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21.04.2017

A writer we know once high-fived himself for landing a residency in the Catskills, sure that a month among mountains was exactly the push he needed for his difficult second book. It turns out that looking at mountains is a full-time occupation; he returned without having written a word.

However, no Fraulein Maria will get away with forgetting Mass at the Himalayan Writing Retreat at Kumaon. No, Chetan Mahajan, resident of the hills and convener of these events, isn’t looking to spoil anyone’s fun. Over this summer and autumn, Chetan is running workshops, retreats and finish-your-book weeks that aim to give writers space, time and fresh air in which to think about their writing -- and also the discipline and camaraderie of workshopping with like-minded folks. A literary summit?

Season Desist

Chetan’s own first book was produced in an unusual sort of writer’s block -- a wrong-place/wrong-time employment situation landed him in Bokaro jail for a short time, and The Boys Of Bokaro Jail, his well-received debut, was his account of the life and people he encountered there.

He’s since left the plains behind. Two years ago, he moved, with his young family, to a little village “off the map -- the nearest place with a name recognisable to most people is Mukteshwar.” The broadband is great, cell connectivity is awful, and the Kumaon hills are majestic.

Participants have ranged from hill neighbours elbow-deep in comic books to American writers who’ve flown in to jumpstart the juice, and returned home to do 100,000 words. “It opened many shut doors,” writer Kamalini Natesan tells us of the retreat she’s just returned from. “And it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.”

“Forest walks, bonfires and deep conversations are an integral part of any Himalayan Writing Retreat,” Chetan says. The choice of location is significant: retreats are held in places that “have to be offbeat and guarantee a high degree of privacy.” Participants must fill an application form and submit a writing sample before they’re accepted into a programme, and while they’re relaxed about writerly quirks, “any prima donna will be asked to leave immediately,” he says sternly.

Two years ago, Chetan moved, with his young family, to a little village “off the map -- the nearest place with a name recognisable to most people is Mukteshwar.” The broadband is great, cell connectivity is awful, and the Kumaon hills are majestic.

No Draft-Dodgers

The retreats are book-writing bootcamps that Chetan and his wife Vandita -- a clinical psychologist who’s published her own book about parenting -- designed from scratch, consisting of all the things he wished he knew before he published Bad Boys.

Another sort of programme, the Writing Week, is relatively free-floating. It's structured around creative exercises and psychological stimulation, and is meant for more sure-footed writers looking for some breathing space, and perhaps to get over a block. “The beauty of the Himalayas can work wonders,” Chetan says, “and the intellectual stimulation of other bright people deep into their writing can be tinder.”

Before you swipe right, Chetan wants you to know that his writers are beginning to report back with big gains -- some have signed book contracts, he says, and more are hitting their above-50,000-words goals with joyous regularity.

However, if you’re looking for a place to finish that book without interacting with other writers -- we know you read this website, Vikram Seth! -- they’re not ready for you just yet. “I could suggest a couple of hotels around here, go off-season and lock yourself in.” Hang on for a few months, though: he’s working on setting up a B&B that should be ready later this summer, geared to the needs of solitary chipmunks who want nothing more than to be left alone with their third drafts. Go on, you can say we sent you. Make us proud! Oh, and Mr Seth, if you’ve quite decided what happens to Amit in the new book…

Getting there: Read more about the Himalayan Writing Retreat and fill out an application here. For more information, write to Chetan at chetanyum@hotmail.com.





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