Friday, July 31, 2009

Writing Place

It seems to be a formula that works. Take sixteen writers, put them together on a windswept, sun-scoured hilltop between Beauly and Drumnadrochit for five days with good food, writing activities and the theme of 'Place'. A stimulating time seems to be had by all.

I was one of the tutors last week at Moniack Mhor with poet Valerie Gillies as co-tutor, Andrew Greig as Wednesday night guest reader and a group of writers ranging across all the forms. We walked, dowsed, talked, drew, mapped and explored our senses. And of course everyone wrote.

One of the topics of discussion I found of particular interest was how writers realise places to which they have never been in such a way that both they and the reader believe in them. Stef Penney's novel 'The Tenderness of Wolves' came to mind. This reader felt firmly located in place and time and yet the writer was criticised from some quarters for never having visited the Canada she wrote about. Kamila Shamsie wrote recently in the Guardian about how Google Earth had allowed her to convincingly research her novel 'Burnt Shadows', set in Afghanistan and contemporary Nagasaki. 'If you're going to write about a place you don't "possess" yourself', Andrew Greig advised. 'Have your character a visitor, or someone returning after a long absence.' I realised on reflection that I have almost never written a place I haven't visited or experienced through my own senses. A challenge for the future perhaps.

Finally, a plug for Valerie's wonderful book published next week 'The Spring Teller' in which her poems transport us on a remarkable journey across Scotland to visit over a hundred healing springs and wells. 'Each thought-provoking poem mirrors the flow of water, from still wells locked in the inner-city to the free-flowing springs of mountain or glen'.

1 comment:

Tousled Raven said...

Thanks to the energy of two superb tutors, the centre staff and guest reader Andrew Greig this was an amazing week for aspiring writers at all levels. I gleaned many helpful hints on writing and place as well as other writing techniques I'd not come across.
'Spring Teller' by Valerie and books by Linda are highly recommended is a writing course at Moniack Mhor.