Monday, February 02, 2009

A room of one's own no more.

At least, not for much longer. My residency finishes at the end of the month and after that I'm on my own - like most writers. How spoiled I have been! I got a bit of a tatse of my new life yesterday when I was at home with my son. I planned to do some power writing during his usual nap-time (usually about 1 1/2 hours). I put him down, sat at my desk, and after 5 minutes he was yelling to get up. So, no nap for him, and no writing for me. I dread to think that the excitement of having mum home has excised the need for a daily nap. Thank goodness for the times he'll be at creche (which he loves by the way).

I have been extremely grateful for the Ursula Bethell residency this year. It is such a fantastic opportunity: a salary and a quiet, roomy office, which equals time and space to devote energy to writing a novel. The English department at Canterbury is the perfect environment for a writer – it is friendly and very quiet and I have been left alone to get my work done.

I have made good progress on my new novel, tentatively entitled The Collectors, with a huge amount of research and a first draft almost completed. When I began the year I had a vague premise, an idea of where I thought it would be going and 10,000 words. Over the last 11 months my novel has changed into something far more intricate and ambitious and interesting than I originally envisaged. The residency has given me (or, has let me give myself) permission to explore ideas to the full rather than doggedly sticking to a plan and churning out something less satisfying, which is often the case when writing time is limited.

I was able to attend lectures on the 19th century novel, which fuelled the story and gave me ideas on intertexuality to create a many-layered narrative. These lectures were a highlight for me, not just for their usefulness but for the sheer enjoyment of rediscovering and analysing books I had read in the past.

Another one of the highlights of the residency has been the access to the university library, which has allowed me to use material that might not otherwise have been readily available to me. I will miss that resource when I leave.

During my time here I have also taught a night class at UC Opportunity (continuing education) and addressed two creative writing classes, and have been available for students to come and talk to me. I have been helping one student in her search to find an agent and a publisher. I also took part in a poetry reading at the University Bookshop on World Poetry Day in July. Spending the year in Christchurch (I normally live in Wellington) has meant other opportunities that I wouldn’t otherwise have had – helping out at the Christchurch Writers’ Festival and addressing a class at the Hagley Institute for example. I have been very warmly welcomed by the Christchurch writing community.

I will be very sad to leave when my time is up, and I highly recommend the residency to other writers. It is so important that residencies such as this exist as it is very difficult for New Zealand writers to make a living from their writing alone, and these opportunities ensure that good New Zealand books continue to be produced.


Anonymous said...

How wonderful to have that opportunity and I look forward to the enw book. I have not long moved to Dunedin and our new hosue is so small that I don't even have space for a desk anymore and am a kitchen table writer now. At least kindy and school are back tomorrow and I'll only have one little one at home.

The Paradoxical Cat said...

A great argument in favour of residencies - but I hope you will be strong enough to mark out your own inviolate territory at home too!

I like the sound of your novel.


Sharon said...

Speaking on behalf of Christchurch (because YES, I do have that authority!) it's been wonderful having you here and getting to know you, and I will be lining up for my copy of your new novel when it's published.

Marianne said...

We've missed you terribly in Wellington, but were willing to live with that for the benefits this residence would bring. Now, creche sounds promising!

Unknown said...

I'm glad the writing has gone well. As stated previously, I'm looking forward to buying the new novel.

Pertaining to Canterbury Library membership, wouldn't it be good if alumni, including writers in residence, were allowed life long membership of 'their' university libraries, consequent on a small fee, of course.

It would be great to have access on that basis, and would keep past students and their universities in touch. I've just about read the Diamond Harbour library now :)

Best of luck when tenure ends.

(There's a writing community in Chch?)

Anonymous said...

One of the things I found so wonderful when I writer in residence at Dunedin College of Ed was the validation I felt. Having the offical space was great too and I completed two books while there (one is published; the other is an orphan).

We have a 'sleep out' which is now my space and, if anyone wants me, they have to come outside, cross the lawn and bang down the door. The children as less likely to do this. However, just yesterday morning, hubby did just that to ask if I wanted a cup of tea and hence completely pulled me out of what I was doing.

Later, I had to school him in the art of refuge: if iza wanna cuppa, iza will come get a cuppa - geddit.

Vanda Symon said...

Great to hear the residency has been such a productive time for you, and allowed you to explore your next novel in directions you wouldn't have had the time or energy for.

University library and database resources are a wonderful thing. I like Mark Hubbard's suggestion about Alumni and Writers in residence. Have you asked anyone in the University?

I keep applying for the Burns Fellowship - working on the squeaky wheel principle so that in about 20 years time when they're sick of the perpetual applications...

LiteraryMinded said...

Glad your residency was so productive, I look forward to your novel when it is published :-)


Anonymous said...

Thoughtful and gracious comments and how wonderful that the whole experience has been so enriching for you. Like many others I am impatient to read novel # 2.
Best wishes for your move back to "normalcy".

Rachael King said...

Thanks for all the comments everybody. I am feeling great about the novel today; on Tuesday I felt lousy. Such is the rock and roll of the writing life.

That kind of access to the university libraries would be brilliant. I recently heard of one writer who taught at a university for years, then had to pay thousands for the privelige of using the library for a year when she left. I'd better make the most of the next couple of weeks!

Amber Lough said...

It's wonderful that you had such an amazing opportunity to write! Being at home and trying to write with little ones about is, well, difficult to say the least, isn't it? I'm having a pretty hard time dealing with having two now, as once I get one to bed, the other wakes up.

Looking forward to reading your new book!

Damon Young said...

Can they make you an Honourary Fellow or Associate?

This offers university facilities, but no pay. You use the libraries, office, internet, they retain the reflected glory of your presence.

Anonymous said...

Once you find your groove thing/ writing routine at home you will be unstoppable. Who knows, you may even have better results the more precious the time is ( that critic voice certainly won't be able to have so much time to crap on) Good luck