Time at Stirling
The 2012 Charles Wallace Fellowship in Creative Writing with University of Stirling, Scotland, is not just an award but an experience. As a poet and novelist one would know that residencies and fellowships are abundant for the qualified and the interested, but CW is a project that permeates into the non-writing life of the writer as well. Once in Stirling on April 1, 2012, I realized, the CW Fellowship is never meant to be a chore or a set of “duties” the writer has to report hour by hour or day by day. Provided with an office equipped with desks and computers, an intercom line, and copying and printing facilities in the Pathfoot Building, where the English department is housed, the CW Fellowship was a constant reminder that I have an excellent support system to lean back on.
The office staff with smiling faces and ever accommodating attitude helped me set up my Internet access, replaced my laptop with an office one when the former died a temporary death, sorted out the finances (I had to borrow some cash in the first week, thanks to my crazy planning on the date of arrival), and helped me get my way around the university library system. Jacqui Harrop as the nodal administrative staff sorted all my travel, accommodation, and general queries. Besides, she became a dear friend in such a short time.
My fellowship application was chosen by Prof. David Richards and Prof. Gemma Robinson (both postcolonial scholars) of University of Stirling, along with Mr. Richard Alford who is in charge of disbursing the scholarship from the Charles Wallace India Trust. In an informal chat with Prof. Richards, he informed me that my application made it to the top from the largest pool of applicants that year, especially when those that applied also included graphic novelists and travel writers. Needless to say, I cherished the fellowship even more.
My experience at University of Stirling was singular and vibrant. I came in with a fledgling novel manuscript and a humongous poetry manuscript that I was struggling to put in order. Revisions are the greatest tools of a writer, I believe, as also a bane when it comes to finding time and inclination for it. At my office in Pathfoot Building, I spent a number of mornings and afternoons -- surprisingly focused – working on my revisions. The novel got some framework worked upon, a long pending task. A short fiction manuscript went through crucial changes. The humongous poetry collection got split up into three manuscripts.
One of the manuscripts, titled BLUE VESSEL, was picked up for publication by Les Edition du Zaporogue, Denmark. This collection was nominated as one of the best Indian poetry books of 2012 by renowned Indian poet Sudeep Sen. Writers Workshop, a prestigious art press in Kolkata, India, recently published INTO THE MIGRANT CITY, which has a very favorable foreword from Keki N Daruwalla, one of India’s top veteran poets. I’m hoping the third poetry manuscript, titled NARRATIVE LIMITS, will soon find a good home too.
Alongside with the above, the short fiction collection called THE HOUSE OF TWINING ROSES has come out from LiFi Publications, Delhi (2013-14), with a generous introduction from Ashok Banker and jacket blurbs from the Indian writer-translator Arunava Sinha and the bestselling US genre writer Kris Saknussemm.
While largely the CW Fellowship is an open field for the writer to do as she pleases – no one forces her to do office time, sit at the bureau, submit daily or weekly reports/proofs of writing, or even deliver administrative or teaching duties – there is one specific aspect to it. An exciting one at that. There is one formal reading that the Fellow does for the department and related forums. I had the unique opportunity to read with two Royal Literary Fund fellows in front of the English Studies faculty and students, two Creative Writing classes, and several others. The reading went exceptionally well for which I can only thank the English department at University of Stirling.
Teamed with a children’s writer and a short fiction writer, I wondered in the beginning if poetry would hold the attention of the audience, especially, the students. Poetry all over the world, after all, is not the most desired public literary presentation, unless it is a wedding dedication or a funeral tribute, as Charles Simic has discussed somewhere. However, I was thrilled to gauge comments and reactions from the students after my reading. As a Creative Writing instructor, questions on craft and revisions were exactly the ones I expected to answer.
What else does one do during the CW Fellowship other than write, revise, read and research? Well, the English department colleagues are wonderful scholars and friends to get to know. Lunch in the canteen with everybody and coffee thereafter over discussions on teaching methods, students, books, and topics of common interest kept me occupied. Other than the faculty providing me eloquent company in a new country, I obtained the privilege of being invited to lunches/dinners, theater shows, concerts, outings, and also got tips on how to travel around Scotland or the UK in general.
This brings to me the travel aspect of my stay as a CW Fellow, a rather important activity. The fellowship time spent in CWIT provides one enough scope for exploring other things. Not only did I have ample time to pop in to nearby Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dunblane, but also travel to London, and of course, the Highlands.
The Highlands may be called the grand finale to my Scotland sojourn. One cannot be in Scotland and not be in the Highlands. Therefore, end-June, I set off on the scenic heritage rail route via Fort William to Mallaig, the westernmost tip of the UK. We all know the Jacobite train is a treat to the eyes, although it didn’t run on the Sunday I went to Mallaig. Most people these days also know it as the Hogwarts Express of Harry Potter fame. In all, this rounding off of my CW Fellowship before I flew back to India left a deep imprint on my mind. The spirit of Scotland rings true in these lines for me:
My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart is in the Highlands, a-chasing deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go. – Robert Burns