While I am still crossing my fingers nothing Covid-shaped will get in the way of heading off next week, I’ve been invited to spend January on an artist’s residency at the Arteles Creative Centre, which is, if you know your Finnish geography – and I did not until recently – a couple of hours by train north of the capital Helsinki, and a bit west of the city of Tampere.
It is a rural location surrounded by forests and frozen lakes, which necessitates the packing of many thermal layers.
Designed to make the most of the intense Scandinavian winter, the programme leans into the dark, quiet days, with artists encouraged to practise two silent days per week.
Gloriously, there is also no wifi, which means I will be taking a break from filing columns. January and February are the coldest Finnish months and I have been told to expect temperatures of between minus 16 and minus 20 Celsius. Fortunately, there is a sauna on site.
This will be my first writing retreat. Everything I have written – including my book Exit – has been fit into the gaps between full-time work.
Lately I have been getting tired, no longer fuelled by the boundless energy that I had when I was in my 20s, when inclined to write late into the night. Time and space are luxuries that not every artist can afford.
Writers from working-class backgrounds – even when they do manage to get their foot in the door – can fall away later because irregular earnings from writing alone do not always pay the bills.
Just as the pandemic encouraged many to have rethink about their jobs, with record numbers of resignations, I had grown melancholy, wondering when I would have the freer days in which to do the thinking and research that long-form writing really demands.
The opportunity to finally experiment with the practice of daily, distraction-free writing, amidst snow flurries and stillness, could not have come at a better time.