Bloomsbury writers in residence

Last month, ten writers took it in turns to be writers in residence for each of the ten days of the Bloomsbury Festival – taking the time to mull over the events of the day and make their own writing leaps. Now, Irene Lofthouse shares her experience of being day nine’s writer.

Bloomsbury. A mythical location in my teenage head exploring ‘A’-level texts. A place of experimentation, of ideas, of being and becoming who you were or wanted to be. A space where men and women conjured words, images; published pamphlets, poetry, prose. An exotic environment of leaping minds that travelled across time, space, nature, where nothing was unimaginable and writing was the norm, not the unnatural or strange.

19 October 2019 My opportunity to be one of the ten 26 Writers at the Bloomsbury Festival, whose responses each day were so evocative, atmospheric, revealing.

To be one of them was a privilege, and the fulfilment of a dream. To be good enough to time-slip into ghostly streets where the writers I’d studied once walked, conversed, created, worked, loved, separated, observed. To hear new words and worlds, to explore how ideas from the past affect today, to participate in activities that may help shape the future of research into health and well-being. To uncover how many links there are, how many leaps forward in technology from the science of space have become part of our everyday lives. The juxtaposition of the Extinction Rebellion climate change protest on the same day as I listened to talks on dark skies and watched ‘The Tourist’ collecting rubbish to re-purpose brought space exploration even more to the fore, as I mused on our legacy of dead satellites circling our stratosphere.

My day took me to parts of London I’d never been before; back streets that still had an essence of the Bloomsbury of old; buildings that held the smell of working horses, long gone; dementia-friendly concerts – shared spaces that brought smiles to everyone, and a simple idea I could take away with me to discuss with groups I work with. Buildings Talking with writers, scientists, researchers, other audience members about where they had been, what they had seen, done, explored, learnt, discovered was a joy in itself. It was certainly different to other festivals I’ve been to: using the concept of ‘Small steps, giant leaps’ meant that diverse topics could be linked in much more creative ways that at a science festival or literature festival. Lots of ideas to take away and share.

Throughout the day, my younger self was with me. Remembering my primary school teacher Miss Moore, nodding her head as we told our tales of the landing, and our stories – moon-men, magic dust, galaxies of glass, women scientists inventing inter-galactic travel, colossus stepping across planets with one stride – our imaginations ran wild. My reality was somewhat different.

21 July, 1969, 7am. Black and white TV in the corner of the living room crowded round by brothers getting ready for school and work, Dad brilcreeming his hair. I stare at the telly from the kitchen doorway mesmerised by the sounds and images, taking my eye off the bottle of feed warming for my sister’s breakfast – until the pan boils over and I miss the crucial moments of Armstrong and Aldrin taking their first steps.

– Irene Lofthouse

In case you missed it, you can read Irene’s response along with those of the other nine writers in residence, here.

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