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  • Leslie Jill Patterson

win, place, show: time & place prize, gourin, france

Writers everywhere are always looking for the means to hunker down and sit themselves at their desks and get to work. To help motivate our readers and submitters, we’ll be spreading the word about competitions hosted by other journals, contests right here at Iron Horse, as well as some terrific residencies.

To kick it off the series of blog posts, let's start with the Time and Place Prize, in Gourin, France—which I was lucky enough to win last year. In October 2013, I saw a tiny classified ad in Poets & Writers Magazine about this competition, which I had never heard of. But the ad promised free airfare to Europe, a month’s stay in a cottage in France, meals, and all the time and solitude I needed to write. On the competition’s Website, the photos were gorgeous. I swear I was giggling like a drunk when I phoned my parents to tell them they would need to dogsit for me because I was headed overseas to write.

I’ll admit: I had no idea what to expect when I packed up and headed to France. But the minute I arrived, I knew the village and the little bakery that had been converted to a writer’s cottage was just what I needed, after a long academic year, to settle down and finish, for good, the last revision of my novel.

The Time and Place Prize is so much better than any summer writers’ workshop, where writers typically focus on networking and critiquing but where they rarely ever sit in a chair and work. In Gourin, it doesn’t get dark until 11 p.m., which allowed me to write longer than I would. Every day, ten hours of writing. Ten. Hours. Plus, I had time for evening walks at the local Chateau, a lovely wooded park, acres and acres of it, quiet and peaceful. I sat near the cathedral (built in 1509!) and read in the afternoons while eating a chocolate crepe (the crepe truck was right next door!). I even watched midnight fireworks on Bastille Day.

The cottage itself has a large bedroom, a private bath, WiFi, and a study with a large library and beautiful windows that overlook the courtyard, where passion flowers grow. You don't need air conditioning here as it rarely gets above 80 degrees. Gourin has pizzerias, creperies, boulangeries, the most charming grocery store I've ever seen, and a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty. There's even a movie theater, with the occasional American movie if you don't speak French.

The best part of the Time and Place Prize is how the family that runs it, the Chmielewskis, are so generous and understanding of writers. They let me accompany them on weekend daytrips if I wished so I was able to visit nearby places in France—country castles, abandoned cathedrals, the beach, Pont-Aven (the village famous for its association with Gauguin), etc. They let me share meals with their family—my choice, because they gladly offered to bring them to my cottage. I enjoyed their company immensely after writing so hard every day.

What a tremendous opportunity—a summer month in France, time to write, lovely meals, and friends who can help you navigate foreign territory if you need it. My favorite part of the day was listening to them cooking dinner every night, in their house next door, all my favorite American musicians playing on their radio and sifting quietly into the bakery/cottage from the courtyard. The Time and Place Prize is a perfect situation: privacy when you need to write, companionship when you want it, good food, fun. It doesn’t get any better.

I’m telling every writer I know: apply, apply, apply. An unpublished manuscript, 5,000 words, a $25 fee. Deadline: November 30. It was the most beautiful, productive summer I’ve had in years. It’s worth the shot. Take it. Submit right here!

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