I stomped along Back Beach Road next to my husband, mud flying like spittle as I vented my spleen.
‘Residencies are so stupid!’ I complained. ‘Six months in a cold house somewhere with a tiny stipend? That only suits people who are independently wealthy or already broke. What are people with jobs supposed to do? Quit?’
‘Mmmm,’ said my husband, who had heard this rant before. ‘What should we do for dinner tonight?’
Not long afterwards, an email from The Creative Hub arrived in my inbox.
‘New Hub residency in Muriwai beauty spot,’ said the subject-line.
‘Another stupid residency,’ I thought. But I clicked anyway.
‘The residency will take place for the month of September 2018, and is open to anyone who has completed a Creative Hub writing course,’ the email said.
‘A month?’ I thought. ‘A month! That might just be do-able!’
And so, I applied. I figured my chances of being accepted were low ... to low to worry about working out the logistics.
A while later, I received another email from The Creative Hub.
‘This email is to congratulate you on being the successful applicant for the 2018 September Earthskin / Creative Hub Muriwai Residency,’ it said.
‘OMG!’ I replied, in my finest prose.
Time to work out those logistics!
Q: How do I get the time?
A month is a wonderful, practical period of time for a residency – long enough to get stuck into a project, but short enough that if you have a job or other commitments, you can probably work the residency around them.
In my case, I would normally have been able to take annual leave, but I had already booked my first-ever trip to Europe, and I wasn’t about to cancel that. Luckily my boss let me cobble together an arrangement whereby I took some annual leave, wrangled some study leave, and also worked remotely for a couple of hours each afternoon. (Working remotely was actually a useful tether to the outside world.)
I’m based in Dunedin, but someone with family commitments who lived in Auckland might be able to use the space more like an office – staying there during the week and returning home during the weekends. If you think you might require extra flexibility, why not drop the Creative Hub an email and ask some questions before making your application. What’s the worst that could happen?
Q: What do I do with the time?
A: Spend it wisely.
I made a time management plan before I arrived. My weekday routine was to get up at seven, do some pilates, have breakfast, and then write until at least midday with as much coffee as I wanted, but absolutely no internet. Then I had lunch, did my office work, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading, hanging out with the resident chicken, and going for a walk through the forest and down to the beach. After dinner I revised drafts, wrote blog posts and worked on illustrations for the next Bruce the Cat book.
Weekends were a bit looser. I spent one weekend at the National Writers Forum, one weekend hosting a writing retreat for my Creative Hub cohort, and one holding a ‘show and tell’ at Earthskin Retreat and catching up with friends.
Over the past couple of years I’ve read a lot about the routines of other writers, and most seem to write productively for three to five hours per day. Going into the residency, that was useful information to know – otherwise I might have flagellated myself trying to write all hours of the day and night. Having time up my sleeve for thinking, reading and revising was more useful than spending every waking hour at my keyboard.
Q: What is Earthskin Retreat in Muriwai like?
Earthskin Retreat is a two-storey house nestled in amongst native bush. On a sunny day it’s toasty warm, and on a gloomy day there’s a fireplace to keep things cheerful. (Pro tip: bring slippers!)
Muriwai itself is an inspiring spot. Living at Earthskin is like living in an aviary. (Pro tip: bring your camera!) The beach and the café are a short walk from Earthskin, and there’s also a dairy and takeaway shop just down the road.
Q: What should I work on?
A: Something you’ve thought about before you get there.
In 2015 I undertook a two-week, self-funded residency at The NZ Pacific Studio, and while it was a great experience, I didn’t come away with a lot of decent work. I think that’s because I didn’t have a clear idea about what I wanted to achieve when I went into it.
This time around, I had just completed a funding application for a collection of short stories. The application was ultimately unsuccessful, but the work I put into it set me up to make the most of the residency. By the time I got to Muriwai I already had an overarching project (the collection of short stories), a title with multiple facets of meaning (Pet), and outlines for several stories. The first story I wrote just poured out.
Q: What will the outcomes of the residency be?
A: Whatever you decide they’ll be … plus a bit more.
I made a list of things I wanted to achieve during the residency. I knew I would end up deviating from the plan, but I also knew that having a rough map would help me stay on task. The list was:
- Complete first drafts of two short stories
- Complete four blog posts about the residency
- Complete four Bruce the Cat drawings
- Attend the National Writers Forum and the Bonsai book launch
- Create and send a ‘Kathryn van Beek’ newsletter to my email subscribers
- Do pilates almost every day
- Go for a walk almost every day
In the end, I only completed one Bruce the Cat drawing. On the up-side, I wrote far more than two short story drafts. The first story I wrote, Emotional Support Animal, went on to come third in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition. (The first and second place winners, Fiona Sussman and Eileen Merriman, are also Creative Hub graduates!) I wrote a piece of flash fiction that I'm really proud of, and I've just put the finishing touches on two other short stories I started on the residency. I also have a couple of other rough drafts ready to pull out and polish up. (And I wrote a couple of a real turds that ended up in the Earthskin Retreat fireplace. What a satisfying way to dispose of bad writing!)
Beyond those tangible outcomes, I also had much more time to think than I do in my daily life. All that walking and thinking has enriched my writing and deepened my short story ideas. And of course, being selected to undertake the residency was a real boost to my confidence, and a big stride along my writing journey.
Q: Should I apply?
I skipped along Back Beach Road next to my husband, wildflower petals swirling in the warm air around us like confetti.
‘I’ve been thinking about this Sunday Star-Times thing,’ I said. ‘It really all stems from The Creative Hub. Doing the course, and staying connected with such a great cohort of people, and then getting the residency.’
‘Mmmm,’ said my husband, who had heard about nothing but the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition for days. ‘What should we do for dinner?’
How to apply
The Creative Hub / Earthskin Retreat residency is open to anyone who has completed a Creative Hub writing course. Applications close on 20 February 2019. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Visit the Earthskin Retreat website to learn more about the facilities.
The Creative Hub
Visit The Creative Hub website to learn more about the writing courses that are offered both in-person and online.