Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Charlotte Symons
"Slowly, a sense of peace descended. Walking in the garden the first afternoon, I watched ravens flying from one to another of the tall conifers, cronking their deep calls. And I began to write."
I came to Hawkwood at a difficult time in my life. I’d lost three family members in less than eighteen months, the last only six weeks previously. I felt unmoored, adrift. The thought of going away, even the relatively short distance from my home in mid-Wales to Stroud, seemed daunting.
The forecast for the week had been wet, but as I travelled south through Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, the sky was a blue vastness filled with towering cumulus clouds, white as meringue. After a weekend of heavy rain, the landscape sparkled.
Arriving at Hawkwood, slightly frazzled after a journey of train delays and almost-missed connections, I was welcomed by the staff and my fellow artists and by the house itself. Slowly, a sense of peace descended. Walking in the garden the first afternoon, I watched ravens flying from one to another of the tall conifers, cronking their deep calls. And I began to write.
My current work in progress is a fantasy novel set in 18th century Russia. The part I worked on at Hawkwood saw the protagonist setting out from snow-bound St Petersburg to travel by troika through the forest: very different from the Stroud valley in July! I work chronologically, as I find I need to go on the same journey as the characters. If I was to jump ahead, I would find it difficult to imagine their emotions at that point, without having taken them through the preceding scenes.
Because my book is set in the past, in another country, I try and do as much research as I can. One of my favourite sources is contemporary traveller’s accounts, which often have quirky details that are hard to find elsewhere. Even modern tourist guides can be useful, especially for getting a sense of the layout of a city, and for identifying which buildings would have been there at a certain date.
I write slowly compared to some writers, word-count for the day normally being in the low to mid hundreds, but I don’t go through extensive rewrites, so it evens out somewhere. At the moment, I like to write directly onto a tablet, which I find is easy and portable. I don’t plan my work extensively before writing. Instead, I have a vague idea of plot floating in my head and know what I’m writing towards, a way of working I’ve seen described as ‘the flashlight method’. It can result in getting stuck, but it also means the process of writing is one of continual surprise!
My time at Hawkwood enabled me to focus on my writing, without any of the usual day-to-day tasks such as shopping and preparing food. Having not written regularly for a while, because of what had been happening in my life, this focused time has meant that I’ve been able to get back into the world of my novel and immerse myself in its characters. I also enjoyed spending time with the other artists in residence, and hearing about the joys and challenges of their disciplines. I left having made new friends and memories and with a promise to return to this special place before too long.
Charlotte is an accomplished writer of historical fiction and poetry, currently residing in the picturesque Welsh borders. Her portfolio boasts an array of short stories that have garnered recognition from prominent publications such as The Ghastling, Arkana, The Lampeter Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine. In a remarkable achievement, her poem ‘Death and the Poet,’ intricately woven around John Keats’ final moments, clinched the coveted first prize in Writing Magazine’s esteemed Keats Poetry competition in 2020. Further attesting to her literary prowess, Charlotte secured a place as a finalist for the prestigious Terry Hetherington and Icelandic Writers’ Retreat Alumni awards.
Charlotte’s academic journey shines with an MA in Writing from the esteemed University of Warwick. Her formative years were dedicated to studying English Literature with a profound emphasis on the Renaissance and 17th-century literature – an academic foundation that continues to kindle her creative fervor.
Having recently penned her debut novel, an enchanting Gothic romance that unfolds against the backdrop of 1820s Venice, Charlotte is currently immersed in the process of presenting her work to literary agents. Beyond her literary pursuits, her keen interest lies in exploring the intricate interplay between disability and creativity. This exploration is deeply personal, given Charlotte’s own experience as a writer with a long-term health condition. Her writing serves as a means to subtly delve into the profound impact of illness on an individual’s life, both on a personal level and within the broader context of society.