Friday, October 24, 2014

The Work in Derry

Ask and you shall receive, they say. I do my best to ask, with positivity and faith in the law of attraction, for exactly what I want and once again, it seems to have worked out better than I could have imagined possible.

After a week in Belfast and a far-too-short driving tour through the south west of the Republic of Ireland, I came back to Derry - you can read about the moment of return here.  Derry is a smallish (100,000 people) city in the northwestern corner of Northern Ireland. It’s the only city in Ireland that still has the totality of its’ original city walls standing, and they are some of the best preserved in all of Europe. This beautiful little city reminds me of my hometown Duluth in many ways: people are genuinely friendly, all the important things are easily navigated on foot and the water is close by. It's not a bustling capitol city, but it is full of culture and history. It was actually named the European City of Culture in 2013.

I love it not just because my book happens to take place here. I just got lucky when I picked the setting for the novel.

Derry from the old City Walls

For months I have been saying that I will find a place in Derry where I can settle in and volunteer – clean rooms, wash dishes, give tours, pull weeds, whatever anyone needs – for a bed, as I’ve done in many ways before. For one of the first times in my life, though, I came here truly without a plan. There are a few people out there who know what a big deal this is for me and can imagine why this was a little terrifying.

It only took me about a week of wandering and asking around to unearth a free bed at a hostel, one of the four in town. It turned out to be a pretty simple thing in the end: I knocked on the door, asked if they needed a volunteer for the next few months and they said sure. A few days later I brought my stuff over and made my new bed.

There are six volunteers here right now, probably more than they need this time of the year, but they don’t really loose anything by having more staff around, besides a few pieces of toast in the morning and a little more coffee during the day. It’s a good group too: we all get along and work well together. I’m the only American in the group – the others are all from around Western Europe: Spain, Germany, England. They are working on their English, taking a break from school or work. Two of them are also writers, working on their own manuscripts right now.

I now live on Asylum Road, up the hill from the City Walls and River Foyle, just a five minute walk from the Bogside, where my book takes place. I now work in the house which used to belong to the Warden of the 19th Century Asylum. The house is apparently haunted and the ghost was terrorizing several guests. Some Italians suggested a few years ago that perhaps a blessing would rid the house of the spirit, but several locals also pointed out the residents of the house were likely not Catholic and such rituals might only anger them.

I now live in a house half a block up the hill from the main hostel, where the overflow rooms are. We sleep in the attic – where the help has always belonged, no? – up 50 winding stairs, past windows giving you an increasingly beautiful view of this picturesque little city and the green hills all around. The halls of our building are drafty and our room is chilly in the evenings, but the living room in the hostel is cozy, with a fireplace, TV and couches full of blankets. We only need to clean a few hours a day, even when the hotel is completely full the evening before: with six of us, it is surprisingly quick work changing 45 beds. Everyone has three 5-hour shifts per week. It's a pretty great situation.

The view of Derry from the staircase window.
So I write in the afternoons. 2-4 hours. 1,500-4,000 words, depending on how I’m feeling. Knock on wood, right now I feel an energy and inspiration that I have not experienced since I was 14 years old, frantically writing Catching Dragonflies, my fantasy novel, in my chilly bedroom in Minnesota until well past midnight, consumed and devoted. I always thought that this was an amazing piece of my youth, but I see now that maybe it has to do with opening enough space in my life, as well as being in the middle of a life-changing story, which brings forth a lot of inspiration.  

All in all, the transition between city-hopping, Mediterranean Sun-kissed Katy to sweater-wearing, sitting still and writing in the windy rainy weather Katy has so far been successful. I remain happy and fulfilled, but in totally new and delightful ways.

Derry, looking towards the City Center from the Waterside of the river.

No comments:

Post a Comment