Lessons from Living at The Kilns

Want vs Need and the Importance of Community

From Carley, Scholar-in-Residence

August 2020

While working on an MA in Writing for Young People, I have learned much about the elements of writing a children’s book. A key consideration is character – specifically, the relationship between a character’s wants and their needs. Arguably the best kinds of stories explore this relationship, drawing out the protagonist’s journey of learning that what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. As I have explored this element of writing within my own fictional world and with my own characters, I have come to realise that my time at The Kilns has had many parallels.

What I wanted when I moved in was a place to live and work. The fact that my living and working space was where C.S. Lewis once lived and dreamed was an added bonus; and it checked a certain aesthetic box. It was hard not to get swept up by the idea of penning my ‘great work’ where one of my heroes penned his great work – it was (and still is!) a very romantic notion! I wanted an immersive experience of literary history, and I wanted to call home the place that one of my literary heroes once called home.

What I neglected to consider when moving into The Kilns was what I actually needed. Over the past year I have had the pleasure of discovering that some of the deepest needs of the human soul can only be met within an accepting, supportive, and creative community. This discovery has shaped my time at The Kilns and will be something I cherish and learn from for the rest of my life.

Up until moving in, my husband and I had only every lived on our own. I am an introvert by nature and was apprehensive about the idea of living with others. But it became clear to me that living in community was exactly what I needed to navigate the days that were ahead of me.

Writing is a lonely and sometimes dark business. The days are long, but never quite long enough, it seems, for you to hit your daily word target. Solitude can also make it hard to curb unhealthy mental habits, like drawing comparisons between your work and the work of other authors. I didn’t realise I would need the impromptu late-night discussions about faith, the spontaneous moments of music, creativity and magic, the shared meals and tears and laughter, and the long walks and pep talks until they showed up (often quite literally) at my door. All of these things fed a part of my soul that was hungry for a safe community where I was accepted for being nothing more than purely myself. And not just accepted – encouraged to be the most myself I possibly can be.

The past year has been a formative one, and not just because I have been furiously writing and finishing a degree. Set to the tune of a global pandemic that has changed us all – whether we realise it or not – this year has seen me navigate some of the highest highs and lowest lows. But through it all, I have always had a soft place to land and I have always had a family to come home to. I’ve had exactly what I needed, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

The Kilns is more than just a place to live – more than a roof over my head and a pretty place to write. It’s a spiritual oasis; it’s an example of what Christian community can be; and it’s the perfect coming together of faith, creativity, and scholarship, situated against the backdrop of all the imperfection and messiness of everyday life. It’s home, and always will be, no matter where I end up next.