Cromarty Writing Retreat
April 28, 29, 30. 2017.
Reviewed by Drew Hillier, Highland Literary Salon Events Programmer.
As Friday evening unfolded, with people being signed in and shown to their clean, comfortable, light and airy bedrooms, there was evidently a creative buzz in the salt-fresh Cromarty air. As we took our seats for a delicious three-course dinner – prepared and served by the wonderful Cromarty Arts trust staff – the sixteen participants and course tutor, award-winning writer, Morag Joss, were already busy with blether and book talk, which set the tone perfectly for the next two days!
After the meal, we decamped to the Old Brewery’s snug downstairs sittingroom with its views across the darkening Cromarty Firth and the Sutors, standing sentinel over the two opposing headlands. By way of an introduction, Morag encouraged everyone to read from their own work, offering reassurance that, in essence, the weekend was all about mutual encouragement, sharing and trust. And so it proved; after an hour or so of wonderful conviviality, the ice was well and truly broken and proceedings came to a close. Wending our various ways – some to their beds, others to try and grab a quick phone message in the one spot where a signal could be had (achieved by standing on a patch of seaweedy rocks along the foreshore, handsets held aloft) – most of us in fact headed to the nearby Cromarty Arms!
From Saturday morning's opening session until midday the following Sunday, the admixture of workshops, tutorials and free writing time proved to be a perfect blend. Morag, who also teaches Creative Writing at Oxford University, is a supreme tutor. She skilfully engaged the entire group, imparting advice and insights, setting tasks and offering thoughtful feedback. It didn’t take long for all of us (even the most reticent) to get involved, and we were soon writing like mad and reading aloud un-self consciously. Saturday evening saw the tables turned, with Morag reading from her novel Across the Bridge to a rapt audience, relaxing in the warmth of the Old Brewery’s beautiful timber-beamed loft area.
The immersive nature of a retreat makes for an intensely rich experience. By virtue of being given permission, as it were, to be creative, and to share one’s endeavours in such a special environment, is inordinately inspirational.
Come Sunday lunchtime (a magnificent Dutch cheese-feast, supplied by Jon and Emmy of the nearby Cheese House) there was a tinge of sadness in the air at the prospect of dispersal. Nonetheless, with friendships formed, as we went our separate ways, there was a clear sense of keeping in touch.
In acknowledging Morag’s input and the enthusiastic participation of the entire group, each and every member of staff at the Old Brewery – for whom nothing was too much trouble – are also deserving of high praise. Finally, my own special thanks goes to HLS Committee member Helen Sedgewick, whose planning, care and hard work in organising the retreat, resulted in everyone enjoying every minute of it. This included yours truly, standing in for Helen, who (with the happy excuse of getting wed that very weekend) was understandably otherwise engaged, or more accurately, otherwise married! So, congratulations all round… and here’s to the next HLS Retreat!
Visit Morag's website at moragjoss.com