At my writing desk: Mo MacQuarrie

We are delighted to welcome Mo MacQuarrie to our occasion feature ‘At My Writing Desk’. Mo lives on the Isle of Skye and we at the FWS are always conscious of the difficulties of our more remote members in keeping in touch with the writing community. As Mo’s inspiring piece shows, you don’t have to live in the Central Belt to get involved!

Mo writes

When I retired from my job as a fraud investigator I decided to live in a place I had always loved which had connections to my ancestors, who came from the Isle of Barra,  so I went to live in a remote part of the Isle of Skye. However, after ten years I started to realise – mostly due to the friends who nagged me – that my house near Duntulm a mile from the main road was perhaps a little too out of the way for someone of my advancing years living alone. Apart from my wonderful German Shepherd dog – Eilidh. So I decided to make a move to the big city of Balmacara which is wonderful apart from the traffic!

I had always loved writing but the event that really got me started was when I began to research my Mother’s family tree.She was a Foundling brought up by The Thomas Coram Association in London and given a name out of the phonebook. Eventually she was allowed to know her real name but, sadly, before she died there wasn’t the information on the net as there is now and I only managed to find she had two uncles. When I really got into genealogy some years later I found out a lot more and her tree included a few interesting characters that I wanted to write about. I am still working on this as well as a crime novel but I have found that my real forte is short story writing along with the occasional poem. 

I attendas many literary events as my limited budget will allow and recently attended Aye Write in Glasgow. I had a great time there as I review books for the Bloody Scotland event so was ushered in to a few talks free of charge.The highlight for me was being able to see The fun Lovin’ Crime Writers as I hadn’t managed to see them at the Edinburgh Bookfest last year. I love a writer’s workshop and have been to ones with Shona Maclean, niece of the great Alistair, Janice Galloway and a few others. I am lucky in that The Reading Room Skye run these fairly often as well as talks by well known authors. I also went to Ian Rankin’s Thriller weekend in Cromarty, just for a couple of events, and ended up having lunch with the man himself! 

I also run a small line dance class for my local community trust but that’s another story!

I run a small writing groupwith a few of my friends where we meet at each other’s houses about once a month. Whoever hosts the meeting decides on a theme for a short story to be written by all the attendees which has to be read out to everyone there. The stories I write are put on my blog  (see below) which is in its infancy, along with some of my poems and book reviews.

This year I have joined The Highland Literary Salon which meets in Inverness on the third Tuesday of every month so hope to be able to get over there quite often. Much easier from Balmacara than the northern tip of Skye and you can indulge in some retail therapy as well as a walk on the wonderful open space of the  Culloden Battlefield!

© Mo MacQuarrie 2019


At My Writing Desk – J S McGowan

We are delighted to welcome J S McGowan to our At My Writing Desk feature. I think many of us will identify with his reflections on different settings in which to write in the piece below though perhaps not so many of us have a stunning view from our windows as we write (mine takes in back courts and dustbins)! You can read more about his book Lael here.


As I am writing this I am sitting with my laptop on my knee, sitting very close to a window – my favoured position. I have no desk as such – any notes, booklets or notebooks of sundry information are stored in containers that look like very large books and they are stacked on a bookshelf below the windowsill.     I have a fantastic view from my window, I can see right down the coastline of the inner Moray Firth and the hills beyond. The farthest part of land that I can see has a lighthouse on it and that marks the place where I was born and spent a fair part of my life. It was here I started writing short stories for my young brothers and much later for my two daughters. These stories nearly always featured fairies, elves and goblins. The woods, beaches and cliffs that surrounded where we lived were atmospheric haunts for the mystical creatures that I wrote about.

    Many a time I have gazed across the waters of my life and felt that past and present had merged, the first time I felt it I was stimulated to write my first book. I did not publish it but it did give incentive to write the one that has been published.
    In sharp contrast to the reflective solitude of my window I can also write amidst the hustle and bustle of airport lounges, oilrig cabins and trains. Cafes are great places to write in and like the fore mentioned areas I get an awareness of human energy as the flow of life streams around me.
    It took years to write the book entitled ‘Lael’ – the reason it took so long was that I kept getting distracted, I described myself as a person who writes as opposed to ‘a writer’. When I eventually finished the book and had the proof copy in my hand – I became a writer!
    I absolutely loved creating the characters and seeing them evolve as the book progressed; I also had to create two make-believe worlds and that was fun. After the euphoria of finishing the book and seeing it lying on my windowsill I felt a bit empty, as if I had lost a constant friend——-so I had to begin a follow up.


© J S McGowan 2017

At My Writing Desk – Babs Stevenson (21/10/2015)

A. C. Clarke writes: We are delighted to welcome to this slot Babs Stevenson, who lives in the Orkneys. Babs writes:

‘Hi, I’m Babs and I’m a writer living in Orkney. There is something inspirational about the islands, never far from the sea, clear skies and surrounded by thousands of years of history. I feel I’m on a permanent writing retreat. At the moment, I’m working on a piece about ancient Orkney and the research is on my doorstep. From my writing room window I can see the remains of a broch and a short stroll takes me to the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. The long winter nights are perfect for snuggling up with chocolate, my lap top and a black and white cat, and getting down to the writing I meant to do when the sun was shining and the garden calling.

Writing in Orkney is not a solitary pursuit. There is an abundance of talented writers on the islands. The Stromness writing group meets every second Tuesday in a local church. Writers there don’t talk about writing, they get stuck in. Ever eager to try new ideas, we recently delved into the use of ‘kennings’ in modern poetry. I had to be told that ‘kennings’ are short phrases to describe words, usually involving metaphors, popular in old Norse poetry (e.g. Beowulf = bee wolf = bear). The group also meets for social events, including a book launch or two.

Writers in the Highlands are encouraged by Emergents, an organisation set up to help creative industries. As well as giving one-to-one advice, they arrange workshops and seminars in Orkney. I attended a workshop on self-publishing in May and in November will be going to one on screenwriting.

The library hosts readers’ days with high profile authors as guest speakers. There is also an extensive archive attached to Kirkwall library. The George Mackay Brown Fellowship society runs events to coincide with the St. Magnus arts festival in June and also runs writing competitions.

The internet and social media are invaluable although we don’t, as yet, have 4G. Being 300 miles from Glasgow or Edinburgh has disadvantages when it comes to attending larger conferences and there will be some travelling involved when my debut novel The Organist published by Yolk Publishing is launched early next year.

I guess island life is not for everyone, but for me, not having the hassle of city life allows my creative juices to overflow.

© Babs Stevenson 2015