Lago Maggiore Italy – May 4-12, 2011

Meet Your Muse on Lago Maggiore

Poetry, Prose and Joy:
A Week of Creative Expression in Northern Italy

May 4-12, 2011

Discover the Joy of Writing

We invite writers of all levels of experience and of all genres to enjoy a magical week of creative expression with us. There are no criteria for acceptance other than a desire to discover. The days will include a mix of writing, sharing, short excursions, and discussions about craft. The writing sessions will inspire you to tap into your creative spirit, awaken your powers of observation and find your voice. You can choose to participate in any or all of the writing programs. The resort is an ideal setting to ignite your muse or to just relax and retreat.

Be Enchanted

Often called the Lake of Dreams, magical Lago Maggiore is the perfect backdrop for a date with your muse. Lush and colorful exotic plants garland its shoreline, snowcapped alpine peaks majestically rise from the azure water, ancient castle ruins whisper secrets from rocky islets that appear just offshore. This is a land of fantasy and mystery—truly a place to fire the imagination.

Welcome to Hotel Cannero

Converted from an old monastery in the mid-1800s, Hotel Cannero is situated on the northwestern shore of Lake Maggiore. Recently expanded and renovated, the hotel retains all the grace and charm of its original architectural structures. Spacious rooms, luxurious lounges and outdoor courtyards overlook stunning lake vistas. The hotel proprietors have been serving their guests for generations; they will treat you like family.

The Presenters

Deb McKew, founder of Words in Play™, lives by the tenet that writing is fun. A journalist, editor and teacher, she has led many workshops for writers of all ages, delighting in the creativity that she coaxes from her students no matter what their skill level.


Dianalee Velie shares her gift of language with an open heart. Her critically acclaimed poetry has been published in literary journals throughout the U.S. and Canada. The author of four books of poetry, a collection of short stories and a full-length play, she inspires others with her passion and commitment to her art. Visit

Kelly Epperson, former IRS agent, now an agent of joy, teaches people of all ages and stages how to live a life of sustainable happiness and to find joy in every day. Kelly will present her unique brand of wit and wisdom in her Live the Joy – Journey of You™ programs as well as a special workshop on the Lost Art of Love Letters. Visit

Download full brochure in PDF format

Planned Itinerary:

Wednesday, May 4 Fly to Milan.
Thursday, May 5 Arrive in Milan; travel by luxury coach to Hotel Cannero on Lake Maggiore. We will meet for a welcome dinner.
Friday, May 6 Creative workshops begin. Excursion to Isola Bella; Edith Wharton wrote of the gardens on this beautiful island that they should be thought of as poetry, not horticulture.
Saturday, May 7

We explore the village of Orta San Giulio, situated on Lago Orta. As the French novelist Balzac wrote, this “grey pearl in a green jewel-box” has bewitched many a poet and philosopher.

Evening Program: special presentation by local artists who have translated Dianalee Velie’s poems into Italian and set them to music. Not to be missed!

Sunday, May 8 Today we travel to the outdoor market in Cannobio. It will be a wondrous sensory experience full of vivid details to capture and share.
Monday, May 9 Our private boat takes us to Ascona, Switzerland, an old fishing village known for its promenade, considered the most beautiful section of Lake Maggiore for a stroll.
Tuesday, May 10 We ferry across Lake Maggiore for a truly spectacular luncheon dining experience. It will be worth writing home about.
Wednesday, May 11 Our last full day in Italy will be a day to reflect and share. Farewell dinner.
Thursday, May 12 Today we say ‘ciao’ to Maggiore and transfer to the Milan airport.
Please Note: We reserve the right to change the itinerary or trip features at any time and for any reason, with or without notice.

Included Features

  • Daily creative writing workshops – poetry and prose
  • Daily excursions – motorcoach, ferry transfers, and entrance fees included
  • Private motorcoach transfer from Milan Airport to Cannero & return
  • 7 nights in superior rooms at Hotel Cannero (all with balcony & lake views)
  • Breakfast daily at the hotel
  • Welcome and farewell dinners at the hotel; one luncheon
  • Creative and musical evening presentations

Price for Land Package Only

Based on a minimum of 15 participants:

  • $2,985 per person – double occupancy
  • Early Bird Discount – Save $200 if you register by December 31, 2010.
  • Single room supplement available upon request.
  • Please Note: Space is Limited
  • Airfare not included: call Compass Travel for pricing and flight information.

Click to download printable registration formDownload Lago Maggiore Printable Registration Form (or click on at right)


All reservations will be made through:

Compass Travel Inc.
PO Box 1675
New London, NH

(603) 526-9600

General Information

Payment Schedule: A deposit of $500 per person is required to reserve your space on the tour. Final payment is due 90 days prior to departure.

Cancellations & Refunds: All cancellations of confirmed reservations are subject to a $200 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received 60-90 days prior to departure will be assessed a penalty equal to 50% of the total program cost per person. Cancellations received within 60 days of departure are subject to 100% cancellation penalties. No refunds will be made for any part of this program in which you choose not to participate.

Insurance: Compass Travel strongly recommends that all tour participants purchase Trip Cancellation, Emergency Medical Evacuation, Baggage, and Accident/Medical Insurance. Upon receipt of your original tour deposit, an insurance brochure will be sent to you.

Responsibility: The responsibility of Compass Travel Inc. and/or its agents is limited and we can assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay, or irregularity in connection with the services of any ship, airplane, train, automobile, motorcoach, carriage, or any other conveyance used in carrying out these tours. We cannot accept any responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay or changes in air or other services, sickness, weather, strike, war, acts of terrorism, quarantine, acts of God, or other causes beyond our control.

Why go on a writing retreat?

Georgia O’Keefe once said, “Nobody sees a flower, really—it is so small—we haven’t time, and to see takes time.” This sentiment really hits home for writers who strive to be creative in the midst of long To Do lists, mired in so much busy-ness. The number one complaint I hear from writers is that they lose their momentum working, as writers do, in the isolated corners of their lives.

I propose the idea that writing is not a solitary act. Of course, you must, at some point, sit down and write—just you and your computer (or notebook). However, typing words on a page is only a part of the writing process.

Before you can write, you need to “see” —to observe deeply, through all your senses, without judgment. The “without judgment” part is most important for a writer. We are constantly battling the “editor” in our minds, the part of the psyche that passes judgment on every word we put on the page. To really write, you need to be free of that editor, that all-powerful judge of write and wrong. To quell that voice and allow yours to shine, you must find an oasis of freedom—that place between observance and judgment.

Writing retreats offer an opportunity to go to that place, literally and figuratively.

On a cool September Saturday, I was with a group of writers at a lakeside cottage, all of whom had committed to a weekend immersed in writing. A fire crackled in the stone hearth, large comfy chairs beckoned, delicious aromas wafted from the kitchen, and glass doors opened to an expansive view of the lake just beyond the sunroom.

Writing retreats offer a respite from daily distractions so that you can spend time devoted to writing and all that that means. Writing begins with generating ideas, those little flickers of light sparked by inspiration and fueled by imagination. Generating and nurturing ideas depend on two things: time to experience and time to reflect (to “see”).

I love the story that Herman Melville discovered his Moby Dick as he gazed out the window of his mountain-view cabin. Writing retreats provide opportunities for inspiration to occur. They provide an environment where taking risks is not only permitted, but supported; writers need to take risks, to look beyond the literal and see whales in mountains.

Equally important, is the feedback that allows writers to understand how a reader responds to what they think is on the page. “It is an opportunity to hear a variety of opinions about your work, to listen to others discuss your characters amongst themselves,” said one retreat participant. There is a big difference between reading your work to yourself, and reading out loud to an audience. The audience at a retreat, both writing peers and writing professionals, help you see the story just a bit differently. They help you “connect the dots,” as one retreat goer so eloquently put it.

Georgia would be pleased.


Have you ever wondered? Of course you have. However, you may not have realized what a powerful tool wonderment can be. It is the beginning of all creative activity. When you allow yourself to wonder, you experience life in new ways. Words help capture those experiences.

On a writing retreat in fall of 2007, I wrote the following poem in response to a writing prompt. When I first wrote it, it just seemed like a stream of consciousness, but I liked playing with the ideas. Three years later, I rediscovered this piece, and I reread it with fresh eyes. Suddenly, I realized what I had been doing–I had been wondering.

Dancing with Words

Midnight dances to her own song, velvet skirt swirling softly.

Stars pinprick the sky, diamonds on a ribbon of light.

What is it like to touch their points?

In a carnival of sound, owls hoot, crickets chirp,

water spills over pebbles in a stream.

The blue-black night backdrops much mysterious movement:

silent spider spins her web; thunder shakes the mountain;

flickering fireflies circle the merry-go-round.

What is it like to fly on gossamer wings?


So, go ahead, play with words: experiment, take chances, explore your world, enter new worlds, open your perceptions, and engage your senses—after all, words are wonderful.

The Spark of an Idea

On Sunday morning of my writing retreat, this past weekend on Lake Sunapee, we woke to a chill in the air. Our host lit a fire for us in the hearth of the great room; we sat around the stone fireplace toasting our feet while we wrote in response to my morning prompt. It always amazes me when the subconscious sends ideas and answers to us during these writing sessions. Many of the participants wrote metaphorically about where they are in the present moment of their creative beings. Here is what I wrote:

Dear good naked morning, my name is spark. You know, like the spark of an idea, the spark of a fledgling flame, the spark of a fresh new love. Spark is the promise of something strong and beautiful yet to be. Spark has a crisp, clean sound to it, a white palette ready to burst into explosions of color – reds and golds, yellows and blues, greens and oranges – glittering diamonds of color.

Spark is filled with expectation and anticipation, an excited energy that electrifies the air. There is a moment of breath holding in which the possibility of extinction exists. But, it is short-lived because this spark has too much to say, and experience, and share, to just die out and be forgotten.

Spark is the beginning, the birth of a new dawn of ideas and challenges and accomplishments.

Spark is the beginning of sparkle – meant to light up the room with joy, and color, and crackle.

Dear good, naked morning, you are the dawn of a new day, a new beginning, a promise to uphold. Dear good, naked morning, my name is spark and I am so happy to meet you.

Teaching Writing to College Students

I’ve just started a new semester teaching writing at Colby-Sawyer College, in New London, NH. I am only teaching one section, this term, but I love the kids in my class. They are engaged and engaging. They have a lot to say.

I have been a writing instructor at the college for a few years now. I really enjoy working with young people; they see the world so differently from where I stand. It’s scary, but uplifting at the same time.

I know I have something to impart to these kids. Sometimes, I get frustrated that they arrive in my classroom with very limited writing skills. Sometimes, they come with expectations that college should be easy, after all, many of them coasted through high school. But, I don’t let them off the hook. I would not be doing them any favors if I did. No, my philosophy is to teach them the skills that they need; they may not like it at first, but they do appreciate it in the end.

Why a Writers’ Workshop

Recently, one of my students called me from Pennsylvania, where she was participating in a writers’ conference. She went to pitch a chapter book she had been working on in my Words in Play workshops. I was the first person she called with the news that a publisher wanted to buy her book. Now, this was great, but what makes it even greater is that this woman joined my workshops about two and a half years ago, and in that short span of time she has completed the manuscript for this chapter book, written parts of another chapter book to be in the series, written an outline and several chapters for a full length novel, published several magazine articles online and in print, published several poems, and started her own blog.

The point I’m trying to make is that she almost didn’t write any of it. She wanted to write; she just didn’t know how to get the stories out of her head and onto the page.

That’s where the writing workshop comes in. This dear person, I’ll call her “Z,” joined the group with as much hesitancy as anyone could have and still show up. The writer’s workshop was a place where she could feel safe to share her ideas, play with new ideas, and receive the constructive feedback she needed to make real progress. Her stories took shape in every class. She learned that the support of a committed group of writers is more important than knowing where or how to begin.

Begin anywhere. Stories are made up of a mosaic of scenes. If you create one scene, it’s a beginning, but it doesn’t mean you can’t move that scene to the middle. I’m sure you’ve heard this before: writing is 90% discipline – you’ve got to write every day. I do know that if you don’t have support (a cheering section, critical feedback, ways to generate new ideas, proper guidance) you can have all the discipline in the world, but you may never get out the door to roadtest your work.

Begin anywhere, but if you have stories inside you, find a great group of like-minded writers and just begin. It’s the best advice I can give.

Welcome to My New Site

Welcome to the new Words in Play website. Wander around and explore; discover pages  filled with all sorts of inspiration.

As a writer, I think the hardest thing to write about is one’s self. You have to strike just the right balance between confidence and humility. That’s a very thin tightwire to cross. I hope, in these pages and in my blog, I can impart some of the wisdom I have gained in my travels, and that I can encourage you to write more, write better, and have fun along the way (to borrow a phrase from my dear friend and colleague Joni Cole, author of Toxic Feedback).

I have a quote on my computer from the great Ella Fitzgerald. She says, “Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”

Thank you Ella, that sentiment has become the foundation for my business. I love writing, but more than that, I love teaching writing. I am inspired by my students, who bring me laughter and joy; there is no greater satisfaction for a creative soul than to spread the joy.

So, today, write about this: who have you inspired lately?


Tell a Tuscan Story – October 2009

Across the Tuscan hills, gnarly shaped olive trees cast intriguing silhouettes against the sky, their silvery sage-green leaves sway softly in the gentle breezes. Our creative group spent a week at the Water Mill Farm olive grove, a beautiful and mysterious backdrop for our writing and photography retreat.

Our host, Louise Maciejewski, British expatriate, is an Etruscan scholar who fell in love with Italy and never left. She opened her antique farmhouse to us, sharing her love of the Italian landscape and her expansive knowledge of its history. We wrote, snapped photographs, and shared in the wonder that is Italy.

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Tell a Tuscan Story – October 2008

On our creative adventure to the Tuscan hills, writers and artists alike reveled in the majesty and appreciated the mundane, they captured the vivid hues of the rolling hills and the myriad textures of the provincial towns to spin new stories. It was a week of wonderment against a backdrop of sensuous sights and sounds and flavors.

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