An Australian author living in Norway


Last weekend, two of my best friends (also writers) and I went up to a cabin in the ski resort town of Hemsedal, about three hours north of Oslo for a mini-writing retreat and jentetur (girls’ weekend). I had a plan to finish revising one of my novels, Audrey had some school work to do before heading off to a “real” writing retreat in the States the next week, and Chelsea just needed some inspiration to get started again.

Chris had generously offered to drive us up there, and his ears were likely throbbing by the time we arrived due to the incessant chattering and laughter that made the four hour journey (we stopped for lunch and grocery shopping) seem so much shorter. We talked about everything from inadvertent climbing expeditions to a nine-year-old boy’s fascination with googling pictures of butts.

Soon, the trees, already red, gold, and auburn in preparation for their long winter sleep, gave way to rock and lichen as we ascended above the tree line, and together we marvelled at the beauty of a ski region not yet ready for visitors. The cabin was cold, and silent (for a moment, at least), and utterly peaceful.

Once settled, fire crackling, comfortable in yoga pants and pyjama bottoms, we spent Friday evening and night talking. We got up on Saturday and talked more over pancakes and fried eggs. We talked about our pasts, our friends, life, death, and we each shed tears over some of the more wrenching stories we had to share. Audrey’s husband, when she called him to check in, thought we were doing it wrong: “I’ve never cried at a cabin,” he said.

By lunch time, we knew we had to get something done if we were to in any way claim the weekend as a writing retreat.But how do three such good friends actually get down to writing when there is so much talking to be done? The answer, this time at least, was to separate ourselves. You know, like when you’re in school and your teacher says, “Do I have to separate you three?” Yeah, you do. So Chelsea went outside (and took the fantastic picture at the top of this post) with a down jacket, a pot of coffee and a notebook. Audrey disappeared into her room to work (and subsequently took an accidental nap), and I curled up by the fire and started revising. I don’t think any of us got as much done as we’d hoped or planned. I got through some tricky scenes that had been problematic for a while; Audrey made headway with her school work; Chelsea came back inside with the beginnings of a new story. When I stopped work to put the curry on, I pretty much knew that was about all the time my novel was going to get, and I felt a little bad about it.

But, BUT, we did achieve our goal in an important, if less obvious way: we told stories. And where Friday night’s stories had been solemn and at times heartbreaking, Saturday night’s stories were of first kisses, embarrassing dates, first loves, and men we’d had inappropriate crushes on as teens. Our stories flowed effortlessly, as they do when spoken among friends; they tumbled and stumbled around the heavily snack-laden table and collided with one another to form a ball of light and warmth around us. All the while, the wind whistled so loudly about the cabin that we wondered if an animal was caught in the storm outside.

On Sunday, Audrey and I took the bus back to town together while Chelsea caught up with her boyfriend in a nearby town. More stories filled the five hour trip as we became wedged in the returning autumn holiday traffic—so much so that the grumpy old man behind us leaned over and told us it was time to stop talking. Audrey—and this is one of the reasons I love her so—smiled and said, “Yeah, I think we’re going to keep talking, but we’ll do it quietly.” And we did. And we might have kept going if I hadn’t had to get off the bus in Sandvika.

Did I finish my revisions? No. Did I get any new writing done? No. Did I really go on a writing retreat? Hell yes! Our weekend was filled with stories, and what is really at the core of writing, if it’s not stories?

Photos by Chelsea Ranger


  1. Sammy

    Sounds wonderful! And I’m utterly jealous! 😀

    • Zoë

      Get your butt over here and we’ll do it again. 🙂

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