August 15 – Cambridge Writers’ Workshop takes on Chantilly!!

Today the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop headed off to Chantilly, known for it’s lovely whipped cream, genuflecting horses, and fancy French lace! (La vie française est toujours magnifique!!)  The day started off with a casual stroll through Chantilly’s downtown area where some of our participants made friends with the local cats ;-)  Next up, an amazing hat and jewelry shop where our writers tried on some French berets and classic fedoras and struck a pose worthy of any good hard-boiled femme fatale ;-)  After our Chantilly noir moment, we stopped by a local teahouse for some café gourmand, and then headed off to the stables to see the genuflecting horses!  The show, Cheval, Rêve, & Poesie, featured dancing horses, acrobats, court jesters, and beautiful music and costumes from France, Russia, Spain, China, and India!  After the program, some of the ladies sat down for a drink and observed the flâneurs passing by.  Then Gina & I headed off to the Château de Chantilly to check out the gorgeous private art collection, beautiful classical library, monkey room, and animal motifs in the château.  Janet captured a wonderful shot of a skinned lion tapestry (which she says helped spark her creative writing but which might also haunt her forever), and another group of writers, including Nannie, Norma, Stephanie, and Janet, went off to explore the sheep and lambs on the pastures of Château de Chantilly, and in doing so, found some hidden steps to an ancient and ruined bridge which lead to a hidden island.  Climbing the moss-covered steps, they found a perfect, secluded spot to spend awhile composing a new tale and some new poetry.  All in all, our little trip to Chantilly was filled with hidden treasures, secret enclaves, much delicious food and food for thought, and unexpected moments of poetry.

- Rita Banerjee, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Creative Director

August 13 – Cambridge Writers’ Workshop at the Château de Verderonne



At brunch this morning, we tried something new, “flan de carrotes.”  Christina prepares for our afternoon writing workshop, along with Stephanie, Nannie and other participants in the Blue Salon.  Some of us wrote one act plays , new poems, novel excerpts, screen plays, and short stories.  We worked hard to upload our own by noon, and to read everyone’s work by 2:00 p.m.  Then, we critiqued each other using Liz Lerman’s method during our afternoon workshop.  A welcome break was feeding the chickens.  They follow us around now that they know we are the bearers of baguettes.  Some eggs are waiting to hatch!  After some bouts of down pouring rain, the sun kept peaking out.  We enjoyed a walk through the gardens and greenhouses.  At dinner, another specialty  appetizer was a terrine with chicken, carrots, green beans, and other vegetables.  Dessert was crème au chocolat…mmmm….along with Chef Monique’s favorite family recipe for “yogurt bread.”

At night, some of us relaxed during knitting circle.  Others did some creative writing or talked and over an herbal tea before bed.  Elissa gave a wonderful afternoon yoga class in the courtyard.  Everyone was treated to a little head massage with geranium oil.  All in all, it was  quiet and peaceful day at the Château de Verderonne and a productive workshop day.

- Diana Norma Szokolyai, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Artistic Director

August 12 – Cambridge Writers’ Workshop at the Château de Verderonne

“Je veux du soleil.”  One of the songs I played for the four Juliets just a couple of days ago,  but it was true, like the song, I wanted sun or better put, sunlight.  My last day at the CWW retreat began more relaxed and with a bit of sun than others.  Taking advantage of the break of sunlight I shot more exterior shots; the Lili pond, the gardens, a family of geese, and of people writing.  Everyone was working on their script, play, or novel around in the common areas which they were getting ready to present to be critiqued the next day.  A tranquil and calm mode pleasantly hummed throughout the house, only to be interrupted by rain, loud rain, but with the sun shinning.

I have been in my share of sun-showers but nothing so persistent and, well, confusing.  Shadows were cast stubbornly outside while the rain rushed to the earth as if to prove that they both could co-exist.  Rita’s class on character development had everyone listening intently but every so often people’s concentration would be broken by the absolute volume of the downpour.  Hallway doors had to be closed shut so as to reduce the noise, though candles were nostalgically lit in the room.

After a filling dinner, I sat down with our resident actress/singer Gina as she belted out “Wide Awake” by Katy Perry while I played guitar. Jess sang “Anything but Down” by Sheryl Crow and as one of the final sing a longs we all sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

Leaving the next morning at 7am from the chateau to catch my flight back to NYC I realized that even though I was there to film, I learned a bit on narrative writing myself. Having sat in the workshops and listening to other people’s excerpts of their own writing I gained some new techniques that could be used in my own song-writing. Everyone had read out loud examples of the stories and poems they had written, and each person had their own way to make you sit up and listen to the beautiful stories unfolding from their minds.  I only wish I could write as well as they could.  Our retreat writers invite the listener to stay and want more.  I wish to one day see their scripts in a film, their plays being produced or their novels at the bookstore.  It was a pleasure meeting all of you writers, and I hope to see all your writing projects fulfilled soon.

- Victor Pachas, CWW Board Member & Multimedia Specialist

August 11 – Cambridge Writers’ Workshop in Paris!


M. Marié drove us to the Liancourt-Rantigny station early in the morning, while the fog still clung to the base of the trees. We were on our way to Paris, city of lights, for a day of exploration and inspiration.

The train ride rattled by in a green blur of passing landscape until we arrived in Paris. The gardens of the Medici palace are swarming with people soaking in the sun after a recent spat of rain, relaxed in green metal chairs on the carefully manicured gravel walkways. Children pushed colorful toy yachts across a fountain, yelling to each other and their parents as the boats skimmed across the water.

We made out way to a small crepe stand outside the garden, enjoying the hot food prepared by John, who showed us his favorite trick over and over again – cutting a banana furiously while staring us in the eye, never missing or making a mistake. After enjoying our food, we went to a cafe for drinks and a character sketch writing exercise. The cafe cat watched the passersby and us with mild curiosity, tolerating pets and attention.

From there, the flea market was an explosion of colors and accents, men with knockoff designer sunglasses following crowds headed towards the stalls with, pardon! pardon! Clothes printed with slightly incorrect English slogans hung in stalls next to assortments of hookah pipes and cheap jewelry. Inside, antique furniture competed for attention – glass tables supported by golden scorpions, lacquered benches, delicate side tables with spindled legs, and fainting couches were set up in mock arrangements, no seat please printed on papers propped on the couches and chairs.

Upstairs, books with crumbling spines and magazines housed in plastic slips competed on rickety tables and bookshelves. Clothing hung in colored rows, shop keepers chatting to each other, and to the artists sandwiched between them.

After the market, we headed back into the heart of Paris to eat dinner at Les Fêtes Galantes. The restaurant only held a few tables, and we were greeted by the wife of the chef. The walls were plastered in pictures and notes left by guests, and one wall even held a few sets of lingerie. The food was unbelievable and perfectly cooked – an excellent way to end a day in Paris.

By Megan Tilley

August 10 – Yoga & Writing at the Château de Verderonne

Day 4 of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne started with atmospheric weather.  The morning began at 8 am with the daily feeding of the chickens.  This year, the chateau had two roosters and a bounty of hens so all was well with the gender balance.  After feeding the chicks, I was off to yoga with Elissa Lewis, who taught us some interesting balancing and partner poses today.  After a quick brunch, Norma taught a wonderful class on “Shadow, Light, and the Crepuscular.”  In the class, Norma quoted sections on bunraku (Japanese puppet theatre), ceramics, lighting, and traditional Japanese lacquerware from Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Light and Shadows, and encouraged participants to produce writing which traced how objects and situations seemed to alter with changing light, and how illumination and shadows could help cast and give depth to a scene.  After our writing workshop, one of our participants, Cristina, made the most wonderful chocolate covered Madeleines for our dining pleasure!  Proust would have been proud (thank you, Cristina)

After some snacks, Jessica Reidy opened her workshop with a surrealist game on how playing with tarot cards could help open up insights into character development in narrative.  I got the Hierophant for a character I’m working on named Lou Cassin.  And then Jess presented the most wonderful class on how trauma narratives are expressed and described in literature.  Jess described how some of the key symptoms of trauma are indicated in narratives, and how different kinds of narrators–amnesiac, subterranean, and those of the endless present, describe and come to terms with traumatic events in their fictional works and personal essays.  Jess underlined the craft aspects of trauma literature by reading and analyzing “The terror years,” a poem, and “A Wedding in Auschwitz,” a story, by the Romani writer Rajko Djurić.

Jess’s class was followed by an outdoor session of yoga lead by the ever talented and graceful Elissa Lewis.  Rita & Norma took a moment to sneak out and rendevous with M. Marié in the beautiful 19th Century greenhouse on the Château de Verderonne grounds.  Afterwards, we caught Victor strolling with his guitar around the lawns in front of the château like some medieval wandering bard.  When he saw that there were some ladies spying on him from their rooftop balconies, he did what any good Romeo would do, and decided to serenade four Juliets at the same time.  M. Marié was very impressed by Victor’s superhuman ability to sing in French, English, and Spanish to three balcony windows at the same time.

It was a truly remarkable, and the flocks of birds seemed to enjoy Victor’s serenade as they flew over the château’s sun-dappled grounds.  The afternoon was peaceful and gorgeous until a loud pop was heard in the distance.  Was that a gunshot?  One of the Juliets asked, startled.  It seemed unlikely as Victor continued to sing.  Suddenly several meters behind him a flock of pigeons flew gracefully across the sky.  And then another loud boom.  And then the sight of a bird becoming startled and losing balance mid-flight.  It’s wings flapped hard once, then twice, and then it fell spiraling, like a smoking grenade, to the ground.  Someone had mentioned that pigeon stew was a popular dish France.  And it seemed strange that a day that began with the feeding of birds was punctuated so forcefully with the image of a bird being taken mid-flight so that it could feed us, too.

- Rita Banerjee, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Creative Director

August 9 – Writing & Yoga at the Château de Verderonne

Writing life

Writing life

Day three of the Yoga and Writing Retreat was spent exploring the mystery of the Château de Verderonne and using our finds as fuel for our writing, eating French food, and working out our kinks on the yoga mat. We earned the clinks of “Salut” by the end of the day. (Always make eye contact in your toasts!)

Start the day with journaling and green jasmine tea before morning rejuvenating yoga with Elissa.




Rita’s mystery object from her “Evocative Object Workshop.”

Rita’s  mystery object from her “Evocative Object Workshop” came with a surprise twist: we’re still not sure what it is. Hoof-fork? One of the many charming (and evocative) mysteries of the Château de Verderonne that inspired our poems, stories, songs, essays, and screenplays.




Verderrone, ever-blooming.

A stroll around the gardens helped us choose our own “evocative objects” to write about.


The old horse bath, now teeming with plant life and rustic beauty.





(I chose the old horse bath, now teeming with plant life)


A very productive workshop






We really kicked it.

Elissa demonstrating "water fountain"

Elissa demonstrating “water fountain”






Since our morning yoga was energizing and strengthening in the salon, our evening yoga was cooling and relaxing in the garden. After a good day of creating, relaxing yoga was exactly what we needed. After “water fountain” we tried “chasing the moon.”


The gardens

The gardens

The lilies in the gardens

The lilies in the gardens

Yoga made the walk back through the gardens all the sweeter, especially knowing that dinner (and plum tart for dessert!) would soon be on the table.

In fortune teller mode

In fortune teller mode




And for added inspiration, I’m doing some palm and tarot reading sessions on the side for our wonderful group this summer. Why not look life’s mysteries in the eye?

Day 2 August 8 at the Château

Today was our first full day!  Most of us have just flown in from the USA, the Philippines, England or Germany.  The jet-lag seems to have more or less subsided.  For me, flying into Europe always seems easier than flying out.
Rita lead a terrific writing workshop: Literary taboo and writing contracts.  It’s a great time to set the bar for our writing for the rest of our time here.  We all decided on a realistic writing goal for ourselves.  The idea is that we can check in with our respective writing partners regularly, and they become a reminder of our progress.
Later in the afternoon, we made accordion style journals by folding icy blue paper.  To finish, the journal is tied with a gorgeous ribbon to complete the package.  We used a beautiful variety of ribbons; some hand dyed silk and lots of French-style ribbons in satin and grosgrain.  We all have different ideas on how we will use this journal; for writing stories, recording thoughts, or for watercolor painting. It’s only the beginning!
Viktor, our videographer, is also an amazing musician, by the way!  A few writers here are also professional level singers.  Viktor played whatever tune they requested and they set the stage for the rest if us.  We ended up crowded around the table singing.   It was a wonderful way to end the night.  -Elissa Lewis, CWW Yoga Coordinator


photo image_2

August 7 – Bienvenue en France!!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop kicked off today.  A two week retreat of writing classes and yoga led by talented teachers in the lush, green countryside town of Verderonne, one hour north of Paris.  Published authors, aspiring novelists, and avid writers have come from other countries just to work on their own literary projects and learn new techniques in word-smithery.

As CWW’s videographer my first order of duty was to pick up participants and escort them back to the Chateau of Verderonne.  Once the last of the participants were picked up from Charles de Gaulle Airport and a quick stop for extra yoga mats, we settled in at the chateau for lunch.  Some participants having traveled more than 6 hours from overseas on a plane took a well deserved nap before orientation to the CWW retreat and the Chateau of Verderonne.

In the afternoon, Rita, Elissa, and I presented the participants with the itinerary for the next two weeks, then everyone met M.  Marié, the propriétaire of the estate of the château.  He gave us a tour of the buildings, beautiful gardens, and calming greenery which we would all inhabit and hopefully being inspired to write about.

As the sun began to set we had dinner and everyone made the rounds, introducing themselves at the table and why they had come.  Each writer had a different reason to join the retreat but what everyone had in common was their love for the written word and desire to sharpen their craft…that and their appreciation of wine,  French wine, mmmmmm ;).  Demain, we begin the craft of writing seminars and workshops, and what better way to start the next day with getting the creative muscles flexing than with a yoga class at 8am.  Namaste.

- Victor Pachas, CWW Board Member and Multimedia Specialist

Save the Date! Live Blogging the CWW Château de Verderonne Yoga & Writing Retreat (August 7-20, 2014)

2013-07-25 09.23.20Hello CWW followers! From August 7-20, we will be visiting the Château de Verderonne in Picardy, France for our annual Yoga and Writing Retreat. While we’re in the French countryside working on our yoga practice and our writing projects, we will be sharing the experience with all of you.

Check our website during the retreat period to see updates and posts from members on the retreat. You will see pictures, blogs, and other news from France as the trip progresses. You can find out what some of our contributors are doing on the trip, with blog posts from Rita Banerjee, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Elissa Lewis, Jesica Reidy, Megan Tilley, and Victor Pachas.

So join us for live updates from our annual yoga & writing retreat in France, and hope to see you there next year!


New Review by Rita Banerjee: Paging Ms. Marvel: The Perks & Perils of Creating an Islamic, Feminist Superhero

Kamala_KhanRita Banerjee’s review of the new Ms. Marvel series, “Paging Ms. Marvel: The Perks and Perils of Creating an Islamic, Feminist Superhero,” has just been published on Jaggery: A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal.  In the review, Rita Banerjee writes:

“The new Ms. Marvel comic series focuses on the trials and tribulations of Kamala Khan, a Muslim Pakistani-American high school student from Jersey City. The series is a reboot of the original Ms. Marvel comics made famous by the character of Carol Danvers, who debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977 and eventually rose to become Captain Marvel in 2012. This new Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson and inspired by the adolescence of Marvel Comics editor Sana Amanat, is full of surprises—from sly observations on cultural stereotypes to explorations of geek culture and the fan fiction–verse to redefining concepts of female beauty and empowerment. Or as Amanat writes at the end of the premiere issue of Ms. Marvel, “this book is a victory for all the misfits in the world,” as embodied in the “loveable, awkward, fiercely independent” Kamala. But in attempting to create an Islamic feminist superhero in the guise of an adorable and awkward teenager, Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel has its fair share of both perks and perils.”  Check out the full review here.