Why go on a Residential Creative Writing Course?
10 years ago I had a moment of madness, or some might call it clarity, I booked a place on an Arvon residential writing course! Buying online can be a dangerous thing – not only can you end up buying five books when you only went on to Amazon for one, or a ridiculously priced pair of shoes that you would never dream of handing over a wad of paper money for in a shoe shop – you can send yourself into unknown territory like a writing course, all with a credit card number and a click of the ‘buy now’ button!
So here I was heading off to spend five nights with a group of strangers, bar one, a very dear friend – who incidentally is still a very dear friend despite the ordeal she had encouraged me to join her on. The stress and panic I felt in the weeks before I set off for Inverness and the rural Arvon house, Moniack Mhor, was like no other. They say that moving house and getting married are some of the most stressful moments in your life – you can add writing courses to the list if you’re a wanna-be writer with no self-confidence or self belief. Being with a bunch of writers for the guts of a week felt like it was about to be my worst nightmare!
How wrong was I?
The magic of Moniack Mhor, the encouragement of Isla Dewar and Annie McLeod, the resident writing tutors, and the friendliness, support and appreciation for each other’s talent and writing insecurities kick-started my writing journey like I could never have imagined.
The daily morning workshops really did focus the mind and channel your imagination to the task in hand. One workshop was all about ‘place’ and learning to transport your reader to that place. We’ve all read amazing books that have you right in ‘that place’; a cold damp cellar, hot steamy shower, warm cosy living room on Christmas Eve – okay romanticized images but you get the idea.
My ‘place’ that day was boarding a plane on a freezing cold airport tarmac, which I later developed into a short story –I’ll share it with you sometime.
Another workshop was about dialogue; we had to get the characters personalities across and show clearly who was speaking, all without using descriptive he said/she said. This was my attempt...
“Hello.” I answer the phone, it was our usual time. I hadn’t spoken to her last week, I’d had visitors.
“You didn’t ring.” Her voice was stony.
“I’ve been really busy all week.”
“I didn’t know you were busy.”
“There was so much going on, then on Friday I was in Dublin.” I reel off my busy week but she isn’t listening.
“You said you’d ring. You shouldn’t say it if you’re not going to do it.”
“Do you want a row? We can have a row if you like.”
“I didn’t say I wanted a row.”
“Well it sounds that way. I think we should change the subject, talk about something else. What do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well I told you I was busy, so how was your week.”
“You know how it was.”
“I wouldn’t be asking if I knew.”
“You do know, you’ve been talking to her.”
“Yes, I was but only about my holiday. What’s happened now?”
“Ask her (my sister) I’m fed up with them all.”
“I’m asking you.” I lighten my tone. I know she has no-one else to talk to and too much time to think.
Inspiration from Isla
A one-two-one session with author/tutor Isla Dewar gave me the confidence to embark on writing my first novel The Way of Life. Isla was so encouraging, she said it had the makings of a TV drama – so if you’re a TV producer out there, do get in touch!
The others on this course were of all ages with very different real lives; lawyers, businessmen, students, stay-at-home mums, but for these few days we were all united in our love of writing – good and bad, and believe me it wasn’t always good. Getting us all out of our comfort zone produced interesting results!
Overall it was an amazing experience, so much so that I did it all again a couple of years later. I'd recommend the experience to anyone out there who likes to put a few words together and wants to spend time with like-minded people!