Saturday, 1 July 2017


Something rather wonderful happened. Eventually.
I arrived back from London late one Friday, feeling adrift. I’d expected to be down in Wanstead for a week, helping while someone was in hospital, However, just after noon on admission day, we heard the operation was postponed. The theatre's air conditioning unit had failed, the hospital apologised, and couldn't be repaired,so it was too hot to operate safely just now. Please come back in two weeks time.   

Once the call was done, there were tears and anger and disbelief, gradually eased by another viewing of the brilliant Big Knights dvd. By evening, a weary pragmatism had set in. Our practice run had gone well, hadn’t it, ha ha ha? See you back here again in two weeks time!

But next day, once I got home again, I was feeling low – and then came the surprise. An email dropped into my box. It was from a good writing friend, pointing out that I was now free to come on the untutored writing retreat starting on the Monday at Moniack Mhor, near Inverness.

Much earlier in 2017, I’d been interested in the retreat but, for more than one reason, the week just hadn’t seemed possible. However, there was still one tiny room left, a room that couldn’t be charged at full price, and I could have it, if I didn’t mind a certain tightness of space.

Go To Moniack? I was thrown. I was uncertain. Yet, as was pointed out,  my bags were still packed and I had cleared the week ahead of bookings. Besides, himself had made plans for while I was away. Overnight, the answer came: If not, why not?

On Sunday, I was at Edinburgh Waverley station. On Monday, my friend was driving me and two others up through the beautiful landscape to Moniack Mhor 's Scottish Writing Centre. What bliss! The place had been a dream for years.

The room was quite tiny, with a single skylight above the pillow. A notice named it as the Overnight Writing Tutor Room. I did feel a flicker of curiosity about writing luminaries that had slept in that bed before pushing the thought away. I'd certainly be re-balancing that bedroom’s illustrious aura. 

The untutored week meant that the time was completely my own, apart from meals. I made myself a discreet writing nest at the empty table in the computer room downstairs, and there my cranky laptop and I stayed, warmed by the printer fans. Bit by bit, and with the help of Document Map, I untangled a long piece of work in progress. As I did so, I managed to feel some belief in my writing again, a feeling that had been lost for a long time.

As the week sped by, I started to feel very happy. I wrote with the sense of others working and writing around me, but there were no workshops, no “performance”, no reading out or deep discussion of words brought or done during the day. 

The writers there did chat about work, but lightly and easily. They were lovely people, but few were interested in writing for children. I felt blessedly anonymous, unworried by all the anxieties that can rise among a group of peers. I had no responsibility for any running of the week either, and that was wonderful. Moniack Mhor gave me what I most needed: uninterrupted time, face to face with my writing.

There were moments way from the laptop of course: short and longer strolls outside to look at the views and landscape; musing-time in the cosy cob “hobbit house”; pleasant conversations with the interesting people there: the translators, historians, poets, writers of memoirs, short stories, novels and more. There was also much delicious food, and whisky, and a piping-in of the haggis at the last supper too. Finally, each day ended with a memorable after-dinner chat with two good writing friends, Linda Strachan and Susan Price, who were there too. My surprise week at Moniack Mhor was magically restorative, and I was so glad that I’d responded to Linda's last minute suggestion. 

All too soon, I was back at Waverley, catching the train to York. Today, back home again – for a third time - I am trying to create my own sense of peace and productivity here. Onward, with a metaphorical banner raised!

Furthermore, on my return from Moniack, after some hasty repacking of bags, I set off down to London again. This time, I’m delighted to report that, the big operation did happen, and though some of it was (and still is) tough, all went well and successfully. All of which means that a second hugely-wonderful thing happened, eventually, so I'd like to end this post by sending many thanks to all the staff at St Thomas's Evelina Children’s Hospital, and a hooray to those bravely recovering.

Huge thanks, too, to the Society of Authors In Scotland who arranged the Retreat, and to the staff and people at Moniack Mhor who made my surprise week possible.  You might enjoy seeing the other courses that Moniack Mhor runs, or the ones run at the various Arvon Centres.
Ps. The SoAiS/SoA are now taking weekend and day bookings for this coming September's SCOTSWrite EVERYTHING A WRITER NEEDS Conference at Westerwood Hotel and Golf Resort near Glasgow. You’ll find more on exact dates and details here. 

Image result for Scotwrite Conference

Penny Dolan


Steve Gladwin said...

What a wonderful example of one thing clearing to make space for another which was obviously much needed. Thank you Penny.

Rowena House said...

What an uplifting blog. Thank you for sharing.

Joan Lennon said...

I don't know exactly how the magic of Moniack works but I'm so glad you had the get-up-and-go to, well, get up and go there. Strengthening thoughts to the recuperative - and 3 cheers for our hospitals!

Joan Lennon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynne Benton said...

It was obviously meant to be, Penny! And so glad the op subsequently went well, too.

catdownunder said...

What a lovely thing to read. And best wishes to the hospital patient!

Savita Kalhan said...

It sounds perfect, Penny! A real treat. It's made me wonder whether I should do something like this to give myself some face-to-face time with the current WIP. Best wishes to the recovering patient.

Linda Strachan said...

So pleased that you could come in the end, Penny, it was lovely to have your company.

As you say, it was a blissful time amongst like minded people who were aware of the need to have uninterrupted writing time, yet company when one was ready to have a break - especially at meal times and in the evenings.

Added bonus that the operation went well, when you returned to London and please send all good wishes to the patient, for a speedy recovery. Good luck with continuing space and time for your writing.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I love the idea of making yourself a 'writing nest'! Whichever friend it was who hoiked you up to that retreat at the right moment is clearly a very good friend. I'm so glad it did you, and your writing, good.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for all your comments and wishes, everyone. Moniack Mhor was a very special time (as was the other story) and I am glad that both worked out well.

Savita, I too was uncertain that a writing retreat would be really be helpful. I have been on others that have been brilliantly sociable and where there's lots of sharing of ideas and information and relaxing in creative ways, but where I've got no or little writing done. Working alone from home, I love the chance to chat to fellow writers esp. children's & YA writers.

This retreat was the almost the opposite, in that everyone seemed to be quietly focused on the work they had to do - or whatever else they were there for - but were friendly and sociable enough.

I also think that having a couple of trusted friends there - even if we hardly spoke during the day - really helped with the "secure" feeling of the week. I got much more done than I would have among the various (and often kindly) interruptions at home. Just hoping to keep some of that spirit alive when faced with my At Home To Do list. :-)

Helen Larder said...

Thanks for such a heartwarming post xxxx

David Thorpe said...

Lovely post, Penny.