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The peculiar focus of a residency (or, how I wrote THEY SHUT ME UP in a Finnish forest)

A good residency allows for many things. A rethink, a reset, a new clarity on writing, the company of fellow artists and writers, a supportive atmosphere....and, crucially, a place to produce creative work.

What do you do when you need to write a novella for a deadline? If you can at all, get a residency. I was lucky enough to get a Saari Fellowship for March and April 2023 in a beautiful, remote (and initially snow-covered) forest near Mynämäki, Southwest Finland. Here, the Saari Residence hosts a funded two-month residency, where you live in a small community of international creatives. There is so much space here to walk and think and write, and so few distractions. The company of the residents is also a stimulus to creativity - when I was there in March and April 2023, there were writers, artists, filmmakers and a curator in residence from Scotland, Finland, Syria, Israel and the Ukraine, as well as visiting researchers from Finnish universities.

I spent March 2023 walking in the snow, taking night-time saunas, learning some lamentably bad Finnish, exploring the area, talking to my colleagues about our projects, writing a commissioned short story and planning my novella. I'd researched it in Ireland, so the first month was essentially drafting out the story in the form of a synopsis, and working out what I was saying - and how - and why?

Then April 2023 (apart from some trips to Helsinki, Turku, Uusikaupunki and Inio island) was largely spent in my studio. Most mornings I'd walk to work from my cabin to the Barn studio complex, initially through the light crunch of frozen snow, and later, as the spring unfolded and the landscape was revealed, through grass scattered with flowers and dappled with sunshine.

This is the part that I both love and dread - the grind of steadily outputting words. The isolation helped. The lack of Wi-Fi certainly helped. The supportive atmosphere was a boon. But mostly, it ended up being me, at my desk, holding myself to account. Though the novella is set in Ireland, and I'd researched it there, living in this heterotopic bubble in a strange country lent me the necessary detachment to consider and reflect on what I really wanted to say about women, invisibility, agency and revoicing...

...but that's a blog post for another time.

A huge thanks to the Saari Residence and the Kone Foundation who made my stay and the writing of this novella possible. Kiitos!

Pre-order They Shut Me Up here.


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