In just a few days (Wednesday evening, to be exact), I’ll board a flight to London, where I’ll spend a day or two prepping our guesthouse for our second-ever Literary London, which starts Saturday. Caroline’s going again (this time to help me), and Emily will help me co-lead.
If this one goes as well as last year’s, this week is officially my favorite thing I do for work, second to writing books. I’d love to do this sort of thing all the time.
But it’s not just because of the obvious reasons, like spending time with fantastic women and being in London, for gosh sakes. It’s because magic truly happens when likeminded people gather to have meaningful conversations in meaningful places.
I’ve wanted to lead trips for years now, ever since I lived overseas. I’d imagine gathering a group of people I loved and showing them a place I love — the what, why, and how of it all. The dream was solidified when I watched my friend and literary agent Jenni lead her Tuscany Writer’s Retreat and participate in the goodness of that experience.
I knew there was something sacred that happened when good folks gathered to lay witness to a particular place’s beauty, and to let it wash over them. It’s like the place itself becomes both a participant and a guide, a teacher and a friend.
It was a risk to try our first Literary London, because I had no idea if it would work. I didn’t know if London would cooperate, if all the details would flesh out as promised, or if I’d even be a good leader in this capacity. I didn’t know if I liked the idea of trip guiding more than the reality; it was one of those things like thinking it’d be fun to run an inn while you’re staying at one (or more realistically, while watching Gilmore Girls).
Last year, I invited women I already knew because it was a beta trip. I knew they’d be honest with feedback, and if I decided to do this again, they’d help me make it even better. Also, if the trip ended up a bust, they wouldn’t hate me, and hey, at least we’re all together in London, right? Let’s go have a drink and make the most of it.
But it turns out, it was the opposite of a bust, and I loved leading the trip so much I thought I’d burst. There were moments of pure exhaustion, especially when I had to juggle providing an iconic setting for a deep group conversation with remembering to get more coffee and eggs for the guesthouse (which is why Caroline is coming to work with me this time). But on the last day, when everyone boarded their planes back and I had one more day to decompress before boarding mine, I burst into tears of joy. I couldn’t believe how much I loved doing this.
The things on our itinerary are fantastic, yes — a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre, a private Jane Austen tour, hanging out at CS Lewis’ house. But what makes the trip special is the gathered conversations, the things we notice about ourselves and our lives, and sharing them out loud so they become real and others lay witness.
It’s talking about our vocation while gathered around lawn chairs in St. James Park, it’s confessing our exhaustion while sipping beer in Dickens’ favorite seat at the oldest pub in London, it’s admitting our yearning for something new while gazing at drafts of Beatles song lyrics sketched on the back of envelopes at the British Library.
There is something sacred, something different, about having life-changing conversations that matter in specific places. When we let a place talk to us and teach us what it knows, we become more of who we’re meant to be.
Why London? I get asked this a lot, especially during the trip, from those of you who follow along on Instagram and confess to either wishing you could go along one day, or wishing I’d lead a different trip somewhere else. There’s a lot of practical reasons why London is a great setting for a great group trip, and yes, I hope to have other eventual trips to other places in my back pocket. But there’s a specific reason I’ve chosen London as my flagship trip offering:
London is home to some of the world’s great storytellers, and the British are particularly adept at giving the rest of us some of our most beloved stories (think books, yes, but also movies and TV series). As humans, we’re hardwired to best learn and grow through stories, we navigate life through the stories we believe and tell, and we are each telling a story with our own lives.
It might be cliche, but we really are telling stories with our lives, even if we’re not authors. And every single story ever told matters, even the forgotten or unnoticed ones. On this trip, participants are invited to unpack and notice the story they tell and the story they find themselves in through the lens of what the world’s great storytellers can teach us about — well, what makes a good story.
This is what we do on this trip. We have afternoon tea and walk along the Thames, but really, we let London and its beloved storytelling inhabitants teach us what it means to live well.
That, and savor clotted cream with our scones, 70-degree summer weather, shopping in Covent Garden and Portobello Road Market, and the glorious masterpiece that is the London public transport system.
I love London.
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• Listen to the podcast episode about this post.