Whatever a writer's subject, landscape usually figures in the process or the product. Childhood environments, the natural world, place and memoryall are part of the rich compost of prose and poetry.
In this anthology, writers from many genres consider how this interaction between landscape and literature works. Biographers find they need to explore the personal landscapes of their subjects; without knowing the places that have mattered to their biographees, they have an incomplete picture of the person. Many literally follow in their subjects footsteps: following Wordsworths path through the Duddon Valley, walking in the lush greenness of Laurie Lees Slad, picnicking amongst the bluebells of John Mortimers Thames Valley.
Several writers claim that producing a book happens partly indoors and partly outdoors. Richard Mabey quotes the Latin phrase, Solvitur ambulandoyou can sort it out by walking. Walking seems a common way of clearing the head, and clarifying ideas in between times at the computer. Other writers sort it out by contact with the elements in different ways: gardening, cycling, swimming, sailing.
A common thread running through all the essays is the inescapable influence of childhood experiences. Rain falling on a tin bath held over the head, walking over frozen bogs on Dartmoor, fishing for minnows, bull-heads and tommy whiskers on the Pennine fells, sailing through whirlpools of phosphorescence at night: these early experiences of the natural world transmute into literature when childhood moves into adulthood.
The contributors to this engaging book attempt to unravel the mysterious chemistry between landscape and literature. Some writers take unexpected and quirky stands: I dont like writing about landscape Hunter Davies surprisingly starts his piece. Some give a slice of autobiography: Its the beginning of the 1950s . . . Im reading a comic, when suddenly a butterfly lands on my shoe, Brian Patten writes. Novelists, true to form, mix fact and fiction with careless abandon: In 1993 I killed a woman. . . She died on the Mull of Kintyre is James Longs startling beginning.
The mix of styles and types of writers makes for much variety, and for an entertaining and informative read.
The writers featured in the book are:
Ronald Blythe, Rosalind Brady, James Crowden, Hunter Davies, Roger Deakin, Clive Fairweather, Jane Gardam, Valerie Grove, Karen Hayes, John Lister Kaye, Grevel Lindop, Penelope Lively, James Long, Richard Mabey, Brian Patten, Alan Peacock and Lawrence Sail
Kay Dunbar Introduction
Roger Deakin - Trainspottering
Kathleen Jones - Rooted in One Dear Perpetual Place
Alan Peacock - Beyond the Ropes End
Lawrence Sail - Behold, the Sea Itself
Jane Gardam - Babbling o Green Fields
Brian Patten - Snow and Rain
Walking the Words
James Crowden - Landscape: Inscape or Escape?
Richard Mabey - Leaving Tracks
John Lister-Kaye - On my Way to the Loch
Rosalind Brady - Out in the Woods
Setting the Story
Penelope Lively - Treecreepers, Ammonites and Lost Medieval Villages
James Long - Landscapes
Karen Hayes - Letting Dartmoor Go
Following the Footsteps
Valerie Grove - Spirit of Place
Grevel Lindop - The Countenance of Nature
Hunter Davies - Biographical Landscapes
Ronald Blythe - John Clare: the Poet and the Nest
Where It All Started
Clive Fairweather - Where It All Started