Thoughts from Polesden Lacey's Writer in Residence: Ruth Brandt

It is hard to step inside Polesden Lacey and not be transported to another time: to epicurean dinners in the dining room; Christmas dances in the central hall; and billiard balls clacking across a smoke-cloaked table, while Billy Cotton’s Band plays on the scratchy gramophone. For a writer, simply entering Mrs Greville’s house brings a whole era to life. But how does one get those feeling and ideas down on paper in a form that other people will enjoy reading?

That was the delightful challenge for me last autumn when I became Writer in Residence at Polesden Lacey and ran five workshops using the house and its grounds as inspiration for writing: Writing Inspired by Art, Memoir Writing, Historical Fiction, Writing Inspired by Photography and Writing Inspired by Music.

Putting pen to paper

I'll be running workshops again in the autumn beginning in October. But in the meantime, why don’t you give writing a try with one of the exercises we used during the Writing Inspired by Art workshop? Please note - you cannot use pens in the house, so take pencil notes in the house and perhaps move to the garden or café for a further twenty minutes to write your piece. I find that tea and cake definitely helps the creative mind.

Exercise: Writing inspired by a painting

  1. Choose a painting from any of the picture corridors or rooms. Don’t take too much time over this, just opt for the one that first grabs your attention.
  2. Take a really good look at the painting. First think about where the scene is set. What might you hear, smell, touch and taste? Make a note of these.
  3. Now look at one of the people in the painting. What is s/he doing there? Does s/he belong there? Is s/he aware of the painter or is this person being observed without knowing it? What is s/he thinking about? What is her/his overriding emotion?
  4. Finally, write a piece starting with the words: ‘I am the woman/man/girl/boy who …’
I hope that exercise gets your creative juices flowing. If you would like to learn of other ways that the house can be used to inspire writing, I am delighted to have been asked back in the spring to run another series of five workshops. Places are limited so early booking is advised.
If you would like to know more about Ruth, including details of her teaching experience and published works, simply click on her profile picture at the top of this article.
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