Sometimes there’s just a little bit of magic in the air. So it has seemed these last 10 days. I can’t really explain it, but it feels as if maybe the planets have been particularly well aligned – or something …
Last week Stuart Delves and I ran the four-day Dark Angels foundation course, at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish writers’ centre in Inverness-shire. It’s a wonderful place and I always love going there. A pair of converted farm buildings and a cottage, it sits on top of a hill a few miles from Loch Ness, with long open views to the much bigger hills of the north and west. Inside it’s comfy-shabby-cosy. Every little bedroom has its own tiny writing desk and there are sofas and deep armchairs in the communal rooms. There’s always masses of food in the kitchen and plenty of logs and coal for the stoves. When the wind blows hard, as it did when we were there, it’s like being in a ship at sea.
Moniack Mhor has just separated from the Arvon Foundation, which runs three other writing centres in England, and of which it had been a part for 20 years or so. Now it’s going it alone. Also, in the last year, a new building has appeared on the hillside. Affectionately known as the hobbit house, it’s a circular teaching/performing space with an eccentric dome of heather thatch (currently held down by a hairnet of orange rope), limewashed stone walls, huge picture windows looking west, and a wooden porch.
Along with the new space and the new sense of potential that independence has brought to Moniack Mhor, we had our first ever all-female group, seven women ranging from their early 20s to their early 60s, all eager to get in amongst the words and stories. We also had the unexpected bonus of live music as one of the participants turned out to be a superb fiddler. And we began every day in the hobbit house with a vocal tune-up, alternating Latin and Gaelic chants, both in their own ways invoking the presence of some kind of spirit.
For all these reasons, and maybe more, it was a week of strong new connections, powerful responses to familiar exercises, and significant personal breakthroughs. Yet despite the intensity there was an undercurrent of warm, easy energy. It scarcely felt to Stuart and me as if we were running a course at all; rather that we were hanging out in this most congenial place with a bunch of folk who happened to be writers. At the end of the week we left, all nine of us, tired but elated.
Once home I had just over 24 hours to catch my breath before leaving for London, mainly to spend time with my children, three of whom are now living there. And the magic continued. I stayed with an old friend in her comfortable house in Islington, free to come and go as I pleased. I had a cup of coffee with the third archangel, John Simmons, then lunched with my son and an even older friend who had been very supportive of him when he was trying to find a job earlier this year.
That evening I went to the Roundhouse with one daughter to see an electrifying show by US jazz/rock/latin fusion band Snarky Puppy, with a surprise guest appearance by young (he’s just 20) Londoner and musical genius, Jacob Collier – check out his virtuoso performance of Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing here.
Next morning my hostess took me to a dress rehearsal of a new ENO production at the Coliseum, The Gospel According To The Other Mary. I’m not an opera afficionado but I found myself completely caught up in this modern passion oratorio by composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars. Each character was represented by both a singer and a dancer. The music was at times discordant and atonal, at times thundering, at times lyrical, and the staging beautiful in its simplicity.
Then a cup of tea at the South Bank Centre with another writer friend and finally, that evening, after a curry in Brick Lane with all three children, I ended up with the two daughters and friends in a back room in the Hoxton pub where they’ve both worked over the years, listening to an acoustic set by a Bluegrass quartet.
I made my way back to Islington feeling blessed. And that’s really all I wanted to say this week. Occasionally it seems the universe is dishing out the goodies – and when it happens it’s important to acknowledge it.
Jamie, what a wonderful mix of work and play at its best. Thank you for the reminder that life is here and now and is for living.
My pleasure, Steve (literally).
Sounds like bags of inspiration and good clean fun, that. Really pleased to hear you made it to Snarky Puppy! I saw them live earlier this year at Scala and they were utterly jaw-dropping. I had goosebumps the whole way through. Easily one of the best gigs I’ve been to all year!
Jaw-dropping is the word, Roshni.
Loved reading this – a great way to start a Sunday morning. In my last couple of weeks I’ve felt similarly blessed by music – seeing Robert Plant and his amazing band, and a new discovery, Joanne Shaw Taylor – 24 year old blues singer and guitarist from Birmingham who sounds like a beautifully old blues soul. And an extra blessing, a surprise support act, was Bernie Marsden (ex of Whitesnake) a brilliant, warm, smiley, talented blues guitarist who just grinned all the way through his act, and kicked up a breathtaking storm with Joanne in their jam/improv/guitar duel. Music is the best, as Frank Zappa once said.
And it can be uplifting just to read of someone else’s magical moments. Thank you Jamie, for sharing. It’s an antidote to cynicism and a leavening for hardship. It’s also oil on the wheels of Monday morning which is when I am reading this.
Jamie, wonderful Moniack, I remember my course with you and Stuart there so well. Best course I ever did. I was so inspired by you and Stuart and that lovely location. Hobbit house – that I must see.