How a hotel helped Steve Braunias write 30,000 words in 4 days

Steve Braunias and The Surrey Hotel Writer’s Residency
From The Spinoff
The Surrey Hotel
An unconventional residency


Surrey Hotel residency: unconventional, yet effective

We tend to think of the more elaborate residencies, like Hikalu Clarke’s Gasworks residency that I wrote about a few weeks ago. But there are all kinds of smaller, unconventional residencies that artists can get a lot of value out of.

The Surrey Hotel Writer’s Residency is an example of one of these residencies. It’s a week-long residency for a writer to stay in the Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn and focus on their work.

The residency is in its third year, and applications have just opened for the 2018 residency. I caught up with founder Steve Braunias to hear the story behind this unconventional residency.

The story

Three years ago, Steve was writing Scene of the Crime, a book about twelve true crime stories. One of the main narrative threads through the entire book was the Mark Lundy case. It created the narrative arc for the entire book, so needed to be handled carefully, in a creative way. If he did a good job on this story, the whole book could hang off it. If he didn’t do very well, it would bring down the rest of the book.

Phew. High stakes.

So he decided to change his environment. Years of working as a travelling journalist had him well-acquainted with working from hotels. Generally, they’re great places to work from, because they have all the basics you need to write - a surface, warmth and electricity.

At the same time, he saw the Surrey Hotel every day when he was on the bus. He’d always been intrigued by the Tudor-style building that kind of sticks out in otherwise-hipster Grey Lynn. So he checked in for four days and four nights.

He wasn’t disappointed. “It had thick carpet, dark wood - it had a literary ‘feel’ to it. It puts your mood in the right place to write in short, intense bursts.”  And that’s exactly what he did. He sat down, got to work, and wrote between 20 and 30 thousand words over his four days. “I would not have been able to do that at home.”

Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn

The story today

Fast forward a bit, and Steve thought that it would be great for other writers to have the same experience. So he got in touch with The Spinoff, and the Surrey Hotel’s manager, and put together the residency. The Spinoff added a bit to it - a Domino’s pizza every night, except Sunday (as there’s a roast on Sundays) for the lucky resident. And $500 cash.

I thought this was cool because it’s really stripping residencies back to basics: a place where an artist can sit, focus and produce some great art. And that’s exactly what’s happened. The 2016 resident, Kelly Dennett, wrote a big chunk of The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong in the Surrey Hotel. Keep an eye on The Spinoff for a report from last year’s winner, Serena Benson, on her experience.

So if you’re a writer (other than young adult and fanfiction writing, sorry gang), and you need some peace and quiet to get through a big chunk of a project, sign up for the 2018 residency today. Applications close on 21 June, so get in quick!

From The Spinoff

Written by

Sam Grover

6 Jun 2018

Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art. 

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