Take a city girl from Memphis, Tennessee, who’s never spent one day out even remotely close to a camping site or natural springs or water, and ask her to attend a writer’s camp in a barn in the South East England county of Kent, and of course, she says yes, right? To say this was a change of pace for me would be an understatement, but I can genuinely say some of the best rewards in life come from doing something you’ve never done before. This year, 17 beautiful humans attended the Mercury Writer’s Barn in association with Find Your Light Retreatwhere the inspiration and theme was to unplug, be seen, be heard, and embrace the journey. 

I should have known the week would be transformative when, as we took a tour of the magical grounds and trails, one of our fearless writers immediately took off her shoes and left them on the freshly cut grass; she walked right up to the stream and got in. I mean, you have to picture this. One of our incredible hosts is giving us the lay of the land, making sure we’ve signed waivers and no one has allergies to food; they’re telling us where to find the toilets, you know, all of the essential details in an orientation.  While we are taking in this information astutely, this incredible goddess of a woman weaves her way through us and decidedly walks into a running stream up to her knees as if it were calling to her. She assures us the water feels great. HA! At that moment, I was thinking maybe I could catch the last train home; it was not too late. But the kid in me was excited thinking, what an adventure this will be! 

Have I told you how nervous I was to come to this retreat? Of course I haven’t. Let’s back up a bit, shall we? I moved to London in September of 2023, and while an international move is stressful enough, I also had the bright idea to move to obtain my Master’s Degree without knowing a single soul in this massive city or country. Many people have done it, but let me tell you, making an International move alone is not something I recommend. If I could give it stars to indicate how much I support the idea, I wouldn’t give it any stars. It’s not for the weak. Going through the first Fall and Winter in a country that starts to see extremely long nights and very gloomy days is nothing you can prepare for, no matter how much you have read about it. So when I saw the email from MMD for a unique retreat in late Spring, I knew I needed it. I felt it in my bones that connecting with nature and other female-identifying writers would be the Wizard to my Oz (you had to know some Musical Theatre references were coming). I submitted the application and just prayed a miracle would happen and I would be accepted to go. 

Well, my miracle happened. I was accepted, and then the nerves set in. See, a crazy idea emerges when you recognize how the world has programmed women to believe we are to compete with each other, and you find out that it was all just a lie. The nerves were because of the lie we’d been told, but the truth of this week lifted me. There was no competition, only authentic and honest sharing and growing. Genuine conversations and emoting. Loud laughter (mainly from me) and a few tears (also from me). Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but I’ve been changed for good (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself).


This week was filled with workshops, games, and mini-pitches, with ideas developed in teams and lunch and dinners provided. The food needs its own moment because I promise you I thought I would have to find a way to Uber Eat (which a random bubble tea order did happen; don’t judge us!). But I was happy to be wrong; from homemade soups, lasagna, pizzas, and tarts, the variety alone was impressive. Almost everything was vegan, and EVERYTHING was delicious. It is hard to put into words what it felt like to have a retreat that thought about all of your needs and desires and provided them in such a supportive and thoughtful way. The mere idea of “lunch and dinners provided” is a relief. But those meals weren’t just provided; they were prepared with love and care for our nourishment and satisfaction, with flavors that created new worlds of possibilities for me. I’m not vegan, nor had I ever eaten peas before; it was the one vegetable I tried as a kid and just detested. But after I finished this retreat, I had to call my mother and apologize because I had finally tasted peas pureed, and I’m now converted to a puree-pea lover. We celebrate the small wins.

There were workshops that I could spend another hour talking about their impact. Sitting outside with a group of talent from all over the world and just marvelling at the stories we have all created and aspire to create was an out-of-body experience. The opportunity to put all of our “passion projects” and musicals down for a moment and make a brand new story with strangers was an exercise that was rewarding. The entire week was about being open and being a sponge to new ideas, new people, and a new you. Ending the week by sitting around a campfire was unreal. Now, again, I have never done this. I’m a bit of a scaredy cat, and we’ve all seen horror movies where someone gets killed sitting around a campfire singing and telling stories. Is that just me again? Okay, well, I went anyway, and I still struggle for the words to describe how cathartic it was. Looking around a circle at all these writers, with stories, love, hurt, resilience, beauty, and families, and realizing we have more in common than we ever would have known. 

With tears streaming down my face, I listened to music and affirmations. We burned the ideas we wanted to forget and wrote down the goals and dreams we desired to fulfil. This moment in time will forever be in my heart with the 17 people I experienced it with. I know you’ll hear about us again, and if you ever have the chance to walk right up to a stream of fresh running water and put your feet in, I recommend you do it—full stop.

by MMD Member Keia Johnson
Photos by Lexi Clare