When I came to the first Landscape Surgery of the year, it was energising to meet so many members of the group and hear brief accounts of such great, wide-ranging research. I’ll be with the group (very part-time!) until next Summer, as Creative Entrepreneur in Residence. Working with Harriet Hawkins, my residency will help to devise and test participatory creative writing as a way to engage local experiences and responses to environmental change.
Funded by a Creativeworks London grant, my aim for this time at Royal Holloway is to develop a series of writing workshops on a ‘water environment’ theme, engaging local people’s individual and collaborative creativity on the experiences or prospects of impacts such as flooding. But I also hope to learn about your research and interests: what you’re reading, what you’re writing, the connections you’re making between your work and the world. Geographical ideas have a strong pull on my imagination and help push my own writing. I’m not sure I’d have applied the word ‘entrepreneur’ about myself until I went freelance a couple of years ago, I’m certainly drawn to the word’s origins in early 19th century French – entreprendre: to undertake. According to the OED, it originally denoted the director of a musical institution. While that certainly isn’t me, a creative undertaking to bring together research and fiction and to impact people’s imaginations sums up part of what I’m trying to do in bridging my own experience with future possibilities.
After an interesting but overly optimistic foray into physics and astronomy, I’ve worked around environmental change for over twenty years. Starting with programmes to engage small businesses with resource efficiency and reduce our impacts on the environment, I moved into the challenges of adapting to the impacts of environmental change on us. I worked with regional climate change partnerships and national programmes to build adaptive capacities in the face of uncertain but unavoidable climate change. But I also became aware that I was missing out on some ‘critical mass’ in our ability to respond meaningfully to risks that seem far away, in the distant future, or abstract – in other words, that generally lack the bite of the ‘here and now’.
I’d already taken a career break to think about this gap when, by good fortune and a lack of planning on my part, I ended up on a short contract with Exeter University, where I entered into the world of cultural geography for the first time! Something must have worked its way under my skin, because a couple of years later I took their MA Climate Change, a multi-lensed perspective that helped me to locate some of that ‘missing mass’ in creativity and collaboration. I worked with a local novelist on short story workshops she was running to help people create and share their imagination of what the future could be; with researchers on local perceptions of coastal change and memories of river flooding; and with a load of residents and managers on the tension between lay and expert knowledge on change.
As a result of my time on the MA, I began to develop my own creative writing again: something I’d abandoned when I first went to university and embarked on what I thought would be a straight science career. I’m now half way through an MFA Creative Writing at Kingston University, which I’m using to develop my approach to writing about change. One strand of my work is building a collection of fragmentary fictions to explore ideas in Anticipatory History, a research publication that has had a strong influence on me since my time at Exeter. And I’m interested in the ideas of Jane Bennett and others on the liveliness of matter, of Susan Leigh Starr and others on the possibilities for boundary objects that help enable divergent voices to collaborate on critical issues, and of Mike Hulme and others on why we disagree about climate change. I’m actively involved in the work of TippingPoint, a charity working to promote cultural responses to climate change; this Summer, I organised two events with them, bringing together writers and other artists with experts in policy, science and social science.
So I’m excited about this residency with Royal Holloway, which will enrich my own work, develop useful creative practices that we can take forward and, I hope, contribute something to the work of the group.