Wild Words: Place & Environment Writing

Because I’m not already ridiculously busy, I thought I’d start a writing course in January. It’s called Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing and is going to be a mix of considering texts and writing our own responses to the topics. We’ll be considering ideas such as nature, dwelling and wilderness and ahead of the course, we’ve been asked to reflect on any previous reading which relates to place and environment.

A close up photo of a grassy meady with flowering heather and unidentifiable yellow flowers

Any long term readers of this blog will probably have realised I have done a lot of this. I spent a year or so following my own loose curriculum around nature and writing and reading formed a large part of that.

There was Tarka the Otter which captures animal calls so well, Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us which is a great example of her ability to translate potentially difficult, scientific ideas into a language of poetry, and there was the incredible book from Elizabeth Tova Bailey – The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – which makes the everyday experience of illness seem so much more inspiring.

It is hard to choose just a few as I have read so widely about nature and place and environment over the last few years. And so many different kinds of books as well. There’s the question and answer format from Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation which offers agony aunt (or should that be ant?) style help to different creatures. There’s the wonderful series from Reakion which looks at animals predominantly through a human lens and considers how we have integrated them into our cultures and beliefs.

Of course poetry has featured in my reading, including Isabel Galleymore’s Significant Other, The Lost Spells from Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane, and Basic Nest Architecture from the lovely Polly Atkin.

I read books about nature writing itself, and eco-criticism, and how to guides.

And diary style formats as well – such as Mile’s Richardson’s Needwood – and collections by different writers such as The Oxford Book of Nature Writing which also takes you on a journey across time.

I read articles such as Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame? by Mark Cocker, and a responding article from Robert MacFarlane, Why we need nature writing. There was also a post about the two articles considered together.

And I read myths and legends. And magazines. And journals.

Essentially, there’s been a lot of reading, about different aspects of nature and environment, and I love the variety of forms and approaches. I love the many different topics that are covered, the passion of the authors and the new ways of seeing that they introduce me to. I hope that each one leaves a trace of itself in my creative mind, a glimmer of a snail’s track, and that I can weave some together to create my nature writing. Whilst I love and admire many different writers, I aspire only to be myself, to be my voice.

Historic Objects of Conflict and Desire

Today I went on a one day course with the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the Yorkshire Museum.  It was a writing course but the title was Historic Objects of Conflict and Desire.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect at all but it was a really good day.

We were given a short tour of the museum which focused on particular objects and a bit about the history of them as well as the people associated with them.  For example, we looked at a tombstone which was commissioned by an ex soldier in memory of his wife and two children, a betrothal pendent made from Whitby jet, the York Helmet etc.

One of the exhibits we looked at was made up from things found in the Roman baths that were used by the legions (townspeople used a different set of baths).  There was pieces of jewellery, a jet ring, grooming instruments, buttons and beads.  There were also gemstones which fell out of rings because the steam, and contrasting high and low temperatures, caused the glue to fail.

Once we’d looked at the artifacts and handled some of them we started to write.  After a quick warm up we were asked to choose one of the objects that we’d seen that morning.  I went for the gem that had come loose from a ring in the baths.  The tutor then guided us through some questions to develop a piece of writing from the perspective of the object.  I found the questions really helpful and will try and use them again as a prompt:

  1. What are you?
  2. What are you feeling?
  3. Where would you rather be?
  4. What relationships do you have?
  5. What do you dream of doing?
  6. What worries you?
  7. What would you like others to think of you?
  8. What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
  9. What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
  10. What makes you feel guilty?
  11. What is your favourite time of night or day?
  12. What is the point of your life?
  13. How would you like to be remembered?

A gemstone in the sewer

I am a beautiful gemstone.  I am feeling lost, cool, dirty.  I would rather be surrounded by silver, not filthy sewage.  I am surrounded by others, also parted from their owner.  We are all discarded.  I dream of sparkling in daylight, shining in the sun.  I worry that I shall be stuck here forever, never be found, never reunited with my soldier.  I hope he misses me. I want others to see me, admire my smooth edges, the hues within me.  The best thing I ever did was bring luck to my master in the fight of his life.  I saw him glance at me, fiddle with me and his face grew braver.  The worst thing I ever did was relax.  I didn’t hold on tight enough and now I’m being punished.  I feel guilty, without me, how will he survive the next battle.  Without me, he has no luck.  My favourite time of day was the golden hour before dusk.  I would shimmer and glow and I know that makes my master proud.  He flashed me around, showing off his status.  The point of my life is beauty and luck.  I hope he remembers he.  I hope he remembers me with regret, with grief.

We then carried on to other exercises which started to bring in conflict.  It turns out I avoid conflict in my writing as much as I avoid it in my life…!