Wine and Chocolate: My One Life Writing Retreat Experience


By Terra Bruhm

In April of 2019 I received amazing news – I was the chosen recipient of the One Life Writing scholarship to attend the Write by the Sea writing retreat. Naturally, I was over the moon. The scholarship, valued at $875, would give me an opportunity to devote five uninterrupted days to my manuscript The Robin’s Egg. I felt like I had just won the lottery.

Anyone who has ever written a book will tell you how difficult it can be to find pockets of time to write. This is particularly true of your first book. You haven’t yet earned the right to blow off family engagements, time with friends or work functions to bang out a few extra pages. You’re not a writer yet. It’s just a hobby until you ‘make it real’.

I headed off to Prince Edward Island to ‘make it real’ on a hot, sunny day in June. Driving over the Confederation Bridge, I could feel the stresses and responsibilities of life melting away as my thoughts turned to what I hoped to accomplish. My manuscript was in desperate need of structure. With so many events, characters and flashes between the 80s and 2000s, I needed to find clever ways to advance my narrative that made sense and were easy to follow. It was the one element standing between me and a completed first draft.

The retreat exceeded my expectations. Between the one-hour personal session I booked with Trevor and the conversations I had with the other talented, knowledgeable retreat participants, I was able to establish a structure that worked. The daily morning workshops Trevor conducted taught me things I didn’t even realize I needed to know – things about character development, scene setting and the psychological and emotional reasons why writers put words on paper. Joshua’s meditation and yoga helped me reconnect with the feelings and motivations driving my project, giving me the strength and introspection needed to write some of the more difficult chapters I had been avoiding. The Orient Hotel was an inspiring place to write, nestled within the majestic village of Victoria by the Sea. With pink, purple and white lupins peppering the fields surrounding the in, set against the backdrop of red sands and rolling oceans, it was like stepping into an alternate universe. It was a truly transformative experience.

What I could not have anticipated is how close I would become with my fellow retreat participants and how much they would teach me by telling me about their projects, their processes and their writing struggles. So many literary insecurities were laid to rest over late-night glasses of wine and delicious home-made chocolate from Island Chocolates. These moments drove home the importance of connecting with other writers. My week on the Island taught me that writing is actually a group sport. You need to establish a tribe of talented people you trust who will help you work through those problem areas. Like with children, it takes a village to nurture a book into existence. Write by the Sea provided me with that village.

I finished draft one of my manuscript that week, taking me closer to my goal of ‘making it real’. The support, assistance and encouragement I received from Trevor, Joshua and my fellow retreat participants gave me the strength, courage, focus and time I needed to achieve that milestone. If you’re looking for a quiet place to nurture some phase of your own project into existence, consider venturing to the Island for a transformative retreat experience with One Life. And, of course, make sure you carve out a little time for wine and chocolate.

Martha Bennett on completing her first manuscript

Martha Bennett

A Closer Look

Martha Bennett
Valdasota, Georgia

Genre: Memoir

Through Manuscript Tune-Up, I get to work closely with writers of all sorts. Some are experienced, award-winning writers who have published many books and are looking for a critical second set of eyes on a manuscript before sharing with their agent or publisher. And others are first time authors, completing a project of fiction, memoir, or nonfiction.

In the coming year, I’m planning to profile a number of writers who have completed Manuscript Tune-Up to share their tips and experiences in the program.

First up is Martha Bennett. Martha is primarily a nonfiction writer. A retired teacher, she divides her time between Georgia and eastern Prince Edward Island.


Tell us about your writing project, Martha.

Shortly after retiring from a teaching career spanning 28 years, I began writing the stories of experiences I had with students, teachers, principals and schools that I thought demonstrated good educational practices. My thinking was these stories would become an inspiration book for new teachers.

Why did you decide to work with an editor?

I was tired of rewriting my stories. I felt like I needed the input from someone who was not a family member who would read my manuscript with a writer’s sensibility and who would give me honest feedback.

What was it like to work with Trevor in the editing process? Any surprises?

When I met Trevor at a writing workshop on PEI, I thought he was someone I could trust to help me with my manuscript. His teaching style reassured me that he would be kindly analytical, encouraging and insightful. And he has been all of those things!! The big surprise for me has been that his comments and analysis of my manuscript have inspired me to continue to expand my writing as a memoir of my teaching career that will include stories demonstrating how this new teacher became an experienced teacher recognized for her creativity in the classroom. Another surprise was the understanding that these new stories may increase this book’s inspirational value for new teachers.

Any words of advice for other writers considering Manuscript Tune-Up?

Readiness was a key factor in my decision to contract with Trevor for a Manuscript Tune-Up. I needed someone who would read what I had written and then enable me to see what was missing, what was not clear, and where I could show and not tell. Having a list of questions to ask Trevor during our first conversation caused me to clarify expectations of the process.


With thanks to Martha Bennett. If you’d like to learn more about Manuscript Tune-Up, be in touch. Note that spaces in Manuscript Tune-Up are limited and quite often fill up well in advance of published start dates. Two spots remain for Fall, 2019.

Congrats Terra Bruhm, 2019 Write By the Sea scholarship winner

Terra Bruhm.jpg

Congratulations to Terra Bruhm of Halifax, this year’s winner of a full scholarship to the Write By the Sea writing retreat!

We received many incredible applications for the retreat. Writers from across the Maritimes submitted strong excerpts from their fiction, memoir, and poetry projects. Terra’s work impressed us for its savvy and nuanced portrayal of a raucous family holiday meal. Equal parts humour and drama, her excerpt is evidence of a highly accomplished work-in-progress.

Terra Bruhm is a nonfiction writer and poet from Moncton, New Brunswick. She holds a Combined Honours Degree in Journalism and Early Modern Studies and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from the University of King’s College. She currentlyworks as a Student Success Advisor at Dalhousie University.

Asked about the award, Terra says that life and financial commitments can make it difficult for writers to complete major projects.

“This scholarship will give me the time, space and support I need to take my manuscript to the next level. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity.” 

Terra will be working on her debut memoir, The Robin’s Egg. It outlines the details of her life from the time she was kidnapped by her mother in 1983 until she was reunited with her father in June of 2008. It chronicles the aftermath of the reunion, and the impact it had on her life and on the lives of her biological and honorary family members.

Write By the Sea is a five-day writing retreat set in Victoria-by-the-Sea on PEI’s South Shore, June 23-28. Hosted jointly by One Life Writing and Yoga with Joshua, the retreat allows writers dedicated time to work on particular projects, focus on elements of craft, and delve into supplementary workshops like yoga for writers and mindfulness activities. Stay tuned for our dates and announcement for next year’s retreat.

Will PEI Start a New Green Wave?

Here’s the snazzy image created for the story by the folks at The Walrus.

Here’s the snazzy image created for the story by the folks at The Walrus.

This month, I published my first essay in The Walrus. Called ‘Will PEI Start a New Green Wave?”, it explores the popularity of the PEI Green Party heading into a spring election on PEI, and the impact a potential win (or strong finish) would have on the Green Party federally.

This piece was truly a labour of love. I had the chance to speak to Islanders supporting the Green Party, interview party leader Peter Bevan-Baker, speak to a national pollster, and interview a political scientist at UPEI. I learned lots more about PEI and its reputation for innovative, ahead-of-the-curve environmental policies.

For example, PEI is a global leader in wind energy, producing 25% of its energy from wind. In July, 2019, the province will enact a province-wide plastic bag ban. PEI leads the country in composting rates and has one of the strictest, most comprehensive waste-sorting programs in the country.

All of this because of the fragile nature of the island. Living so close to the sea, folks are more aware of the devastating impacts of climate change. This is one of the reasons cited by the folks I spoke to about their support for Peter Bevan-Baker and the PEI Greens.

You can read the full article here.

'Saving Face' longlisted for the CBC Short Story Award

Trevor Corkum_(Credit_Joshua Lewis).JPG

I’m very excited that my short story ‘Saving Face’ was longlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize. This is the third time I’ve been longlisted for the award. ‘Saving Face’ tells the story of two men who meet in a hotel bar in Beijing. It was one of 31 stories longlisted this year. Although I’ve never won the prize, it’s always great to be recognized by a group of peer writers for one of Canada’s most prestigious short story prizes.

On CBC, I described my inspiration for the story as follows:

"I used to travel to China frequently for work and found both the alienation and surprising moments of personal connection in Chinese cities very powerful. Beijing is a city steeped in history but also very futuristic, a place where status and power are important. I wanted to explore how a chance encounter — in an era of unprecedented state surveillance — can offer a fleeting opportunity for intimacy between two men.”

You can read the first few paragraphs of the story on the CBC website. Also, if you haven’t yet, I encourage you to consider submitting to the CBC Literary Awards (short story, nonfiction, and poetry). It’s a great opportunity to showcase your work.