When I applied for the El Gouna Residency I didn't really think I had a chance. It's an international programme and, though I've published a lot in Southern Africa, at least for longer fiction, I haven't managed to move off shore. When I got accepted I was overjoyed. I imagined all of the time I would have for writing. No cooking. No houses to clean. No shopping. No distractions. I envisioned the piles and piles of quality writing I would get done.
I've never tried to write away from my home. It never occurred to me that where I write matters much. The stories were always there and the words just came out. Here I've realised where I write is crucial. I've finished my rough draft and have begun edits on my novel but I somehow cannot get under the surface. I'm not getting lost in the story as I usually do. My characters are so standoffish. I'm flitting on top looking down on it all like a voyeur. I've accepted this is what I can do here. A writer, at least this writer, can't push what is not ready to be born. The work I'm doing is critical, but not very pretty.
Does this mean that this residency has not been useful for me? No. The other women here with me have all attended numerous residencies and writers' retreats. Two of them have full time jobs at their homes and retreats and residencies are imperative if they are to get any writing done. They need to step out of their busy, noisy lives to find the space to write.
I, on the other hand, have endless amounts of quiet writing time. My life in Botswana is simple and uncomplicated, the perfect environment, I now realise, for me to write. Being here makes me wonder if I hadn't ended up in Botswana with my simple, quiet life if I would have even become a writer.
I've come to see that this writers' residency is important to me for other reasons. I get very little time with flesh and blood writers in Botswana. Here I'm having a wonderful feast of conversation. I like hearing about people's progress. I like getting help with my currently pancake-flat characters. I love hearing their stories. I love the interaction, it's very important to me.
At one point while here I thought perhaps writing residencies are not useful to me, when I was struggling to get the same type of work done that I get done in Botswana. But I've learned quite a bit about myself being here. I've learned that such gifts are important to everyone for different reasons, and that's okay. When I get home, in the quiet of my simple life, I will have a brainful of fantastic experiences to fuel my writing. I'll have all of the advice and unique perceptions my colleagues here have generously given me that will change the writer I am and will still become.
Despite societal messages to the contrary, success is actually best measured on a case by case basis defined by our own parameters. For me, El Gouna has been a success.