Weekends at Toji tend to be quiet as many of the writers and artists return home to catch up with family or work. On Sunday there were just five of us here and we drove out to a restaurant in the forest for lunch. The restaurant turned out to be a single table in a house that belongs to a potter and artist and they serve just one party a day. To get to the table we went through rooms stacked high with pottery and craftwork to a small bright room with views of the mountains and forest. Most of the food – kimchi, rice, all kinds of mountain roots and leaves I could never identify – is grown on the land around the house. It was a peaceful afternoon and a welcome break from the novel.
Afterwards, we walked in the forest and along riverbanks. It was interesting to talk to the others about their creative projects and get a glimpse of the different fictional worlds growing and developing in the writers’ rooms at Toji. As varied as these projects are, we’re all going through similar phases in the process of getting to where we want to be. Some are in the early stages of a new work, uncertain that they’re heading in the right direction, fearing that an idea that was brilliant one day cannot be trusted the next. Others are further ahead and grappling with the complexities of structure and the inevitable problem that seems to arrive about two-thirds of the way through when what seemed to be going perfectly well becomes unworkable. Most of the writers and artists here are experienced in their craft and have been through these stages several times before but agree that the process doesn’t necessarily get easier, just more familiar.
Everyone is having days, or weeks, where the task seems impossible and others where things slip into place quite easily or where something unexpected shows up and makes sense of the whole project. What is so good about a residency like this is that the intense focus and concentration on the work make the breakthroughs possible, perhaps inevitable. Without the usual means of procrastination and distraction around, there’s nothing to do but face up to the difficult parts and enjoy the good ones.
I’ve almost finished a draft of my novel now. It’s very rough and there’s plenty of work ahead but I will have achieved what I hoped for from this month. I’m now thinking about home and how I can find ways of bringing aspects of Toji into my life back in Brighton. Hmm. Not sure where to begin with that.
Susanna Jones is taking a one month Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize Writing Residency at the Toji Cultural Centre in South Korea this summer, and this is the third of her weekly blogs about her experiences. Susanna’s book When Nights Were Cold was a Fiction Uncovered winner in 2012.