A Roman Column
Letter From Moniack Mohr-1
(This was written last week when I was up in the Highlands of Scotland, sitting by the picture window of my room in a stone farmhouse on a hill overlooking the stunningly beautiful wooded valleys and heather covered mountains close to Loch Ness.
I am reading it now as my letter to myself from paradise, certainly a writer's heaven, which I couldn't send to my readers at the time of writing because we were cut off from internet connection while there.
Truth to tell, I didn't miss the world for all of the five days I was up there in the wee bonnie Scottish village of Moniack Mohr near Inverness. I was on a five days residential writer's course offered by the Arvon Foundation for Creative Writing, UK, having a fabulous time connecting with other writers and especially with the novelist inside myself.)
Here I am, finally at the Writer's Centre up in Moniack Mohr in Kiltartly, Inverness-shire. At the tiny airport in Inverness, as pre-arranged, a taxi driver was holding up a placard for me and another woman writer, an American. The young cab driver, hearing that this was my first trip to Scotland, decided to drive us around Loch Ness en route to our destination, an hour away. The taxi fare was pre-fixed anyway, so we sat back to enjoy the ride.
The wide, choppy waters of the Loch, surrounded by the green and purple mountains, made me think of a sea that had got lost and trapped in this valley for centuries. As we climbed up the hilly road edged with pine woods, the lake flashed through the shimmering branches, a grey-blue and silvery crocodile lazing in the late afternoon sun, further and further away till we were in the green hush of ancient forests.
Then suddenly, as we turned a corner, there in a clearing below us, on a plateau overlooking a magnificent panorama of wooded hills and shadowy valleys dotted with grazing sheep and patches of wild flowers and heather was the only visible building for miles around. The large white stone cottage with another smaller one behind it lay basking in the last of the fading sunlight.
As we climbed out, the director of the centre Cynthia came out to welcome us. Another woman came out and waved to us as she went out of the gate saying. "Hi! I'm one of the participants and am off for a walk while there's still light. Catch up with you later." That was Nadia, a British writer of Greek-Cypriot origin with whom I would go on long walks and bond in the days to come.
My room was everything I needed or desired. At first sight it looked like a closet or a narrow Monk's cell. But as soon as I saw the tiny picture postcard window over the bed and the writing table I fell in love with it. This was my space, my meditation chamber, my writing altar. I kicked off my shoes and kneeling on the pillows at the headboard, rested my chin on the window sill and lost myself in the grass-scented silence of the landscape. The wind was soughing somewhere in the pines and the tinkle of bells from the sheep came up to me punctuated by the ghost of a sound--the solitary passing of a car somewhere on an invisible road snaking among the trees down below. The last of the sunlight was riding the sky with the few birds drifting and idling before going home.
As I started to unpack my trolley bag, strangely, I felt as if I too, had arrived home. For five days, the drifting, vagabond writer inside me had found a nest, a peaceful place detached from my crowded life to tinker with my novel in progress.
In the evening as we assembled in the main room, a long, cosy one with large windows on one side and a fireplace at one end surrounded by enormous, lumpy sofas. The other end of the room near the huge kitchen was the dining area demarcated by a dining-cum-conference table long enough to accommodate fifteen of us, participating and aspiring writers, and the two 'tutors'--both published writers of reputation.
I had picked this course on the strength of the fact that it was on novel-writing. It was also one of the few not already booked up six months ago when I was shopping for writing courses, and was being offered during the time that suited me. But the most compelling reason for my choice was the fact that it was being tutored by writer Kirsty Gunn. Ever since I read her first book 'Rain', I admired Kirsty's style and feel for language. I would not be disappointed. The other writer Laura Marney, a Scottish lady with a heavy accent had written four books, but I had not read them. Mid-week there would be a guest writer, Lesley Glaister, a prolific writer of psychological thrillers who would read out her work to us. I had heard of her but not read anything by her. I made a note to myself to look around the cottage library for anything by her to sample.
Everyone had arrived and over drinks we appraised the motley group we made. There were two men; a mother and daughter pair; two Americans; a gifted writer with hearing loss, Jacqui, accompanied by her own Speech to Text Transcriber, a lady called Jill (yes, 'Jack-n-Jill!)who sat in the shadow of the writer quietly typing away all our weighty or witty comments, not to mention our inanities, for the hearing-impaired writer to read simultaneously on her connected laptop and be a part of our discussions. Of the rest of us we found out about each other during and after dinner when Laura, ever full of humour and lively ideas as we would find out to our delight, suggested a game of Human Bingo.
Excuse me? Well, it consisted of a sheet of questions in 15 little boxes, such as: Have you ever fainted? Do you have a tattoo and where? Have you read War and Peace? Have you ever written a death scene/or sex scene? Do you have any allergies? What was your first dog's name? What was your most embarrassing moment? etc. etc. Copies of this paper was given to all 15 of us and he who was the first to fill up the question form with answers collected from interviewing each of the participants, and calling out 'Bingo!' was the winner.
At the end of a noisy twenty minutes nobody won but all of us got to know everyone else in the room, almost intimately. By the time we were ready to retire, we were all laughing and chattering like old acquaintances.
NEXT WEEK: Letter From Moniack Mohr-2: The Creative Juicer
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