Little did I know, when writing Take Flight, which is set in a drought-stricken Australian landscape, that I’d end up editing it in a place almost the polar opposite. Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre, in the lush Scottish Highlands, became my home for a week after winning The Caledonia Novel Award’s special prize for best novel from the UK and Ireland.
I chose a Fiction writing course tutored by Kevin MacNeil and Tiffany Murray, with Patrick Gale as our special mid-week guest. I knew I was choosing a course with brilliant writers as tutors, but what I didn’t know, or entirely expect, was how much I’d bond with the incredible and supportive group of students attending the course.
On the first evening, after a hearty dinner prepared by the Centre’s staff, Kevin led all of the students through an introductory writing exercise. It is quite a vulnerable thing to do, to share something you’ve written with a group of strangers. I was nervous that first night. But my fear was misplaced. Everyone had chosen to do the course for different reasons – from finishing a novel to writing creative prose for the first time – but each person was similar in their generosity of spirit and their passion for creativity.
I had originally thought I’d spend most of the week in my room or tucked away by a window, writing. And I did spend many hours at the little desk in my room, which had a beautiful view of the ‘Hobbit House’ and fields beyond. But, more important than the words I wrote, were the many hours I spent in tutorials, one-to-ones, readings and informally with other students improving the quality of my writing. I learnt to think about scenes differently, to review and edit dialogue critically, and I wrote down so many little tips that, though they seem obvious now, I had either forgotten or had not occurred to me before. On top of this, each day involved hearing people read their stories. Both tutors and students shared their work; some of it funny, some sad, some polished and some very raw and new. Each day I glimpsed a slice of an individual’s fantastic world, or was dragged back in history or granted entry to the most private of moments. It was bliss!
I’d like to say a huge thank you to The Caledonia Novel Award for this very special prize. I’m so thankful that the Award teamed up with Moniack Mhor to offer a place on one of their retreats, because, for a writer, time and space to write is just about the best thing you could possibly offer. For anyone considering entering the Award this year, I would say: just sit down, write those words and make it happen. Make this year the year you write a novel!