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Monday, 17 December 2012

Literature on the Loch

Last August I was invited to Ardoch House on the banks of Loch Lomond. I have to admit I’d never been there before. Yes, of course, I knew it was beautiful but I simply wasn’t prepared for it: the setting and the views from Ardoch House are breathtaking. There’s the loch, the hills to the North, but most of all an extraordinary sense of calm, an almost edge of the world magic, a sort of visual balm. It is wonderfully freeing.

I went there, together with Maggie McKernan, to meet Carlos Alba and Peter Armitage, the owner of Ardoch House. Peter is often described as a ‘businessman turned philanthropist’. In other words, he retired early ‘to give something back’. His particular interest is ‘human capital’, especially the development of young people - most of all, young people from disadvantaged back grounds. He has put some 7.5 million pounds of his own into rescuing and developing Ardoch House, and he and his family bear all the costs themselves. To help with the running he lets Ardoch out to corporate clients and that allows him to offer courses and accommodation to children based charities in the UK and abroad.

Carlos, who is a novelist himself, also helps Peter Armitage develop and promote different projects for Ardoch House - among them, photography holidays and creative writing breaks - called Literature on the Loch.

Apart from writing fiction myself, I also worked as a teacher for many years and now sometimes teach courses to foreign academics – usually research groups - working at English Universities. The aim is to help them communicate successfully with their peers but also with other non-specialists. It’s interesting, very specific work. It’s quite different dealing with an academic who grew up in Japan, from one educated in Argentina or Jordan, for example. Languages come with all kinds of baggage, conventions, and manners – and sometimes very different ways of thinking - which require a slightly different approach for each person. Teaching such a wide variety of people how to write articles that communicate their ideas and arguments clearly and successfully is quite challenging, but also very rewarding. For Literature on the Loch, I’m looking forward to combining my writer’s hat and my teaching hat – and to helping each person develop their own individual voice and style.

Since that first meeting, plans have gradually been taking shape. The first of these creative writing breaks will be at the end of March or beginning of April (date to be confirmed shortly). There will be a writing workshop each morning, most afternoons free, and each evening there will be a guest speaker who will then join everyone for dinner and chat. I will be conducting the workshops together with Maggie. The team of guest speakers will include writers Carlos Alba, Andrew Williams and Christopher Brookmyre, as well as David Robinson, literary editor of the Scotsman.

You can read more about Literature on the Loch by visiting the website, which has just been launched.

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