Musings on Moniack Mhor

 

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A brooding Moniack Mhor

Last week I was lucky enough to visit Moniack Mhor for a residential course. For those who don’t know, Moniack Mhor is Scotland’s Creative Writing centre located a half hour drive from Inverness. Its remote location, 3 miles from the famous Loch Ness, and jaw dropping landscape makes it an ideal place to switch off from the outside world. Wi Fi was recently introduced this year but, like most other rural locations, the signal can be a little intermittent. I had enough signal strength to stream my Spotify playlists so I was content!

Most courses have workshops in the mornings, with afternoons free to have 1-2-1 sessions with the tutors, work on your own writing or enjoy the scenery. There’s even a resident dog to accompany you on one of the many walking routes close to the centre. The course I was on was a tutored retreat which had a slightly different format. There were no workshops, just 1-2-1 sessions with the tutors, and your time was yours to do what you wished with. For me having time to write, free from distractions, was the big incentive as well as being surrounded by other writers.

IMG_20160526_180413Cashew, the centre’s resident dog. Will do anything for a stick and a belly rub.

The two tutors were Michel Faber and Emily Mackie. I was already aware of Michel Faber’s work thanks to a Creative Writer tutor who introduced me to The Crimson Petal and the White. After that introduction, I made my way through Michel’s back catalogue which I urge everyone to do. Emily Mackie’s work was new to me and I read her second novel In Search of Solace in preparation for the course and was an absolute treat to read. A copy of her first novel found its way into my suitcase to take home, thanks to another writer on the course. It was intimidating yet exhilarating having both Emily and Michel give me feedback on my work.  The 1-2-1s I had with both of them were so beneficial and has helped me to think more critically about my writing and *whispers* future writing career.

Evenings were spent at a group meal that everyone took turns at cooking and cleaning up afterwards. Then it was down to the Hobbit House to listen to everyone read out their work and talk about the practice of writing whilst the sun set. There was so much laughter and fun too. It’s been a while since I was laughing so much that I needed to lie down on the floor!

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The Hobbit House

I came away with a lengthy reading list, new friends, a rough outline for a potential second novel and confidence in my writing. Thank you so much, Moniack Mhor, and I hope to visit you again soon.

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Exciting News!

Hello my dear, poor neglected blog. I do have plans to revamp this little outpost I have on the Internet and expand its contents to reflect more of my interests. The lull between Christmas and New Year seems a good time to work on this so, fingers crossed, I should be able to share this with you in January.

In the meantime, I’m delighted to share that one of my stories has won a writing competition! Each month, Hodder and Staughton run a Monthly Masterpiece competition on their Just Write website. The theme is different each month and December’s theme was short stories. So I sent off one of my favourite pieces of work, Waterlines. You can read it on the website here.

Writing has been on the back burner for me recently. There will be a piece on that coming on the ‘re-vamped’ blog next year. Winning this competition has given me the motivation to get back to the page and get the pen moving. So thanks Just Write for that boost!

Writing Practise

Coffee, a laptop and an existing story arc to play with.

Coffee, a laptop and an existing story arc to play with.

(Reproduced under Creative Commons, with thanks to Kalexanderson)

Writing has always felt easy to me. Give me five minutes, an open notebook and a decent pen and I will dream up characters or stories from nowhere. My writing class tutor was fond of giving us such exercises. Most of my classmates groaned and moaned but I loved these exercises. The only problem is that once the time limit was over I closed my notebook and rarely returned to those pages.

Last year I took (another) evening writing class which focused on the discipline of writing. One important lesson I took away from this was that writing is a skill that needs worked on. The magic muse fairy doesn’t just land on your desk and give you a brilliant idea. It might take weeks, months, years to hit that mark that makes your writing good. Lionel Shriver has often shrewdly remarked that it took her over twenty years to become an overnight success with We Need To Talk About Kevin. What did she spent that twenty years doing? Why, practising writing.

So I’m going to shuffle a little uncomfortably here and tell you how I practise writing. Sometimes it’s at six o’clock in the morning, grumpy and sleepy with a little timer ticking away. Sometimes it’s sitting in a busy place with lots of people traffic (trains and coffee shops remain some of my favourite places to write).

And sometimes it’s spent lurking in fan fictiondom.

My first steps into the writing world took place in the form of fan fiction. When I fall for a TV show, I fall hard. When the final episode ends and the credits roll up, I sometimes want more. ‘What happened to that minor character shot at the end of episode three?’ I cry. ‘Whose hand was dialling that number?’ (Points to whoever can identify that pop culture reference). Then the cogs start ticking away in my brain and stories start appearing. I can almost hear my writing tutor saying ‘You have five minutes – go!’

Working with existing characters and storylines can be useful if I’m stuck for words (a rare occurrence but it happens). It can also help with finding your steps in the writing world: what works and what does not. When researching this topic, @lunaquarterly remarked on how writing fan fiction left you free to work on crafting a story, without worrying about fiddly bits such as characters, plotline and all the other stuff that can sometimes get in the way of just writing.

Personally I am amazed at how quickly some writers of fan fiction get their work up on websites. Some sprawling tales with thousands of words chalked up are only weeks old. Many of my writing friends are familiar with procrastination and tinkering with a story, over and over. One of the perks of having never ending deadlines. Yet many fan fiction writers update their stories on a weekly basis which means they’ve been getting the job done.

So, dear reader, I have been writing and lurking and writing and posting up my work. This week I have written almost 5, 000 words borrowing characters (but then, aren’t all writers borrowers? Something to muse on in another blog post) from an existing story. I’ve enjoyed playing with these characters, working on my writing weaknesses and trying to improve on them.

After all, practise makes perfect. Doesn’t it?