A Dream During Cancer Treatments Becomes a Reality: A Writing Retreat in Scotland

One week from today, I'll be stepping off an airplane in Edinburgh, Scotland. Along with me will be several members of my local writers group who are joining me for a week-long writing retreat. And even cooler than that? The week culminates with my 40th birthday! (Update: You can see photos from the trip here.)

My first trip to Scotland, 30 years ago.
I hatched this plan nearly 4 years ago, while I was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, a time when I had no idea if I'd be alive and well at 40. The writing retreat was a fantasy that gave me something to look forward to. (So was throwing myself into my writing and going on a round-the-world trip — one down and one to go!)

Since completing my cancer treatments I've been healthier than ever, so I decided to make this writing retreat trip a reality. It's far too easy to slip back into the day-to-day responsibilities and ruts of normal life, but ever since that unexpected experience, I'm committed to seizing the day.

Why Scotland? I liked idea of taking my local writers group with me on this celebratory trip to a place that's been special to me since I was a kid. I first visited Scotland when I was 10 years old, tagging along with my professor mom who was spending the summer doing research in the Highlands of Scotland.

Scotland captured my imagination on that first trip — Loch Ness and its famous monster, castle ruins perfect for exploring, ghost stories told by people with cool accents — so I returned many times. My longest stay was when I lived in Edinburgh while attending the University of Edinburgh for my Junior year abroad during college, I set a big chunk of my first novel, Artifact, in the Highlands of Scotland, and my novella "Fool's Gold" (in the Other People's Baggage anthology) is set in Edinburgh.

Dunnottar Castle, Scotland, along the coast where Artifact is set.

When I thought about where I'd want to go on a writing retreat, I liked the idea of Edinburgh because it's a mix of foreign and familiar, modern and mysterious. That way, I could get my creative energy flowing in a great setting, not be too distracted by feeling like I needed to go out exploring ever minute of the day, and share the experience with several of my dear friends. The plan is to spend our mornings writing in local cafes, then head out exploring the city and surrounding areas.

Having fun in Edinburgh in the '80s.

I wanted to do this trip with my writers group because 1) they're awesome, 2) writing is so much more fun when done with kindred spirits, and 3) they took my wig shopping before I started chemo and bought me my amazing mystery-writerly wig!

Pre-chemo wig shopping party with the Pens Fatales in 2011.

I'm so glad it worked for four of my writer pals to come with me. I'll be posting photos and stories of our adventures from Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, and perhaps even Instagram (we'll see...).

See you online from the other side of the world. But only while I'm not immersed in my next novel, which might just turn out to be set in Scotland.