Moniack Mhor musings

Been a while since I’ve written, both blogs and booky stuff.

Early last year I put a lot of energy into re-drafting my novel and then into compiling a short story, hoping for e-publication. But, summer came and went, along with a couple of rejections, and I thought it best to relax and recharge.

Then I drifted languorously through the remainder of year. But that was okay, I knew I had a winter writer’s retreat at Moniack Mhor. Where better to rejuvenate than in the Scottish countryside, isolated from distraction, conjoined with kindred spirits.

I tried to approach the retreat with an open mind and manner. Normally I’m a loner who prefers to share his thought processes only with the page and, in all honesty, attending a commune for writers was slightly daunting.

But, I’m over 30 now, been writing for a while and come to the realisation that the first and toughest barrier between an aspiring author and potential publication, is themselves. I needed to try and get out of my own way, shake my booty out of my comfort zone cocoon and dance like a social butterfly.

Well, that and my wife bought me a gift voucher for my birthday.

The course was on character development, tutored by Louis de Bernières and Tim Pears. Two historical fiction greats, whom, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t really know much about.  At least in the beginning.

While Tim encouraged, Louis enchanted. Both authors bringing their own experience to the table, both men modest about their own successes. It didn’t matter that our reading lists had probably never crossed paths, wisdom is wisdom and writing is writing, unless you listen to Louis, then writing is poetry…sometimes…I think.

So, what golden nuggets did I learn?

  • Characters don’t have to be naughty or nice, ambiguity adds depth
  • Every character needs their own voice, their own objective, which sometimes means their own narration style
  • Your characters should change and evolve, and if they offer to wreck your story, let them, after all it’s really their story
  • Don’t write propaganda or just put across your own point of view but present multiple viewpoints
  • Writing should flow and have rhythm, if a section feels a little off then try reading it aloud
  • Writing a novel is like a mountain, don’t gaze at the summit but take it one step at a time – write first, then edit

It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure everyone that was there would have picked up a slightly different list, but I’ll certainly try to keep the above in mind as I write.

Despite the useful tutoring, the true highlight of the course were the fellow students. Listening to everyone’s unique struggles and experiences, over several glasses of red, was just the sort of cathartic release I needed, probably what we all needed. That’s not to say it was all mumbles and moans, in fact quite the opposite, everyone was so filled with energy and determination. Something that will serve as a reminder to keep pushing forward.

I could go on and on about the quaint venue itself, the wonderful staff, or the inspiring performance of the Bookclub Band but let me keep it simple. If you’re thinking about indulging in a writing retreat, then make sure you check out Moniack Mhor