I’m into my second month and the richness of the stories I hear are delightful, fascinating, humbling and, sometimes, heart breaking. It’s bringing out the best in me. Last week, M’s pleadings for her husband, and man she loved so much, moved me deeply. I’ve been asked, ‘how do you know it’s true? I don’t care. I have decided not to enquire about the background or veracity of the stories I hear during my residency. I am entering the reality of the residents. And they are entering mine.
A resident writer is expected to contribute in some way to the life of the host organisation. This can typically include offering one-to-one tutorials (to help aspiring writers with their own work), giving talks, workshops or readings. These may come if there is enough interest. For now, I’m writing a blog, that will act as my diary. Like a retreat, I’m hoping the residency will give me more time and space to concentrate on my writing, away from everyday distractions. The distractions have not disappeared, but, who knows, some uninterrupted time to work on my writing in this way could make a critical difference to my development. I’m quite shy when it comes to talking about me – I’m usually the one asking the questions – but I want this residency to raise my profile, reach a wider audience and expand my networks. Who knows where it will lead, but, early on in the project, some interesting links are being made.
Residents and staff at the Forbury remain central to ‘Cartographic Love Letters’, honouring their lives, taking notice, sharing. As the weeks have gone by, my notebook has started to teem with observations, conversations, recordings. Where to start?
How about E, 93, deep, cultured voice, beautiful manners, and soft blue eyes. Occasionally, he will grab my arm and ask: ‘I’m a bit confused, I’m not sure where I should be.’ He is also a former Lancaster Bomber pilot, skier, and tennis player.
Or P, whose eyes light up when I bring in a photo of her Aunt’s home in beautiful countryside. She spent all her holidays there as a child. The black and white timbered building has long since been gentrified, and no trace of the Hereford herd or farming life her bachelor brother cared for. I wonder if the present incumbents know about P, sat here chatting with me, describing her girlhood days so evocatively.
Then there is R, with a trace of her Irish accent hanging on. Her hair now grey and thin, she describes the long red tresses she had as a child. For a moment, I catch sight of this feisty youngster tearing away on the beaches of north west Ireland.