Sarah Thomas spoke with us to discuss how Brewery Arts helped shape her writing and why she feels having creative learning opportunities available to everyone is so important.
How was Brewery Arts involved in the process of writing your book?
I started doing writing sessions at Brewery Arts when I had just moved back from Iceland in 2013. I had a story in me that needed a way out. I was a filmmaker and visual anthropologist but this story didn’t want to be a film. I saw a creative writing class advertised at Brewery Arts and gave it a go. The homework Janni Howker (award-winning author and previous Brewery Arts tutor) gave us was helpful for getting me started and I managed to make my story in Iceland fit every brief she gave us.
It was a class where the other attendees would workshop the piece and I found that feedback really useful. Once I had told people there was no need to be polite and that I wanted critique, I found each week I had the beginnings of a chapter and people were really positive about the story. It gave me the confidence to know that there was a book there.
Having Brewery Arts there was important to me at the time and I try and highlight this whenever I can. I was having a really tough time, my marriage was falling apart, and it offered me an outlet and a supportive peer group. It was a lifesaver. During Kendal Mountain Festival, I kept saying how special it was to be bringing The Raven’s Nest back to the very building that I started it in.
How was the writing process for the book?
While I lived in Iceland I used to write a blog – partly because it was a new place to me and I wanted to capture some of that, but also because I needed an outlet for everything I was experiencing. I was mainly writing for myself but then realised a lot of people were reading it.So I guess the seeds of it were in there. When I started writing the book I had moved back to UK and couldn’t keep up with the blog but that is what then led to the creative writing course, to help get direction.
The Raven’s Nest is a memoir. Creative non-fiction allowed me to use the tools of fiction to tell a true story. The writing itself didn’t take that long – perhaps a year. But before that, it took a while for me to get enough distance and an understanding of how I wanted to write it. It is hard to write about some experiences when they are actually happening. The writing course at Brewery Arts was cathartic but I don’t think a finished manuscript should be catharsis. There’s inner work that has to happen off the page. I went on to do a PhD to get the time and mentorship to write it and I think it is a much better book because of it.
How did Brewery Arts and living in Kendal help shape your writing?
What I love about Kendal is that it is beautiful and small but really well connected – you can easily get to other big cities.
I often went to the Cinema Nights at Brewery Arts and I even put on a film there once. The atmosphere is really important. Especially in rural settings, to cultivate a community around an art form is really valuable – it was an intimate place to meet people with similar interests.
A guy I met at Kendal Mountain Festival last year said to me, “I know you! You are that woman who put on that Icelandic film at Brewery Arts” and that would have been eight years ago or something. People remember a good night!
Walking is also an important part of my writing process. I go for walks to think through ideas, and just to stay connected the earth beneath my feet, which is an important part of what I write about. So having all these hills and valleys and wonderful walking paths around is a gift.
How important do you feel Brewery Arts is to Kendal?
It is totally vital having a centre like Brewery Arts in Kendal. It has such great stuff going on. I used to go to a lot of music gigs. I mean… Lee Scratch Perry in Kendal! I think the Brewery Arts programme is more interesting and diverse than many others in the area. The restaurant is really nice as well. I think if Kendal didn’t have the venue, it wouldn’t be the same. I think Brewery Arts is the pulsing heart of Kendal.
You can see our full range of Creative Learning classes here.
Brewery Arts is an arts and education charity which has been in operation for over 50 years. You can help us to continue providing, inspiring, and enriching the local community, through artistic, creative learning and engagement activities. Donate here today to help us continue our ongoing work!