Life writing retreat  with Nick Barlay

27 April – 4 May 2019

Have you ever thought to take up writing as a new hobby? Or perhaps you already write but need expert guidance to take your project further?

How about spending a week at a stunning location in sunny southern Spain with a lovely group of like-minded people?

Course overview

Autobiography? Memoir? Reportage? Family history? During the week, we will explore approaches to life writing through a combination of examples, discussions and practical writing exercises to discover forms appropriate to individual stories.

Life writing can provide a unique perspective on dramatic events, as well as insight into history, society and the human relationships that underpin them. The writer’s intimate connection to the material can add a new and resonant dimension to a reader’s understanding.
Topics will include: finding a voice; the people in the story; the world of the story; descriptive techniques; using dialogue; shaping and structuring your story; and what it means to be true to your material.

Life writing is often emotionally and psychologically demanding, occasionally cathartic but always challenging. The aim of the course is ultimately to express the stories lurking in all of us, and to share them in an open, supportive and participatory environment. No prior knowledge in writing is required.

All this is included

  • Tuition
  • 7 night stay
  • Full board: breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Optional 1 day excursion to Granada
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Free hot beverages

What is not included?

  • Flight to Malaga
  • Private car hire. It is very inexpensive during this period and we can help you to coordinate car pooling with other participants. An alternative is to come by taxi from the airport. Taxi cost is around 130 euros one way. A sufficient number of rented cars are needed for the excursion to Granada to take place.

Nick Barlay


Nick Barlay is the author of four widely acclaimed novels, Curvy Lovebox, first published by the Black imprint X Press, and Crumple Zone and Hooky Gear. Together, these formed a loose trilogy set in the underbelly of contemporary London. Hooky Gear was mentioned in Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ in 2003, and was highly praised by Hilary Mantel until it was realised he was too old to be young. His fourth novel, The Wife of a Man Who, rejected in the UK, became a success across the Channel and was praised as a masterpiece. It is currently available in French only.

Barlay was born in London to Hungarian Jewish parents and his first non-fiction book, Scattered Ghosts, is the story of his family over two centuries. It was longlisted for the Wingate Prize 2015. He has also written short stories, award-winning radio plays and wide-ranging journalism, including a long-running series about London for the Times. More recently, he has contributed articles to the online Central and Eastern European News. He regularly teaches creative writing, life writing and journalism, as well as Guardian Masterclasses on writing family history. 

The venue

The course will take place in a beautiful villa in the heart of Andalusia, Spain, just few minutes drive from the picturesque white village of Iznajar and its rightly renowned lake. The location is secluded yet not remote combining peace and easy access to Granada, Malaga and Cordoba.

The villa is a modern build in the form of an old cortijo, reuniting tradition and inclusive design elements, so that it is accessible to everybody regardless of their age or ability. Besides the 4 bedrooms and en suite wetrooms the whole ground floor is barrier free, which allows wheelchair users to freely enjoy the big salon and the terraces where the group activities will take place.

It is a perfect holiday home all year around, cool in the summer, and it is equipped with biomass underfloor heating and cosy log burners for the winter. The rooms and bathrooms are bigger than usual.


Hilltop Hideaway, the main villa (6 bedroom and 6 bathrooms):
There are 4 fully accessible bedrooms and wetrooms on the ground floor and one en suite double room and one twin room with bathroom on the first floor.
– single room occupancy, private bathroom: 1215 Eur per person per week
– shared double (or twin) room, private en suite bathroom: 1115 Eur per person per week (For non writer partner 915 Eur)

Andalus cortijo (4 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms):
The house is at 10 minutes’ walk from the main villa.
– private room, bathroom shared by two person: 960 Eur per person per week

Early Bird price:
Book before 15 December 2018 and get 100 Eur off.


The retreat can only take place if at least 6 participants book. Until this number is reached the deposit is refundable, and participants should NOT buy the flight tickets. Only after retreat is confirmed, should the flight ticket be purchased.
If the date is not suitable for some, or if there is big demand, we might be able to organise a second retreat in early November as well.

Frequented Asked Questions

Where is the villa located?
Hilltop Hideaway is at the heart of Andalusia, 1 hour drive from Malaga airport and 10 minutes drive from Iznajar.

If arriving by taxi, give the following address to the driver
Casa Brazos Abiertos,14970 Iznájar
GPS: 37.293728, -4.286384

What flight should I take?
If possible book an early flight to Malaga. When taking a later flight the chances of delays are much higher.

Check out time at the villa is at 10 am. When booking your departure flight please take into account that you will arrive at the airport around 11.15 am. Alternatively you can spend a day in Malaga and take a flight the following day.

How can I spend my time if I am an accompanying partner?
The retreat is fully catered, so the accompanying partner will be free to enjoy his/her holiday. Around the house there are lots of nice spots to enjoy a book and the sunshine. Walks can be taken among the olive groves with fantastic views. The little white-washed town Iznájar and its beautiful lake is well worth several visits. It is 10 minutes away by car.

What clothes and other things should I bring?
There is no dress code, you are on holiday 🙂 Bring the clothes you feel most comfortable in. Just be aware that you cannot enter churches in Spain with uncovered shoulders and in shorts. It should be sunny and warm, but can occasionally rain. Early morning and evenings can be cool as the villa is at 700 m. A warmer cardigan or pullover is recommended together with a rain jacket. For the trip the best is to bring a pair of sturdy flat-soled shoes or trainers and a small backpack. Bring walking boots if you plan to hike. Sun cream, sun glasses or even a sun hat is recommended.

Is there a swimming pool?
Yes, although unheated. We can provide you with pool towels.  Just ask. We also have a pool hoist.

May I make hot beverages?
There is a bar area in the main salon where you can make yourself coffee and tea at any time.

Is Hilltop Hideaway suitable for those with walking difficulties?
Absolutely. The whole ground floor, terrace and pool area is suitable for people with wheelchair.

May I take walks nearby?
You can take a very nice walk right from the property. There is a little road which guides you among olive groves with fantastic views. Alternatively you can discover the nearby hamlets. Those more courageous can climb up the hill just behind the villa, and return on a paved road that passes the little nearby hamlets. Just be aware that when the sun is gone, the temperature drops pretty quickly.

What is the food like?
Our private chefs will prepare light Spanish/Mediterranean food using local products in a creative and healthy way. They will be cooking on site and are very happy to share their knowledge and to invite clients into the kitchen. They can cater to any dietary needs, including  vegetarian, vegan or gluten free.

Do you cater for vegetarians or other dietary needs?
Yes, no problem. But please inform us before booking so that we can advise the chef.

Do you have Wi-Fi and mobile phone reception?
Yes, the Wi-Fi is free and the mobile reception is good as well.

Ready for your writing adventure?

Get in touch with any questions or to book your retreat

Life writing retreat with Nick Barlay

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