Artist Residency at Hawkwood: Tom Denbigh
"My residency at Hawkwood felt like it was giving me permission to explore the background ideas – the foundational world of my writing."
One thing I really struggle with, as a writer, is allowing myself the space to play around with an idea. You’ve got the idea for a script – you should be writing that. You’ve drafted a new poem – finish it. However, sometimes the most useful thing you can do to grow an idea is by writing around it.
My residency at Hawkwood felt like it was giving me permission to explore the background ideas – the foundational world of my writing. Though I came with specific projects in mind, inspired by fellow resident Malaika Kegode, I felt able to write around these ideas to help them grow: For a show I’m working on I wrote a prequel scene that will never be in the play – but helped my characters grow their relationship with each other. With a concept I have for another piece, looking at figures from Greek mythology, I spent time examining classic paintings depicting these stories and exploring questions such as: how hard is it to stab someone through the heart? and how often did Greek people wear shoes?
These may sound unrelated, but by doing a deep dive into the minutiae – the details around characters places and themes – you often chance upon the very colour that makes a piece of writing so rich.
Hawkwood was perfect at encouraging this. Hidden away as it is, half covered by trees and dappled shadows, it feels full of potential and things to uncover. But then the other half of the house and gardens stare out down the valley, past the Cotswold hills, to this great-big open sky. This huge space and wide hills, next to lush gardens and small winding paths, was the perfect contrast. If I ever found myself staring at a wall I could go on a walk to the hut in the woods, or to the library, or even through the field and into nearby Stroud.
Invaluable too was being paired with another writer – after dinner, in front of the fire in our little gatehouse, we’d talk about what we were working on, and prod and water each other’s ideas.
Freed from my own desk and home I explored the ideas at the edge of bigger things, and they led to more ideas, and they to more in turn. I’m now on the second draft of my play and have a hoard of new ideas to grow into other new things.
Tom Denbigh is a poet and playwright based in Bristol. He is a winner of BBC Words First and has headlined stages around the UK and abroad. He has written an ACE-funded short film, and had his writing featured by BBC 1extra, BBC Bitesize, Apples and Snakes, the Institute of Physics and many more.
He is a producer at Milk Poetry and has facilitated writing workshops for groups of students from the UK and abroad (he is particularly proud of his work with queer young people).
Outside of poetry Tom is a doctor with a PhD on plant roots and crumbling soil. He also works part-time on climate change policy. In 2019 he published his debut collection of poetry, “…and then she ate him” (Burning Eye Books). Tom is currently working on his first solo show, recently featured at Bristol Old Vic’s Open Stage.