WRITING FEATURE Being A Writer in Residence

Members of SCBWI have more than one string to their bow, generally a ‘day’ job, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to have a job that supports our writing. A Writer in Residence is such a thing. Jools Abrams shares her experience with Words & Pictures.

Summer 2017 and I was idly skipping across social media when I came across a post for a Writer in Residence at Talliston House. I knew little about what a Writer in Residence did, but I knew of Talliston, ‘Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home,’ yet I had never had the opportunity to visit. I had one day before the deadline and wrote my submission story, ‘an extraordinary room,’ in one day (this never happens). Sent it off and didn’t think about it (this often happens). September came, and I visited Talliston on my first tour. The house was hidden behind a high hedge and oak gate, the leaves were turning, and the late summer sun sparkled on the cloches in the Labyrinth rectory garden. Ushered through the front door, we stepped inside a magical world, where time has no power.

The Rectory Garden (photo credit for this and the header image: Vicki Spreadbury)

The house is a writer’s dream, owned by one too. John Trevillian bought an unassuming three-bed council house over twenty years ago and transformed it into a thirteen-roomed dream palace. Our tour travelled through each of the rooms, that have their own character, place, and setting. From the incense and smoke-infused living room that is The Watchtower, a Welsh castle where Sherlock Holmes and other literary characters may have met to engage in conversation about Victorian occult, through to the kitchen, wrapped in the warmth of New Orleans, left just as if a voodoo queen has left her tea brewing and stepped out for a while. The bathroom is Norwegian boathouse, the rear garden belongs to a member of Pandoro’s Travelling Fair in Ireland, The Cabin (which won Shed of the Year), a trappers' rest in Canada, a futuristic Japanese tea house with doors straight out of a Jules Verne novel sits to the side. Upstairs, through a hallway set in Lombardy, to a New York office in the 1920s, across to Grenada and The Room of Dreams, back to a Scottish castle and The Haunted Bedroom and up to Cambodia of the 1960s in the loft.

The Cabin (photo credit: Talliston House)

Finally, over tea and cake in the kitchen, John announced I had been appointed the new Writer in Residence. I did a little dance of delight and bounced away full of ideas.

My year as Writer in Residence has endorsed my occupation as a writer. I can announce what I do at parties and events without cringing, it’s allowed me to take myself seriously. I felt a Writer in Residence should expand the influence of Talliston and give something back to the creative community that supports it. I resurrected The Writer’s Circle – a safe place to share stories and receive supportive critique meeting at the house, and I devised and ran a workshop on character and setting, influenced by the house, that evolved into a Writer’s Day Out at Hatfield Forest. The resulting short stories were collected into the Talliston book. I expanded Talliston into the writing community, brought SCBWI East members on a tour of the house and set up links for a future scrawl crawl. I promoted the house and its owner’s novel – The Stranger’s Guide – which will be published later this year by Unbound.

I used Talliston to write too. I had the house all to myself over May Bank Holiday weekend and dwelled within my favourite rooms, sleeping in The Room of Dreams, writing in The Fountain Courtyard, The Kitchen and The Cabin, which enabled me to write a scene of my own novel set in Canada without travelling four thousand miles and the airfare.
The Courtyard (photo credit: Talliston House)

I helped judge the submission stories for the new Writer in Residence - interesting to be on the other side of the fence for a change. It was close, but a late entry, like mine a year ago, was the story that clinched it for me. There’s a sadness in handing over to a new Writer in Residence, but I know it’s in the safe hands of Bernadette Russell, a playwright, performer, and writer of The Little Book of Kindness. Her shared belief in the importance of stories will carry Talliston forward. So SCBWI members, if you see a position for Writer in Residence, go for it, it will enrich your writing, enhance your career and give you a memorable year.

If you want to find out more about Talliston and The Stranger's Guide to Tallison,  have a look at their website: https://www.talliston.com/
They have appeared on Netflix as part of the series Amazing Interiors (second episode):

Jools Abrams
(photo credit: Stephen Thomas)
Jools Abrams was 2017/18 Writer in Residence at Talliston House. Winner of the Wasafiri International Short Story prize, currently writing a semi-fictional biography with bursary support from The Arts Council and under the mentorship of Kerry Hudson. Regularly performs short stories in London, has written two novels for young adults and one for middle-grade. Her short story for children is published by Walker Books as part of the Mumsnet Book of Bedtime Stories. She took an MA in Creative writing with Michael Rosen as her tutor. Used to be a teacher, and, when not writing, juggles other jobs, including working in a historic house, whilst talking to the cat.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jools. That's really interesting, and glad you had a good year.


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