Residential Writing Course


Some of the participants at one of the Durhamhill Creative Writing Courses

From March 13 to 15 I, along with historical novelist Margaret Elphinstone, am teaching on a residential creative writing course at Durhamhill, in a converted coaching house in the village of Kirkpatrick Durham, Dumfries & Galloway.

During spring and summer it is a very popular holiday let but outwith the season owner Juliet Caird has been hosting writing courses in March and November. There is a lovely paragraph on the Durhamhill website which reads: “When the weather is good, the courses can be conducted outside the house, in the inspirational surrounding countryside, perhaps at the giant stone circle seating area with views to the hills, or in the sunny, but more sheltered, orchard.” Not in Scotland in March or November, I’m afraid – though the countryside around is truly inspiring at any time of the year.

It doesn’t snow very often or very much here in south west Scotland so it was a surprise when the day before that first course towards the end of March 2013, it snowed heavily. It was a bigger surprise – shock even – to wake the next day and find the snow was still lying and even more had fallen overnight.


Alan prepares to start his quad bike taxi service

I drove very tentatively along un-cleared country lanes, not certain if I’d even make it through to the village, and slithered to a halt beside a car, half buried in a snowdrift at the foot of the single, uphill track to the venue. Juliet’s partner Alan appeared to transport me and my teaching materials the rest of the way on the back of his quad bike. I felt the tutor’s arrival was perhaps slightly lacking in dignity – but her feet were dry. Alan ferried several participants up the hill. We did not make use of the stone circle or the orchard.



Course participant Roger avails himself of a lift

Two to three workshop sessions are held on  each of the three days covering all manner of writing topics. We’ve had sessions on the need to pay attention to detail – which involves props which can be eaten afterwards – poetry, life writing, plotting, beginnings and endings. Time for one-to-one meetings so the participants can have feedback on their own writing is also included.

Margaret and I try to provide something for everyone attending, whether they are complete beginners or more experienced writers. We must be doing something right because we often have returnees. This is reassuring and flattering but does mean we constantly have to revise our workshops to avoid repetitions. What is also lovely is the feedback both immediately after the course and later when past participants let us know of their successes whether it be finally completing the novel or having a play produced or articles published.

Everyone works hard during the sessions but there is always a lot of fun and laughter, too. Participants eat together at the big oak table which ensures the discussions and fun continues into the evening – often aided by wine. Another converted building houses a studio which can be used as a games room or even a mini cinema.

There is something special about the Durhamhill writing courses (not only being taught by us – the M&Ms as we have been dubbed). Where else are you likely to learn about dialogue in the morning then have the chance to chat to some llamas? Or, go for an adventure in a motorbike sidecar or have an impromptu jamming session with drums and guitar.


I personally think you need to tighten it up, perhaps lose the first couple of pages – but what do I know, I’m only a llama. Any carrots around here, by the way?

Juliet’s llamas are a major attraction to the people who come on holiday in the summer, especially children who are allowed to help feed them and take them for walks – and of course writers find them irresistible. Last year she wrote to tell us how many people had signed up, adding: “The llama shed is getting a new surface outside. Alan woke me up in a panic at the crack of dawn to say a lorry driver delivering stones had let the llamas out through the gate. I staggered from bed to the drive with a migraine and fell flat over the load of stones – then had to finish sorting out my last year’s accounting stuff for the last minute dash to my long-suffering accountant but a hired hot tub for the hen party who were arriving this evening wasn’t heating up properly and Lettie [she’s a llama] was shivering because she had to be shut out in the wind while the builders sorted the stones around the llama palace. Fortunately she loves hot water and drank half a bucket and stopped shivering.”

Are you, as I am, wondering if it was the hen party’s hot tub water the llama drank? And don’t you just know a creative writing course hosted by this woman is going to be a wonderful experience?

For more information check out the Durhamhill website:

Juliet may not have changed the dates for this year yet! But the next course is March 13-15.


16 thoughts on “Residential Writing Course

  1. I’m in awe of your teaching expertise and your track record with happy students! And I’m doubly in awe of the wonderful surroundings you get to enjoy–or freeze in–while doing so. It sounds beautiful and fun, in addition to being a great learning experience. Love the llama aspect, and am eagerly awaiting a future event when you can take pictures of the stone circle and the orchard. Wonderful post, Mary! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoy teaching on the courses and have some really interesting people along the way. The llamas are wonderful. Sometimes, someone gazing out looking for inspiration in the landscape will shout, ‘There’s a llama loose!’ and Juliet has to spring into action. I will try to remember to take some photos on the course in March – if it’s not pouring with rain. If it it’s weather like this it will be wonderful – really hard frost for the last two days with brilliant sunshine. You’d love it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds like a great venue for the course, mixing learning with a fun location.
    I have never taken any writing courses. I have always been unsure about whether or not they turn out writers with the same ideas and styles at the end. As the tutor, you would know the answer to that, Mary.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Margaret and I are always amazed at how very different each writer is in terms of style and ideas. We can set ten people the same exercise and get back ten totally distinctive pieces of writing which take the reader off in many directions. What I love best is seeing how people, who sat down the first morning feeling a bit apprehensive about what the next few days will be like (some no doubt worrying if they will get their money’s worth), change over the next few days and leave at the end really enthused and raring to go home and write their socks off! While I would like to think that is down to or fine tutoring, it is mainly the magic which happens when a group of writers get together to work, learn and talk.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a great place, Hugh. It would be wonderful to see some spring sunshine but even when the weather isn’t good, everyone finds the place inspires creativity. I would, though, prefer not to have the snow we had the first time!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Residential Writing Course with Mary Smith | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

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