Frances was the third writer to go to Shanghai as part of our international exchange and had this to say about her experience:
We were thirteen writers from around the world, a lively and diverse group: Australia(three); Greece(three): Hungary(two); one from India, Egypt, Ukraine, Sweden, Germany and me from New Zealand. Expectations of what we might produce while in residence were left up to individual writers and we had plenty of time in which to pursue our own work. Being alone and out of familiar contexts and obligations is very liberating – one could work day and night if one desired or not at all, or in intense bursts. Personally, I found it a very productive and rewarding experience.
My writing task was a new draft of a screenplay about New Zealand missionary nurse, Kathleen Hall, regrettably still better-known and honoured in China than she is in her native New Zealand. The combination of being in China and the opportunity that a residency offers to give single-minded focus to a project provided me with both context and inspiration. I completed a new draft, which has been optioned by a NZ Film Producer, and it is my sincere hope that the time has come when Kathleen’s remarkable story will be realised on film.
On arrival, we were provided with a Schedule outlining our obligations and commitments to the Programme which were intermittent and enjoyable rather than onerous. Prior to arriving, we had been asked to write a short piece on the theme, Amidst the Sound and Fury of the City. These essays formed the basis of Friday night panel discussions at the Shanghai Writers Association, usually involving three visiting writers and a couple of Shanghai based ones.
There was also a conference day with the writers from the Beijing Residency, talks and lectures by and visits to local Shanghainese writers, some day outings to local temples and parks and a two-day trip to Anji in Zhejiang Province – home to the bamboo forest where Ang Lee shot some of the spectacular fight sequences for his film, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. In Anji, we also visited tea plantations, pandas and a bamboo museum. Bamboo is amazingly versatile: you can eat it, wear it, make furniture and utensils out of it, carve it and even weave it.
Every morning of the dense two months I spent in Shanghai, I woke to a spectacular city-scape, visible through the window of my nineteenth floor apartment. On my last morning, the cloudy air was soft and misty, even the high rise nearby brushed with haze, while the distant skyline dissolved into shadowy outline. Like truth, its immediacy utterly compelling, while the further one moves away the less certain it becomes. Or like travel, living somewhere else, lifted out of the domain of familiarity, one floats in another kind of reality where perception and detail, immediacy and understanding are transformed by strangeness.
This is what two months in Shanghai was like. The compelling present taking up house-room, the companionship of other writers (local Shanghainese and the international visitors), the vital exchange of ideas and stories and the care and generosity with which we were looked after and attended to by our delightful hosts at the Shanghai Writers Association.
One cannot live in a place even for a short time without it becoming part of the psyche, leaving its imprint on the essence of who you are. The opportunity provided by the Residency in Shanghai, the experience of living and writing in that enormous, vibrant, hospitable city is a rare gift, one to be treasured and always remembered.