chairs for 13 people. An early riser has started the first pot of coffee that was set up the night before. The breakfast routine starts with switching on the remaining two coffee machines filling an aluminum pot with slow flowing water from he tap, turning on the burner that fills the air near me with the smell of gas. I droop the eggs into the water and await the boil, anyone who says a gas stove is hotter than an electric one has not cooked here. I open the fridge to grab the jams and yogurts, the creams and milks and juices. Fresh croissants rest on the counter from prior days' early morning excursions to the boulangerie in town. I set these shatteringly crisp beauties into a reed basket lined with a homemade navy cloth napkin and gather them with the other basket filled with glossy amber pain au chocolat to set them on a sturdy side table in the dining room that could be the same table used for hundreds of years.

Others start to trickle in for coffee, tea and cream. In earnest, now, it is time to set out the breakfast for my fellow writers who have all come to this chateau for the same purpose - the challenge of going places we've never been, both physically in this location, and in our writing.


I'm sitting on a crumbling garden wall overlooking a wild pool of frogs and green algae, being buzzed by bees while tiny white butterflies compete for the same fuchsia blossom. The wind blows through the garden roses that have kept more blooms than I could have expected in the autumn sun. Carpets of moss journey from the slate tile walkway up the tree trunks in the shade. Yellow crocuses rise from the ground, and the Cypress shoot to the blue sky smoked with clouds. A lizard climbs on the back of a snail topiary looking for a high spot to bask. 

Yesterday, I went walking through the perfect rows in the vineyard while a storm blew through. Early autumn leaves swirl overhead, and the trees surrounding the grapes bend toward them, creating an archway overhead to run through. I have to be careful running here, there are mole tunnels that threaten to twist an ankle, but I take it slow, up and around to the packed dirt of the tractor trail that meanders up through the green grass past the bee hives. I continue over the slight incline to a gravel road, 500 years old at least, I was told on my first day here. It is rutted and declines steeply to the narrow road.   


Welcome to France and Italy 2018

Mimi Herman

This year marks our first venture into guest blogging on Blogaways. We’ve invited our dear friends April Errickson and Sharyn Lonsdale to share their experiences during our Writeaways in France and Italy. In the next post, you’ll hear all about our time in France through April’s eyes, followed in the week to come by Sharyn’s wonderful musings on Italy. Below you’ll find all of our friends from France, to start off our European Writeaways journey.


Books Make a Difference

Mimi Herman


This month marks the first in a yearlong series of articles published by Books Make a Difference, an online journal "celebrating books, their creators and fans, and the positive difference they make in people's lives." The series focuses on writing workshops and retreats, and features Writeaways at its core. Read the first article, about Writeaways participants Heather and Cris Wiley, Liz Pena, Candace Fertile, and Ginny Zehr at


Books Make a Difference and Writeaways are collaborating to offer a full scholarship to our October Writeaway in Tuscany for a military-connected woman. The deadline is May 31st. For more information, go to

Buon Appetito!

Mimi Herman

Why travel beyond your villa, when you can have an adventure in your own kitchen? At our Writeaway in Italy in the beautiful Villa Cini  (between Arezzo and Siena), we explored the language of la cucina as Gabriella and Margareta showed us how to cook the perfect Italian meal.

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Writing in a French Chateau

Mimi Herman

This week I’m leading la vie dure: living in a fifteenth-century French chateau surrounded by topiary, eating four-course dinners prepared by a French chef (Did I mention the three local cheeses each night?) and drinking fabulous wines.

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Scouting for a Santa Fe Writeaway

Mimi Herman

We thought we were heading to Santa Fe for our very own personal writing retreat, a chance to catch up on our own fiction and poetry. But as soon as we saw the back porch of our cottage after a snowfall, we started considering how soon we could hold a Writeaway here.

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First Writeaway by the River

Mimi Herman

Break out the champagne--or at least the chilled peach champagne soup- for the latest in the Writeaways line-up. From September 2nd-11th, we wrote, workshopped, paddled the Pasquotank, and wined (but never whined) and dined on fabulous food at our brand new Writeaway by the River at the Whitehall. With a fabulous sun parlor for our workshops, comfortable nooks throughout the house,  and the river in our backyard, we had plenty of room for writing, reading and chatting with our fellow writers.

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A Day in Paris

Mimi Herman

In Paris, we celebrated the wonderful Writeaway week we'd enjoyed at Chateau du Pin with our friends Ginny, Joyce, Judy and Tobias. The rest of the city might have been celebrating with us, though they were also experiencing an extraordinary phenomenon: 

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à Table

Mimi Herman

We're hard at work on the scratch-and-sniff technology, because we want you to experience the food at Chateau du Pin the way we do, by walking down the spiral stone steps to the scent of chef Anne Villedey's boeuf bourguignon or the delicate taste of her beurre blanc (which took her 30 days to master) over filet de sandre, a fish found only in a small section of the Loire River. In the meantime, the pictures below will have to suffice.

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