Moniack Mhor Creative Writing Centre was the venue of the second day of the weekend writing course.
It might have been just fifteen miles away from Inverness, but a look at the milometer in the car shows I travelled a lot further than that! The AA route I printed off did not stand up to the challenge. The promised thirty minutes turned into an hour and a half. The final left turn, right turn and left turn took me deep into the hills but not to my destination. Had I been following me in an unmarked police car, for whatever reason, I would have been suspicious of my intentions. There are a lot of big houses up in them there hills. I could have been casing the joints.
I was actually on the right road at one point. Had I just kept going I would have reached Moniack Mhor. Instead, convinced I was on the wrong road, I turned around and headed back down the hill.
A local hotel had vaguely heard of the place but no one knew where it was. The postcode given apparently covered a very large area – not a mere single street. The man behind the desk kindly lent me his phone and I called the centre for help.
I had thought of abandoning the course. I had enjoyed the previous day and perhaps anything else might have been an anti-climax.
Arriving an hour late I missed the first writing exercise – a filling in the blanks affair with creative responses. They had just moved on to look at nature poems from famous poets. I scored brownie points by noticing an unusual rhyming scheme that might otherwise have gone unnoticed – AABA – BBCB – CCDC- DDED- and so on.
There was an interesting youtube clip of a man reading a poem with something claiming to be music in the background. It was sound and there was rhythm and there were different notes – but it lacked any kind of tunefulness or harmony. It did little to add to the poem. One woman sitting at the end of the table snorted not just at the music but at the poem itself. It required a lot of work from the reader to make sense of it. It involved an abandoned township and a lot of trees and some girls – but I think the girls weren’t real and the trees were some kind of metaphor – or not.
We were then left to our own devices for an hour or so to write from our forest day ramble.
There were individual tutorials available with the course leader. I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go. I am not so bold as to suppose that I know everything about poetry writing or that now I have a poetry book out there I don’t need expert help. It was just that I had come to the weekend from a very bad end of week. I was barely holding things together although the forest walks had done much to restore me. Poetry is the one thing that, right now, I do well. I didn’t want anyone bursting that bubble. I know that friends and family like the poetry I write and they say it’s good, but there is always that question hovering in the background about whether it really is good. An expert in the field might think it’s not so good.
Well, despite my intentions, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know what the expert might say. I had written three poems and handed them over for comment. The first two passed muster – a line deleted from the first was all he suggested. He talked about redundant words and I had a whole redundant line!
The third poem was dissected. The stresses on certain words were on the wrong syllable. I had gone out of my way to avoid clichés – but he said my alternative to a cliché was worse than the cliché itself. The last line had too many syllables but he couldn’t see how I could maintain the powerful thought by using a different line. I had “set myself a mountain to climb” and he looked forward to seeing the re-worked poem. He also suggested something longer than the four lines.
It was a really painless tutorial. He didn’t talk down to me. It went really well and I was glad that I went.
The final summing up was for us all to read the pieces of work. There was the option to stay quiet. I had spent most of the writing time doing another poem, focussing on the forest walk and including trees and moss and stuff. I had poured over a thesaurus but ached for a rhyming dictionary instead. I just did my best. In this day and age of free verse, I sometimes think that rhyming poetry can be snorted at. I thought about not sharing it because the rhymes were too obvious and simple. I wasn’t prepared for the reaction. They loved it. Names of other poets were thrown about the room and my poem, apparently, held its own with them all. How encouraging is that?
I don’t write this to blow a trumpet and say that I am a great poet – but to say that the whole weekend did so much to restore what had been damaged earlier on in the week. God had known, long before the weekend was organised and I had signed up, that I needed to be there. Thursday and Friday were very hard days for me. The rubber hit the road – and the road, a metaphorical one, was sprinkled with nails – and the rubber shredded. Grim days they were and only two of them, thankfully. I knew that I would recover, but felt disinclined to assess the damage and think about repairs.
Everything got fixed over the weekend – the forest walk on the Saturday and the focussed writing and the tutorial on the Sunday. I have come away with a deep down confidence about my writing and a renewed confidence in myself.