From the archive: The London Square

The suggestions as to where I could run ‘Wild In The City’ weekend workshops have ranged from the rambling 88 acres of Hampstead Heath, to the smallest, most secluded square in Bloomsbury.

And actually, I am more drawn towards the latter. I fantasise about my assistant’s eyes opening wide as he reports back, ‘I’ve found the perfect place’. He then places a heavy, golden key into my hand.  ‘The Perfect Place’ would be hidden in the beating heart of the city, sandwiched between Georgian houses, and ignored by bustling commuters. It would be bounded by ornate Victorian railings. Tendrils of Persian Ivy and Clematis would make a climbing frame of the railings and reach for the sky. As the key creaked in the lock, a secret garden, a wild green space, would be revealed to me.

Later, when I land back from my fantasy, I begin to wonder: why is my ideal venue small and contained, rather than one vast, unbounded space, like, say, Hampstead Heath?

My sense is that Hampstead Heath is the ‘catharsis’ of Wild Words venues. It’s a great place to run wild and ‘let it all out’. But ‘letting it all out’ can be the worst thing a blocked writer can do. Contrary to what is often taught, unleashing an emotional and literary explosion often causes the writer to freeze up more, rather than doing the opposite, and enabling flow.

No, the answer lies in another approach. The answer is in the quiet containment that I’m reminded of when I think about that secret garden square. It’s in facilitating words that are charged with emotion out on to the page in a controlled way, like tendrils pushing their way out from between railings. When we do this we channel creative energy. It’s then that we find the power in our words.

The Weekly Prompt

Close your eyes and imagine:

You’ve seen a poster on a city street: ‘Wild In The City: Weekend courses located in secret wild spaces in the heart of urban areas’.

Now imagine that a heavy, golden key is put into your hand. Feel the weight of it. You know instinctively that this key unlocks a gate that gives you access to the place in your mind where the wild words live.

Imagine now that you walk through the city with that weighty key curled in your hand. Follow you feet as they lead you to the lock that the key will fit. No need to think about where you are going. Your body knows.

You reach that place. The key fits the lock. It turns.

Now, write for fifteen minutes about what it is like inside the secret, green space in the heart of the city.

This article was first published on 10th October 2013

From the archive: Sharpham House

On Friday we went in search of our Wild Words at the magnificent Sharpham House, two miles upstream from the town of Totnes, in Devon.

The famous architect Robert Taylor designed the house and the great landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is thought to have landscaped the extensive grounds.

We moved fluidly between our base camp, a room where the log fire warmed our bones, and explorations of those grounds. We dodged the raindrops, and luxuriated in the moments when the sun peeped through the clouds.

We gazed down on what is, I believe, one of the most wonderful views in the country. The fields and wooded slopes fall effortlessly to the banks of the River Dart.  We felt the slow passage of time in the way that, since the ice age, the river has pushed its way through the landscape. That river became the main artery for goods going to the thriving market town. Now it enjoys a lazy role as the ambassador of fleets of summer pleasure boats.

We tapped into the rich history of the inhabitants of the house, and found a wellspring of stories. There was the ‘mad hermit’ Willelmus in the 14thcentury.  There were wealthy merchants, politicians, and due to its proximity to Plymouth and Dartmouth, naval heroes too. Captain Pownoll was a high seas adventurer who made his name in 1762 by capturing a Spanish treasure Galleon.

We explored our fears of the wild, and were inspired by it too.

The cat dissecting the bird. The snake-like river. Exploring those qualities of ‘wild’ led us to think about how what we considered ‘natural’ had mostly been cultivated, planted, tamed, as well as exploited and abused, by the human hand. Except perhaps for that river…

Some hours after the workshop had ended, those wild words were still reverberating through me. A friend phoned, and told me that he’d found a dead peasant that had been hit by a car. ‘A road-kill bird will lie there by the side of the road all day, and no one will stop for it. What a waste’. He’d picked it up and cooked it. So we enjoyed peasant casserole that evening. A taste of the wild? Or just another victim of the human species? Both, I suppose.

Weekly Writing Prompt

What do you know about the inhabitants of the building that you are in at this moment? What are their stories? Write about one person who has lived there, or the procession of dwellers through time. If you don’t know the facts, use your imagination. 

This article was first published in April 14th 2013