It was only after I moved away from the land I grew up in, that I started to realise how much a part of my soul it had been. It would have only taken an hour or so to get back by car, but I didn’t have a car, and there were other complications. For years, I lived as an exile from the landscape of my heart, and it hurt. There were times aplenty when I cried for the grief of not being in my landscape and cursed myself for being too stupid to realise how much it mattered, until after I had left. It was during this period, that I wrote Hunting the Egret.
I’ve described the book as a love story, but it is also a love letter, from me to the places my heart yearned for; forest, vale and high blue hill, winding River Severn, Cotswold edge, mysterious Forest of Dean. While I lived in Gloucestershire, I’d hardly written about it at all. After leaving, my stories, poems and songs were full of the place I came from. I learned other people’s songs about the area, too, drawing especially on Johnny Copin’s settings of various local poets. I read Laurie Lee’s work for the first time, and Winifred Foleys A Child in the Forest.
During that period of absence, Gloucestershire took on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I shared images of favourite places with Tom, and the influence crept into Hopeless Maine. This is why one of the ruins in the first book looks a good deal like Tintern Abbey. I knew it wasn’t wholly original. Local musician and poet, Ivor Gurney, was sent off to foreign fields for the First World War and spent his time writing about Gloucestershire. That makes perfect sense to me.
The Welsh have a word for the anguish a Welsh person feels when away from their native landscape: Hiraeth. The Welsh diaspora is nothing like as large as Scottish and Irish communities around the world. The Welsh as a people experienced a lot of similar economic pressures, but, I have been told, Wales is much harder to leave, and much more likely to draw you back. Of course the location of the Welsh border has varied a good deal through history, and my Forest of Dean ancestry was probably Welsh ancestry a bit further back in time. That’s my excuse. The idea of hiraeth makes a lot of sense to me.
I had to go somewhere else before I learned how to be a Druid and came to understand how sacred this landscape is to me. Coming back, I feel more inspired than ever to write about this place, these hills, and to sing the songs of the land that was always my home. With shades of Dorothy, I had to go away in order to appreciate what I had left behind, not to a mystical land, but to the Midlands, where the witches were charming but there was a notable absence of glorious Technicolor.
I’ll sneak an excerpt…
“Resting her arms on her knees, and her chin upon the backs of her arms, Verity considered the view. The tide was in on the river, and the Severn filled her banks with silvery water. From here, she looked beautiful. Closer too, she was all mud and treachery, but Verity had been used to this for as long as she could remember. Down and slightly to her left nestled the greater part of Arlode – the eighteenth century church with its neat graveyard, the main street with its handful of shops, the cottages and more recent developments. It hadn’t changed much in a century, aside from the cars and their ever-present hum. The little school was just how it had been when she spent her days there. Her own small cottage, a little outside the village, was a crouching shambles that looked as though it had grown out of the land itself.”
Hunting the Egret now on kindle… http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EKJCPY6