23. 07. 2020
How I Found A Sense Of Community At Writing Place 2019
Written by Jordan Clayden-Lewis
Edited by Libby Parker
Home. Crossroads and dusty boots. A seal under the surface. Me
As writers, we tend to etch from emotion – from fragments of experiences we’ve had, seen, or even dreamed. There’s a symbol behind every sentence. A voice behind every character; all these stories in your head and only so much time to get a first draft done before the idea subdues. I felt like a rainbow fish in the deep end before attending Writing Place; my imagination was bold but my ideas embryonic. Little did I know, I’d soon be swimming with my school.
Growing up in Regional Australia for the first twenty-four years of my life, I never met someone who did what I did. Someone who would sit in their room for hours converting content from their brain to Word document; someone who couldn’t go a few days without writing something. For me, being unable to write is like being alone out in a dry, resourceless desert. In my early teenage years, a small part of me felt like it couldn’t relate to those around me. If I knew back then it wouldn’t be until years later that I would find a sense of community through writing, I would’ve waited patiently. But, life’s funny like that – and patience is something we learn along the way.
On July 24, 2019, amidst the busy journey of publishing my first fiction novel Blackhorse Park, I received an email that caused me to stop; stop everything that I was doing. ‘Dear Jordan, we are delighted to invite you to be one of the participants of Writing Place this September!’ the email read. I’d applied for several things at that time. For a moment, I had to flick back and remember what I’d clicked ‘apply’ to. Oh yes, Writing Place… September. Nine whole days. South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Sounds like a dream! But to me, this experience was so much more. Most dreams you forget. I could never forget my time at Writing Place, because it was the beginning of everything. The beginning of me as a writer, with thirteen other writers to enjoy the journey with.
September came in a flash. I’d been waiting my whole life for this – to connect with other writers. Not knowing what the next nine days held sparked my curiosity from the moment the plane tore off up the runway, to the scenic bus ride to the rugged South Australian desert. Usually, it took me a while to warm up to new people, but this wasn’t the case with these writers. We clicked, just like…well…writers would, maybe?
Warm days and chilly nights welcomed us to the Flinders Ranges. And flies. A whole plethora of them. They never stopped coming, but they sure had character. An old train line sat at our brow each day, bringing by tourists to bask in the views of the mountains. Pichi Richi Park was the perfect setting for a story about a troubled teenage boy who meets a talking fur seal. How did this story come about? Well, it all started on the first day after our initial welcoming night, on a rock overlooking the tracks. After splitting into groups, we were assigned a mentor. We were told that by end of the week, we’d all have a single-actor script written and then performed in theatre by a teenager. Daunting, I know, but also inspiring.
We were asked to put ourselves in the head of our teenage selves; to write from those past selves to our present selves. Oh, the angst, the rebellion…it all rushed back.
To have a mentor like Mary-Anne Butler was like having a coach who believes in her players until the very end. She guided us to re-write that manuscript and strip every inch of unneeded fat down to the bone. She taught me how to write from the most raw level of emotion I have. And oh boy, was it worth it. Having young Joseph read my play was a feeling like no other. A feeling of accomplishment that someone else’s voice expressed my words so perfectly. It’s one thing to have someone read your work and be thrust into your world like a bullet train, but to have someone become the character you created, that’s something I can’t wait to experience again.
When I say I found a sense of community of Writing Place, there are many slices to the cake that make up the whole. It was the red wine consumed around the crisp evening fires playing ‘Werewolf’. It was the early morning hikes up to the mountain before breakfast. It was sharing home-cooked meals and endless laughter. It was watching everyone’s stories develop to the masterpieces they became. It was the people I’d never forget. It was the realisation of relief that I am not alone.
This blog is one in a series of reflections from participants of 2019 project Writing Place.
Writing Place was a nine-day residency held in the Flinders Ranges and Eyre Peninsula of South Australia in September 2019. Fourteen participating writers spent the residency with mentors Emily Steel, Caleb Lewis and Mary Anne Butler undertaking master classes, small group tutorials, one-on-one sessions and dedicated writing time in a formative creative experience. The scripts created were shared in a reading for invited guests on the second to last night of the residency and subsequently published in a collection by Currency Press called This Was Urgent Yesterday in April 2020.