I spent the first two weeks of March at Varuna, the Writers House in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, a two-hour train ride from Sydney. I was lucky enough during my Second Book Residential Fellowship to work in Eleanor Dark’s garden studio, a short enough walk from the back door of the main house that I didn’t spill my tea on the way.
Writers who work in the studio are invited to leave a few pages of their work in one of the manuscript drawers that line one wall of the room, in a bank of some twenty separate drawers. I left my few pages of work-in-progress, after some thought, in the drawer where I’d found pages from the final draft of Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love. By the time I thought better of it the next day — because no work’s ever going to look good next to Yvette’s beautiful writing (here, read Amanda Curtin’s review of it) — it was too late; I was on the train back to Sydney. So if you’re ever working in the studio and you happen upon a funny little fairytale titled ‘The Hissing Swan’* nestled next to Yvette’s fine writing, be gentle with me.
*Why yes, ‘hissingswan’ is my Twitter handle. I get a little obsessed with images and ideas, and the hissing swan is one of those that haunts me, for example in this strange little song from The Triffids’ 1989 albumThe Black Swan.
Where was I…Varuna…<shakes head, stumbles back to the present from late-80s Perth flashback>
My two weeks at Varuna were productive and — the best word I can think of is enriching, which sounds wanky and pretentious, but you know, it really was (enriching, not wanky).
Varuna has space for five writers to stay and work at any one time, and an unexpected pleasure of my two-week residency was meeting and talking and hanging out with (just the right amount!) the other writers I shared the house with. If you haven’t yet read Jessie Cole’s novels Darkness on the Edge of Town and Deeper Water, you have a treat ahead of you (and look out too for her essays and articles and other writing — find links on her website). I reckon everyone will be hearing an awful lot about the remarkable Eliza Henry-Jones, whose first novel, In the Quiet, is out this September and is the first in a three-book deal (yes, I said a three-book deal!). Go Eliza!
I loved Jane Rawson’s post about her time at Varuna earlier this year, and I can’t say it better than Jane did:
Readers, if you want to help a writer, support them to go to Varuna, or support Varuna itself – there is nothing else like it in Australia.
Head to the Varuna website if you’d like to support Varuna and the work they do.