Sunshine Writer’s Retreat

Relax, create,  connect and grow. A full program lasting from Thursday to Sunday, 14-17 November. You can come as a day visitor, like me, or stay in the cosy cabins at the Montville Country Cabins in beautiful forest setting. I enjoyed the company of new writers, interstate travellers, the familiar faces of the Sunny Coast and guest authors. Even the friendly kookaburra up in a tree watching us eat. It was a blend of learning, writing, Masterclasses and excellent networking.

This is my second retreat. Aleesah Darlinson from Greenleaf Press capably and conscientiously works towards the organisation of this wonderful literary event with the help of her trusted volunteers.


To highlight some of the tips by author Susanne Gervay on my first day, is to examine the amazing ideas for junior and middle grade fiction. Susanne is a celebrated, award winning OAM author who presented on what gaps in the market authors should write to. She took us through practical exercises on voice, characters, structure and that kids need to be the winners! The story must engage the reader from the child’s perspective. The group learnt a lot about Loglines, – short, succinct, clever snippets of the story essence. Not to over write, a special point of interest, the heart of the story, conflicts and stakes. Susanne insisted that we do not simply retell the plot. She also gave us photos of a fire and we had to write about our emotional feelings and attitudes to the images. These were read aloud and applauded. A sensitive and newsworthy topic with the current bushfires.



After a tasty morning tea and delicious lunch, we listened to Jo Sandhu speak about cliff hangers, tension, adventure and her heroes journey. DANGER, QUEST,  ACTION,  HERO!

Jo set out to show us the clear structures of her fantasy Ice Age trilogy, Tarin of the Mammoths, suitable for kids aged 10+. When something out of the ordinary happens, it’s sure to capture the reader’s interest, especially, when the main character crosses a river or practises spear throwing. The hunt is a powerful metaphor. How can I frustrate my character to the point of them making a bad decision? Jo described the internal and external conflicts in the plot and characters. She gave us plot tricks to help build tension.

Foreshadowing, cliff hangers and red herrings – do you know what these are? Pacing, twists and changes – are you familiar with them when reading a story? Jo shared her love of Matthew Reilly’s Seven Ancient Wonders. Perhaps you should read this one.


My head was bursting. And Saturday, my second visit started with a fantastic message by Richard Yaxley on A Novel Approach : Dialogue, Hooks and Powerful Endings. Richard and I go back to teaching days in Maryborough. We have recently met each other at another conference. Such a wise retired teacher and multiple award-winning adult and young adult author, Richard shared so many tips on planning, structure, POV, characters and dialogue.

He insisted we find our own way and voice. To be versatile. To write and know your PREMISE. It’s the life force that drives a story. The HEART BEAT. We loved that he knows his beginning and ending. In true, passionate teacher style, Richard tested us with many activities. For example, here is a premise – We recover through reinvention.

Keep returning to the premise. Know what drives your characters – their motivations, goals, dreams and fears. He gave us this question. If you had to leave your home in a hurry and could only take one non-human portable object with you, what would it be?

Know what your character would take. Why? Know your minor characters. What they lose, fear or gain?

Point of view and voice, more useful activities. Richard had them all tucked up in his heart and his privileged writing voice. Lastly, he reminded us all to read aloud our writing. Richard gave us notes on Point of View from stream of consciousness, monologue, internal , detached observer. We looked at the active verbs, impressions, accents and syntax, as well as how dialogue plays out. Several examples were given from his books.


The last guest author for Saturday was Cass Moriarty. ( Parting Words and The Promise Seed) look her up! She’s a mother of six children from 12 – 26 years, and fits in the time to share about Characters, Voice, Loss and Love. Inspirational, heart felt, and a shortlisted People’s Choice Award at the 2016 QLD literary Awards, Cass makes it look easy. We looked at setting, character’s emotional responses, building depth and resilience, secrets, lies and themes.

Her practical exercises helped us to think imaginatively and sensitively. We did a photo exercise. Looked at memory. Vulnerabilities. She read aloud several passages from her books and we responded to, finish the sentence, or give examples of behaviours or memories that depict character. So many excellent exercises to do. Our worksheets were scribbled on, developed and challenged.

The character profile summary was helpful. She left us with many, many questions we could ask of our protagonists. Finally, the themes underpin all stories. Cass listed them up on the whiteboard as we called them out – Revenge, betrayal, death, lies, courage, discovery, forgiveness, hate etc.

Overall, the retreat for me was inspiring, friendly, encouraging and intellectually stimulating. The home baked goodies, book signing of Michelle Worthington’s latest picture book called Little Gnome’s Christmas Wish, Story circles, panels presentation, manuscript appraisements and dinner – what more could you ask! ( the last two I did not do) Congratulations Greenleaf Events for an excellent learning time.

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November 18, 2019 at 7:26 am

Great wrap up of the event, Marg! Lovely to catch up with you there. x

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    November 18, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Kellie, congrats on your success, too. I enjoyed our snippets of conversation.

November 19, 2019 at 3:17 am

Thanks for your brilliant write up and thoughtful comments, Marg. It’s always a pleasure having you at our retreat. Great to see that you had a connection with Richard already too. Wasn’t he amazing?

Maria Parenti-Baldey
November 19, 2019 at 10:51 am

Great blog post. I like foreshadowing. And that premise really got me focused more.

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    November 19, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    Yes Maria, so many useful take aways to consider. Now to process it all.

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    November 19, 2019 at 8:57 pm

    I love the way Richard gets to the heart and core of his information. He clearly shows us what is required. He is a careful and organised thinker.

Kate McGann
November 23, 2019 at 11:11 am

It was so lovely to meet you at the retreat, Marg! This is a great wrap up and is helping me revisit our time there as I haven’t had much opportunity to process this week. I didn’t realise you had a connection with Richard! He was a knock out as a speaker, in my opinion. So thoughtful and generous with his experience.
Thanks for our lovely chats!

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    November 24, 2019 at 6:15 am

    Thanks Kate. Talking and listening to you was gold! All the best with your writing.

M.J. Gibbs
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