Sunday, 10 November 2019

'Back from the Brink'

My 'office' on Friday
Even if you've never been to Northamptonshire, there is a good chance you've heard of Rockingham Forest. This was once a hunting forest covering over a third of the county; it now exists in isolated patches dotted through a farmed landscape, giving people like me the opportunity to walk in nature and breathe in some good air.  The perfect setting, then, for a creative writing workshop.

It was a privilege to be asked to run a session in Fineshade Wood under the aegis of a Back from the Brink Project, which as the name suggests is concerned with the conservation and restoration of rare plants, bats, birds, reptiles and butterflies. Our focus was birds and we began with a short guided walk led by Liz, who works for the project. After the recent torrential rain, I was relieved that we had glorious sunshine, although it was a bit nippy. Liz gave us lots of information about what was going on in this patch of woodland. We stood in silence to take in the atmosphere, connecting with our senses and enjoying the cackling of rooks and the call of pheasants.

Back in the warm, I gave the participants some exercises to do to help get the creative juices going, and read various extracts of published works - poetry, fiction and non-fiction - by way of example. Then I suggested some prompts and off they went. Despite some of them saying 'I'm not really a writer', they all produced some lovely work and I hope they will carry on doing so.

From my point of view there were two equally important aims of this workshop:
  1. To encourage participants to create a piece of writing based on the birds in the woodland and the environment in a wider sense.
  2. To bring awareness of the work of Roots of Rockingham, Back from the Brink and all the groups involved in restoring and managing this network of woodland sites, creating more habitat in which a range of vulnerable species can thrive, and to stimulate engagement in this work.
I think on both counts we had a successful morning.

Monday, 4 November 2019

How well do you know your own work?

Bernie and Riley, who was also in the studio
I was interviewed on BBC Northampton this morning (get her!) about A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line. It was great fun and I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame, but the interview didn't go as I'd expected it would.

The host of the show, Bernie Keith (see page 167 of the book), is a lovely chap and very easy to talk to, and he always does his research. He knew, for instance, that I'd been to Worcester, so he must have read this blog. However, while in my mind my book is all about the funny stories, he came at it from a different angle, homing in on the whole business of diary writing, on the local connections and the rather serious side of adjusting to the 'new normal' when one of you retires.

I've just listened back on BBC Sounds here (I'm on at 1.44.45) and I'm pleased with the result. It is actually more lighthearted than it felt at the time - there were things recorded that I don't remember saying: isn't that strange? - but it has made me wonder if as writers we get so caught up with what we think we're saying that we forget our readers might have a different agenda.

What do you think?