Curing writer’s block, the Hybrid way

All our staff at Hybrid are talented — this we know — and on occasion, that talent is recognised by a third party. Such was the case for one of our Kuala Lumpur-based journalists, Emily Devonald, who won a prestigious writing prize recently.

The prize was a week’s residential writing course-come-workshop, in the idyllic retreat of Bali. Here’s Em’s take on her amazing experiences…

Intertwined with a daily platter of locally sourced meals, enchanting scenes encased within Swasti Eco Cottages and a motivational welcome from retreat organiser and professional writer Peter Boydell, [the week] kicked off with a local blessing ceremony and ended with lifelong connections.

On day one, my fellow retreaters and I were joined by established Finnish journalist and novelist Johanna Elomaa. With three published books under her belt and a talent for digging into a story’s message, she taught us to play with time levels and chronology in order to write a best-selling piece.

Following on from Johanna, the second workshop introduced us to AFI nominated screenwriter, playwright and lecturer, Stephen Davis, who has had works played at the Toronto, Tokyo, Sydney, San Diego and Cannes film festivals.

Stephen directed us through forming characters and planning a screenplay to catharsis. Starting with an empty sheet of paper, he walked us through the process of creating a character for film and TV and helped us to plot their transformative arc through an ancient process.

Day three is where I upskilled my journalistic skill set with fresh insights from freelance journalist Nathan A. Thompson. Covering Southeast Asia for CNN, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and many more, his experience and perspective illuminated the journey of publications and the structure of fascinating news features.

Encouraging us to find a story of our own on the streets of Ubud, Nathan paired us up and set an afternoon task. Fortunately, I discovered my story behind the wheel of a Balinese taxi driver named ‘Dollar’, who led my writing partner and me back to his village and into the preparation of a local ceremony; a fantastic afternoon spent investigating behind-the-scenes of Ubud’s touristic buzz.

On the fourth day, we found our narrative voice with Penguin published novelist and editorial consultant, Clare Fisher. Winner of the Society of Authors Betty Trask Award in 2018 for her inspiring novel, All The Good Things, it was an opportunity for me to bring home a narrative toolkit and to experiment with different perspectives in my writing.

A special shoutout to Clare as she was also my chosen one-to-one and was incredibly supportive in my creative endeavours and article crafting!

After Clare’s slot, it was BBC Verb New Voice and poet Andy Craven-Griffiths’s turn to take centre stage in our creative bamboo bubble.

Ready to help us express, intensify, evoke emotion and create style in our poetry and to lift our letters with aesthetic and rhythmic craft, Andy improved our writing with an injection of similes and metaphors and pushed us to paint emotional masterpieces.

Nearing to the end of the retreat, day six opened our pages up to advertising, design and branding strategies with Collette Davis.

Working with the likes of O2, Absolut, Stella McCartney and Adidas, Collette enabled us to understand what makes good and bad copywriting and explained how to define a tone of voice for brands; we also had the chance to pitch an advert brief of our own.

Ending on a high, the final workshop featured sharing circles, feedback and an awards ceremony where I won the title ‘Most Delightful’.

Yet, the real prize was the endless knowledge, the refreshing skills and the talented people I met throughout the week; eternally grateful for this opportunity!

You can read Emily’s work every day on our site Study International, where her creative and insightful pieces keep readers coming back regularly to read the latest.