Seeing what I say

Next week I’m going to Moniack Mhor, the Scottish writing centre in Inverness-shire. It will be the twelfth time I’ve been since 2005 when we ran what was the second-ever Dark Angels course there, and the first one I took part in. I loved the place the minute I set foot in it and have had some of my most memorable experiences there.

This time I’m not going as a tutor but as writer-in-residence for the week. I’m looking forward to it for many reasons. Autumn, up on the exposed hillside where the centre sits, can be spectacular, with clear days and long views north to the big snowy summits of Ross-shire, or westerly gales that scatter the high-flying geese and rattle the house like a ship.

Inside, it’s basic but cosy with small single bedrooms, each with a writing desk. Downstairs there are log fires and deep sofas. The fairly recent addition of a circular, turf-roofed eco-house provides a friendly space for performances or group gatherings.

I’ve always found the whole place tremendously atmospheric, a retreat in the true sense of being somewhere to withdraw into from the world beyond, a cocoon of reflection and creative expression, where stories are for sharing and bonds develop quickly with other like-minded people.

My two fellow Dark Angels, the tutors, Neil Baker and Gillian Colhoun, are good friends. I’m looking forward to spending time with them without the responsibility of having to teach; though I admit that once we’re there it may feel strange to know that those oh-so-familiar exercises are working their magic in another part of the house.

But I’m there mainly to focus on my own project. I’m trusting that the Moniack Mhor effect will help me close my ears to the insistent clamour of the current political crisis; though since the subject of my project was both the co-founder of the Scottish Labour Party, and later the founding president of the Scottish National Party, it may be a little difficult.

Still, I will do my best. Having spent the last six months reading and researching, I vowed that I would start writing the week following my 70th birthday, now four weeks ago. I’ve managed to keep to my vow. I’m covering the ground and I fully intend to put in some good mileage next week.

It’s some time since I last wrote a book and I’d forgotten the satisfaction that derives not only from completing a task one has set oneself, but from the feeling of inner connection that comes from self-expression, the sense of an unfolding as the channels to the sub-conscious open up and unanticipated thoughts and ideas start to flow.

I’ve always loved the question attributed to EM Forster: ‘How do I know what I think till I see what I say?’ For me it captures something fundamental about the process of writing. It describes a way of linking the interior and exterior worlds we simultaneously inhabit, a way of taking us to a place of deeper understanding, not only of the world around us but of ourselves.

I’ve seen that happen so often for other people at Moniack Mhor over the years. Under Neil and Gillian’s expert guidance, I’m certain it will happen for our participants this week. The prospect of it happening for me too—in congenial company and a place I love—is the thing I’m most looking forward to.

Posted in Dark Angels, Personal growth, Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Mellow fruitfulness

First frost this morning. The trees on Birnam Hill are starting to turn—though not, curiously, as dramatically as they were in the Lot-et-Garonne where we were last week. There the oaks that mantle the vast Quercy forest had taken on … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Affairs of the heart

A friend wrote to me this week to let me know that a novel I had read for her a couple of years ago is starting to make waves. She has the interest of both a good Scottish publisher and … Continue reading

Gallery | 3 Comments

Child leaders

A friend recently sent me the link to a Guardian article published in 2014 under the title: Why boarding schools produce bad leaders. I hadn’t seen the article, but I was familiar with its author. Nick Duffell was a contemporary … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don Roberto and Me

For the last few months I’ve found it almost impossible to keep current events from my mind for very long. There’s a morbid fascination in the catastrophe that is British politics. Each time I think it couldn’t get any worse, … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Moon journeys

Fifty years ago last Saturday, in the crowded and sweltering public room of a cheap hotel, with an ancient fan creaking and whirring overhead, I watched the televised moon landing. I was in downtown Tehran. The commentary was in Farsi. … Continue reading

Gallery | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Dark Angels on Writing

Over the years I’ve come to believe that people are sometimes drawn to Dark Angels courses in answer to an unspoken, perhaps even unacknowledged, need. They may not know it but at the moment they hear about our programme there … Continue reading

Gallery | Leave a comment