Edited extracts from poet and writer Jo Weston’s diary while working as a Virtual Writer-in-Residence for Writers Victoria, hosted by Melbourne City of Literature, November 2021.
Fri 3 Sep
Applied for the Virtual Writer-in-Residency programme because – unusually for a residency – it didn’t stipulate that writers had to have at least one full collection/novel published (I’ve got one published pamphlet). Also excited by the fact it was advertised as part-time, virtual (for personal health reasons and because we’re in a pandemic) and by the range of host organisations involved. Doubt I stand a chance as there’s many more experienced writers, who can apply from any City of Literature (all 41 of them) but you never know.
Mon 27 Sep
Received an email from David Ryding, Director of Melbourne City of Literature, asking if I’d be interested in working with Writers Victoria. Let out a muffled squeal before confirming. Now waiting for the ‘Sorry, that was meant for someone else’ follow up.
Up in the cold and dark to log onto Zoom for 8am. Two beaming faces in Melbourne; Lucy (CEO) and Kate (Programme and Partnerships Manager) at Writers Victoria. Discussed lots of ideas for the 3 projects I’d complete during the residency.
A few days later: the welcome meeting. 7am this time, so woke at 5am (of course). David, and hosts from each organisation, welcomed our ten faces, before sharing a slideshow of what we would have seen if we’d been there in person (including an image of several people arriving to meet us on kangaroos). Residents from across the world; from playwrights and poets, to translators and authors. Felt privileged to be involved.
Month ended working on publicity for the residency, plus other work outside of this. Began stating both BST/GMT and AEDT on social media posts.
Mon 1 Nov
Official start and identities of the ten writers announced. Responses included ‘Do you mean Melbourne in Derbyshire?’ and ‘Will you be going over there?’. Lots of emails with my hosts (instead of more early/late meetings), often arriving around 10.30pm, so got into the habit of replying late at night. Decided must instigate selfcare by reading them the following morning (most of the time).
Wed 3 Nov
Melbourne coming out of lockdown and concerns around a return to in-person only events – both in UK and Australia. Agreed with Lucy and Kate I’d write an opinion piece on maintaining online access. Created survey to ask others for their views, in order to write essay from a broader perspective. Less than 24 hours after posting survey, reached limit of responses I could collect. Received messages on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, by email and through my website – many people sharing their own experiences. Clear on the importance of this article and my responsibility to accurately represent the issues.
David Ryding had said that one of the residency aims was to bring people together and make the world feel a bit smaller – this event definitely did.
Working on the 3 residency projects – the essay, a poetry reading and a one-hour seminar – around other work. Learning about the Melbourne writing community through guest talks from authors, poets, editors and festival organisers, at our weekly Writers Get-Togethers. Also, regular emails from Melbourne City of Lit with suggestions for further reading, watching and listening. Devoured these when time; initially confused by a story about New Year in Summer (until I remembered where it was set). Alice Bishop describing a Summer to remember in The Sydney Morning Herald still lingering in my mind – depiction of the 2009 bush fires as ‘a deafening eucalypt cackle’.
Tues 16 Nov
Found writing the essay – ‘To Zoom or not to Zoom?’ – both freeing and difficult. Shared some of the ways that chronic illness affects my daily life and am feeling pressure to ‘get it right’ when reflecting others’ views. Realised that, as we’re all individuals with unique challenges, main thing is to acknowledge this and do our best to be inclusive.
Mon 22 Nov
Preparing talk for ‘Evening Appetiser’ series; one-hour sessions where any member can share their knowledge/experience, followed by Q&A. As my poetry pamphlet came out this year and I learnt a lot from the process, I’m running a session on ‘Producing a chapbook: from poems to publicity’. Initially daunted by the sixty-minute timeslot but – digging through old emails and documents – it turns out I’ve more than enough to talk about…
Thurs 25 Nov
Gave 8am poetry reading at Yarra Plenty Regional Library and Writers Victoria’s ‘Book Lovers Week’. Event hosted by Kate, with some stunning poetry from Melbourne writers Gemma Mahadeo and Danny de Silva and an interesting Q&A session. Everyone funny, self-deprecating and kind. David Ryding had said that one of the residency aims was to bring people together and make the world feel a bit smaller – this event definitely did.
Mon 29 Nov
Penultimate day and my final project: the seminar. Pre-booking of over sixty places (around forty attended) made it both nerve-wracking and encouraging. Talk went well and Q&A was a team effort as Kate (with a background in publishing) answered questions on the Australian perspective. Attendees contributed advice and anecdotes in the chat box. Feedback later showed people had found it useful and informative, with the only criticism being that there was too much info to fit into an hour. I’m already planning an expanded version…
Felt a sense of loss when residency ended, as if I was heading back to the airport after saying goodbye. People I’d met and worked with were welcoming, open to ideas and infectiously passionate about literature. Would have loved to go to Australia but the fact it took place virtually made the projects accessible to more people, and personally easier to accommodate around health and other work.
Received an email saying seminar had been very interesting and another from someone who had read my essay, thanking me for sharing why online access is so important.
An amazing experience; grateful to Melbourne City of Literature and Writers Victoria for seeing the potential in an emerging writer. Time to get started on those pamphlet workshops!