On my way down to the beach hut to meet Sheree to discuss her residency, there is sudden thunder, then a heavy downpour of rain. I take shelter under an awning and watch a rainbow appear hazily above the ocean’s horizon. A few minutes later, the rain has more or less subsided. I see Sheree walking down the street- she must have finished up at the hut for the day. I say hello, and she invites me over to her house. Taking her work home with her!
Sheree is a poet who considers Newcastle her ‘base’. For her ‘home’ is wherever her family may be. But what about ‘homeliness’? Sheree’s rented flat in Dunbar certainly exudes this, but it’s not so much due to the architecture of the space, but in Sheree’s generous and warm-hearted presence. The offer of tea and scones (gladly taken), her interest in my own experience of Dunbar, her books on the coffee table, the photographs of her dancer great-gradnmother (who defied family convention by marrying a man of another race): these gestures and offered objects all give immediate comfort as well as contexts for ongoing conversation.
In a similar way, Sheree has set up the beach hut during her residency as a place where visitors are encouraged to drop in, enjoy a cup of tea and cake, and share memories and stories. Thus far the beach hut has served as a studio and exhibition space. Now, in Sheree’s hands, it has been transformed into a living room complete with chairs, candles, wallpaper, rugs, and family photographs (mostly of strangers, gathered by Sheree in charity shops). The atmosphere is undeniably cozy. It has, Sheree reports, instigated many intriguing encounters and conversations with visitors to the hut about a whole host of topics, from family memories, recipes, the history of the local area- and even, taxidermy… She has remembered and written many of these down, and they will be incorporated into her work.
Sheree’s ‘harvesting’ of memories compromised only half of her residency in Dunbar, which ran from 21st to 27th July. She also walked its landscape daily, collecting images and releasing ‘small stones’ (http://www.writingourwayhome.com/small-stones/) on the beach. Please visit her blog about her residency here: http://walkingourwayhome.blogspot.co.uk. Sheree is currently working on her third poetry collection, The Properties of Silk, which explores the theme of people’s memories that form their identities.