Moniack Mhor is a Creative Writing Centre set in the beautiful Beauly countryside...offering courses all year round, Charlotte tells of her most recent experience in the hope of encouraging more young people to make the most of the opportunities Moniack provides...
My name is Charlotte Luke, I live in Inverness and I am sixteen years old. I first came across Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre, a veritable paradise for the creative-minded in the hills above Loch Ness, when I was participating in the 2014 Scottish Book Trust Young Writers’ Award. Part of the award was a weekend at Moniack with the other awardees, and I automatically fell in love. Two years later, I have been back twice and still adore its relaxed atmosphere and enchanting scenery. It consists of a main house, a cottage, an intriguingly-named ‘straw bale studio’ (a small round building made mainly of straw in the grounds that everyone calls the Hobbit House because, frankly, it is the only description that fits) and a stone fire pit used for storytelling and readings in the evening. The bedroom windows look out onto the fabulous landscape of forests, mountains and fields, and there are notebooks on each bedroom desk if you’re feeling particularly inspired.
My most recent Moniack adventure was taking part in the Summer Stories residential week in July this year. If I’m honest, I was more than a little nervous at the prospect of five and a half days in the wilds with a dozen people I had never met before. I would be one of nine young writers, along with two chaperones and two tutors, authors Elizabeth Reeder and Kevin MacNeil. During the times I had been there previously, I had been one of four (2014) and one of five (May 2016) so it was a little daunting to be among such a large group. I worried that it would be like a week away with my classmates (several of whom I find it difficult even to spend one day with), everyone else would make friends and I would be left on my own.
How wrong I was. Part of the magic of Moniack is that it brings together the most eclectic mix of people you can imagine – and this time it did not disappoint. I spent five and a half days with some of the most interesting people I have ever met in my life. With nine completely different people thrown together for a week you’re bound to get some interesting results, and yet it was amazing how much I had in common with people…with whom I had very little in common. I found somebody with whom I could discuss Blackadder and David Bowie albums – he lived on an island with two supermarkets and eight whiskey distilleries. I shared an interest in Nathaniel Hawthorne with one of the chaperones – she had been at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington.
The writing workshops, taught by Elizabeth and Kevin, with exercises ranging from writing about our first memory to creating a play script with a partner, were also an opportunity to become familiar with each other by listening to everybody’s writing styles. These workshops were a lot of fun and our mentors gave us detailed feedback, as well as advice about writing based on years of experience. The highlight of the week was writer A.L. Kennedy’s evening visit; her readings and sense of humour were incredibly entertaining and left everyone relaxed and happy, despite being thrown out of the Hobbit House at half-past ten, fifteen minutes after it should have been locked up for the night…
Moniack Mhor is truly one-of-a-kind. It forges friendships for life, inspires everyone who stays there and lingers in the memory long after the tearful goodbyes (yes, try as you might, emotions will be running high on the last morning!). I am so grateful that I discovered it so young, and I hope that I will have many more fantastic experiences there in the future.
Find out more about this magical place at www.moniackmhor.org.uk