How I Write: The Calmness of Place

Mòrag Anna NicNèill was the recipient of one of our 2015 Gaelic New Writers Awards. We managed to peel her away from her stunning view on the Isle of Barra to talk to us about how the land inspires her and her need for absolute silence for writing.

(scroll down for the English translation of this blog)

 

Tha mi air leth fortanach a bhith a’ fuireach ann am baile Eòlaigearraidh ann an Eilean Bharraigh. ’S e àite sèimh, socair a th’ ann gun chàil a’ briseadh na sàmhchair ach corra chàr a’ dol seachad, no srann an itealain bhig a’ tighinn a-steach a laighe air an Tràigh Mhòir faisg air an taigh againn. Feumaidh mi sàmhchair airson sgrìobhadh, agus chan eil cus ann a chuireas dragh orm sa cheàrnaidh seo de na h-Eileanan Siar.

Bidh mi a’ sgrìobhadh ficsean Gàidhlig do chloinn, agus chan eil fada bho thòisich mi a’ cur faclan an altan a chèile. Bhuannaich mi Duais nan Sgrìobhadairean Ùra aig Urras Leabhraichean na h-Alba – rud a thug misneachd mhòr dhomh. Tha mi air a bhith a’ feuchainn ri bhith a’ sgrìobhadh gu cunbhalach bhon uair sin, ged nach eil sin an-còmhnaidh furasta.

Inspiration comes from many places: sometimes I will overhear a snippet of conversation which can be turned into something useful; other times I might remember a childhood incident which can be worked in to a story.

Bidh làithean ann far an cuir mi uairean a thìde seachad a’ sgrìobhadh cha mhòr gun fhiosta dhomh, na beachd-smuaintean a’ taomadh a-mach nas luaithe na ’s urrainn dhomh an cur sìos air a’ phàipear. Agus bidh làithean eile ann far am bi mi nam shuidhe fad uairean a thìde is gun mòran a bharrachd air seantans air an duilleig. Gu math tric, cha tig às na làithean loma seo ach sgudal a bhios mi ag ath-sgrìobhadh nuair a dhùisgeas m’ eanchainn a-rithist.

Gu math tric bithear a’ cur às mo leth gu bheil mi air mo bheò-ghlacadh a’ glanadh is a’ sgioblachadh, agus tha e fìor nach urrainn dhomh obrachadh gus am bi a h-uile càil timcheall orm na àite fhèin. Nuair a bhios rudan gu mo mhiann, nì mi cupa teatha agus suidhidh mi san t-sèithear-thulgaidh ris an uinneig, far an toir mi sùil san leabhar-notaichean bheag agam mus tòisich mi.

Tha mi air cleachdadh a dhèanamh na beachd-smuaintean a sgròbail sìos mar a thig iad thugam, uaireannan a’ leum a-mach às an leabaidh aig trì uairean sa mhadainn gus smuain a ghlacadh mus tèid a dhìochuimhneachadh gu sìorraidh. Saoilidh mi gur ann nuair a bhios mi gus tuiteam na mo chadal a bhios na smuaintean as fheàrr a’ tighinn thugam, agus is iomadh uair a ghabh mi aithreachas nach do sgrìobh mi iad aig an àm, oir chan eil iad an-còmhnaidh deònach tilleadh an ath latha!

Bidh brosnachadh a’ tighinn às iomadh àite: uaireannan cluinnidh mi criomag còmhraidh a bhios feumail; uaireannan eile ’s dòcha gun cuimhnich mi air rudeigin a thachair nuair a bha mi beag a ghabhas fighe a-steach ann an sgeulachd. Faodaidh fàilidhean is fuaimean cruthachas a bhrosnachadh, is thig beachd-smuaintean bho na h-àiteachan as mì-choltaiche. O chionn ghoirid thug àireamh-fòn ceàrr ainm caractair dhomh, nuair a dh’fhaighnich an neach airson Mgr Clifford.

Tha cat beag dubh agam air a bheil Pepe is bidh e na chompanach dhomh nuair a bhios mi a’ sgrìobhadh. Bidh sinn a’ suidhe còmhla aig an uinneig a’ coimhead a-mach air Caolas Bharraigh gu Uibhist a Deas agus beanntan an Eilein Sgitheanaich, ag èisteachd ris a’ ghaoith is a’ mhuir is na siantan a-muigh.

Tha mi cho dèidheil air sgrìobhadh, agus b’ fheàrr leam gun robh mi air tòiseachadh nuair a bha mi na b’ òige. ’S e faireachdainn air leth a bh’ ann nuair a chuir mi crìoch air a’ chiad nobhail, agus tha sin gam bhrosnachadh gus cumail a’ dol.


I am very fortunate to live in the village of Eoligarry on the Isle of Barra. It is a calm and tranquil place, where the only distraction might be the occasional car rumbling by, or the drone of the little Twin Otter plane coming in to land on the cockle-strand beach runway near our house. I need absolute silence in order to write, and there isn’t much to disturb the peace in this remote part of the Hebrides.         

I write children’s fiction in Gaelic and am a relative newcomer to the art. Winning the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award has given my confidence a tremendous boost, and I have been trying to write regularly ever since, with varying degrees of success.

Some days, I find that I can write for hours, the ideas spilling from my pen almost of their own accord and more quickly than I can scribble them down. And then there are the times when I can sit for hours with barely a sentence to show for it. These bleak days tend to produce utter nonsense which I find myself rewriting when my brain starts functioning again.

I think my best ideas come to me as I am falling asleep

I sometimes get accused of being a neat-and-tidy freak, and I have to admit that I can’t work until everything around me is in order. When things are to my satisfaction, I make myself a cup of tea and sit in the rocking chair by the window, where I consult my little notebook before I start. 

I have taken to jotting down my ideas as and when they occur, sometimes jumping out of bed at three in the morning in order to file a thought before it is forgotten and gone forever. I think my best ideas come to me as I am falling asleep, and I have found to my cost that it is a mistake to think they will willingly reappear the next day!

Inspiration comes from many places: sometimes I will overhear a snippet of conversation which can be turned into something useful; other times I might remember a childhood incident which can be worked in to a story. Certain sounds and smells can generate creativity, and ideas can come from the most unlikely sources. A wrong number recently supplied me with the name of a character, when the caller asked for Mr Clifford. 

I have a little black cat called Pepe who keeps me company as I write. Together we sit at the window looking out across the Sound of Barra towards South Uist and the mountains of Skye beyond, listening to the wind and the sea and the weather. 

I love writing, and only wish that I had started earlier in my life. The moment I completed my first novel was the most wonderful feeling, and I can think of no better incentive than that to continue. 

Mòrag Anna NicNèill

’S ann à baile beag Horgaboist anns Na Hearadh a tha Mòrag Anna NicNèill, ged a tha i air a bhith a’ fuireach agus ag obair ann am Barraigh airson còrr is fichead bliadhna. An dèidh dhi an sgoil fhàgail, chaidh i gu ruige Oilthigh Ghlaschu agus an uair sin gu Colaiste Chnoc Iòrdain. Cheumnaich i ann an 1990 agus tha i air a bhith a’ teagasg Gàidhlig aig ìre àrd-sgoile bhon uair sin.

An‑diugh tha i a’ fuireach ann an Eòlaigearraidh còmhla ris an duine aice, Iain, agus cat beag dubh air a bheil Pepe. Na h‑ùine fhèin bidh i a’ leughadh tòrr,

a’ peantadh is a’ sgrìobhadh.  


Morag Ann MacNeil hails from the little village of Horgabost on the Isle of Harris, although she has lived and worked in Barra for more than twenty years. After leaving school, she attended Glasgow University and then Jordanhill College of Education, graduating in 1990. 

She has been a Gaelic secondary school teacher ever since and lives in Eoligarry with her husband, Iain, and a little black cat called Pepe. In her free time she enjoys reading, painting and writing.