Article published on December 14, 2015.
We have been longstanding admirers of the Waverton Good Read and the unstinting effort of Gwen Goodhew and Wendy Smedley since they began it, back in 2003. Turns out Gwen is herself an admirer of Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, a mere 11 miles from Waverton, just across the Welsh border. So when Gwen offered to tell us more we jumped at the chance.
What do Natasha Pulley, Rebecca Farmer and Amy Liptrot have in common? They are new writers who have had the good fortune to be selected for the prestigious 2016 Writers-in-Residence programme at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden (www.gladstoneslibrary.org).
Finding a platform and an audience for new writers is always a challenge. Their works, whether they are novels, poems, plays or non-fiction, do not get the fanfare of publicity that accompanies new titles from established and well-loved names. Very few will earn enough to make a living in the early years and will have to supplement their royalties with work that can get in the way of writing. Book prizes, like our own Waverton Good Read Award for debut novels or the Guardian First Book Award or one of the Costa prizes, play their part in highlighting fresh talent, but more is needed.
Over the past four years, Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Clwyd has developed a reputation for supporting new writers and giving them an opportunity to showcase their work. Its Writers-in-Residence programme was launched in 2011 after Peter Francis, warden of Gladstone Library, was inspired by a Damien Barr talk about his Literary Salons. These themed literary gatherings, mainly in the London area, manage to create an intimate atmosphere that attracts first class speakers and enthusiastic listeners. With the help of Damian and in the spirit of Gladstone, Peter first explored and tried to define liberal values, which he believed were at the core of what he wanted to achieve. Then he set out to replicate these literary gatherings at Gladstone’s Library.
There are four writers-in-residence a year. Each one has a four-week slot. At the start of the residency, writers give an evening talk and at the end they run an activity, such as a masterclass. Apart from these book–ended commitments, they are free to pursue their own writing and to use the wonderful research opportunities provided by the library. They can be as sociable or as unsociable as they wish because there are always other book lovers they can share lunch with or chat to over a glass in the lounge. A stipend of £100 a week is provided together with comfortable study-bedroom accommodation and free meals from the excellent ‘Food for Thought’ bistro.
About 80 applications are received for these residencies each year from a cross-section of published writers, but largely from novelists, poets, playwrights and some writers of creative non-fiction. Applicants are asked to provided a cv and to write a 500-word piece on liberal values. A short list of 10-12 applications is put before 4 external judges, who choose the four to be offered residencies.
The 2016 writers-in-residence make up a fascinating quartet of talent. The novelist, Natasha Pulley, is the author of the The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, an intriguing mix of 19th century history and fantasy. Her knowledge and imaginative approach enthralled the readers of Waverton Good Read Award when she came to the village in September to talk about her book. Her masterclass , entitled Register, Voice and Genre, will be looking at what happens when the language of science fiction and of the Victorian novel get mixed up.
Poet, Rebecca Farmer, will invite participants to bring along a fragment of writing to explore the ‘The Gaps in the Sky’ of their own writing in her masterclass, while diarist Amy Liptrot’s masterclass will focus on developing creative writing from journals and diaries.
The fourth writer-in-residence of 2016 is Susan Barker, a well-established novelist, her latest publication being The Incarnations. She will focus on depictions of artists and visual arts in literature.
These writers-in-residence have been so successful that other activities have grown from them. Gladfest is a small welcoming annual festival of literature held over one weekend every September, while Hearth are micro-festivals held in the gloom of November and February. For all these events, the wonderful team at Gladstone Library strives to maintain a cosy, informal atmosphere for book readers and writers, who gather to share their liberal values and love of literature.
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