Writers, academics, poets. Mechanics, astrophysicists, Heston Blumenthal: we’re all concerned with stripping things back to its essence, where it is that substance exists. It’s how I felt at 10am on Tuesday March 15th. When I walked into the museum for the first time as their first ever writer in residence and found this bare table, this empty display board and blank screen. Yet it was already filled with expectation. A year’s worth of planning, of thinking things through; of how I was going to approach a contemporary reimagining of Mary Webb’s sexual melodrama ‘Gone to Earth’. And within the panels of an exhibition that celebrated her literature, showcased her inspirations. With visitors behind my back. Passing by.
We all begin with a blank, be it a page, a screen, a canvas, an un-held hand. Then we pick up a pen, a brush, a pencil, a knife, take a hand, or simply press ‘on’. Only this time people can watch. Which is exposing, daunting, verging on mad for a solitary private writer to share her process from scratch. We all know art is subjective, but this is a spectacle from the very beginning and I’m inviting spectators to closely observe what I would normally do. How I would fill up my walls with charts and maps, quotes and notes: how I’d scour library shelves for inspiration, scrutinise people on the street – are you my Hazel, my Reddin or Abel? How I’ll eavesdrop on passing conversations; gorge on articles and journals and essays to cement in my roots. Was it going to be spectacle enough, I thought? Can I simply press on without thinking of those admiring another writer behind my back?
So I took a deep breath and began as I would normally begin: chomping at the bit with a pack of new felt tips.
By the end of the first week, I felt a little like a Slimfast Before and After shot: though the weight gain is contentment in knowing that my second novel is born.