Wherever I live I seem to encounter herons. In St Andrews a solitary heron lived on the Kinnessburn, in Manchester there is a pair of herons living on the pond in Alexandra Park, and in Nottingham there is another pair of herons at the university’s Jubilee Campus. Here’s a series of short posts about those herons, some of them memories, some of them first hand accounts jotted down in notebooks. Continue readingThe Heron Journals
I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that I spent some time in Cornwall in January. During my visit I stayed with a friend in Falmouth and everyday that I was there I went down to the beach – Gylly Beach. It was quite literally a matter of going down because my friend lives on a hill above the beach. Everyday, without fail, that first glimpse of salt-water filled me with joy and that word would be going over in my head again – home. On one particularly still, sunny morning as I walked down the road to the beach, I could see the sillhouette figures of surfers stood on their boards, not moving on the gentle waves. I could also see a swimmer, her head bobbing on the water. The sea hides nothing. Continue readingA Sense of Place: Gyllyngvase
As we were driving home yesterday evening I saw what I thought was a cat creeping out from behind a car and on to the road.
“Cat!” I shouted, and my stepdad slowed down.
It was then I realised that what I’d thought was a cat was in fact a fox. In the split second that it took for the fox to pause in the headlights, turn and run back behind the car my brain was able to process the bushy tail, the pointed face, and the deep red and bronze of its fur. Continue readingFox in the Headlights
It’s 7:30pm as I write this and, though there is a dusky greyness to the light, it is far from dark. I like this time of year. I like the sudden leap forward that extends the daylight. One of the things I loved about living in St Andrews was the summer months when I could be awake at 4am and see the sunrise. There is something comforting about knowing the nights are shorter. It probably goes back to some in-built evolutionary thing. Night is when the creatures come out, it is a time to be afraid and stay indoors. I know plenty of people who feel quite the opposite, who like the dark and being out at night. For me night is a time to be inside with a warm drink and the glow of electric lights. Continue readingLong Spring Days
“You get knocked down, you get up again. I also think writers must have great courage, the courage to trust your own life and your own voice.”
— Ashley Pharoah
I have that quote on a postcard tacked to the wall next to my desk. I look at it from time to time and I find it reassuring because often when I’m writing I find myself hedging about and avoiding expressing my opinion. It is hard to put your opinion out there, because you risk having someone come along and point out all the flaws in your argument. The postcard reminds me to do it nonetheless. It reminds me to trust in what I have to say. It also reminds me that having a dialogue with others is what writing is all about, that words on a page that go unread and unchallanged may as well have never been written at all. Afterall, you get knocked down, you get up again. Continue readingCourage
Today as I was watching the garden through my binoculars I noticed two wood pigeons on a branch. I don’t usually pay much attention to the wood pigeons. There are so many of them in our garden and they seem too close to their abundant inner city neighbours to be of interest. However, today I didn’t simply skim over them and I was rewarded with an interesting display. Continue readingBowing Pigeons
It has been almost a year since I visited the largest of the Aran Islands, Arrain. I have thought about it a lot these last few days, probably because of the warmer weather we’ve been getting. The sunshine is making me feel nostalgic for this time last year, when we had a similar spell of early warm weather.
In January I visted Penryn, the small town on the south coast of Cornwall that I lived in for six months whilst studying my MA. It is situated on the Penryn River and rises up from the harbour. The older parts of Penryn – those little white cottages and winding, narrow lanes we associate with Cornwall – are mainly focused around the lower parts of the town and the town centre. The exception being a few newer apartments built along Budock Creek, which feeds in to the Penryn River. Continue readingA Sense of Place: Penryn
For an aspiring nature writing I am able to identify shamefully few birds. Of course there is an argument to be made for not knowing the names of things. Names are weighted and change the way we think about an object or creature. However, as a writer it is good to be able to tell the reader that I saw a blue tit in the garden this morning, rather than I saw a ‘blue and yellow’ bird, which is what I typed in to Google when I spotted the bird through my binoculars. Continue readingThe Names of Birds
“…a culture’s most cherished places are not necessarily visible to the eye – spots on the land one can point to. They are made visible in drama – in narrative, song, and performances. It is precisely what is invisible in the land, however, that makes what is merely empty space to one person a place to another. The feeling that a particular place is suffused with memories, the specific focus of sacred and profane stories, and that the whole landscape is a congeries of such places, is what is meant by a local sense of the land.”
— Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams.
My MA was called Writing, Nature and Place. The ‘writing’ and ‘nature’ parts are always fairly easy to explain to people, but they are generally a little more unclear about the ‘place’ part. Usually, for convenience, I just say that it was a nature and travel writing course. However, travel writing doesn’t really cover what is meant by writing about place. Isn’t place just location? someone asked me. I agreed that it probably is, but on reading the above quote from Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams I began to realise that I had been wrong. Location is just space, place is something that belongs to that space and yet is much more subjective. Continue readingA Sense of Place