An Ode to Moniack Mhor


“You can make anything by writing.”
― C.S. Lewis

Take fifteen writery types, a cupboard, fridge and shed load of booze (including all of the Processco ever made in the world ever), a house in the Scottish Highlands, no work/phones/interruptions/jobs, and a variety of differing – yet incredibly silly and like minded people – and what do you get? A recipe for absolute mayhem, hilarity and incredible writing.

I’ve just spent a week in Inverness. In absolute honesty, I really didn’t want to come home, or at least go back to reality. I’d been suffering for a couple of weeks with a horrible case of self-doubt – Would I ever finish the novel? Will anyone read the novel? Would anyone want to read the novel? – and I’d completely forgotten what it was all about.

I love writing. I love everything about it. I love shutting myself away and creating worlds that only exist in my head, characters I’ve thought up and brought to life on the page, and snatches of dialogue I imagine throughout the day, but lately I’d become disillusioned, and wonder how I can incorporate writing into my life. The easy answer would be as a career but unfortunately I am yet to be so lucky. The closest I get in my current job is creating blog posts and marketing materials. I’m lucky that I’ve decided to take a year out next year so will have plenty of time to write and think as I travel.

It is all too easy, isn’t it, to get bogged down in the mire of the everyday, of work and family and routine, and you completely forget to do the things you love. Why? I guess its because we feel guilty. Why am I taking the time away from my friends and family? Why am I spending time in this fictional world rather than the real one?  Why is that person smirking when I tell them I’m staying in to write? You start finding yourself completely ridiculous and your aspirations out of reach. You start to think, “it’ll never happen to me,” or, “I’m wasting my time,” and not be able to put pen to paper. Self-doubt completely sucks.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

That’s what is so magical about a writer’s retreat like the one I’ve just been on. Over the course of the week self-doubt slowly gets eroded. Not because you sit around telling each other how amazing you all are (although, turns out this is actually true – the calibre of writing was outstanding. Everyone in that group is a true star) but because you realise you are a writer. Just because you aren’t paid or published, or your smart-arse boss makes light of your ambition, it doesn’t mean you don’t get it, that you haven’t got it.

I hadn’t been to Moniack Mhor for three years, and I hadn’t seen the writer friends who were going for such a long time so I was feeling a little nervous. But, pulling up to the house – with three new friends I’d made at the airport (not randomly, they were on the course!) – I realised I was being silly. It felt like I’d never left and, in a strange way, it felt a little bit like coming home.


The first day passed by pretty quickly with getting to know new people, eating dinner and drinking, and then early to bed because everyone was knackered from travelling. I tucked myself up in my little single bed, the ever-present light shining through my curtains, and nodded off quick-sharpish. The next morning we had our first workshop and, again, I felt a little nervous about writing something new and reading it. At university I hadn’t thought twice about reading unedited work aloud, but over time I’ve got a little frightened and out of practice. But we all seemed to slip back into it with ease. Its funny how many people said, “oh its awful,” as a disclaimer before reading out work when it actually turned out to be very good. The mornings were always spent like this – Scribbling away. Reading aloud. Listening – and the afternoons were spent free-writing, taking part in other workshops, talking those kind of really great conversations about everything and anything, or exploring the beautiful countryside (dumbass here only packed ballet pumps – it was either hair curlers or another pair of shoes and I stand by my decision – so no long treks for me).

I chose to spent my afternoons writing. I really wanted to get my spark back and what better place to do it than sat at a desk with this view.


I wrote quite a bit and really enjoyed every minute. There’s something in the air at Moniack Mhor. Its almost magical.

But it wasn’t all serious writerly business. Far from it.

What happens when you put a load of people with over-active imaginations and a slightly warped sense of humour together in the same room?

Amazingness, that’s what.

And when you add booze its like striking a match. My face still aches with laughter caused by games such as Granny’s Knickers, Psychiatrist and my personal favourite, Empires.

The talent at writer’s retreats such as ours is phenomenal. I couldn’t believe that each night such fantastic stories and exerts from novels were being shared. I felt really lucky to be sat in that room listening to such brilliant writers and a little bit in awe. We sat in a little hut called The Hobbit House to give our readings, mine was on the second to last night and I was incredibly nervous, and it felt like being in a completely different world. Outside were the most gorgeous views and it really felt like miles away from my everyday life.


We spent the last night feeling blue and pouring over a More Maniacs Dictionary we’d made for our tutor, Nicholas Royle, full of in jokes and silliness and tales from that trip and previous ones. It all seemed to make sense to us, the silliness and that love for writing, but when I got home and tried to explain some of the things that happened – and things that I felt – to my family, it was difficult for them to understand and for me to explain. Sat in an extremely loud Costa Coffee in the Birmingham Bull Ring, I kind of gave up explaining my woe and horror at being thrust back into civilization, and just shrugged my shoulders like a surly teenager with a horrendous hangover.

I guess you just had to be there.

Anyway, I am fully inspired to carry on writing now. It was less kick-up-the-arse, and more magical-spell. I can’t wait to keep on writing and I can’t wait to read what the other MMers have come up with (there’s an email going round as I speak full of wonderful words).

I miss the other writers I met and the ones I already knew. Its like some strange little cult but one you have to eventually leave. You end up feeling a little bereft (and over-dramatic) when its all over.

Unfortunately next year I am going travelling (well, not so unfortunately as it beats sitting in a smelly office every day but you know what I mean) so I wont be able to make it all the way to Scotland unless:

a) I win the lottery

b) I marry a rich man

or c) sell a kidney

as getting in from the US (which is where I will hopefully be) is a bit tricky.



Ah, well. I’m sure we’ll be going to MM until we’re old, grey and nuttier than we already are.





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