Hang with Hardy at writers’ workshop weekend in Britain

If you’re a big fan of Return of the Native or Jude the Obscure, there’s a travel package that’s perfect for you. Built around the chance to hang with Thomas Hardy’s ghost – or, should we say, Thomas Hardy in ghost form? – Summer Lodge Country House Hotel is bringing four writers under its roof for a unique weekend of literary bliss. Guests will be able to learn how to make it as a writer from some heavy hitters, specifically Roger Collins, Marcelle Bernstein, Eric Clark and Jim O’Connor. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Hardy himself will weigh in with a few tips.

Roger Collins is an actor, broadcaster and writer, who counts his weekly International Herald Tribune column “The Frequent Traveler” among his claims to fame. Marcelle Bernstein is a novelist, nonfiction writer and journalist and has written Body & Soul and Sacred & Profane, both best sellers that later became feature films and television dramas. Eric Clark is an investigative journalist, and Jim O’Connor is an advertising copywriter who has pushed everything from forklifts to Australian rum.If you want to get in on the action, Summer Lodge’s Writers’ Weekend package includes two nights in a classic double room, a full English breakfast every day, champagne and canapés upon arrival and a three-course dinner Saturday evening. You’ll also be able to attend three writer workshop sessions over two days, sip tea and coffee during the events and receive a signed book by either Eric Clark or Marcelle Bernstein.

“Summer Lodge has close associations with Thomas Hardy,” says General Manager Charles Lötter. “He lived nearby and the hotel is at the very heart of the Wessex landscape he immortalized. The village pub, the Acorn Inn is featured in his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles as The Sow & Acorn. What’s more, in his capacity as an architect, Hardy was asked to design the upper floor and the drawing room of Summer Lodge by the 6th Earl of Ilchester in 1893. So you could say the house is haunted by him – although I’ve yet to bump into him myself.”

Tony Hillerman’s Four Corners region of the U.S. and an encounter

“An author knows his landscape best; he can stand around, smell the wind, get a feel for his place.” –Tony Hillerman

Yesterday, when I read that Tony Hillerman died, I flashed back to one afternoon when I went as a guest to a writer’s group meeting at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I introduced myself, was I surprised when I shook one man’s hand, and his warm voice said, “My name’s Tony Hillerman.” I had no idea that this was the writers’ group he attended.

What struck me about Hillerman was his unassuming aura. He was generous and thoughtful with his comments to the other writers, and not any more important than the others in the room.

Like anyone else who lives in Albuquerque, I was aware of Hillerman’s work as a mystery writer whose stories center around the Southwest. A person cannot live in that city without being aware of how he brought weight to the region. Plus, his books are everywhere. I recall racks of them.

I’m in awe of writers who are able to attach themselves to a place and dive deep into its nuances. Reading a Hillerman novel is a trip to the Four Corners region of the Southwest. His version is not the one that requires putting one foot in New Mexico, one foot in Arizona, one hand in Utah and the other in Colorado before buying a Navajo taco from one of the food vendors.

If you go to Four Corners with Hillerman’s eye, you look for the person behind the scenery. Who is the person who is selling you that turquoise bracelet? Who lives in the houses far flung at the edge of the hills? What about life matters most to them?

Although tourists may visit the various pueblos and Native American reservations across the Southwest, those experiences are merely glimpses of these cultures. Hillerman wrote about people here by getting under their skin.

As he said, “I always have one or two, sometimes more, Navajo or other tribes’ cultural elements in mind when I start a plot. In Thief of Time, I wanted to make readers aware of Navajo attitude toward the dead, respect for burial sites.” [Brainy Quotes]

Considering that Halloween is coming up this week, here’s a Hillerman title for you: Dance of the Dead. The novel is the second one in his series featuring protagonist Lt. Joe Leaphorn. It won the Edgar Award for best novel.

For an interview with Hillerman in Book Page, click here, and for yesterday’s NPR All Things Considered segment on Hillerman, click here.