Robyn Cadwallader, Nigel Featherstone and Julie Keys were awarded the inaugural Write North Residency for a mid-career writers’ group, a joint initiative of the Byron Writers Festival and Create NSW. In this blog they reflect on the delights of pushing their writing beyond its boundaries, the expert mentorship of Charlotte Wood, and the surprises the Byron Shire held for them.
Diptipur is at the end of a dirt road in Nashua. Once farmland, the owners have replanted this retreat with native species. It is thick with birdsong and wildlife including two impossibly small kangaroos spotted in our first days here. The house was built for a large family. There are eight rooms, a generous area for meditation, spacious gardens and nooks for reading, resting or taking in the earthy northern river scents. Even before we open our laptops or pick up a pen, we notice the serenity, the natural beauty of our surrounds.
The three of us are old friends, but geographically distant. Most of our writing group conversations take place online, via zoom more recently or by email. It is rare for us to be in the one place. Here we are though, under the same roof ready to immerse ourselves in our shared passion.
Charlotte arrives and ensures that we have what we need – enough light, the right desks. One of the rooms is on the lee side of the house away from the sun. She leaves and returns with a heater. This reflects the overall pattern of welcome from both Charlotte and the Byron Writers Festival. We’ve been escorted from the airport, presented with a gift box of local foods, a loaf of artisan bread, there are people to ring should we require anything. We are here to work and there are efforts to make sure we have everything we need.
We set ourselves up. No phones, no internet, no television. As a group we’ve made a pact to be open, work hard, push ourselves beyond our usual edges. We are aware of the scale of this opportunity and of those who would love to be in our shoes.
Charlotte Wood meets with us at the house twice a day. Each morning we discuss one or two of the nine creative processes identified in her doctoral research as being common to many artists. Afterwards we return to our rooms and write. Each afternoon Charlotte returns, and we reflect on what we have discovered, what works for us, what doesn’t. Besides the twice daily sessions we schedule ourselves for a one-on-one meeting.
Like all writers we have formed habits, emotional attachments, beliefs. Charlotte is skilled, a compassionate practitioner, not only generous with her insights but of our needs as fellow writers. We are not told what to do but are guided through the possibilities. We explore, examine, consider, experiment with specifically designed exercises that are pragmatic, possible. We apply these new methods and see where they take us.
The program is organised, well researched, expertly facilitated and a catalyst. There is an energy in the house, in our writing and our thinking. We can’t sleep, we walk the grounds, talk in small grabs in the kitchen and again in the evenings after the final session for the day. Charlotte continues to challenge us. We dive deep, view our work from altered angles, take risks. As high as our expectations are, our discoveries are greater. The changes are measurable. Each of us can point to what we’ve gained, the skills we’ll take home. It’s emotional, intense. We huddle, discuss, note our progress, add tools to our repertoire, some of them so simple we wonder how we overlooked them, others more complicated. We are exhausted. We are reenergised.
On our last night we gather in an Italian restaurant in Bangalow. There’s the three of us along with Charlotte, her partner Sean and Emily Brugman from Byron Writers Festival. The restaurant is warm, hospitable, the food wonderful. So is the company. There are amusing stories, lots of chat and laughter and that slight feeling of elevation that comes after a hard week of work and achievement. We are in the process of winding down when we notice people gathering in COVID spaced groups on the other side of the street. It’s some kind of street theatre production, we’re told. We follow. There’s a scene playing out on the balcony above the restaurant. Two women dressed in pyjamas, one with curlers, sing a French aria, the Flower Duet, in voices that meld. It’s magical. We clap. A final delight.
This opportunity was presented in partnership with Create NSW.