Thursday, September 22, 2011

Writer in Residence

In August, I was writer in Residence for a week at the Dillington House Summer School (I was also tutor on the Creative Writing - the novel course.) Dillington is Somerset's residential centre for adult education - and it's seriously classy. There were sixty-six students and a dozen courses on offer, ranging from The Joy of Spanish and The Arts and Crafts Movement to my Creative Writing - the novel.

I was the first Writer in Residence they'd had and I wanted to make my mark. I saw myself sitting in the library under the splendid chandelier topped by a pineapple, quill pen in hand, ready to help anyone with sonnet or prose. But I swiftly realized that I had to be more proactive.

I decided to write an article entitled 'A Week at Dillington' and put word round that I'd welcome contributions. There's plenty to inspire: the Jacobean house had a Gothic makeover in the 1830s and the family portraits are still there. The park has magnificent trees and the grounds are beautifully kept.

My course was in the afternoon so, in the morning, I hitched a lift with the minibuses going on The Artisan Trail, The Arts and Crafts Movement and the Exploring Somerset Villages. I wanted to meet as many students as possible and persuade them to write something. I also took photographs.

One visit particularly interested me, to Mark Broadbent, carriage maker. He renovates old carriages, builds them from scratch using traditional methods, and drives them, too. A number of carriages, once owned by Lord Spencer, were waiting to be restored to their former glory. Handsome carriage horses poked their heads out of loose boxes. (But that is for a future blog)

Word spread and some interesting pieces came in. When I got home, I sent the organizer, Roger Priest, my article incorporating the pieces I'd received, plus photographs. I added some thoughts on how the Writer in Residence position might be enhanced, together with a suggestion for a Creative Writing for Pleasure course which I felt would suit the Summer School better.

Last week, I heard from him. 'A Week at Dillington' would be sent to all prospective 2012 students and would I like to come back next year?

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley. Top: Dillington House; centre: the library; bottom: One of Mark Broadbent’s carriage horses


Jan Jones said...

What a lovely place, Elizabeth! And it just shows that a little application breeds success when it comes to building up your own 'job'.

I'm particularly intrigued by the photo of the horse in the loosebox. Was the stable period?

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thanks for your comments, Jan. The stables were once part of a large run down farm, brought by Mark Broadbent to house his workshops and the Fenix Carriage Driving Centre. There are a dozen horses. It's all part of a large complex with various workshops where Mark builds and renovates the carriages.

It's a fascinating place and I shall do a blog on it.

Jane Jackson said...

A lovely place, Elizabeth, and your pro-active approach certainly paid off for all involved. Students attending a novel-writing course often arrive blissfully ignorant of exactly how much work is involved in producing a saleable novel. But writing for pleasure - with your skilled guidance - is more likely to produce some real gems plus a classful of delighted students justifiably proud of what they have achieved. The carriage workshop is a historical novelist's dream!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you, Jane, particularly for what you are kind enough to call my 'proactive approach'. At the time it seemed more like what Jane Austen would probably have called 'brazen-faced nerve'!