The Hawthornden Literary Retreat bestowed on Dr Sambudha Sen to complete the manuscript of a novel

The Hawthornden Castle

Editorial / June 22, 2023


Professor Sambudha Sen, Head of the Department of English at Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence, Delhi-NCR, was awarded a residency at the Hawthornden Castle to complete the final draft of a novel titled Those Old Takshila Blues.

Spectacularly poised in the landscapes of the countryside in Midlothian, Scotland, Hawthornden Castle is consecrated for the cause of literature. Nestled amidst the picturesque landscape of the North Esk river, Hawthornden offers a serene and idyllic setting for writers. It provides a peaceful setting for creative writers to work without any distractions. The retreat welcomes applications from all over the world and houses six writers at a time. Each resident, known as a Hawthornden Fellow, is assigned a room named after a famous English artist. Professor Sen’s room is called Shakespeare!

What sets Hawthornden Literary Retreat apart is its unique approach to fostering creativity. Writers-in-residence at Hawthornden are expected to adhere to a strict code of silence, emphasizing the importance of uninterrupted reflection and creative exploration. This code promotes an atmosphere of contemplation and allows writers to fully immerse themselves in their work. Meals are taken communally but are conducted in silence, further encouraging a focused and introspective atmosphere.

The retreat also hosts a diverse community of writers, both established and emerging, from different corners of the world. This multicultural and interdisciplinary environment encourages cross-pollination of ideas, perspectives, and literary traditions, fostering a rich and vibrant creative exchange. Writers-in-residence have the opportunity to interact with fellow artists during communal meals, walks through the scenic grounds, and informal gatherings, creating a supportive and inspiring community.

Hawthornden Literary Retreat also offers occasional readings and events, allowing writers to share their work with a wider audience. These events foster a connection between the writers-in-residence and the local community, creating a space for cultural exchange and appreciation.

The library at Hawthornden Castle

The selection process for residency at Hawthornden is highly competitive, with applications evaluated based on the quality and promise of the writer's work. Dr Sen's application was supported by letters from Dame Gillian Beer Emerita King Edward VII, Professor of English at Cambridge University and Professor Catherine Gallagher Emerita Eggers, Professor of English, Berkeley.

"I feel that this is time to reiterate that this novel and the substantive academic research I did through the last 7 years would not have been possible without Shiv Nadar IoE", says Professor Sen.

No visitors allowed - this policy has its roots in bygone centuries. It seems that Charles Dickens tried to visit Hawthornden at the height of his fame. A periodical based in Boston, Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, reported the following in its 1859 edition:

During his recent visit to Edinburg, Dickens sought out the beautiful and classic scenery of Hawthornden… Mr Dickens went there with an order for admission. When he got to the gate with his party, the old wrinkled woman who acts as Cerberus, refused most decidedly to let them in. Mr Dickens was so astonished at the insolence of the old Scotch beldame in refusing admittance to such a respectable party as his, and such a handsome put-on as himself in particular, that he was driven to the desperate resource of appealing to his fame. ‘My good woman, my name’s Dickens, and I can’t come here every day.’ ‘I neither ken nor care what your name is,’ responded Cerberus, ‘but ye cana get in excep’ on regular days.’

This rule of Hawthornden Castle remains up to the present – unbreachable even by celebrity. 

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