I feel lucky that I get to be creative in my every-day work as a writer and editor – mostly in journalism (Guardian, FT, New Scientist, BBC Science Focus, etc), sometimes memoir (Complete Book of Sisters, Faber; Cassette From My Ex, St Martin’s Griffin). But in recent years I’ve been exploring other kinds of storytelling, ways to explore more personal interests through fiction. I’ve studied, and developed new ideas, finally chosing one to focus on. Over the past year it has shown itself to have legs, and staying power in my fickle mind. I had a rough first draft, but since last summer, with my oldest child starting secondary school, family bouts of covid isolating, fitting in journalism around all of that, months passed with no time to finish my special project, although it continued to percolate, in hastily scribbled notes here and there.
2022 started with a good omen – an artist’s residency at Hawkwood. Each morning I traipsed across the surrounding hills, taking in the Cotswold escarpment from different angles, enjoying new views of the five valleys of Stroud. This deeply pleasing feeling was mirrored when I returned to my cosy, cloister-like garden room, and was able to approach my writing more playfully, seeing it, too, from fresh angles.
There was a distinct arc to each day, as well as my entire residency. Time flows in neat segments, punctuated by regular meals and snacks. I’m an introvert who loves to work alone, but it felt healthy to have to peep out from my shell and meet the other artists in attendance in the dining room. One woman introduced herself and asked me what my form – as in artistic form – was. I really appreciated the question, which invited me, again, to think about my work from another angle. My project was growing more solid, three dimensional, tactile even.
My first day or so was about luxuriating in this new-found freedom from distractions and interruptions, and having the sense that the part of my mind that holds this project was able to unfurl. Happily, the sorts of playful details I imagined flowing when I first envisaged the idea, started coming more readily.
There followed an almost euphoric marathon of writing, until my penultimate day, which couldn’t have been more different. Bright sunshine had been replaced by cloud and rain; I reviewed my work critically and some doubts and niggles appeared – a necessary part of the process. My last morning entailed an epic walk in which I was able to address and solve said niggles and doubts. I left feeling I’d achieved more in a week than I had the previous year. The work continues but I’m very nearly there. I’ll keep you posted.
Full credit to Amy Fleming and with thanks to the DCMS & Arts Council England for their funding.