The other week I was walking Frodo through the gardens and fields at Tyntesfield when I realised I hadn’t met or even seen another person (apart from the lady who swiped my National Trust card). It was mid-morning on a week day in early February and I seemingly had the place to myself. All I could hear was the wind stirring the bare branches of the trees, which reminded me of waves crashing on a pebble beach. The air was cold, the sun cast watery light on the dew speckled grass and, as I trudged along the paths with Frodo, I caught glimpses of the landscape in the distance; fields, villages, trees and hazy hills merging with the pale blue sky.
The peace and quiet and the inspiring landscape made me want to write. I decided it was actually too cold to sit down and write anything but the bracing walk got me thinking about my two novels and I kept playing scenes from them over and over in my head. Many times in the past I’ve taken a notebook out with me on a walk and worked on my novels sitting on a wall by the harbourside or on a grassy slope on Cabot Hill in Bristol. I find writing flows better when I haven’t got access to the internet, I’m away from the distractions of home and, most importantly of all, the surroundings are inspiring.
One of the most memorable writing workshops I’ve ever done was with author, poet and creative writing lecturer, Lucy English, when we went away to The Kingcombe Centre in Dorset as part of our MA in Creative Writing. On the second day there, after a cooked breakfast, myself, Lucy and four others headed away from Kingcombe and walked in silence along muddy tracks and across fields. After 20 minutes Lucy asked us to all find a spot where we couldn’t see anyone else and either stand or sit for 15 minutes taking in our surroundings before beginning to write. I remember leaning back against the gnarled trunk of a tree and looking out across a field towards woods. It was peaceful; Lucy and my fellow MA students were nowhere in sight and it was wonderful to do absolutely nothing for 15 minutes except soak up every detail of the landscape surrounding me.
After writing for 15 minutes we met up and each read out what we’d written – six very different pieces inspired by similar surroundings. What I wrote whilst leaning against that tree in Dorset eventually ended up (admittedly with some tweaking) in my novel, The Butterfly Storm.
I head down the muddy lane, away from the road. I don’t have to walk far before the occasional swish of a car going past the cottage disappears altogether. The footpath sign at the end of the lane points over a stile and across a ploughed field. The soil is sandy and soft and I leave deep footprints as I walk the length of the field up towards the wood at the furthest end.
I’ve longed for this, away from the heat and intensity of home. The scent of autumn hangs in the air with the freshness of damp soil and the promise of rain. The chilly fingers of dawn, dissolved to dew with the sun, cling to each blade of grass. The wood is dark and cool, the soil underfoot turns to damp leaves and with each step I add the sound of snapping twigs to the birds calling and the sigh of the wind in the trees. It’s a tranquility I’m not used to, either as a child growing up in a city or as a woman living in a country where everyone knows your business and the only quiet time is the siesta, and that’s only because everyone else is asleep too. Here, peace surrounds me; it’s everywhere, in the cool breeze, the diluted sunlight – isn’t it the very nature of the British to keep themselves to themselves? Mum doesn’t pry, doesn’t question. Not so in Greece, however laid back they are, they want to know what I’m up to, where I’m going, what I’m thinking: Alekos, Despina, Lena, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even Takis.
Through the trees the sun makes dappled patterns on the damp ground. Beneath my feet baby crab apples lie discarded like unloved toys, befriended by fawn mushrooms poking through the moss. I’m alone, unwatched, un-judged. Only my footprints give me away, imprinting the ground with my private pathway.
Are you stuck for inspiration? Got a spare hour? Why not grab a note book and pen and head outdoors – to the beach, a wood or a local park and try and find somewhere peaceful with as few people around as possible (ideally not another human in sight – birds and squirrels though are welcome) and just start writing about your surroundings. Maybe it will inspire a scene in your novel like it did with me.
I’d love to know where your favourite places are to write?