It’s #IrishWritersWed folks, which means I have another wonderful post from an Irish writer for you today.
Margaret Skea, author of The Munro Scottish Saga, has written a very engaging post entitled ‘The Joy of Isolation (and chocolate)’, where she shares with us all how she discovered the benefits of ‘incarceration’ to her writing success.
I’m not so sure I could do it, but here Margaret tell’s us how, with the addition of lots of chocolate, she makes it work for her…
The Joy of Isolation (and chocolate)
by Margaret Skea
Writers all have their own way of working.
Writing in longhand or on computer, in silence or to background music, at the kitchen table or in a crowded café in Edinburgh. (Oh to be JK Rowling…)
Or even, in the case of Nigel Tranter, writing in his head while walking along a beach – he must have had fantastic powers of recall – I can’t imagine being able to remember what I wanted to write for ten minutes, let alone the couple of hours he apparently spent walking.
The key is to find out what works for you, and for me it appears to be isolation (and chocolate). Whether this is because I lack the discipline to be able to resist the distractions of other people, social media, or even the dreaded housework, or whether my creative mind actually requires isolation to function effectively, I’m not sure.
I first discovered the joy of isolation six years ago, when I was given the chance to go into purdah, aka a month-long writer’s fellowship in Hawthornden Castle in Scotland.
A whole month with no cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no ironing, and also, even more importantly, no internet, no mobile phone reception and a rule of silence in the castle between 9.00am and 6.00pm.
There were four other writers incarcerated, sorry, accommodated with me and we shared evening meals and occasional lunches in the garden, but for nine wonderful hours per day I had nothing to do but write.
And a very productive month it turned out to be, resulting in a polished draft of my debut novel Turn of the Tide.
Sadly, the rules of the fellowship stipulate that a writer can only apply once every five years, so it wasn’t an option for the sequel. At home I am fortunate enough to have a study and a desk and bookshelf space for relevant research material, but despite that, I ground to a halt in the middle of Book 2 of my Scottish series.
Enter the cavalry, in the guise of a stranger who offered the use of a cottage in the back of beyond for six weeks, while she waited for planning permission for its renovation.
I supplemented the existing furnishings – a kettle, a microwave, a 12inch diameter rusty garden table and a chair – with a portable gas heater, a sheepskin rug (to drape over the chair), a second chair, a hot water bottle and a packed lunch (mostly chocolate) and headed off.
It was a thirty minute drive from my house, and each day as I turned onto the single track road leading to the cottage, I found, a bit like Pavlov’s dogs, that my brain clicked into 16th century Scotland mode, and I could begin to write as soon as I settled myself down with a rug around my knees and the hot water bottle on my lap.
A House Divided is a living proof of the value of ‘the kindness of strangers’.
Isolation experiment No. 3 came in February 2016 when I was once again awarded an Hawthornden fellowship. This time I went to the castle with some trepidation, in case the experience didn’t meet my expectations.
The silence and lack of distraction was once again invaluable, but we nearly got sent home one week into our month when the central heating boiler failed. Contingency plans were put in place – in the form of a (small) oil filled radiator in each bedroom and a couple of open fires which smoldered fitfully, courtesy of damp wood.
As a result the castle remained atmospherically chilly for two weeks, probably ideal for me when writing a novel set in 16th century Scotland.
Whatever the reason, ten days of research and seventeen of writing resulted in the first 27,000 words of my third novel, as yet untitled, due for publication in the autumn.
I also had a significant birthday while there, so managed to munch my way through 11 bars of ginger chocolate and a 2lb box of Thorntons Limited Edition Mint Selection.
If my first stay at Hawthornden felt like purdah, in this one I felt like an anchoress, having turned my room into a ‘cave’ by covering over the windows with double layers of cardboard and the (not allowed to be used due to fire safety regulations) fireplace with a quilt, to stop all draughts.
The cardboard, incidentally, proved very useful as a giant storyboard, a method I have continued to use in a modified form ever since.
When I began my latest book, with a deadline of five months in which to produce a first draft, I was fortunate enough to be offered the use of a friend’s house, without the severe privations of either the castle or the cottage. As no one except my husband knew where I was and I didn’t ask for the internet password, thus reducing the possibility of distraction to almost zero, I managed to finish within four days of the deadline – result.
I now have a new, publisher-generated deadline, and have started to stockpile the necessary chocolate. Bearing in mind that privation isn’t absolutely necessary, but isolation definitely helps, I’d love to see how productive I could be in a secluded hideaway somewhere warm…
Margaret thank you so very much for this wonderful post with some lovely images. I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did!!
You can find out more about Margaret below…..
About Margaret Skea:
She grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but has lived with her husband in the Scottish Borders for over 30 years. Growing up within conflict has had a huge influence on her writing.
She has twice been privileged to receive an Hawthornden Writers Fellowship each time enabling her to spend a month in a 17th century castle with nothing to do but write.
Her first novel (Turn of the Tide) won the Beryl Bainbridge Best 1st Time Author Award 2014 and the sequel (A House Divided) was longlisted for the Historical Novel Society New Novel Award 2016. Both are set in 16thc Scotland, and centre on a real-life clan feud, which continued for over 150 years.
She has also won various awards for short stories – most notably, Neil Gunn, Winchester, Mslexia, and Fish and her debut collection was launched at Berwick Literary festival last October.
She has just finished writing a novel based on the life of Martin Luther’s wife and is currently working on the third novel in her Scottish series.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Margaret-Skea/e/B009B9HCUC/