Last month, I spent a week at the Scottish Writer’s Centre, Moniack Mhor, as part of the package of support I’m being given by them, funded by The Bridge Awards, as their 2017 Emerging Writer.
I’d spoken to Rachel, the Centre Director, on the phone, and had exchanged emails with several other members of staff and, of course, I’d found out all I could from their website and Twitter, but it was lovely to actually be in the building and meet the people. They are all supportive and friendly and enthusiastic in person as well as by email.
I was booked onto a short fiction course taught by Tim Pears and Louis de Bernières. That is, it was a fiction course which is short, not a course about short fiction. Most of their courses (like Arvon’s) run from Monday to Saturday, but this course started on a Thursday and ended on a Sunday. This meant that the Centre was empty from Monday to Thursday. Moniack’s Richmond had suggested I could stay there on my own for that period, and get some writing time. It was a very good suggestion.
I wasn’t alone during all day, the many busy Centre staff were working there then, but for three evenings and nights I was the only soul in the old building in the middle of the Highlands. No streetlights or traffic for miles in every direction. The first night was windy and sleety. The weather tapped at the windows. My husband texted it was McWuthering Heights. He also referred to The Shining.
But, actually, I wasn’t freaked out at all. Even though the DVD I’d brought with me was 2001, A Space Odyssey (because I’d never seen it, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity). Those three days were very restful. It was peaceful being in the middle of nowhere, but, more than that, I had a few days’ escape from my usual family responsibilities. All I had to do was write and edit, feed myself, and… No, that’s it!
It was incredibly productive time in terms of writing. I’ve just finished the third draft of my second novel, and a good-sized chunk of that work was done on those three days. As I told Rachel one morning, I’d got the same amount done that day before ten o’clock as I usually managed in a whole day.
I went for a few short walks to keep the circulation to my brain going, and enjoyed the spectacular scenery and the shaggy cows. Moniack is a fantastic setting. Most of the time it was chill but dry, though there were days when every weather happened, and a couple of fantastic rainbows.
My sister-in-law, Sarah Fraser (author of The Last Highlander and The Prince Who Would Be King) lives in the area, and she was kind enough to invite me to dinner one night, so I got to see her, her husband Kim and my brother-in-law Mike and his wife, Alex. All good people, always good company, and – life being what it is – I never get enough time with them.
And then on Thursday the rest of the students, and the tutors, arrived. I had to make an adjustment. I was sharing the kitchen and bathroom and sitting room which I’d had to myself all those evenings. I also had to make a decision. It was a bit weird, after all, that I’d been hanging out there for three days when they’d had to arrive for the start of the course. Also, I thought it would be awkward, and maybe discouraging, if the first thing they knew about me was that I was there because I’d been awarded a writing prize. So I let people think I’d just arrived. And once I’d done that, I had to stick with that story until Sunday.
They were an interesting and supportive group of writers, and we had a great time. The tutors were great, too, and on the last night, instead of a guest reader, we enjoyed a performance by the Bookshop Band.
Moniack Mhor is remote, but it’s well worth the journey to stay somewhere so beautiful and peaceful, among fellow writers, supported by the welcoming, efficient team of staff. The building is warm and cosy, the beds are comfy, the Wi-Fi excellent, and the food is delicious and plentiful. If you get the opportunity to go, then I strongly recommend you do.