Beat This Retreat

I’ve never retreated anywhere – unless you count retreating to the sideline in PE class in the eternally optimistic view that the teacher wouldn’t notice my absence (really, I was doing them all a favour). So when a wise and encouraging writing friend suggested a writing retreat to Moniack Mhor in the Scottish Highlands, I’ll admit I was in two minds.

Would I be locked away in a cell-type room with a narrow bed and room only to swing my pants?

Would everyone be earnestly writing away 24/7, too preoccupied to pass the time of day?

Would there be an enforced vow of total abstinence (from the sauce, I mean; I certainly didn’t go on a writing retreat for anything else)?

Answers: yes; no; definitely not.

My accommodation was indeed a cell-type room.img_20180507_181524775_hdr202652813.jpg

And I know it was big enough to swing my pants because I tried, – in lieu, you understand – of an actual cat. Although I doubt I could have swung my jeans. But here’s the thing: despite Moniack Mhor having numerous other writing spaces – communal lounges by wood stoves; a straw-bale hobbit house where a writer can go the full Tolkein and forge works of wonder to throw into the fires of publishing;img_20180507_205347522177698084.jpg

a stone, story-telling circle – I found that I gravitated back to my little room. It was here that I wrote the most words (9310, if you’re counting. I was). It was here that I found inspiration to begin a first draft. It was here I felt energised to keep going. I was content in my confinement. Ideas seemed to expand beyond the constriction of my four looming walls. There might not have been space on my desk for more than a laptop, cup of tea and pack of regulation Tunnocks caramel wafers (these are essential for Scottish-based writers who include them in their retreat riders), but, I reasoned, if Oscar Wilde could turn out great literature from Reading Gaol, then I could turn out a first draft of something that might or might not escape my laptop one day.

And, to be fair, I doubt his view could match this:

And although my room was next to one of the communal bathrooms (actually useful when you’re waiting, towel over arm, ready to pounce when vacated), I’d imagine Oscar was required to ‘powder his nose’ somewhat less comfortably.

Of course, folk were there to write, as was I. But my fears that my fellow inmates retreaters would be locked away all day, every day, were unfounded. There was always someone to chat with over a cup of tea (at least ten sorts of tea – and I love tea inclusivity…or inclusivitea, if you will), or to take a stroll in the forest with, or to stoke one of the log-burners with.  And it was this aspect of the retreat that I most appreciated: the community of writers.

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A tribe of scribes. (Flyingscribbler: top row, right)

We were all there because we love to write, love to share our writing experiences, and love to support and encourage each other in our writing endeavors. It was a joy to meet such a diverse group of writers; between us we had most genres covered: children’s, YA, adult, crime, script, memoir, plays, poetry…Writers don’t always get out much, but when they do, they like to talk.

Which brings me on to point three.

When the cat’s away, as they say…

Moniack has an arrangement that the writers cook dinner for each other in teams. This means, at 4pm, after a quick briefing on what/how/how much to cook, the staff leave the building. We only realised the significance of this on the final evening, when, after an astonishingly delicious Haggis dinner (OK, I was on Team Haggis), washed down by most folk with wine, and a wee dram, and whisky sauce with the haggis, and whisky in the cranachan dessert, we all realised we were home alone. Did we polish off the single malt? No, we did not. Did we dare each other to read aloud from our hard-earned word-smithing? No. Did we turn in for an early night? No, of course not.

We toured the site, room-by-room, on a giddy comparison quest. Whose room was largest; whose desk the widest; whose view the most panoramic. Childish? Yes! Writerly? Who cares! What a laugh. And, dear reader, I won. Not the largest, widest or most panoramic room prize. No. To the delight of a fellow writer who had laboured all week under the impression that she was installed in the least commodious room, I proudly showed off my small, perfectly-formed, and highly productive cell room.  “Lady Bracknell herself,” I didn’t say (but wish I had), “couldn’t have swung her handbag in here.” My new writing friends concurred, and I won the smallest room sweep stake.

And so we returned to the lounge to celebrate our week of writing, community, and celebration.

Moniack Mhor is a glorious place in a wonderful location with amazing staff and an atmosphere that inspires. I’m going back, and if the only room left is what I shall henceforth call “The Oscar Wilde Suite”, then so be it.

Although the double bed with ensuite would be nice too.

 

 

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The Blame Game 2016. A poem.

2016

image: radionz.co.nz

I couldn’t sleep last night. The turmoil that has been 2016 spun angry vortexes in my head through the wee hours. After a couple of hours of fitful sleep, I realised I had to write myself out of this funk. I don’t write poems very often. But I can’t tell you how much better I feel for writing this one.

Goodbye, 2016.

Onwards, friends. Onwards.

The Blame Game 2016

I’m not sleeping very well.

 

I blame 2016 and the horror that’s been this year of seismical change.

The world seems transformed, full of hate, fear and scorn; ugly, divided and strange.

 

I blame Brexit for severing the links with my bretheren with whom I have always felt tied.

They said we’d be better sans cette euro-type fetter. They made up the numbers. They lied.

 

I blame May and her minions for duplicit opinions that pretend to put everyone first.

They’re sly politicians, these social morticians; all blue-bloods with vampirical thirst.

 

I blame bold post-truth liars and climate deniers for peddling deliberate falsities.

And internet trolls, who with twitter-hate moles, dig holes in our fragile democracies.

 

I blame Daily Mail leaders, and yes, every last reader, for their role in our country’s demise.

But with a media in thrall to the governments all, it really is no great surprise.

 

I blame terrorist cells and the western cartels whose policies allow them to flourish.

Blatant state-building and oil-dollar wielding are the fuel with which ISIS is nourished.

 

I blame armaments bosses who won’t countenance losses; it’s their bombs that maim and do kill.

Wars keep on going, and refugees flowing. It’s a lack of political will.

 

I blame Jeremy Corbyn for not sticking his oar in, precisely when it was needed.

With progressive position and clear, honest vision, a call to arms might well have been heeded.

 

Yes, I blame Donald Trump, and all of his gumph, for pretending to speak for a nation.

Can the people be saved from this populist wave? A tsunami that threatens annihilation.

 

I blame me for allowing these thoughts to keep flowering and grow in the soil of my mind.

But it’s easy to feel that it’s a bloody rum deal, to be fighting these woes, don’t you find?

 

And yet

 

The world keeps on spinning, politicians keep winning on platforms that seek to divide.

Our task is quite clear, march forwards, my dear. Heads held up high, and with pride.

 

The blame game is easy, but it can’t ever please me and it won’t ever sustain through next year.

I’ll put pen to paper, and hopefully, later, produce stories of hope, not of fear.

 

Writers. Keep writing! Our words should be fighting for a future where everyone thrives.

It’s never too late. Write! Draw! Create! Let our voices be heard. Be alive!

 

©Justin Nevil Davies 2016

Creativity Update

I’ve been rather quiet here of late. It isn’t that I haven’t been writing; far from it. My creative writing course is providing me with lots of opportunities for that, and we are all working towards an end-of-course piece. Mine is taking shape and is going to take the form of a trilogy (triptych, if you will) of flashes. I’m not particularly happy with progress at the moment, but there is a reason for this. I’ll be blogging about THAT shortly.
Please don’t worry. Flyingscribbler is not unwell.
But that’s all you’re getting. For now, at least.
My writing course was cancelled twice in a row, which rather conveniently coincided with the two sessions I was unable to attend, but I’m keen to get back to it. The last class I went to was all about life writing which I didn’t enjoy half as much as the poetry class. However, I did have the chance to read out the poem I’d been working on throughout the previous week. It was based on a recent trip to Tanzania and took the form of a list poem (which we had discussed in class) similar to Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. We were to use anaphora – a repeated introduction to each line – and try to include grace and musicality in our work. I was quite pleased with my effort and received decent feedback from the class. I thought I might share it with you here.

Feel The Heat

Feel the heat.

Feel the sweat trickling, feel the skin slowly softening.

Feel the heat.

The warmth presses, kisses, wraps you in winter-quilt caresses.

Feel the white-wash glare from slumbering clouds.

Feel the city pulse slow, feel the sun’s burning glow.

Feel the heat.

Seek relief in noon-day shadows with locals who know.

Feel shots of hibiscus blooming blood through leaves.

Feel the afternoon breeze.

Watch seed pods spin from long-fingered clutches.

Hear palm fronds ripple applause.

Feel the marzipan softness of frangipani flowers

beneath your feet.

Feel hearts sing as old friends meet

to knock willow on leather.

Feel the heat.

Now the warm draft of eagle-soaring thermals.

Feel them rise and glide and fall.

Then the first cooling breaths whisper in from the sea.

Feel them calm and balm and soothe.

And the dusky blue pink platinum sky

feels the vibrations of a cow-hide beat from the street.

Feel the heat.

Let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, here’s a writing news update: my story ‘Kid Gloves’ is published today at everydayfiction.com. Please feel free to leave comments and vote. I also made the long list in the micro fiction category of The New Writer annual competition. Whilst it’s a shame not to have gone any further, it beats last year when I made no list at all, long, short or medium. Anyway, I’ll be peddling the story that made the list to plenty more competitions. It’s one I was quite proud of.