A few weeks ago, we received an email from William Howell, introducing his new writers’ and artists’ residency programme, BOS Arts. As you might imagine, we get a lot of emails like this; many of them scatter-shot and sent BCC—if we’re lucky—to every editor there is. But not this one. This one was intriguing. There was an interesting story. We asked William to talk a little about the BOS Arts project, and how it came about. This isn’t an endorsement, but we think you’ll find it interesting all the same.
I have rather found myself here, with BOS Arts, and I have done so without any intention whatsoever. I guess it all started back in 2008. My father was killed in a plane crash in northern Mozambique on my third day at university. I was just 19. My dad was a former MEP and thus it was not just the turmoil of death I had to deal with, but the media and press and the expectations of what I thought he would want me to do. I failed. I think the worst by-product of bereavement was the fact I didn’t know anyone at university and thus I hid. I became a bit of a closed entity; I had one face behind the closed door of my digs and another for the outside world. As such, I knocked on a lot of wrong doors. I fell out of love with love after losing my dad. I resorted to drugs. I basically made decisions I regret. It was bad, it was dark, and this went on for five years, and got worse with each passing one. Eventually I got tired of the pain though, and I realised that you can’t rid yourself of darkness by fighting it with darkness.
In November 2013 I wrote a note to myself in a bid to get over his death and carry on with my life. This note turned out to be 93,000 words long. Thinking this ‘note’ could help people, I spoke to a few agents and publishers, but was scared their proposed changes would rip the heart out of my book, and so in February 2014 I ignored all conventional wisdom and released it on the Kindle. It picked up some traction pretty quickly: I did some BBC interviews and had newspapers pick it up, as well as the likes of Sir John Major and Stephen Fry, and in April it became a number one bestseller on Amazon, and subsequently available in paperback. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t the most well-written book, but it was from the heart and because of that I got to help people suffering with the silent battle of bereavement. That was worth every tear I shed writing the book.
Since its release I have written a few more books and some short stories, am about to begin a YA project set in Africa, and now I find myself pushing BOS Arts, wanting to encourage others to stick with their creative expression because it can be worth it.
I adore writing. The poetry of it. The way the English language has a word for everything, even every fear, it’s a big puzzle to me. But it’s also a world with very few rules, other than those of George Orwell. It allows polar styles to share a bookshelf, J.K. Rowling to the Beat Generation. That is what it’s all about. I believe anyone can write; it’s just a matter of sitting down and bleeding.
As such I have found myself looking at writer residencies a lot. The idea of somewhere quiet and inspirational to collect my thoughts and write them down, whether a novel or poetry, just intrigues me and plays to my method of writing. The only thing is, each residency I found was exclusive to people with established careers or signed-on publishers, and even if I managed to discover one that was ‘open to all’ I doubted I was good enough to be chosen (I’m a writer after all, self-doubt comes with the territory). That sort of revelation makes me act, and this time it made me want to establish a residency aimed strictly at new, up-and-coming or unpublished authors, as a means of providing a thin film of encouragement to those that deserve it.
I was lucky to have had a lot of encouragement on my journey, but I also hit a lot of big and thick walls topped with barb-wire. I have been told to find myself a safe job and pack up the daydreaming. I’ve questioned my pride after dealing with egotistical agents that wanted their self-importance massaged before looking at a manuscript (luckily most agents are beautiful beings with an equal passion for words, people who encourage and not belittle). I’ve hit patches of self-doubt after receiving a bakers’ dozen rejection letters. Being a writer means there are an awful lot of ditches hidden along the yellow brick road of hard work and hope, enough to stop you writing at times, and as such I wanted to provide a means of encouraging new writers and poets and artists to believe in themselves, to come to a place where I have always sought refuge, a place so beautiful that it has healed my soul as much writing poems has been able to. People seldom stumble across this place, and that is what makes it so special, for our May’s Way residency is truly a magnificent place, and I want to share it with people. I want to provide storytellers and healers with somewhere inspiring to collect themselves and create something that they will be proud of, whatever the topic. That is where I find myself now. That is where BOS Arts was born from.
We are accepting applications for the Spring 2016 May’s Way residency until late September. The application process itself is very open. We don’t want to close the door on any creativity. We want this place to inspire something in our residents as much as we want our residents to inspire something in us. The applications can run wild basically. With regards to our panel, all writing applications will be assessed by Briony Bax and Ambit magazine, whilst the artist applications will be assessed by Jolyon Mason and Storm Fine Arts. I am also on the selection committee for all applications.
Writing can be as mundane as Bukowski’s Post Office or as far-fetched as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. We adore writing, whatever form or genre or style. With regards to artists applying, we would like the artists to use what this coastline offers as inspiration for their work. How they do so is not limited. I myself appreciate landscape paintings, whether done with oil or watercolour, or even spray paint, whilst Jolyon Mason focusses on art that pushes the boundaries, a means of mixing traditional styles with contemporary and modern, whether decorative or fine.