It was fun playing at spot the other teacher writers from other groups – I got that wrong when I mistook John Hodgson for the concierge and could not understand why he was so hopeless at locating my key and room. I’d arrived late due to google maps losing connection – Jeni said it was the depths of Suffolk, but I later decided it was due to Black Dog.
The experience of finding a new place for me is always tinged with adrenaline – what will I find when I get there? A landscape new to me – flat and uninteresting? Instead I found medlars – an avenue of medieval medlars leading to a 1920s building that had a warren of rooms and additions. On the way I passed a field full of treasure seekers searching for the next Sutton Hoo burial or Hoxne hoard, not with archaeological trowels but metal detectors that whirred and beeped across the dreels. They were swarming around St Mary’s Church situated on a rise (a hill to local Suffolk people) where the road I travelled along acted as a border between the living of the congregation and the dead of the graveyard. And the church was a beautiful example of the flint decorated building with regular tower topped off with pinnacles. And there was a black dog that rampaged through the countryside and scarred church doors with claws of fire – St Mary’s of Bungay not this St Mary’s of Ditchingham – but I didn’t meet the dog until I sat down to the shared writing sessions.
And that’s where I found the story of the Black Dog of Bungay – overheard from a shared writing exercise across the table from my pair. It sounded exciting and magpie like, I collected details.
Jeni had introduced us to morning pages – write for 20 minutes as soon as you wake up – and of course that’s where I met the Black Dog face to jowl, at 5.30 in the morning in Hughes’ hour-before-dawn-dark:
They flee from us these thoughts at the liminal, between sleeping and waking. They wander out of sight to what is now. I remember waking, waking while it was dark dark inside my room here. There was an oppression in the room. I knew it was there but I did not put on the light. I moved around the room. I knew it had come in the window slithered over the sill embedded itself in the space of this room this small room. I could feel it coming fro me. I managed to open the door although it was there around me. I went into the corridor – others were coming out of their rooms with their own black dogs after them. Because that was what it was – my black dog – not Churchill’s – but mine.
I’ve transcribed the morning pages above as I wrote them to try and capture the excitement of my writing experience. My thoughts flew ahead of punctuation and cares – well, the black dog was there too. And I found not only a terrific story but an experiential writing that I want my students to have the space, the opportunity to try out. I want them to have the confidence to experiment with their writing and to enjoy writing. Not just morning pages, but I’ve collected many other ideas for engaging and energising the writers in my classes – some from Jeni and Simon and some from the other teacher writers. And that’s the wonderful part of finding my way to the residential – I’m part of a writing group that just also happens to be a group of teachers.