Reflecting on my story: Retreat to Moniack Mhor

image of leeanne reading

Leeanne Clark is a young writer from Lochgelly, Fife. She writes about her experiences of growing up in the care system with a learning disability. Leeanne is also an active Fellow of the RSA in Scotland, and works with SCLD to promote inclusion in the arts. She recently received a Platinum Youth Achievement Award from Youth Scotland for her peer education work. In this blog post, she details her recent writing retreat at Moniack Mhor in Inverness.

On Monday 17th April 2017 , I met with other writers at Inverness train station. We then travelled to Moniack Mhor by taxi. We spent the rest of the day introducing ourselves to each other and each of us explained what our Christian name means to us.

I explained how everyone seems to spell my name incorrectly. The proper spelling is ‘Leeanne’, but I have seen many variations on letters and cards. Dorothy, my Shared Lives Fife carer, had a  brother who  called me ‘Wee Ann’ before he passed away last year. My middle name is Elizabeth. I was named after my gran at birth although I don’t remember her much. I was only five months old when she passed away.

The whole session proved to be an interesting subject as we had a few people from other counties with names which were new to us. We spent the rest of the evening having a laugh and eating.

moniack mhor group photo

Tuesday morning began with us making our own breakfast before a 10am workshop. We each had to create a fictional story. We started by considering a character and responding to questions such as: ‘Where I am? Am I warm or cold? What am I doing here? Am I comfortable? What am I wearing? Am I uncomfortable or in pain? Am I confident?’ I can go on and on, of course. It is amazing how many different things that we need to think about.

I had an individual meeting with Andrew, an experienced author, in the cottage library at 2pm. We discussed the Prologue of my book, and the first four chapters. He gave me some hints about how publishers would rather see the writing set out. I got quite a lot of handy hints, but all in all he was quite pleased with my writing.

We had a nice get together on Tuesday evening with Andrew and Lesley.  As well as being accomplished writers, Andrew plays the guitar and sings while Lesley accompanies him. It was most enjoyable. I even bought a CD of Andrew’s  music.

Wednesday’s  workshop was themed around ‘The Five Senses’: Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The writer knows what he/she is sensing at the time, but needs to make it clear to the reader. For example ‘It was delicious and the smell was gorgeous when it was cooking’. The reader may think: ‘What was delicious?’ or ‘What were you eating?’.

I had another individual meeting with Lesley in the hobbit house at 4:15pm. Lesley gave me more very useful information, including how to set out my writing in book form. Lesley and Andrew gave me some good ideas and they were so similar in their approach. I felt really comfortable with our discussions.

Thursday’s workshop was time for some more feedback from the other writers concerning my prologue. The remarks were of great value to me.

‘Your story is pretty straight forward. Everybody sees it differently. Listen and let it soak into you.’ Another person said: ‘The prologue was very positive. It tells a true picture of how you felt being denied proper care every day’. Another said: ‘You can relax and enjoy telling your story because it is true, just like “Angela Ashes” by Frank McCourt. I found it overwhelming. This story has to be told.’ The last person said ‘I’m still shaking from the impact of the prologue’.

Next, it was our turn to prepare dinner. We had salmon, green peas and baby corn and tomato and chickpea curry.  We had apple pie for dessert.

We were asked to prepare a poem that night. Dorothy remembered a Scots poem I had done at primary school and she read one from a book that we found in the cottage library. Everyone joined in. We all had a really good time.

Friday’s workshop at 10am was dedicated to revision; leaving time for going over your work, again and again. You may remove parts. You may add parts. If you don’t feel right about a certain part leave it and go back, even months later. Have lots of detail. Use plain words. Remove adjectives that are not necessary. You can replace them again if you need to. I learned a lot during this process.

The last night we had to read something we had written. I read my International Women’s Day blog and to my surprise, everyone cried. We had a great night. We complimented each other. I received loads of great feedback.

For me the next leg of the journey is filled with hope and ambition for a bright and successful life.

Thank you for reading my blog! I’ll let you know how I am getting on with my book.

Leeanne Clark

To find out more about Leeanne Clark, watch her video or visit www.scld.org.uk/rsafellowship/ to find out about her work with RSA Scotland.