Katrina Naomi – award winning poet discusses residential writing

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In supporting teachers as writers, I have been investigating the idea of setting up ‘writer in residency’ programs. The aim is to ultimately enhance student writing through a more sustained connection than the typical one-off author visit, as well as arrange opportunities for teachers to write.

The bleak Penzance grey did not diminish my enjoyment of the last meeting of my study tour and Katrina provided many practical ideas and suggestions from her knowledge, experiences and generosity. The different writer residencies that Katrina has been part of are listed on her Residencies page, but I was particularly interested in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of these opportunities from a writer’s perspective.

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Katrina and I met at the train station and walked Market Jew Street* until we entered the Front Room, a cosy cafe serving delicious cakes – the chocolate and Guinness makes a suitable take-away. Settling into rustic, cushioned chairs I began the serious business of asking questions while Katrina patiently responded.

Having received her MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths (University of London), Katrina advocates membership of relevant bodies and professional associations, such as The Poetry Society. Being part of the writing industry maintains access to funding and teaching opportunities. On the day of our meeting, Katrina had an afternoon class at Penwith College for the University of Falmouth. She was also scheduled to deliver workshops at the Ways with Words festival in Devon and the Penzance Literary Festival.

Residencies range in length from a full week to a weekly visit over several months. Most applications expect that the writer will deliver one or two workshops, as well as produce writing for display or publication by the institution. The requirements are often clear, with opportunities to pitch something different and interesting, but Katrina has also been the first writer in some residences which means that project clarity and an ability to educate the board of governor’s is an important, if sometimes an unexpected role. It is also possible to create a project, seek funding and apply directly to an institution, such as local museum or authority.

IMG_8443recommended reading: The Edge of the World Bookshop

The benefits of  a writing residency is the ability to access display items and archives of material that are usually stored, hidden or restricted to the general public. This provides possibilities to creatively engage with the public, as well as take your own writing into different areas. Depending on the length of a residency, the uninterrupted writing time can be very beneficial, though this should not be confused with a writing retreat. Retreats are also available, as full or part funded, in a variety of locations, and may be solely for writing or include some tuition. Katrina spoke highly of Hawthornden Castle, The International Retreat for Writers in Midlothian.

Katrina’s advice regarding writer residencies includes:

  • be clear about the management – who, what and when – it can become messy if others step in or the original point person changes jobs or responsibilities
  • make sure there is regular contact with management – review, regular chat, evaluation, track possible changes from original submission
  • check that the organisation is ‘clued up’ about publicity – be willing to participate in media coverage of associated events
  • check the set up and question conditions – know what you are getting into so a judgement can be made about viability
  • most submissions and agreements are made via email, very occasionally over the phone, and contracts are rare – check all details
IMG_8453a moment of sun on St Michael's Mount

It is worthwhile approaching local schools and colleges to participate in workshops associated with a residency where the writer maintains creative control and student supervision remains the responsibility of teachers.

*Katrina explained the street’s name was not intentionally offensive, because

the name Market Jew comes from the Cornish language Marghas Yow, meaning Thursday Market, the name of a nearby village now absorbed into Marazion, to which Market Jew Street leads.

from the wikipedia page on Penzance

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