Category: Q&A — Published:

Gabrielle Fullam – Young Writer in Residence Check In

The gallery’s current Young Writer in Residence, Gabrielle Fullam, chats to Curator: Youth Programmes, Amelia Oakley, about her writing practice and residency so far. Read below a text message exchange between the pair, two months into Gabrielle’s residency.

Gabrielle was selected as the 2024 Young Writer in Residence following an open call process. In May 2024, she’ll host a writing workshop at the gallery and publish a new short piece of writing to mark the culmination of her residency.


Amelia: When we last caught up you spoke about the idea of temporality which I’m interested in hearing more about. Is that an essential part of your writing practice for you?



Gabrielle: I think I’m most interested in the idea that writing has some sort of permanence to it, and is addressed to all – but if it exists forever, with no addressee, what becomes its most defining feature is that you made it at a particular time, as a response to something (anything). I think that has interesting implications for what your writing may be “bound” by, and I am certainly very aware of my headspace when writing at that particular time. And then there’s the broader temporal aspect, which is that, I write things in order to say something about something else. I think Donna Harraway calls this “the stories we use to tell other stories”.  When I say temporality, I guess I don’t mean it just in the linear progression of past/present/future – but in a more fluid sense of movement across time, perspective and space. Trying to pinpoint anything then (within that mess) whether that be a viewpoint, a feeling, an idea, is what writing becomes about for me.


I guess a lot of things (thoughts, academia, theory) are about trying to get a broader picture of things, but writing to me is about shrinking things down, and using those particulars to speak to something bigger. Its relationship to time, progress, cause and effect, all become a big challenge to writing.


Not to say that academia or theory doesn’t care about temporality or anything, but more that there is a very visceral sense of time when writing, to me. A flat 2D view of time (past -> present) is useful for writing in a linear way, but I’ve been thinking more about how we get situated in the moment when writing or reading I guess.




Amelia: I love that exploration of ‘the moment’ – whether that’s related to time or otherwise. How have you found it in the residency using the Gallery as that ‘moment’, by which I mean that jumping off point for writing?


Gabrielle: I found writing and working in the gallery to be really conducive to working and writing. I’m not just new to being in Whitechapel Gallery, but I’m new to the area as a whole. I moved here a few months ago from Dublin, and live just around the corner from the gallery. It’s been a really useful jumping off point for getting to know the area and its sensations. Watching it totally transform as a space also really evokes something for me. It felt totally different, and then you start prying into things like the archives, meeting the people who work there. I started to get the sense that there was something “more” underneath it, and that a gallery without a permanent exhibit becomes more of a reflection of the community around it and the people using it. That feeling of flexibility and impermanence, while also having a broader history was a really useful headspace. I think creating a writing practice is like that. Flexible and impermanent, it maintains a sense of movement while also producing a “finished product”.



Amelia: How have you seen that play out so far in the writing you’ve been working on recently?

Gabrielle: I work in a sort of three step process for writing. I don’t think of a poem or story and then write it down. I like to start with a less rigid exploration of the topic, drawing, free writing, associating, collaging, letting it all come out at once. Then I move onto what might be considered a more called a more research-oriented. I pick out the themes and the threads from that writing, and dive further into exploration about that, both the feeling, imagining and building out the world, and also doing research into other works related to the topic. Then it kind of gets to the page (a prose, a poem or whatever shape the writing is now taken) and takes on a whole other life. The process is then different depending on what I’m working on. If it’s a narrative or a story, I like to put all the key points (not just plot points, but thoughts, feelings, scenery) on sticky notes and rearrange them on my wall. I like to add doodles and synonyms and add little questions in too (there is a whole colour coding system now), and then I guess writing takes a more expected editing route. I’ve been in a phase recently of thinking about how writing doesn’t have to be a very rigid, it doesn’t have to be so 2D. It can be tactile and imaginative.


I think sometimes when we think of a writer, we think of someone who is at a desk constantly scribbling or typing. It certainly might be useful to work like that for some people – I mean Jack Kerouac famously taped all of his typewriting paper together end to end, so that he could type continuously without interruption when writing ‘On The Road’. But I’ve found it very freeing to be able to look at writing as a continuous process of thought, idea and exploration. I find it easier to write when I know what the writing is ‘about’, and it takes me a while to get there.


Amelia: What would you say to anyone wanting to get started with writing but not knowing where to begin?


Gabrielle: I think write often and read often is the main thing, and give yourself as much time as you can do that. Everyone works differently and keep experimenting with what works for you. Writing can be tiring and intensive and long nights of editing, but it can also be playful and tactile and fun! I also recommend keeping notebooks, and devising a system for ordering and sorting them (label!) and take a lot of notes, on things around you, things that stick out to you. Personally, I find my observational notes usually aren’t that useful for writing, I use them mainly to remember things that stuck out to me and explore that more later.

A lot of what I take notes on ends up being very literal and belongs in a more “accurate” or “intellectual” plane of thought, but it is still useful to track my thoughts (things that remind me of other things, images, sensory experiences). Something that is interesting about writing for me is that you aren’t actually recreating things around you precisely, you are often making things that feel like another thing. Like if you are describing a location, it’s normally not satisfying to literally describe everything as it is laid out, you might be selective with your words, move between objects and experiences and thoughts, you might move between time, or between fact and conjecture. I guess that’s related to the fluidity I was talking about earlier. A really good example of that is if you are writing dialogue. Unless you are writing something radically realist, most conversations are more disjointed and sporadic than the ones that we read, they have repetition and small talk and things we usually leave out of dialogue when we write it. But we are still trying to create something that feels like those conversations, rather than literally is those conversations. A little bit like what we are doing now with texting our answers. In writing, everything happens for a reason, so it’s good to spend time thinking about those reasons too.