Glad to be at Gladstone's.
I am over half way through my residency at Gladstone’s and my public events are all over. I have decided what I want to achieve before I leave on 24th October. So what have I been up to while I have been here?
On my first evening I read my poetry in The Gladstone Room, as outside darkness slowly fell. This reading gave me the chance to present my poetry, as my evening talk was on The Lightfoot Letters. These letters (dating back to the early 1920's) had been purchased by artist Maria Walker who had created art inspired by them. Shortly after we decided to collaborate, we made the astonishing discovery that the family who had written them was my own. Our collaboration has been exhibited in three galleries so far and will be going to Scotland in 2014.
The next day I settled down to work on the last chapter of my book on John Clare, an addendum the publisher (Greenwich Exchange) had requested. It went beyond my original brief so had taken a while to decide how to expand the monograph. I found several books in the literature section which facilitated the writing. I clocked up six hours in the library that day, and with a huge sigh of relief, completed the work. I can now send this to the typesetter, who will add it to the already typeset book. It will then go to the editor and after proofing, should finally be out. Phew.
I thoroughly enjoyed my full day writing workshop on Saturday, and received excellent feedback from the participants, who wrote some astonishingly good poems. They also enjoyed the wonderful surroundings and the fantastic food. I spent an interesting afternoon reading submissions from Seriously Sentences, the writing group which meets at Gladstone’s, and annotating them with my thoughts and objective critique.
I have been collecting poems on Austen, The Brontes and Shakespeare for a collaborative project with Like This Press, so I settled down to compile them into three separate pamphlets, in a suitable order. As well as other fine poems by contemporary poets, Rosie Bailey was kind enough to let me have a previously unpublished poem by U. A. Fanthorpe. What a privilege!
Now that the John Clare book is finished, I can start work on another book I’ve had in mind for a while. I have always loved fairy stories, and have already completed a Focus book for Greenwich Exchange on Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. My new book will examine the development of the literary fairy tale, and consider some particular examples. One of the difficulties I face is defining the genre. The extremely helpful librarian here has found me some useful books, so in my remaining time, I intend to mine them and make extensive notes so that I can develop the work at home. I am considering returning to use the library again, as I live only an hour’s drive away.
I made a decision not to have the car with me, and I have only taken one day off since I came, to support Chester Poets by reading at their 40th birthday celebrations in the city centre. I felt quite reluctant to leave the bubble of the library. I’ve been very focused in the daytime, working in the library, the annex, or in my study room with its lovely view of the Gladstone monument. In the evenings, after dinner, I’ve enjoyed relaxing in the Gladstone room, often in front of a real fire, having gentle conversation with other guests. I’ve had the pleasure of the company of several writers: novelists, a poet (who came to stay so she could come to my workshop) and non-fiction writers, such as Michael Nobbs, who gave me a copy of his book Drawing Your Life. Mealtimes here are about wonderful healthy food, and conversation, which often continues in the lounge (and sometimes the pub) afterwards. It’s a good place to come to if you are on your own, as there is always fine company in the evenings. It was also delightful that former writer in residence, Nadene Ghouri, came to stay while I was here; it was really lovely to meet her.
I’ve been working on poems too. I remain always in a state of alertness for the signs of a poem’s arrival, and I have written several first drafts in the last week or so, as well as typing up some poems from my notebooks, to take them one step further along in the drafting stage. I’ve added a little to a children’s novel I started a while ago, and have been researching for an idea of a book of children’s poems drawing on forgotten historical figures. I’ve wanted to do that since winning a prize with my poem ‘Magotty Johnson’ in the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature. That poem was based on the last professional jester in Britain, who is buried near Gawsworth Hall in Cheshire.
So how has my residency here developed my writing? Well, I’ve learned how much I can accomplish away from the distractions of everyday life. I’ve learned I can cope with being away from home for a while. I’ve learned I feel better when I go to bed before midnight. It’s developed my confidence and I’ve realised I am very self-motivated.
I am very grateful for the chance to come and live here for a short time, and immerse myself in a different life. I’d like to thank all the staff for their kindness, shown in many different ways. In particular: Louisa Yates for welcoming me and setting up the reading on the first night; Phil Clement (marketing intern) for working hard on the flyers for my events, and pointing me towards some Faerie texts I might not otherwise have discovered; Jane Dawson for introducing the Lightfoot Letters talk and communicating with me before I came; Siân (one of the two fantastic library interns) and Jean (chaplain) for the chats and friendliness. The receptionist Linda has been tremendous, always there during the week with answers to my queries. Gary (librarian assistant) and the volunteer library staff have helped me negotiate the vast library to find books I needed.
Peter and Helen Francis, and Gordon Etheridge, with their quiet calm presence, oversee the place and make everything run like clockwork. Annette Lewis, for keeping me in touch with the library before I took up my residency and setting up my programme. And I can’t forget everyone in Food for Thought cafe, and the lovely people who service the rooms, for the many personal touches and their hospitality. I’ve been well looked after here!
The sheer joy of being able to consult Gladstone’s own books, such as Percy’s Reliques (three volumes bound in stiff leather) and being able to sit writing, while breathing in the seductive book smell of the gorgeous main library, will stay with me for the rest of my life. But in any case, I may well be back before too long.