Four months ago, I arrived at Spike Island’s residency studio - the days and weeks gloriously stretched out in front of me full of opportunity for writing and events-organising. It felt like four months would last forever and yet today I have to pack up my little room and wave goodbye to the most wonderful time of my life.
I’ve done a lot in four months. Here’s a few of my highlights.
The aim of the residency was, of course, to do some writing! And my god, write I did. There was something transformative about having the physical space to work in - physical space that opened up mental and emotional space within me. I edited another draft of my Paris book (The Red Deeps) so that it was ready to send out to agents and publishers. And with that done, I turned my attention to a new project, a new idea - rattling out the first draft of a new novel exploring issues around refugees and migration. It’s rough, it’s messy, but it’s a first draft and I have high hopes for its development. So, how about that? Two books under my belt, one (pretty much) complete and one about to go on a re-drafting, re-editing journey.
Plus I wrote a few articles too, for the New Statesman, politics.co.uk, and Open Democracy. I even squeezed in some freelance copywriting too, and have a short story coming out on 3am magazine in the next few weeks.
One of my main aims for the residency was to find ways to bring together established and emerging talent into Spike Island. With my salons, I was able to invite some of my favourite writers and invite open mic attendees to share their work too.
The first one in February featured Shagufta Iqbal, Vera Chok and Miles Chambers.
Then in March I invited Tania Hershman, Bidisha and Holly Corfield-Carr.
And yesterday I was joined by Eley Williams, Amy Key and Ben Gwalchmai. Yesterday was also the first time I shared work from The Red Deeps. It was a real joy for me to read from the Paris book in my wonderful studio.
Looking up to see 25 children aged 5-12 expecting me to teach them creative writing was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. It went well though - with the amazing children of Bristol learning to tell stories with the help of multi coloured cardboard squares and felt tip pens.
This was followed by 25 adults engaging with Lubaina Himid’s exhibition to write poetry and short fiction.
And finally on the sunniest day of the year so far, 12 intrepid writers chose to sit in a windowless room to discuss redrafting techniques and share our ideas and thoughts on how we approach editing.
I also worked with three schools - delivering workshops on how to write dialogue (with the help of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants) and on feminism, gender and the media.
Collaborating with Rife magazine, I had the brilliant opportunity to work with Kaja Brown. Kaja’s a fantastically talented young writer working on a novel trilogy. Together we looked at her manuscript and explored ways of editing it. Kaja also came to the second salon event to perform her short story during the open mic. It was the first time Kaja had read her work in public and I was super proud of her. She has a bright future ahead.
During the residency I ran an online reading group featuring work from my favourite writers living and working on the Left Bank in the 1920s. I also published an e-book of essays about the remarkable women who made their own literary and artistic community during this fascinating period.
I got lots of press and publicity for the residency, including in:
And I think that’s it!
It really has been the most wonderful, exciting and inspiring experience of my life. I have to pay a massive tribute to the team at Spike Island - Helen, Georgia, Lizzie and Jane - who have been so supportive and kind throughout the four months and in the run-up too. I know we will be working together again in the future.