Time and Space

Alice Frecknall Photo by Suzi Corker

Writer and Visual Artist Alice Frecknall tells us about her experience at Arvon in collaboration with Apples and Snakes and the importance of having time and space to create:

At the start of April I had the privilege of heading off into the depths of the Shropshire hills for a week-long poetry writing retreat with a group of 17 other writers. Run by Arvon and organised in partnership with Apples and Snakes, the week’s tagline was time and space to write. From the cramped desk in the back bedroom of my South East London share house, under ‘to do’ lists, life admin, and freelancer diaries, this was something I was longing for. But it wasn’t until about halfway through our time away that I realised it was also something I really needed.

As we pulled up to The Hurst centre, former home to the late playwright John Osborne and our home for the next five days, we were greeted by a warming reception of freshly baked loaf-cake and the spreading smiles of the centre’s staff. An endless supply of tea, delicious food, books, and no phone signal or WiFi ensued. But to simply describe our time at The Hurst feels like an impossible task and any attempt to do so would, I fear, do it something of a disservice. So I won’t. Don’t get me wrong, I could go on and on about what we did each day, gush about the brilliance of the writing workshops led by Caroline Bird and Roger Robinson, paint a picture of the beautiful surrounding landscape – and believe me, I have done all of these things countless times since returning – but none of it would come close to defining what the week actually was; what that time and space really meant.

We live in a world of constant interruption and demand

We live in a world of constant interruption and demand It’s becoming something of a cliché to say it, but our lives are ruled by screens, by 24hr newsfeeds, by social media, by the immediacy of the smart phone. As emails are delivered straight to our palms, we can expect a follow-up nudge if we haven’t replied within the day, failing that, a text message, a call. We feel a pressure to be ever-present and a pressure to prove ourselves in some way; lift the lid on your laptop, unlock your phone, and you can be confronted with the ever-refreshing torrent of people [seemingly] doing life better, faster, more successfully than you. Numbers of followers, likes, and hits are figures against which many of us have come to measure ourselves, and there is something paralysing about the digital pedestal we have created.

The importance of time and space to create

But as much as this sense of constant demand may feel like a burden, it also holds an odd kind of comfort; we have become accustomed to it, to the fast-paced intake of information, and, though we may be reluctant to admit it, we have become reliant on the sense of importance it instils in us, the sense of being needed, wanted. And I believe there is, for me at least, also an element of self-preservation at play in allowing ourselves to perpetuate this state of busyness – I haven’t written that collection/novel/play because I just haven’t had the time. We crave stillness, and yet we are afraid of what it might mean if we stop; if we allow ourselves time to try, we chance that we might fail.

We risk losing sight of the time we actually need just for ourselves, in order to create the fundamentals; we risk not allowing the art any space to breathe

I’m not saying we should all shirk our daily responsibilities or boycott technology and social media forevermore. I think we are surrounded by great tools, through which we can collaborate and expand and share our art in new and countless ways. But with this, we risk losing sight of the time we actually need just for ourselves, in order to create the fundamentals; we risk not allowing the art any space to breathe. The idea of cutting oneself off from the noise of the world is terrifying and exhilarating in one, but it is in this very place of unnerve that there exists so much possibility: what if…??What if the world went quiet for a few days… what if the screens all went blank for a long moment… what if we allowed our art the space to sprawl and stretch and, as Caroline said to me, run straight past the finish line and keep going…

As the world becomes louder and technology advances further, it is only going to become more important that art demands the time and space it needs

My time at The Hurst placed me in that space of what if. With not much to do but read and walk and write, there was very little excuse to not do all of those things. I filled more pages in those five days than I had done in the previous five months. And though a lot of it won’t become anything, it was all part of an important process. A process of reconnecting with words, of finding a voice I’d forgotten belonged only to me, and taking the time to listen to it. By being in that space, surrounded by like-minded people, support and inspiration, I was able to write uninhibited by expectation, self-doubt, lack of time, and, in doing this, I was able to break through some old blocks, start new work, and simply enjoy being a writer again.

Enjoy being a writer again

As the world becomes louder and technology advances further, it is only going to become more important that art demands the time and space it needs, and that we take heed of that demand. Humans are fundamentally creative beings – we are inquisitive and mischievous and instinctively inventive – and we shouldn’t underestimate or neglect this part of our nature. It is imperative that emerging artists are given opportunities to grow, that there are spaces in which writers can devote time purely to exploring and developing their craft, without guilt or apprehension; spaces in which they are given permission to try, and permission to fail.

Through those five days in Shropshire, Apples and Snakes and Arvon enabled each of us to be uninterrupted with our creativity. And in their brilliance and generosity, Caroline and Roger encouraged each of us to dive straight in, to leave comparison and judgement at the door and play, to succeed and to not, to seek ugliness and stumble across beauty, to be uncomfortable and to find comfort. And through it all, write.

You can learn more about Alice’s work on her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.