New ways to explore

Nicky Thompson was Resident Armchair Artist at The Beaney in Canterbury. You can read her blog posts here and on her blog Pebble Press.

The last time I was lucky enough to have a writing residency was a few years ago, at the Little Blue Hut in Tankerton. The Little Blue Hut was all about space, the quiet of the hut, and the sea stretching to the horizon. The environment crept into all of the work I produced at the time, but it was the mental and physical space that was the most important part of the process.

This residency is very different. As I said previously, on my first visit I was surrounded by possibilities, ideas of things I could use as inspiration. And I’ve found this has continued, each time I visit I’ve been struck by something new.

A great inspiration recently has been the Enid Blyton exhibition, and it had a double impact for me. I’m always fascinated to see the way other writers work, and seeing her actual notebooks brought home the fact that all writers have to put the long hours in, even someone as prolific as Enid Blyton edited and refined her work. And being reminded of that process always gives me hope, reminds me that all writers write crappy first drafts and have to edit.

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It also took me back to my childhood. I was an avid Enid Blyton reader, and remember devouring the Famous Five by torchlight under the covers at night, I wished I could go away to a school like Malory Towers and have midnight feasts, and go up the Faraway Tree to a different land for a day. Being surrounded by images from her books, suddenly I was six and seven and eight again.

The past is something that many writers revisit, we are the sum of our experiences, and those memories are a treasure trove that we can plunder for our writing. Even if we don’t write about our past directly, then it still sneaks into the worlds we create in one way or another.

The exhibition also got me thinking about perceptions and the effect of social context. I’ve recently reread some Enid Blyton, and many of her books seem littered with casual racism and sexism, her characters are often stereotypes in a way that would be criticised today. Anne in the Famous Five is pleased to be told she was like a good little housewife, whereas George wants to be a boy, because life would be much more exciting. But then Enid Blyton was a sum of her experiences and the world she lived in, in the same way contemporary writing is written within today’s social context. What we now perceive as the various –isms were perfectly acceptable to most people at that time.

This all adds to the impact this residency is having on my writing, for me, my visits to the Beaney have been less about sitting and writing, than taking in ideas, scribbling notes and taking photos, these have been accumulating into ideas.  There’s also something about the museum and it’s exhibits that have made me look at the way I write, I’ve found myself researching more about Egypt, about gemstones, I’ve found myself exploring new ways of generating writing, looking at other writers that have been inspired in similar ways. So far, the residency is really shaking things up and showing me new ways of looking at things, which has to be a good thing.

Nicky Thompson will be exploring the Beaney from January to April 2014, using the experience to take her creative writing practice in fascinating new directions and capturing what happens when the collection and the community meet. Nicky will be encouraging other writers, through interactive workshops, to create individual as well as group responses to the collection.

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