Saturday, May 21, 2011

Writing Huts and Houses

I've been lucky enough to spend two consecutive weeks recently in houses dedicated to words and writing: Tŷ Newydd in Wales and Moniack Mhor in the Scottish Highlands. Each is distinct in feel, position and location, Tŷ Newydd, once home to Lloyd George, a white house gracing a lawn looking out over Cardigan Bay; and Moniack Mhor a croft house clinging onto a gusty hilltop in Invernessshire. But both provide a calm and creative atmosphere which gets imaginations whirring and pens scribbling (or keyboards chittering). Both houses offer residential writing courses, (and it's worth knowing they also have bursaries that can be applied for to help with costs). I was at Tŷ Newydd to tutor a short story course with Sara Maitland with a grand group of writers: an intimate, hard-working, serious and hilarious week. At Moniack Mhor I was working each day with a different group of children from local primary schools, exploring the wildlife of Abriachan Forest in the mornings and capturing some of the wonder into words in the afternoons. The sense of application was palpable in both locations, and in long, light evenings at Moniack, I plugged into the creative breezes and wrote at this gorgeous window desk myself.

It raises the question for me of how the location of the writer affects the writing. Are some places better for the playful hatching of ideas (a busy cafe perhaps?), some for consolidated writing, some for revision? I've recently become a trustee of a piece of community-owned land close to home - a hill, Dun Coillich, that rises up one of the high flanks of Schiehallion. A hut is perched on its lower slopes, and it seems to call out for a writer to occupy it. Perhaps at certain stages, the view would be too much of a distraction, but I will be climbing that hill to it, inspired by thoughts of great writers who've famously made creative retreats in huts. I have to confess my own custom-built writing hut appeals to me, though mine would have to a) be heated, and b) rotate during the day to catch the natural light, just as George Bernard Shaw's did.

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