Last week we were on the Lleyn Peninsula, in North Wales, running a writing residential.
It’s no coincidence that the cottage we hired is just a mile along the coast from the cottages where we stayed when I was a University student taking part in writing residentials, all those years ago. I’ve fond memories of those twice yearly trips out of Liverpool and was lucky enough to be invited along to help-out on several more after I graduated, so got to see how they worked from both sides of the desk, and to visit a good range of interesting local sites.
I’ve also been back since then teaching a variety of subjects for various organizations. This, though was my residential: Sense & Place.
I took inspiration from the bits I liked best of those other times, mixed them with some ideas I had, and away we went. The great thing was, it worked. We absorbed atmospheres, wrote, cooked and ate, chatted, discussed and wrote again
There were moments when I imagined Edmund, my much-missed Imaginative Writing tutor wandering in, stooping as he entered, offering a lop-sided smile and taking a seat somewhere unobtrusive, to the left of center-stage. I found myself pausing to imagine what he might say or do. A smile, surely. A nod of approval, I hoped. The ‘residential’ format was his thing, his dream. How I would have loved to have been able to invite him along to give us a reading from some of his poems.
Edmund Cusick, poet and Head of Imaginative Writing at John Moore’s University, had pioneered the introduction of writing residentials as a part of the HE learning programme. During one of the last conversations I had with him, he told me that he was proud to think that he had been the first to see the value of taking writers out of their home (and home-from-home) environment.
His residentials expanded out to include visits to other inspirational areas of the country. We’re already planning a return trip to the Lleyn. I feel the same sort of pull that I guess Edmund must have, the longing to share with like-minded people my enthusiasms. Even during the long drive home, I was running through a list of venues, rating their suitability, adapting my approach in light of this first experience as organizer.
Now clearly I’m working on a much smaller scale than a university. But the principles remain the same: take a bunch of people who share an interest, and a willingness to get along. Put them in suitable, comfortable surroundings and provide direction and space in measured proportions. You should at least lose sight of the wider world for a few days. Hopefully, they’ll get inspired, and who knows, me too. It worked.