Caught by the River

Postcard as placeholder

22nd May 2024

Caught by the River spent 2023 sentencing writers and artists to time in a tower in a far corner of these islands. The fourth person to have served time in the Curfew Tower, Tara Joshi recounts her time in half-burned candles, protective talismans and boxes of mangoes.

I’m not sure the residents of the Curfew Tower ever really leave. As in, it seems plausible that there are traces of the ghosts of those people who were once locked in the dungeon for being out in the streets too late, along with the dude who would keep watch, all still lingering in the strange, looming building. But more recently, too, the artists who have stayed there under Bill Drummond’s tenure have undoubtedly left their mark. That means the creepy glow-in-the-dark body painted on one of the bedroom walls, appearing at night to make me shiver; the dusty dead butterflies placed ominously in window sills like fallen leaves. But also, more welcomingly, the half-burned candles that glowed and melted on the desk as I scribbled nonsense into the night; the cute little tea cosy keeping me in constant supply of hot drinks; someone’s red cardigan slung over the bannister and a hot water bottle hidden away in a cupboard, found just as the improbably cold summer was drilling deep into my bones.

I had actually only heard of the Tower and Cushendall some months before heading there myself. I bumped into Emma Warren at our friend Kieran Yates’ book launch (All The Houses I’ve Ever Lived In – a beautiful, radical, rousing read on housing and home, if you’re interested). Emma was just back from her time in Northern Ireland, and seemed so infectiously energised by it, speaking about how magical it was. She recommended I chat with Caught by the River about going myself, seeing as how I had written for them before anyway. She also mentioned how she’d brought her grandmother’s scarf as a sort of protective talisman against the spookiness of the dungeon. 

Suffice it to say, heading to Cushendall was a surreal part of the summer of 2023. Just days before my arrival, I had left the heady haze of Glastonbury, and so my stint in the Curfew Tower was not something I had felt wholly ready for – mentally, physically, spiritually – when I arrived through a sheet of rain on the 150 bus, sipping on Club Orange and fishing the crumbs of salt and vinegar crisps out of my teeth with my tongue. I had at least brought the white shawl my late grandmother once gave me as a teenager, having heeded Emma’s warning. Otherwise I had clothes, some books, my laptop and a cardboard box of North Indian mangos my partner had packed me off with (just the essentials, then).

Maybe it’s not the sort of thing you can really prepare yourself for, anyway; but in part, my trepidation about Tower life was more of an existential one.

All the lovely people I met during my time in Cushendall – on walks along the seafront, drinking pints at Joe’s, consuming pancakes and endless cups of tea at Café Cova, even on the corner of the street outside Duck’s shop – would ask some version of the question: “So you’re the artist, are you?” To stay in the Curfew Tower in its contemporary guise is to be an artist. As a journalist, rather than someone known more nebulously as ‘a writer’, I had partly wanted to go there to prove to myself that I could be an artist; that the novel I have been working on in my spare time is not some fanciful trifle, but something legitimate. 

And while I was there, I found I could write. I was jotting down notes in my diary wherever I went. If I asked anyone what made Cushendall so special, everyone had the same answer: the community. I understood the sentiment quite quickly. Sitting in on rehearsals with the trad groups in the front room at Joe’s (they even did that most taboo of all things in Irish trad, and gave me the sheet music). Having long conversations to get a sense of people and place; going on a drive with Feargal to get a better look at the Glens, see Scotland in the distance, and gaze in awe at the waterfalls (and wax lyrical about Cat Stevens); lunch with Liz to discuss the local mythology and folklore; a chat with the plumber about not angering the malevolent fairies on a nearby hill, all while he fixed the kitchen sink. Often, I’d go talk with Dominic about the area, and end up speaking at length about his late daughter Lisa, and the impact she’d had – the foundation that has been set up in her name to try and better support people in times of need with their mental health. Zippy and I would reminisce on festival memories and fiercely debate Yoko Ono’s involvement in the demise of the Beatles. I walked alone along the coast, explored graveyards and churches, read books in the library and tourist centre, and tried to make time every day to walk down to the beach and watch the way the sea stretched out. 

And after each thing, I wrote it all down. It feels a weirdly obvious revelation, but maybe being an artist is just dedicating the time to actually do it? Maybe confidence just comes from practice?

With that said, the cost of staying in the Tower is a piece of artwork. The writers Caught by the River curated to visit the Curfew Tower will be producing an anthology of the work each of us made during our time there. For me, putting together something while I was there still felt an unwieldy task: again, I think, because of that pervasive impostor-y feeling. I had pages and pages of notes. And so, I left a postcard in the Tower as a sort of placeholder, jotting down some of the scattered thoughts that had filled my head during my time there. It sits by the desk; a reminder hidden amongst the cobwebs and detritus that I was there, I suppose, being an artist. 


Tara Joshi is a British-Indian writer and editor who was born in Mumbai, raised on the Isle of Wight, and is currently based in London. She was co-editor and co-author of the 2022 essay collection ‘Haramacy’, and worked as the music editor at gal-dem from 2018 to 2022. Her work tends to focus on the intersections of culture, history and politics. 
Tara on Twitter / Instagram