So, I’m back in the land of reality today. Back from a little slice of paradise, a beautiful place called Moniack Mhor near Inverness. The road to Moniack takes you winding up into the highlands past Loch Ness, gleaming silver disc in the glorious sun. As the minibus drew into the farmstead where my course was to take place there was a collected ‘Wow!’ from our motley crew.
Main accommodation is in a converted barn, with a comfortable communal dining / sitting room and a large kitchen where you can eat yourself silly if you so wish. I ate so much fish I nearly turned into a mackerel.
First night nerves had really kicked in – utterly dispelled by Friday night. I’m not going to go into specific regarding the course (‘The Nuts and Bolts of a Novel’); however the tutors Richard Mason and Betsy Tobin were exceptional and worked our brains from the moment we arrived, then from 10am to 10pm (ish) every day. My technical knowledge and ability to spot issues with my own writing (particularly regarding register) has improved immeasurably.
You can just about spot my teeny head on this picture. This was the perfect spot to end the day with readings, banter, wine and song and I surprised myself by unleashing my unlovely voice over the hills, belting out Bat out of Hell to a mandolin as the Friday Grand Finale.
My fellow course mates could not have been a nicer, more generous bunch of people. Seriously, it turned into a great big literary love in. I even found my my inner hugger, usually firmly controlled behind my ineffectual patting mechanism.
This retreat has the potential to be life changing. From Betsy I learned the value of controlling every word and finally made up my mind which audience I want to write for (literary fiction. My register is way to high for Young Adult), and where to place scenes by cutting out unnecessary exposition (and submissive clauses are definitely a no-no!). From Richard, well our last tutorial has probably just defined the next six months of my sabbatical. I am turning my study into a story bunker and embarking on a period of intense research where I am basically going to be wearing my main character’s skin for the next 3 months. Rather bizarrely I am no longer writing a YA murder ballad but a World War 1 li fiction tragedy. I am going to smell a bit musty after secreting myself in various historical institutions over the next few weeks!
Thank you Moniack Mhor. Thank you Richard & Betsy (and the lovely Helen Lederer whose very funny visit I haven’t even touched upon). And a great big hug to my fellow wonderful creatives who entertained, nurtured and made me laugh harder than I have in months. It was the time of my life.