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Writer in Residence by Elizabeth Hawksley

September 21, 2011

In August, I was Writer in Residence for a week at the Dillington House Summer School. (I was also tutor on the Creative Writing – the Novel course.) Dillington is Somerset’s residential centre for adult education – and it’s seriously classy. The house, once owned by Prime Minister Lord North, is spacious, comfortable and set in wonderful grounds; the staff are friendly and helpful and the food is good.

Historian Michael Wood said of it: ‘The programmes are exceptional. The company is delightful, the food and the ambience add to the pleasure and all set in a magical landscape…’

That week, there were sixty-six students and a dozen courses on offer, ranging from The Joy of Spanish and a Stained Glass Workshop to The Arts and Crafts Movement and my Creative Writing – the Novel.

I was the first Writer in Residence they’d had and I was anxious to make my mark. I had envisaged myself sitting in the library under the splendid chandelier topped by a pineapple, quill pen in hand, ready to help anyone with sonnet or prose. But most of the courses were nothing to do with writing and the students were already busy. I swiftly realized that I needed to be more pro-active.

I decided to write an article entitled A Week at Dillington and put word round that I’d welcome contributions. There’s plenty to inspire: the Jacobean house had a Gothic makeover in the 1830s; the family portraits are still there together with some interesting 20th century paintings – a covetable John Piper, for example. The park has magnificent trees and places to sit and admire the view.

My course was in the afternoon so, in the morning, I hitched a lift with the minibuses going on The Artisan Trail, The Arts and Crafts Movement and the Exploring Somerset Villages. I was anxious to meet the students and persuade them to write something or at least interview them for my article. I also took photographs.

Word spread and some interesting pieces came in. When I got home, I sent the organizer, Roger Priest, my article incorporating the pieces I’d received, plus photographs. I also included my thoughts on the Writer in Residence position and how it might be enhanced, together with a suggestion for a Creative Writing for Pleasure course which I felt would suit the Summer School better than the novel course.

Last week, I heard from him. My A Week at Dillington would be sent to all prospective 2012 students and would I like to come back next year?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2011 5:58 pm

    Sometimes people need to be told what they want. I also think it’s great the way you created your own opportunity here.

  2. Children's Author permalink
    September 23, 2011 6:13 pm

    I agree. I swiftly realized that most students didn’t want to work too hard – they regarded it more as a holiday with a bit of added culture – and why not? A ‘Creative Writing for Pleasure’ course would allow them to have fun and, with luck, learn some new techniques without it being too onerous.

    I’m hoping that my ‘Week at Dillington’ piece next year will have much more input from the students, leaving me to do a bit of light editing!

    Elizabeth

  3. Prem permalink
    September 28, 2011 10:12 am

    Excellent – instead of lurking in the library, dejected and unknown, you went out and inhabited your role, making it your own – wonderful stuff!

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