May Blog: Made At MacDowell Part II

I’m writing the second half of this blog entry almost 5000 kilometres away from the first half. Time and distance gives, or at least changes, perspective.

Breaking my foot in New Hampshire altered my experience of The MacDowell Colony so it’s hard to give an accurate overview as what it would be like under normal circumstances. I also believe that everyone has their own unique experience while there and I’m guessing that no two visits are the same. What I can say is that I want to go back when I can, if I haven’t been backlisted, and I’d encourage artists across all disciplines to apply for the fellowship. Anyone who does get a fellowship and has any questions (especially those from Ireland or the UK) feel free to contact me with your queries.

So back to what really matters; my work on Attrition while at MacDowell. Firstly, I didn’t get the first draft completed as I had naively hoped. In fact, I’m not even close to having the first draft finished. I did what I always do and had too high expectations of what I was going to achieve. Secondly, I didn’t really factor in the settling in time, which really is part of the holistic experience of MacDowell and just as important as the actual work. It took being there for me to realise this, which was a learning in itself. Despite not reaching my ridiculous goals I did make lots of headway and am happy with the work I did during my time at MacDowell. I wrote every single day, which is something I always try to espouse but don’t always achieve. Even on my emergency department day I got two sentence down; it doesn’t sound like much but on that particular day it was a huge achievement. Thankfully I did a lot more on the other days but it varied between 500 words and over 2000 words per day. In total I wrote over 20,000 words and the story has really progressed. Even though I still feel like I’m only halfway through the story (how long have I been at the half way point? A year? More?) I’ve passed several vital points and a lot has happened.

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Talking about Attrition at the Savidge Library, MacDowell Colony. Photo: Joe Watson

The next hurdle in the story is Kitty being found out for her crimes and the subsequent consequences. Then comes the intervening years (1929 – 1940) and finally I’ll get to England during the Blitz. Thankfully the intervening years won’t be as dense as the 1928 or 1941 but there are several events than will take place during this time frame. I’ve already got a suspicion that some of these events won’t make it into the second draft but for now I feel they need to be written. As I’ve mentioned before draft two will also see the chronological order of the story being spliced up, with it possibly beginning 1941. Anyhow, that’s all for the next draft and I’ve plenty to worry about in draft one first.

One character I’m struggling a bit with at present is Bridget Coyne (Kitty’s mother). As a character I like her despite her vileness and she’s central to a subplot within the overall story. This subplot falls strongly into the category of “things I really like but might have to cut” i.e. kill your darlings. Either way, I’m going to let the subplot develop as I’d planned but it does mean there’s a lot going on. This is one the reasons I’m interminably in the middle of the story. The subplot itself is also proving a little more difficult to work out that I had thought but none the less I know the solution is somewhere… I just haven’t had that eureka moment yet.

Besides my work on Attrition and despite my limited mobility, MacDowell also fostered lots of new ideas for various other projects. Thankfully (or perhaps unfortunately) I’m never short of things that I want to work on, and now I’ve several more that I’ll add to the folder. The folder isn’t even the backburner. There’s the WIP, the backburner, and then the folder. If I lived forever I’ll never get to write everything I want to but I guess it’s better than not having anything to write about. I’ll continue with Attrition for now and although I’m trying to stick to one project at a time there’s an old short story of mine that I’m chomping at the bit to polish up and do something with.

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Some of the fellows at MacDowell.  Photo: Joe Watson

One of my favourite things about MacDowell were the other fellows there. There was such an eclectic mix of people, all bringing their own unique creativity to the table literally and figuratively.  I was sorry I didn’t get to more open studios, readings, and talks while there but those that I did get to were a pleasure and a privilege to behold. This hive mentality of creativity really has an impact on the group and the individual.

I highly recommend MacDowell for all artistic disciplines. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people and truly embraces the holistic nature of creativity. Although my time there was not at all what I had expected it to be I can’t wait to return and experience it fully.

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