By Nawaziest Ul Bushra

An echo of a moment settled on my shoulder like the gentle squeeze of a warm hand. It moved from the drumming of my ears to the breeze that knocked on the door of Chalkwell Hall. Inside was Metal alive and breathing.

The walls of the house spoke of a journey. Each voice echoing the story engraved on the wooden crevices. Where the day was spoken for by the writers at the Hot Desks and the warmth of the Metal team, the night was a wild canvas for the house to speak. Built in 1832, the house had a breath of an ocean, ignited by the rising moon and the falling night. The creak of the floorboard- a wave of an ocean’s tell. The sound of a halo waiting to be noticed.

I felt that age-old house complimenting the blood running through an artist. The blood which carries the essence of generations of warmth and trauma. The blood that has the power to feel emotion in its deepest dot; beating through the heart ensuing into an expression profound in emotion. A testament to an artist’s lore. The agefulness of the house speaking of the wisdom of a true expression that courses through an artist’s blood.

Where, in the night, the house resonated the power in the creases of an artist’s hand, the morning filled the house with a potential to manifest that power.

In doing so,

I was introduced to Metal by Rosalind Green as a volunteer for the Essex Book Festival. Stepping into Metal at Chalkwell Hall was a feeling akin to being picked up from the world in to a story book. The experience carried a warmth necessary to a writer’s endeavour and a disturbance, like a ripple in water, necessary for the quill to breathe.

“You can have anybody come through the door and help them put different areas of their practice together,” said Paige Ockendon. An artist is, often, figuring out their idea and they’re required to produce a “shiny, polished finished piece,” we encourage the process to that final piece. We aim to provide that “creative satisfaction.” While in conversation with Ockendon she emphasised “social engagement is very important to what we do here.”

Furthermore, the “project team has your wider interests at heart too” being artists themselves.

I feel an artist finds a charm in solitude. An irreplaceable comfort. For one to come out of that solitude, a place has to be worth it. Upon conversations with the writers at the Hot Desks, I felt how the space welcomed their journeys. Invited them to express their calling. “I feel safe here,” said one of the poets at the Hot Desks and I found myself wondering, what could be more inviting to an artist than a safe space. A space which expanded to provide the elements necessary to build their final masterpiece. Or, as Ockendon expressed, Metal was the bonding of a collective.

Where I saw the Hot Desks embracing the journeys of writers, I heard a story unfolding as I climbed down the stairs. It was ‘story time’ for the kids.

By the morning light the air felt the colour of ideas brewing in the minds of children, while the setting sun brought the journey of the Polish writers Wioletta Gregorewska and Maciej Hen in light. The same air, now, carried the heaviness of their journeys. The struggles and the beauty with which they unveiled their stories was a testament held by the breath of Metal in that room.

I heard the language expand in to a presence. Although a whisper, it was heard louder than a shriek. It was refreshing to see artists thrive in a setting; to see voices being heard; to see souls feeling safe in sharing their endeavour in all nakedness of emotion. I saw emotion move in to expression.

It was emotion that brought the artists together. The heart beating a beat regardless of time and space. The heart open to receiving emotion as emotion is. Nothing more nothing less while the being ached to express it.

Time at the Essex Writers House came to me while I was writing my poetic piece, ‘A Moment’s Call’ drenched in paintings. It spoke of, when time stands still and the space expands for you to speak. ‘A Moment’s Call’ began with a broken breath, in my crooked pupil’s form. It began in a moment of stillness. A timelessness speaking of time itself. A spacelessness creating space itself. Its essence lies in: If poetry is like an inhaled breath, painting is like an exhaled breath. It is the unravelling of that which lies between an inhaled and exhaled breath. That which is referred to as the moment.

Metal came to me like a physical manifestation of a space at a time I was writing, ‘A Moment’s Call.’ I found myself embracing its warmth like a droplet of fire untouching the horizon.

While gazing at the petals, unplucked in the rose garden where one could gaze at the expanse of Chalkwell Hall, I felt time speaking, “this was still the era- it could end later in that famous decade.” A decade where the purity of soul was embraced. Where being human meant more than what is prevalent in the world of today.

This space was a reminder of a speck of hope in the hourglass where time could beat to the rhythm of the heart. Where there was hope for a breath to breathe in a world consumed with everything else. Like all fleeting moments, this moment too passed in to the sun kissed breeze of the Thames Estuary. The emotion, however, had the power to be eternal. And eternal it is.

The rising sun brought saffron in to the horizon. The beginning of the Radical Pilgrimage which was headed by Lora Aziz, ‘writer, wild crafter.’ We were to walk the Saffron Trail to “…a journey never journeyed before…’’ as expressed by Aziz, in the presence of the legend that a saffron corm was smuggled to England from the Middle East in a pilgrim’s ‘hollow staff.’

While I embarked on the journey to walk the Saffron trail, I gazed back at the house that had spoken to me by the rising moon and the falling night. It spoke to me, then, by the saffron coloured day, painted against blue:

“I haven’t found any exotic shells but I live in hope.” – Linda Hibbin.

As we stepped forward, away from Chalkwell Hall, I smiled, Saffron- the exotic in Essex.

The earth hummed to the beat of the heart. I closed my eyes to hear the language come forth. For it was time to hear the lament of a beat fractured by its own.

Images by Nawaziest Ul Bushra

For the month of June 2023, Metal Southend hosted the sixth edition of Essex Writers House, a much-loved strand of Essex Book Festival.

Hosted at Chalkwell Hall in Southend on Sea, the programme was a chance for people to engage with interesting stories and to meet readers, writers and creative thinkers from across the county.

Thank you to Nawaziest for capturing the wonder that is Essex Writers House so beautifully in this piece of writing.

You may also be interested to read No Place for Elephants – a piece written by Essex Book Festival Director, Ros Green, about Essex Writers House.