Friday, 25 May 2012

Buttercups for all on the no 9 bus to Hammersmith

Here's a shaky experimental video from my iPod, taken early this morning in the field above Ashurst. Apologies for the quality - it's my first video. I've edited it, in as much as I've worked out how to cut the section where I peer into the lens wondering if it's filming, and I eventually figured out how to turn the picture the right way up too. That's quite enough for today.

My walk was a joy after a hot day in London yesterday, which was fun but didn't involve any buttercups - there was, however, lunch with my photographer friend Steffi as we watched the world go by outside Southwark cathedral, followed by a visit to the very strange Antiquarian Bookfair at Olympia. It's full of stunning ancient maps and books, smart suits and money. It also gives a corner to people who make beautiful books today, and we were there to see Frances from Old Stile Press - it was a real pleasure. I'm also deeply honoured to find that The Swimmer sits alongside poetry by Ted Hughes and Philip Gross.

Anyway, London was hellishly hot yesterday, especially the no 9 bus from Green Park to Kensington Olympia. For all those who have to travel on her daily, here are some buttercups.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Hand-written landscapes

Last weekend I went down to Hastings, to make some sound recordings of the sea

but when I got home I found that despite getting drenched in spray, all I managed to record was the wind blasting across the microphone - no trace of the crashing waves, gulls, or crunching feet on pebbles.

If I sit by the sea for long enough, its size begins to overwhelm me. At Hastings, the boats set to sea from the beach as there is no harbour, so when the sea's too much I look instead at the boats pulled up on the shingle. How can something this human, this fragile, survive in the waves?

I've been going down to Hastings since I was a small child, and it has found its way into my writing - both as the almost setting for my short story, The Flotsam Cafe - and as something more subtle. Perhaps it's become part of my character. Down on the Strade I'm reminded how close to the edge we live in Britain - of land, and familiarity, of safety.

I'm glad the British Library has decided to recognise literature and place in its new exhibition, Writing Britain. I spent a happy afternoon there this week, and it confirmed my strong feeling that place is central to our writing, from the Green Man and John Barleycorn through the vast body of writing inspired by industrial energy and wastelands and cities, to Ted Hughes' eel poem 'Catadrome' - new to me, and a joyful discovery. I was there for almost three hours and could have spent longer easily - though it was frustrating that the light had to be so low over many of the manuscripts, and that so many authors treasured paper so much that they wrote in minuscule script which I simply couldn't read.

And scripts abounded - right up to Graham Swift's handwritten Waterland, and McEwan's manuscript for On Chesil Beach. No typewriters or PCs for them - there were the words as they flowed from their hands, their inky hills and valleys mapped out on the page.

I write with a pen when I'm beginning a piece - but can't imagine writing a whole novel by hand. I'm too impatient once I get going. Maybe I should experiment with resisting my impatience, writing at my hand's speed?