The winner of the inaugural Nancy Fairfax Artist-in-Residence for Established Writers was Henri ‘Renoir’ Rennie, who stayed for a week in the studio at Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah in early February to devote himself exclusively to focused writing time. Here, Henri reflects on a transportive week, during which progress was most certainly made.
Writers create pictures in the mind’s eye, with words and images. What we produce can be as broad as a mural, compelling as a tableau, powerful as a sculpture. It can be as idyllic as a landscape, or as mind-bending and challenging as the most outrageous abstracts.
At the beginning of February I had the extraordinary pleasure of being the Nancy Fairfax Artist-in-Residence in the studio space at the Tweed Regional Gallery. That was courtesy of the gallery and Byron Writers Festival.
It was seven days of splendid isolation – eating and sleeping to my own erratic schedule, and writing. Writing, writing and writing.
I’d spend the early part of the morning out on the balcony, eating breakfast and enjoying the view over the paddocks up to the mountains. Then as the day warmed up (and wow! The days warmed up!) I’d move into my air-conditioned space, surrounded by my maps, notes and references.
At the start of the week I’d set myself the target of completing a first draft of the fifth book in my urban fantasy series – the Dubious Magic books. Ambitious perhaps, but without ambition there’s no achievement.
Seven days later, I held a complete story outline of The Spirits of Sron Dubh, and over 50,000 words of that first draft. Not completed, but better than two-thirds of the way there.
I’d written almost as many words in that week as the entire length of the first book in the series (The Wizard of Waramanga). As I look at the Harry Potter series on my bookshelf I see that my expanding word count is not a unique experience. As characters grow and develop across a story arc, it’s perhaps inevitable that the complexity of their relationships and the plots woven around them increases.
Looking out of the window and doing a little mental editing of tree species (and cow species), it was very easy to have my mind in Scotland.
The Nancy Fairfax Studio proved an excellent environment from which I could immerse myself in ‘my own little world’ – in this case an island in the southern Hebrides. Looking out of the window and doing a little mental editing of tree species (and cow species), it was very easy to have my mind in Scotland. When I finally came home my darling bride had to put up with some days of broad Highland accent.
The gallery’s focus is very much on ‘visual arts’ – painting, sculpting, photography, and the studio is an excellent resource for those working in those fields. But what is more visual than words on a page? Paper or electronic, the images, emotions and reactions that words conjure on their way from eyeballs to brain can be every bit as exciting, stimulating, challenging or soothing as any other art form.
It’s been a privilege for me to use the studio as the incubator for my latest creation, one for which I’m profoundly grateful. I hope that many more authors in years to come will enjoy the same opportunity.