Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Michael Amherst
"I got far more done than I ever hoped, and yet it felt almost effortless. Hawkwood provided a space to think but also one just to be, to nurture the work rather than demand it."
I came to Hawkwood with notes on my novel draft from my agent. I live in the city, but grew up in the country, and can find the pace of city life hard to reconcile with the thought needed to reflect on my work. My stay at Hawkwood has given me so much – in some ways reminiscent of the first lockdown. The call of the bell for lunch and dinner, along with the regular spaced breaks in morning and afternoon, gave a sense almost of a monastic order.
I found my usual procrastinating went when I knew that I had short periods of time to work and reflect and then a regular time to stop and come together with others. I hadn’t appreciated how much I would gain also from the sharing of our practices with the other artists: it wasn’t only interesting hearing the wide range of work being made but also the common struggles and the kindness and reassurance everyone offered each other. In a funny way, hearing someone was going to have a nap that afternoon, or being reassured I could do so, not only removed that awful, critical voice that always demands work, but also proved that it would be ok: the work would get done. We could observe in each other that no matter how different the approach, the way of working, it was part of the process.
I got far more done than I ever hoped, and yet it felt almost effortless. Hawkwood provided a space to think but also one just to be, to nurture the work rather than demand it. I cannot thank Hawkwood enough for the kindness of the many staff, the wonderful, expansive meals and the beautiful setting in which to work. I went back to a earlier drafts of my novel and found things there that I liked and began to reintegrate back into the whole, or consider how I might use it later. The whole process was sustaining and I hope it will have manifestly changed my day-to-day approach when I return home.
Michael Amherst is a writer and critic. His essay-memoir, Go the Way Your Blood Beats (Repeater Books, 2018), is the 2019 winner of the Stonewall Israel Fishman Award for nonfiction, sponsored by the American Library Association. The book is described as a meditation on truth and desire, for which he also received an award from Arts Council England. His essay, ‘Does a Silhouette Have a Shadow?’, which examines the relationship between mind and body through the lens of chronic illness, is published in anthology On Bodies (3 of Cups Press, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in publications including The White Review and Contrappasso and been longlisted for BBC Opening Lines and Bath Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Guardian, New Statesman, Attitude, the Spectator and The London Magazine, among others. He is currently working on a novel.