Carl Nixon: Writing in Menton — 27.08.18

Since 1970, the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship has been awarded to some of New Zealand's most talented writers. This year, Carl Nixon spent time there, writing in the Villa Isola Bella - where Katherine Mansfield spent time writing between 1919 and 1920.

Menton is a town on the French Riviera in southeast France. According to Wikipedia, it’s known for beaches and gardens such as the Serre de la Madone garden, which showcases rare plants. But for New Zealand writers, it is also known as the location of a prestigious and sought after writers' residency, where one talented New Zealand writer gets the opportunity to live and work each year. Canterbury-based novelist, short-story writer and playwright, Carl Nixon, was the 2018 Fellow and has just returned to New Zealand. 

To apply for the 2019 residency, find all the application details here.

A quick Q & A with Carl

What inspired you to apply for the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship & what did it mean to you to be awarded the Fellowship considering the calibre of previous recipients and the chance to write in the same space as Katherine Mansfield? The Menton Fellowship is something that every young kiwi writer aspires to. It’s a chance to carve your name into the furniture alongside some of the big guns of this country’s literary world. It was both intimidating and inspirational to sit at the same desk in the same room as so many writers have worked. For me this was actually more significant than the connection with Katherine Mansfield herself. She was only at the villa for a matter of months. The legacy of the other writers stretches back almost 50 years. 

As well as having dedicated time and space to write in Menton, were there other benefits to being in Europe in terms of career development? The biggest advantage for me of being in Europe was the energy that it gave me. They say a change is as good as a rest. This proved true. Secondly the chance to meet people from my French Publisher, Editions de l’aube, and my literary agent, Pontas Literary Agency and Film, just down the road in Barcelona.

Your family joined you on the trip, any non-writing highlights? Just spending time travelling together brought us closer together as a family. I must say that being in an apartment without wifi was a bonus. Although the idea appalled my teenager the reality proved very conducive to family bonding. It was fun to play cards in the evening rather than disappear into our individual devices. While I stayed in Menton, the family travelled to Italy for two weeks and to Paris for a week. A real eye-opener for kiwi kids who’ve never left the Pacific. My daughter who is 16 years old got a great opportunity to improve her French, which she’s been studying for 4 years.  

Carl also sent us a more detailed report about his trip, and shared a few snaps from the writing room, and festivals he attended.

The Katherine Mansfield Fellowship enabled me to travel to Menton (with my wife and two teenage children) leaving New Zealand, April 12 and returning July 23. On route to Menton I visited London and the South of England (The Bournemouth area)  for a week. I was conducting some research for my project, a novel called The Tally Stick. Parts of the novel are set in these locations. This proved useful, primarily allowing me to amass small but telling details and impressions of specific locations – street names, types of trees, the types and age of houses etc.

Menton itself primarily benefited my practice by giving me a fresh perspective. The exotic location, the warm days, the constant presence of the Mediterranean, the exuberant French, the sheer difference to Christchurch, were all extremely energising.  My weekday routine was to walk the 40 minutes from the apartment to the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Room and arrive by 9 in the morning before putting in a day's work. The room was well appointed and maintained, and very pleasant to work in. It was an honour, a thrill and an inspiration to be working in the same room as so many legendary artists have worked in the past.

Although my family travelled for several weeks to Italy and Paris I stayed in Menton and worked solidly. I was able to  move the novel on from about 35,000 words to a completed first draft of 79,000 words. I then began refining the first 100 pages. While in Menton I got those early pages to the point where I sent them for initial feedback to my agent, Pontas Literary Agency who are based in Barcelona. I sent the same pages to Harriet Allen at Penguin Random House New Zealand.  Both came back with favourable comments.

While in Menton there were only two official events. I attended a ceremony held by the Mayor’s office (town government) to present me with the key to the Memorial Room. There were speeches and a small reception afterwards. This was reported in the local newspaper. I was also asked to award prizes to winners in a local short story contest held at the Blasco Ibanez Gardens. While in France, my French publisher, Editions de l'Aube, released my novel Rocking Horse Road in translation. They had previous published Settlers Creek in 2017.

  

Because l’Aube are based in the south of France, at Aix-en-Provence, I attended three events they organised while I was in France to promote the book. The first two occurred over a weekend and involved me travelling by train to signings at bookshops in  the town of Fejus and the city of Toulon. This was an opportunity to meet French authors also published by l’Aube. I also attended a book festival to promote the book, Festival International Du Roman Noir.

Frontignan was a lovely location and it was a very well organised festival featuring writers from all over Europe and elsewhere (USA, Cuba, Canada, England). As well as selling and signing a significant number of the book (around 35 in two days) I also met representatives from l'Aube. This type of direct contact is invaluable for future publishing opportunities. They were particularly happy as the translation had just received a favourable review by respected literary critic Christine Ferniot, in Telemara a film, television and book magazine with a circulation of circa 500, 000 copies.

"Both chronic and investigation, sociological fiction and morals study, rocking horse road is a beautiful impressionist novel."  -  Christine Ferniot (translated)

On my way back to New Zealand, I came via Barcelona in order to meet with the team from Pontas. This rare face to face time was invaluable for me in cementing relationships and planning a strategy for the new book.  I have only met Anna Solar-Pont, the founder of the agency once before, at Frankfurt in 2013.

I was very grateful to the staff of the Arts Foundation and the trustees, especially William Rubenstein, for the opportunity to live in Menton and for day-to-day assistance.

To apply for the 2019 residency, find all the application details here.