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Katie Hale: The Long Road to Ithaka

I only hope I can take some ember of that creative fire away with me, can carry that one small part of KSP with me, and keep it alight even on the other side of the world.

I’ve been waiting to come to KSP Writers’ Centre for so long, that I’d started to worry it might never happen. (I was on my way here in March 2020, and was diverted back to the UK for obvious reasons; since then the trip has been postponed a number of times, while the world shifted and resettled.) By the time I made it, the residency had taken on a mythical quality, like a magical land that can never quite be reached. Or like Cavafy’s poetic retelling of Odysseus’ Ithaka, where the true arrival is in the journey.

Luckily, the borders reopened, and I could catch my flight to Perth without having to battle any cyclopes en route – and I’ve spent the past two weeks writing at the big desk in Phillips Cabin, with the wide picture window looking out over the garden, the magpies and twenty-eights and honeyeaters flitting from branch to branch, and the occasional tap-tap on the glass of bees from the bee tree. It’s felt wonderfully present, watching the weather move across the from the city, working my way through a first draft of what may or may not become novel number three. It’s also been hugely productive: well over what I would have managed to write and read at home.

But somehow, it still feels mythical. If not quite Ithaka (I did make it to Greenmount, after all, and didn’t have to cast out any unwanted suitors when I got there), then maybe Calypso’s island. Or a faerie-land, or Narnia. Some place where time runs on a different plane to the rest of the world. You walk down the steps at the back of the main house, through the beautifully tended garden with its birds and bobtails, and you enter a space where time expands. Where the days lay themselves out like wide bowls to be filled, and everything you pour into them seems to sing with possibility.

What is it about KSP Writers’ Centre that makes time expand like this? Perhaps it’s removing yourself from daily life – not having to worry about household chores like hoovering. Perhaps it’s simply the freedom that comes from switching on your out-of-office, knowing that the emails will still be there when the residency is over, but that for the time being they can exist in that timeless void of waiting to be answered. Perhaps it’s knowing that I’m in the cabin for a purpose, and that purpose is writing – perhaps it’s this which focuses the mind, which has the creative synapses firing off ideas almost faster than I can jot them down at the back of my notebook.

I think it’s all of these, but I also think it’s something more. There’s an energy to the place. Whether you believe in ghosts or not (and I’ve always been agnostic about it), it’s certainly true that places carry layers of their own history. True that, if you’re open to them, some of those layers seep through. And isn’t that what creativity is: opening yourself to layers of imagination, of possibility?

The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre is so steeped in a history of writing and creativity, so full of the creative energy of all the writers who have come before, that it’s almost impossible not to feel the warmth of some of that. It’s like a huge bonfire, every writer who has ever written there adding another log, all warming ourselves at its collective heat. I only hope I can take some ember of that creative fire away with me, can carry that one small part of KSP with me, and keep it alight even on the other side of the world. Top 10 Tips for having a productive stay at KSP:

1. You don’t have to write every day, but you do need to build in time for your writing – otherwise it’s easy to let it slip to the bottom of the pile.

2. Find a space where you can work well (a café, a corner of the house, a residency) and dedicate it to your writing.

3. Don’t compare your first draft to published books – the first draft is just about getting the words & the story on the page. You can worry about making it good later on.

4. Read. Read in your genre, read in other genres, read poetry, non-fiction, novels, short stories, contemporary books and classics. If a book is working, ask yourself how. If a book isn’t, ask why, and work out how you can avoid making the same mistakes.

5. Don’t worry if you’re not writing – we all have fallow periods; they’re necessary for growth. Keep the time carved out for it, and use it to read, or to keep a journal, or to plan. As long as you keep feeding it, the writing will return.

6. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Your best friend just won a Nobel prize? Great! Congratulate them, seethe quietly for ten minutes that it wasn’t you, and then get back to the work. The process is what’s important.

7. Read your work aloud. Preferably with an audience (a pet will do, or yourself in the mirror). Get a sense for how it sounds.

8. Don’t feel compelled to talk about your work before you’re ready to. A story can be like a bubble: poke it too hard and it’ll pop before you’ve managed to get it on the page. Keep it close to your chest for as long as you need to before letting it out into the world.

9. As harsh as it sounds, nobody is holding their breath for your story. The world carries on without your book – and this is a blessing: you can take your time, write at your own pace, and get the book as good as you can before sending it out into the world. Remember: you only get one chance at a first impression.

10. Learn when to let go. There’s always more you can do to a manuscript, but at some point you have to move on. If you’re not sure whether your manuscript is ready, find someone (an editor, an agent, a trusted friend) who can help you decide.

Katie Hale about her residency at The KSP Writer's Centre, November 2022


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