The Retreat at Saunton Sands (June 27-30)


I have always longed to be part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water; to return to town a stranger.”
― J.A. Baker, The Peregrine

Embark on an artistic journey at the Retreat at Saunton Sands, a writing retreat in England for new and experienced narrative nonfiction writers. Nestled along the stunning coastline of North Devon, England, the Retreat at Saunton Sands takes full advantage of the breathtaking natural wonders that define the Devon landscape at the height of English summertime.

Set against the raw backdrop of the golden beaches, invigorating sea breezes, and the rhythmic sound of waves, Saunton Sands serves as a muse and fosters an atmosphere of peace and focus. Here the World Heritage Site Braunton Burrows, the largest sand dune ecosystem in England with nearly 500 varieties of flowers, stretches for miles along the shore while the picturesque South West Coast Path meanders along the cliffs.

The retreat takes place at the Saunton Sands Hotel, a beautiful Art Deco hotel perched on a cliff overlooking the beach. If you want to start your writing journey, ignite your creativity, and invest in your art, this writing retreat is for you. Created for nature writers, travel writers, science writers, food writers, profile writers, and more, this writing retreat offers time and space to learn techniques, reflect on your subject, and connect with other writers. Your body, mind, and spirit are all taken into careful consideration to help you grow holistically as a writer.

The Retreat at Saunton Sands includes lively lectures, enriching workshops, and thought-provoking panels by a wide variety of people in publishing: best-selling authors, scholars, mentors, publicists, publishers, master teachers, and Kathryn’s-students-turned-award-winning-writers.

Space is limited to 48 writers. Book your place today for early registration rates.

If you have questions, contact us at



The Retreat at Saunton Sands takes place Thursday June 27 through Sunday, June 30, 2024.




The Retreat at Saunton Sands has three tuition/price tiers:

  • £850 early bird tuition until April 30
  • £925 until May 31
  • £995 until June 27

Price includes:

  • All lectures, workshops, and panel discussions
  • Three after-dinner author talks and one night sky talk on Exmoor
  • All meals including vegan and vegetarian options (Thursday dinner through Sunday lunch excluding alcohol )
  • Transportation for stargazing to Exmoor National Park, an International Dark Sky Preserve, with a talk by acclaimed CalTech astronomer Mike Brown (author of How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming)

Tuition does not include your hotel accommodation as rooms vary for different budgets. Contact the Saunton Sands Hotel directly to book your room and to view the venue: North Devon’s Leading Luxury Hotel & Spa | Saunton Sands | North Devon. You are encouraged to book your places soon.



Between Thursday’s cocktail party and Sunday’s last lecture, you will have the choice of diverse and enriching learning experiences, including the following. Details are below. More speakers will be announced.

  • “An Introduction for Beginners: The Eight Pillars of Narrative Nonfiction” (Kathryn Aalto)
  • “The Shiver of Recognition: Dilating from the Personal to the Universal” (Kathryn)
  • “Finding Your Voice, Assuming a Persona, and Modulating Your Tone” (Kathryn)
  • “Research for Creative Writers” (Kathryn)
  • “Humanising Science with the Art of Storytelling” (Mike Brown)
  • “Overcoming Limited Self Beliefs” (Tom Chatfield)
  • “Walking Meditation on the Beach” (Tom)
  • Ecopoetry workshops with scholar and ecopoet Tarn MacArthur
  • “Tackling Big Themes” (Sophie Pavelle)
  • “The Story Behind the Story” (Sophie Pavelle)
  • Publisher and Publicist Panel: Adrian Cooper (Little Toller) and Rebecca Rochester (Hachette Books)
  • The Prize Winner’s Panel (with two of Kathryn’s award-winning students-turned-published-writers)
  • One-to-one appointments with Kathryn at additional cost, limited to 10, to discuss writing. Book via
  • More speakers and teachers forthcoming


  • “The Eight Pillars of Narrative Nonfiction” (Kathryn Aalto) 


  • “The Shiver of Recognition: Dilating from the Personal to the Universal (Kathryn)


  • “Finding Your Voice, Assuming a Persona, and Modulating Your Tone” (Kathryn)


  • “Research for Creative Writers” (Kathryn)


  • “Humanising Science with the Art of Storytelling” (Mike Brown) As written in The Atlantic: “We all grew up learning, in school, that there were nine planets in the solar system. We never thought much about it: That’s just the way it was. But in 2005, Mike Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, discovered a tenth. As he explains in his new book, How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming … this is something he had been working toward his whole life. That day of discovery was one of the best days of his life, second only, perhaps, to the day his daughter, Lilah, was born. But the excitement only lasted so long. Brown’s discovery ignited a year-long debate over how, exactly, to define a planet. And when things got out of control, when too many bodies were being upgraded to planetary status, it was Brown who had to step in and demote his own discovery, the largest object found in the solar system in 150 years, and, along with it, beloved Pluto.” His book, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had it Coming is Mike’s bestselling memoir about the personal and professional dramas during a momentous time. Combining science writing with memoir, the book is accessible, readable, and funny. But how did he do it?  What techniques of memoir, narrative nonfiction, and science writing did he draw upon? A writing workshop with lessons for all who aspire to write narrative nonfiction, this is sure to be a treat for writers.


  • “Overcoming Limiting Self Beliefs” (Tom Chatfield) “What’s in the way, is the way.” A valuable session for all writers, this session draws from a broad range of perspectives in realms such as psychology, yoga, shamanic practice, and business leadership. Tom Chatfield will introduce us to his journey in overcoming limiting self / core beliefs. He’ll share learnings and tools from systems, both ancient and modern, to help each of us to gain confidence, overcome obstacles, and ultimately step further toward occupying the “higher self” in us all. You’ll hear about Tom’s own journey to foster a greater sense of connectedness with the people in his life, as well as learn some simple exercises that you can replicate and repeat to identify what’s holding you back and how to move forward.


  • Walking Meditation (Tom Chatfield) — Tom will open the morning with a guided walking meditation on Saunton Sands. This is a practice that many find to be a powerful way of cultivating a positive shift in state of consciousness. It can also provide an accessible alternative to better-known “sitting meditation.” Studies have shown that this practice can reduce and regulate cortisol levels, our primary stress hormone, and consequently lead to better general health outcomes and even neurological regeneration. Though we won’t ask anything strenuous from you — comfortable, weather appropriate clothes will help you to get the most from this session, as well as being prepared to go barefoot (or at least shoeless).
  • “Ecopoetry: The Poetic Subject” (Tarn MacArthur) — In this session we will look at how ecopoems directly address the poetic subject as a vehicle for personal, social, and environmental interrogation. While traditionally environmental poetry has focused more strictly on elevating the poetic subject by almost isolating it from the rest of the world, ecopoems use various poetic techniques to demonstrate the interconnected nature of beings and things. Here, we will consider how different poetic techniques, from repetition and metaphor to masking and apostrophe, work to reframe perspective in ways that engage a more-than-human vision of the world. Sometimes the poetic subject is a landscape, as in the Romantic works of William Wordsworth; other times it is an individual being or thing as in James Wright’s poem, ‘To a Blossoming Pear Tree’; other times still, the poetic subject is a complex ecosystem like that found in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, ‘The Riverman’. Through analysing and discussing these various techniques, we will consider the ways in which the poetic subject is present in all forms of environmental writing, and different writing prompts and exercises will be distributed to help integrate such techniques into your own work.
  • “Ecopoetry: Navigating the Lyric Moment”  (Tarn MacArthur) — In this session we will consider the different ways that poetry and prose navigate the lyric moment, specifically through the stoppage of time and the breaking of linear narration. The lyric moment allows the poet or writer to expand and compress temporalities and bring a tension between the perspectives of the speaker/narrator and the reader, often by hinting at further meanings, narrative potentialities, and characterisations, without ever fully divulging them. Sometimes this can be achieved through simple shifts between narration and description, other times it arises through rhetorical repetition or the breaking of linguistic patterns. By reading works that range from Gary Snyder’s ecopoems to Matuo Bashō’s travelogues, we will analyse and discuss the various ways the lyric moment functions and the effects it has on text and reader. Based on these readings and discussions, writing prompts and exercises will also be distributed to help consider how these techniques might be adapted to your own writing projects.
  • “Tackling Big Themes” (Sophie Pavelle) — How do you tackle complex, all-encompassing themes in your writing, whilst still maintaining narrative, author voice, and creativity? Specifically focusing on topical themes like climate change, biodiversity loss, the millennial perspective, and travel, this workshop will explore methods of dissecting challenging subject matter to add impact to your writing. This workshop will be a hybrid of lecture, individual reflection, and group discussion.


  • “The Story Behind The Story” (Sophie Pavelle) — What’s the story behind the story? This talk goes behind-the-scenes of modern narrative non-fiction in the nature / travel writing genre. From the conception of the idea to the proposal, pitching, and commissioning process with major publishers to working with literary agents, editors, and the lone writing / travel process and method, audiobooks, and publicity campaign. This will be a thorough first-person account of the entire journey of writing a book, including the highs, lows, and many lessons learned along the way. Group discussion and Q & A to follow — nothing is off limits.


Retreat founder Kathryn Aalto is a teacher, historian, speaker, designer, and New York Times bestselling author. She is the author of three books and writes essays for international magazines including Smithsonian, Outside, and more. She was judge for the inaugural Nature Chronicles Prize and is a trustee of The Ashdown Forest Foundation. With author James Rebanks, she founded the Rural Writing Institute, a community that created  A teacher of narrative nonfiction on and offline, her students win literary prizes, sign book deals, and enjoy writing as an expression of well-being. As an embodied writer, she is often present in her writing. “When students realise they can be present in the narrative  am an embodied writer and bring my senses bring a holistic approach

At the retreat, Katy teaches:

  • “An Introduction for Beginners: The Eight Pillars of Narrative Nonfiction”
  • “The Shiver of Recognition: Dilating from the Personal to the Universal”
  • “Finding Your Voice, Assuming a Persona, and Modulating Your Tone”
  • “Research for Creative Writers”


Mike Brown scans the skies searching for and intensely studying distant bodies in our solar system in the hope of gaining insight into how our planet and the planets around it came to be. In this quest, he has discovered dozens of dwarf planets, and demoted one object from planet to dwarf planet, which he documented in his New York Times bestselling memoir How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It ComingHe is currently hot on the trail of Planet Nine — a hypothesized body that is possibly the fifth largest planet of our solar system. He is the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology and has been on the faculty there since 1996. He has won many awards and honors for his scholarship, including the Urey Prize for best young planetary scientist from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences; a Presidential Early Career Award; a Sloan Fellowship; the 2012 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics; and, of course, the one that started his career, an honorable mention in his fifth-grade science fair. He was inducted into the National Academy of Science in 2014. He was also named one of Wired Online’s Top Ten Sexiest Geeks in 2006, the mention of which never ceases to make his wife laugh. You can listen to his TED talk to learn more.

At the retreat, Mike teaches:

  • “Humanising Science with the Art of Storytelling”
  • After-dinner talk on Friday night
  • A night sky talk in Exmoor National Park on Saturday night


Tom Chatfield runs Make Hay, the regenerative consultancy helping leaders and their teams maximise performance, nurture their people, and refine their processes. His journey began growing up on his father’s sheep farm on the edge of Dartmoor, which also led to a professional interest in artisanal foods that he continues by travelling around the world to judge and promote artisanal cheeses. Tom has a talent for seeing novel connections and relationships in things that are seemingly unconnected, which has led him to combine knowledge from various realms such as yoga, shamanism, and psychology into his philosophy and work. Tom’s passion is in helping others find their passion and place in the world.

At the treat, Tom teaches:

  • “Overcoming Limiting Self Beliefs”
  • “Walking Meditation” on Saunton Sands


Adrian Cooper is publisher of Little Toller Books, a small, independent, and discerning press started with a singular purpose: to revive forgotten and classic books about nature and rural life in the British Isles. Their Nature Classics series is attuned to writers and artists who seek inventive ways to reconnect people around the world with the natural world: “classic texts of rural writing and illustration brought back into beautiful existence,” as Kathryn Hughes has written in The Guardian. In addition to nature classics, Little Toller publishes memoirs, essays and monographs, biographies and anthologies, field guides, and more.

At the retreat, Adrian speaks about:

  • Publishing topics for nature and travel writers
  • Publishing trends with publicist Rebecca Rochester


Tarn MacArthur’s poems have recently appeared in The New RepublicThe New StatesmanThe Poetry Review, and Poetry London. He currently teaches at the University of St Andrews where he was previously a George Buchanan Scholar researching eco-philosophy and ecopoetry. He is the recipient of grants from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fund, and was the Walter and Nancy Kidd Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. He is an editor on the academic journal Green Letters, as well as a book reviewer for the Los Angeles Review of Books and Poetry London.

At the retreat, Tarn teaches:

  • “Ecopoetry: The Poetic Subject”
  • “Ecopoetry: Navigating the Lyric Moment”


Sophie Pavelle is a science communicator from Exeter, Devon. Her debut book Forget Me Not: finding the forgotten species of climate-change Britainwas published by Bloomsbury in 2022 and won The People’s Book Prize for Non-Fiction (2023) and was long-listed for the 2023 James Cropper Wainwright Prize for Conservation Writing. She works as the Communications Coordinator for Beaver Trust. She is an Ambassador for the Wildlife Trusts and sits on the RSPB England Advisory Committee, and is a Trustee for UNESCO Exeter City of Literature. Her writing appears in New Scientist, National Geographic Traveller, The Guardian, and others.

At the writing retreat, Sophie teaches:

  • “Tackling Big Themes”
  • “The Story Behind the Story”

This year marks Rebecca Rochester’s 30th year in the publishing industry, running publicity and marketing campaigns for non-fiction books. Following her Media and Arts degree from Plymouth University, she headed off to the bright lights of London where she cut her teeth in a busy PR agency, taking on heavyweight arts publishing clients such as Taschen and Flammarion. Fast paced and highly entertaining – with everything from hosting a Soho evening for The Drag Queen Diaries to organising a launch event for ‘Bunny Bondage’ (dress code – rubber/leather/bondage gear!) – high-octane clients took their toll. She left to work for the gentler, lifestyle publishers Ryland Peters & Small. Working on beautiful rustic gardening books left her pining for the West Country and its rugged coastline, where she spent her formative years. She was fortunate to become PR & Marketing Manager for David & Charles publishers, working on their gardening and natural history lists. She shifted from David & Charles to work freelance, and soon encountered respected gardening and nature publisher Timber Press. She heads up the UK publicity and marketing operation for the Workman group – five imprints in all: liaising with editorial teams, book designers, authors, and supporting the UK and European sales divisions. She thrives on bringing communities together and showcasing amazing authors and their expertise.
When not immersed in books, she am a Reiki Master practitioner and teacher and helps channel positive energy to help others.

At the writing retreat, Becky speaks:

  • With Adrian Cooper on the Publisher and Publicity Panel


“For me, the Rural Writing Institute was a dream opportunity: a perfect location, and the chance to learn craft from fabulous writers rooted in the land, as well as other accomplished and prominent practitioners of poetry and creative nonfiction. What I had not expected, but has proved equally powerful, was the immediate creation of a writing community characterised by profound mutual trust and fellowship. In those few days, we began friendships — across nation, gender, age, levels of experience, and multiple other differences — that will clearly endure. That such a group of colleagues and comrades was forged during the Institute is a tribute to the transformative generosity shown by Kathryn, James, and the Rebanks family. Their trust, openness, respect, and genuine joy in the work they do spread outward to all of us. The seeds planted and nourished there have already born rich crops of creative work and professional advancement.” — Nicola Pitchford, winner of the 2022 Nature Chronicles Prize

“I’ve had the privilege of learning from Katy as part of the Rural Writing Institute, and in her Life Writing class. The class every fortnight gave me momentum and accountability, things which can be hard to muster on my own. As well as learning loads about theory, and reading some brilliantly insightful books together, I benefitted hugely from submitting writing each session and having others read it and feedback — this was something I was nervous of at the start, but it became one of the things I most valued. Katy’s experience and passion shine through, and each of us could feel that she cared about our words, and cared deeply about us becoming the best writers we can be. My writing and ideas felt safe here, which encouraged me to dig deeper. An unexpected gift of the course was the incredibly supportive community — something I hadn’t realised was so important in the writing life, but which now feels as vital as pen and paper. Thank you Katy for sharing your knowledge, experience, encouragement and passion with us, and for building such a great community.” — Elizabeth, Devon, England

“Margaret Atwood said “If you really want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something”. Kathryn fixes those nagging fears by showing writers what we have that is already good, and what we can do better tomorrow. It’s win-win, and she remakes a traditional “class” into such an enjoyable, productive journey. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the awe-inspiring surroundings and warm community that form the bedrock of the Rural Writing Institute. It’s not often that you can genuinely say that one long weekend shifted the way you look at the world, but the effects are still with me in my reading and writing years later.” — Caroline, Aberdeen, Scotland

“I was privileged to be part of 2018’s Rural Writing Institute cohort and to meet an amazing and diverse group of writers through that. However, taking a course with Katy has been the catalyst which has not only got me into the habit of writing, but has taken that writing to a whole new level. Katy helped me to see that I could do better, through a mixture of well-managed discussion and timely, constructive feedback. She has turned me from an aspiring writer into an emerging one. It sounds cheesy, but her course really has been life-changing.”  — Sarah, Yorkshire, England

“Kathryn’s workshops are absolute troves of clear, thoughtfully presented material. She seamlessly blends engaging and foundational readings, compelling lecture, and meaningful workshopping. What I was most blown away by, though, was her fierce dedication to each participant’s journey – meeting each one of us where we were and guiding us further along in our writing path. From handwritten feedback to answering questions after hours, Kathryn really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.” — Kimberly, Atlanta, Georgia

“I learnt so much from taking Kathryn’s Memoir and Life Writing course. Although I had published a lot of academic work, I was struggling making the transition to writing in a more personal vein and lacking in confidence. I found in Kathryn a superbly knowledgeable and lucid teacher. Through the lectures and class discussion, I learnt how to implement narrative nonfiction techniques and, in just a few weeks, saw my writing become much more engaging and evocative. I also benefited from being part of a supportive and friendly learning community, and building relationships that I expect to last far beyond the duration of the course. Finally, I really appreciated Kathryn’s warmth and positivity, both in the virtual classroom and in her individual feedback. She was an attentive and sympathetic reader of my work, giving clear guidance for improvement while simultaneously building my confidence. The course enabled me to see new possibilities in my writing and I am keen to work with Kathryn again as I continue to develop.” — David, Leeds, England