Answer: They went to Varuna Writer's House.
It's a hidden gem in the Blue Mountains, NSW, and if you decide you can't justify attending under your own steam, there are plenty of competitions and Fellowships to enter.
Varuna, The National Writer's House, is a writer's retreat where writers can network, claim unlimited writing time away from the distractions of normal life, and meet with committed writers and consultants who can help with any writing issues you may have.
The first time I went to Varuna was in 2014. My novel Sassy Jam, won a 2 week residency and when I bought the soft toys to send home to my kids, I think they were more for me than my children. I also worried how I'd fill all those hours with no children to taxi, cook for or clean for, and I worried I somehow wouldn't be as good as the resident writers there. What I got was enthusiastic and supportive fireside chats with four other writers, insightful feedback from consultants, the kind of peace and quiet that leaves your brain calm enough to fill hours of each day with creative thought, and dinner cooked to order every night by the best of 'chefs'.
Each resident room has a bedroom and off-set from that, a writing room complete with desk, fan/heater, typing chair, foot rest, armchair, lamps, bookshelves stocked with books, dictionaries and a thesaurus, plus lots of natural light and calm scenery out the windows.
An amazing dinner is cooked each night, and that's when you meet the other residents. Otherwise you bump into them during the day, usually in the kitchen, as everyone makes the obligatory pot of tea or coffee, and pinches from the supply of biscuits. There's a tree outside the kitchen which is primed for climbing and I'm not shy to say I did climb it. I also gave myself one day off during this 14 day writing marathon, and went abseiling and caving--that's the adrenaline junkie in me.
One morning I came downstairs and bumped into a man having tea in the lounge area. He invited me to join him. I didn't recognise him at first, but once he began telling me the history of Varuna House, and that I was actually sleeping in his bedroom, I realised he was the ever-generous Mick Dark, the man who, in 1989, gifted Varuna to the Eleanor Dark Foundation as a peaceful retreat for Australian writers to work.
The next time I went to Varuna was after winning an award in conjunction with Scribe Publishing. This was only a week long stay and yes, it was too short. I dropped into the familiarity of the writing routine very quickly though: WRITE LOTS/SLEEP LITTLE. I was thrilled to once again meet Mick Dark, sadly now departed, and we shared a little tea and a lot of chat. His family are truly amazing, and every Australian writer should thank his family for the work they have done in supporting writers.
Now I have the honour of returning for a third time after my novel Game Face, was awarded the Varuna/PanMacmillan Publishing Introduction Program prize. I will attend in July 2016 and can already smell the cold, smoky air and see the mist-surrounded trees as I look out the window at 5am. I'm an early bird and that's when I love to write. I look forward to the company, the uninterrupted hours of writing, the amazing food, and I'll miss that cup of tea with Mick, but will have a pot of tea in his memory.
For more on the writing awards and support provided by Varuna House, please visit www.varuna.com.au
If you have any questions about the residency, please just ask in the comments box below.