The Spring’s Writer in Residence, Claire Collison reflects on being a writer, divulges some of her odd routines for coaxing the muse, and confesses she’d never been to Havant – until now.
1. What attracted you to this residency? Being supported to develop new writing in a new place is very exciting, as is the opportunity to work within the community. I’d never been to Havant – that might seem like a terrible reason, when just about anyone knows more about the place than me, but I enjoy nothing better than new places. Travelling is a great way of rediscovering how to look: tourists and children are top gawkers; they stare in wonder at the daft and the touching and the accidental, and having a reason to be somewhere is so much better than being a tourist.
2. What inspires you to write? I was a photographer before I began writing, and many of the same things inspire me – there’s not much difference between a laptop and a camera; I’m still recording detail and putting my own spin on things. I get excited by odd facts – even ones that end up not being facts at all, like the mistaken idea that Hayling Islanders consider rabbits to be unlucky (can anyone please explain how I came to think this?) I love snippets of conversation. On the bus from Southsea this week, I overheard a woman say, ‘Dolly’s not in the happy place yet’.
3. Do you have a writing routine? I’m at my most creative when it’s least convenient – and I think that’s true for most of us: the scariest thing in the world is a blank screen and an empty hour, especially when there’s a sock drawer, screaming out to be colour coded. So I’ve developed ways of coaxing my muse out: those crayons for children’s bath time? Excellent for writing in the shower, and I’ve a Dictaphone, so I can wander around, talking to myself (citizens of Havant: you have been warned!)
4. How do you cure writer’s block? Swimming works for me. And making banana bread. And sleep.
5. What is your all-time desert island book? It changes, but right now, I’m saying Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping.
6. How does your teaching fit in with your writing? I began teaching as a way of subsidising my (writing) habit, but soon realised how satisfying it is. I love helping people discover they can write – and not ‘like someone else’, but with their own authentic voice – it’s a privilege. And when I get the balance right – writing as well as teaching – well, that’s perfect.
7. What can people attending your workshops expect? To surprise themselves, to give all of their senses a workout, to have a laugh and, crucially, to write something there and then that can be shared and responded to.
7. What advice would you give budding authors? Get off the Internet and get writing.
8. What are you working on right now?
I’ve been writing a series of responses to the Museum of Broken Relationships, where I was working this summer. It displays donations from ended affairs – things that you can’t throw away but don’t want to keep – along with anonymous explanations. I was blown away by the collection: some of the exhibits are poignant, and others are hilarious. It got me thinking about the stories that objects carry, and the different versions of those stories. We’re used to museums telling us the ‘truth’, so this level of subjectivity is quite a shocker. It’s something I want to continue exploring in Havant during my residency – there’s the local word ‘twitten’ that I’m taking as my first clue: to look at the Betwixt and Between. I’m itching to use photography alongside writing, too; I think it’s time to mix things up!