Wednesday, 2 January 2008


Towards the end of 2006 when I was having one of those 'what shall I do with my life?' soul searches, prompted by my birthday, I decided to apply for a Writer's Residency for 2007. These, as I'm sure you know, seem to involve going and staying somewhere pleasant, with lodgings and living provided in return for organising a few workshops, interacting with the local community and doing a piece of writing while you are there.

I had rather hoped for somewhere warm and cheap but finally settled on applying for a residency in Orkney - the clinching words being 'pets allowed'. I love the sea-side and it looked like it would be a wild and exhilarating place to stay for a few months.

I imagined myself sitting in a little cottage by a fire engaged in wonderful new writing projects ("her finest work") fuelled by loneliness and whisky, interspersed with long, oxygenating walks with Jessie and frank and thought-provoking talks with colourful locals. I also thought there might be an opportunity to do some knitting. Or is that the Shetland Isles?

In the event, I didn't apply. Orkney? I'm crazily, madly, unequivocally in love with London. I practically hug the bus shelters when we get back off the motorway after even two days in the countryside. I love the museums, the art galleries, the theatres, the restaurants, the people - the lovely, weird, interesting, multi-ethnic, hard-working, fast-living people, none of whom are remotely interested in your business (as they are in small villages).

But the point is that I decided to spend 2007 as if I was in Orkney, so I could devote more time to writing. I behaved as if I was inaccessible while still popping out for sushi and a ten pound play at the National whenever I felt like it.

And it really worked. Normally, if someone rings me up and asks me to do something I don't really want to do, I acquiesce, feeling 'I'm only writing'. I should probably say 'I'm working'. But I don't have set hours and everyone knows what I'm up to. It's not like a proper job - it seems just as self-indulgent as saying 'I can't come out, I'm wanking'. Or, to be a little less crude about it, 'I'm day-dreaming'.

But all through 2007, if something came up that I felt I ought to do but didn't want to, I just thought, 'Well, I can't do it - I'm in Orkney'.

It was such a marvellous success that I'm going to be spending 2008 in Orkney as well.


potdoll said...

How fantastically wonderful! I'll join you in Orkney if that's ok Helen!

Lianne said...

I was going to say I'd join you in Orkney too but Pots has beaten me to it. Is there room for one more????

Happy New Year!

Helen Smith said...

It's a magical place - there's room for all!

Elinor said...

Count me in! I can see it now, my wimple flapping in the bracing wind...