Share your South

Cliffs at Beachy HeadReading the South is all about sharing creativity, so we welcome your ideas, your writing, your images and your comments on what ‘the South’ means to you.

How can you share your South?

  • You can submit your own creative writing pieces on the theme of ‘the South’ for inclusion in our online ‘Anthology’. Please read more about this on our Anthology blog post.
  • You can recommend books for inclusion in our Reading List (coming soon).
  • You can keep up to date with what is happening at Reading the South in your area and make suggestions or comments via our blog about how we might involve people in your community
  • You can make suggestions or comments via our blog about how we might involve people in your community

We very much look forward to hearing from you, the Reading the South team.

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Diana Bretherick: “A Circle of Souls”

Portsmouth-based author Diana Bretherick was inspired to write this gripping short story after leading some ‘memory’ sessions at the Portsmouth Central Library drawing on the city’s archive collections.  Portsmouth proudly holds the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle collection.

Clarence Pier Southsea c1900

A Circle of Souls by Diana Bretherick

They sat in a solemn semi-circle, hands touching lightly, their sweat mingling as anticipation grew. Who would visit from the spirit world that night? Everyone present, Violet noted, had their own part to play, from unquestioning believer to sceptic. The famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was there, like his detective character Sherlock Holmes, to discover the truth. Mr Powell whose lilting Welsh tones were currently wafting around the room, was the medium.

Earlier Violet and Michael, the Portland Hotel’s receptionist and trainee manager respectively, had spent some of the afternoon with Sir Arthur rearranging the furniture in his hotel room ready for the séance.

As they finished, the author smiled warmly and said to Violet:

‘I’ll need an observer. Do you have shorthand?’

‘Well, yes, I do, Sir, but…’ she had looked to Michael. He nodded.

‘That’s fine, Sir. I’ll find someone to cover at reception.’

So, despite her distrust of this new fad for Spiritualism, that evening she found herself watching as Conan Doyle tied the medium Mr Powell to his chair. She was then presented with a small megaphone circled with luminous paint to inspect. Violet had no idea what it was for, but nothing seemed amiss with it, and it was placed with great ceremony next to Mr Powell, whose lilting Welsh tones rang through the room as he enjoined them to form the circle.

The lights went down and the séance began. Violet could hear heavy breathing which seemed to be coming from Mr Powell. He spoke, but gone were the lilting Welsh tones. Instead, a deep, resonant voice announced itself as Black Hawk. He spoke quite cheerfully, Violet thought, notwithstanding the fact he was dead. He was also remarkably well versed in English for an American Indian and had a preoccupation with wigwams.

After he went quiet, the only sound was Mr Powell snoring. The megaphone slowly rose in the dark, the luminous paint glowing as it swooped and circled like an errant sparrow, before vanishing and then reappearing with flowers stuck up the end. At this, Violet had a sudden urge to laugh. Then Black Hawk was back. ‘There is someone here…’

A cold wind blew across Violet’s face. A mantel clock struck repetitively – ding, ding, ding – telling out the time as midnight. At the door she saw a figure. It was Michael. Curiosity had clearly got the better of him considering he wasn’t meant to be working that evening. He frowned as he cast his eyes around the room; then he saw Violet and smiled, making an odd gesture, his hands clasped together, as if he was imploring her to do something. But what she wondered? Help him? It was most peculiar. What was he thinking?

There was a crash and the lights were turned on. A decorative wooden pedestal was on its side in the centre of the semi-circle. Violet looked back to the door. Michael had gone.

‘How are your notes, Miss Pilgrim?’ Sir Arthur asked.

‘It was a little dark, so they may be no more than scribbles.’ She glanced down at her notebook. Written at the top of an otherwise blank page were the words ‘I am the only witness.’

 

 

 

Inspector Harry Fox was unmoved by death. After losing both his wife and son in the last three years he had little space left in his heart for emotion, only cold hard facts. Ironically his pain had made him an excellent detective. Searching for truth through the fog of deception was easier without feeling, whatever the crime.

Today the crime was murder. The dead man lay on his front in a pool of blood, arms placed out to the side in a macabre imitation of a crucifixion. The face was to one side, eyes wide open, cheeks inexplicably covered with grime. The corpse had been found by a kitchen porter in the early hours of the morning, lying near dustbins in an alley way at the back of the Portland Hotel. Harry’s sergeant Sam Tubbs knelt gingerly beside the body and began to search the pockets.

‘Nothing sir, ‘he said. ‘Looks like a robbery.’ Then he lifted something – a pocket watch that had disgorged its glass lens on the ground when the Sergeant flipped its cover. The hands had stopped at exactly midnight.

‘Broken as he fell, Sir? Maybe that’s why the robber didn’t take it.’

‘Maybe.’ But Harry was doubtful. The murder seemed too vicious for that. His suspicion was confirmed when the pathologist had the body turned. There were so many cuts on the torso it was hard to see where one ended and another began.

‘What next, sir? Interviews?’ Tubbs asked.

‘Yes, sergeant. Let’s get started.’

 

 

Violet sat in the café, staring out at the sea front. The wind was lively and every now and again the waves crashed against the promenade and seeped onto the pathway forcing people to retreat from the water – the ladies squealing and the gentlemen laughing and offering a hand to pull them clear.

Violet was not amused. Instead she was dazed by a conversation that she couldn’t explain.

‘Miss Pilgrim?’ A familiar Scots burr made her look up.

‘Sir Arthur, I…’

‘May I buy you another cup of tea? That one looks cold.’

‘Well I really should be going…’

‘Surely you have time to keep an old man company for a few moments.’

His blue eyes sparkled and she smiled. ‘I don’t believe you could ever be described as old.’

He ordered their drinks from a star struck waitress and sat down. ‘You left so quickly last night I didn’t get a chance to thank you.’

‘It was my pleasure.’

Sir Arthur laughed. ‘I’m not sure that pleasure quite describes it but I hope you found it interesting.’

Violet hesitated. ‘Sir Arthur…may I ask you something?’

‘Of course…ask away…unless it’s a request for more Holmes stories or to ask me where I get my ideas from.’ He peered at her with mock intensity. ‘No, you look far too intelligent for that.’

‘Do you think there really is an afterlife?’

He peered at her again, thoughtful. ‘Do you, Miss Pilgrim?’

‘I don’t know…well that is to say until last night I would have dismissed it but now…’

‘What decided you? Was it the voice of Black Hawk? He’s an interesting chap, isn’t he? Or was it the pedestal? It took two of us to put it back, you know.’

‘Neither although I did wonder how it was done…No – it was something I saw…or thought I saw but I couldn’t have done…not really…’

‘Miss Pilgrim I have seen many strange things in my life and have tried to judge them scientifically. True, there are frauds pretending to be mediums and preying on the misery of the bereaved…’

‘But?’

‘But Mr Powell is not one of them.’

‘You really believe in spirits?’

‘I do.’

Violet got to her feet and shook Sir Arthur’s hand for all she was worth. ‘Thank you…you don’t know what that means… thank you.’ She ran off jamming her hat back on her head and waving goodbye to a bemused Sir Arthur.

 

 

Harry glanced down at his watch. Had they been here for only three hours? It felt more like ten. They had found no weapons, no witnesses and no motive to kill Michael, the hotel’s trainee manager. It was frustrating but sometimes that was how it worked out. Not every crime could be solved quickly.

The door crashed open and a young woman rushed in.

‘I have to… talk to you…it’s important.’

She sank onto the seat he offered, taking a moment to catch her breath.

‘The young man who died…he was my colleague…more than that really.’

‘Were you…sweethearts?’

The girl blushed. ‘No, just friends.’ She held out her hand. ‘I’m Violet Pilgrim…Michael, the dead man…he was murdered.’

Harry took her hand and shook it limply. ‘That much we know.’

‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ she blurted. ‘I thought you’d think I was foolish or mad or something but Sir Arthur persuaded me… or I should say something he said made me…’

‘Sir Arthur?’

‘Conan Doyle,’ Violet answered as if it was the most natural thing in the world to talk to a detective about the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

‘He wants me to tell you that he doesn’t know who did it or why.’

‘Well that makes two of us. But why should Sir Arthur know anything?’

‘No, not Sir Arthur…Michael…the dead man.’

Harry looked at this strange woman to get the measure of her. Was she playing some elaborate trick? She looked flustered but earnest. He detected no madness and no mockery.

Violet took a deep breath and took off her hat, running exasperated hands through her auburn curls. ‘Michael was murdered. I don’t know the name of his killer but whoever it was wore a gentleman’s cologne called Eau de Vetiver and expensive soft leather gloves.’

‘And how do you know that?’

‘I saw Michael.’

‘When?’

‘Last night. In the séance. He looked in.’

‘What time was that?’ Harry was suddenly alert.

‘Exactly midnight. I know because I heard the clock strike.’

Midnight. The precise time of the murder, judging by the victim’s pocket watch.

‘He spoke to you, did he, Miss?’ he asked trying to hide his disbelief.

‘No – well… yes. There wasn’t time in the séance. But he left me a note. And later he told me.’

Later, thought Harry. How could it have been later unless the pocket watch clue was wrong?

‘When did he tell you?’

‘This morning,’ Violet said, ‘in a café on the seafront.’

Harry sat back, irritated by this hysterical woman – another spiritist who thought she could speak to the dead.

‘I know. It doesn’t make sense to you – or to me for that matter. I didn’t believe in any of this until now! Michael asked me to tell you. The killer took his wallet but this wasn’t a robbery. Look at all those cuts.’

Harry stared at her. How did she know about the cuts? Nothing had been said to the Press.

‘He told me so himself,’ she said, as if she could read his mind. ‘I know you won’t believe me but I had to tell you and now I have.’

 

 

Harry thought a moment. Then, half-reluctantly he took out his notebook. Of course, he didn’t believe in this mumbo-jumbo. But at the same time, here was a material fact that as a detective he had to write down, collate and compare with the scant other facts.

Violet had given them something to go on in a case that appeared unsolvable. But explaining to his boss that the testimony of a dead man was all they had was not going to be easy.

And even more troubling, explaining to himself why he was willing to accept the testimony of a dead man in a world he knew was devoid of ghosts and spirits – well, that was even harder still.

Reading the South – a space for writers

Worthing seafront-James Holland“What is it that makes the area you live in ripe for writing about?  What is the history of the place? What are the towns and cities and surrounding landscapes like? What are the peculiarities of the people who live there?  Creating a sense of place in fiction or poetry is not just about describing your surroundings but about examining the history and quirks of a place and the people who inhabit it that make it unique.”Lizzie Enfield

 

Local author Lizzie Enfield beautifully sums up what Reading the South is all about.  She and many of the other authors involved in Reading the South in 2015-16 have given us in the Reading the South Writers’ Blog some wonderful insights into their attachment to the region and how it influences or even inspires their writing.

As Reading the South develops, we invite our writers and artists to continue using this space to share their thoughts and to inspire others to get creative!

Juliet West: “Celebrations”

Library booksWorthing library was bright with balloons when I arrived for the final Reading the South creative writing workshop. It was the library’s 40th birthday, and there’d been celebrations throughout the day as staff and library users shared cake and memories. I would have been almost five years old when the building first opened, and I can well remember my excitement when I discovered the red bean bags dotted around the children’s section. A book and a bean bag – bliss!

Forty years on, I felt a different sense of anticipation as I walked into the library foyer. I was leading an extra workshop which had been organised in response to the great demand for Reading the South creative writing sessions. I wondered what kind of group this would be? How would they respond to the extracts and exercises I’d prepared? Age-wise we turned out to be a mixed bunch, from young students to retirees. Many were from Worthing, others had relocated to Sussex quite recently. Previous sessions had included writers at different levels (including some with MAs and published work on their CVs), however this group all described themselves as complete beginners. Is it wrong that the phrase ‘fresh meat’ flashed into my mind? Perhaps ‘blank slates’ would be more appropriate…

During this session, we focused on first person narrative as a way of developing character, looking at extracts from John Fowles (The Collector), Iris Murdoch (The Sea, The Sea) and Nathan Filer (The Shock of the Fall). I was impressed once again by the imaginative and original responses to the writing exercises, with some memorable Sussex characters and settings which participants will soon be sharing on this website. There was a lot of laughter during this session, as well as interesting discussion around the subject of character, for example how characters can – and arguably should – drive plot, rather than vice versa.

I might not have been clutching a balloon as I left the library that night, but my mood was definitely celebratory. Reading the South has been such an enjoyable and inspirational experience for me and, I hope, the many readers and writers who’ve attended the various workshops, reading groups and events. I’d like to thank Jackie, Lyndsey and Julie for organising the Worthing sessions – and special thanks also to my workshop groups for sharing their enthusiasm and their creativity.

Juliet WestJuliet West

 

Niyati Keni: “The embroidery of place and person”

Worthing seafront - Juliet WestIn my reading group sessions at Worthing Library we explored the relationship between place, culture, role and identity. Throughout, I felt as if the gist of the matter always floated just beyond my understanding. Now, at the end of my involvement with Reading The South, I feel like things might finally be starting to crystallise.

For the last session I brought a new book to read from to contrast with my own: award-winning Albanian author Elvira Dones’ remarkable novel, Sworn Virgin.

Hana Doda, the protagonist of Dones’ book, occupies many selves during the story. She is a girl from a mountain village, then a university student, then a man. The decision to live as a man is a result of how bound Hana is to her native place and culture. It’s only when she finally tears herself away from the mountains and emigrates to America that she can re-emerge, become a woman again and reconnect with her authentic self. For Hana, her homeland, her roots, are both a refuge and a trap. In an earlier reading group session one of the participants had talked about how moving to a new place, rather than weakening our sense of self, can offer us instead the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. In Sworn Virgin, Hana’s departure from the place that has always defined her allows her to finally become herself.

For my own part, over the course of Reading the South I have started to feel differently about being in West Sussex, about being in Worthing. Since moving here I’ve often wondered at my sense of incongruity. It’s a feeling that’s been hard to define. I just don’t feel at home. I’ve often wondered if it’s just me or if it’s just about the difficulty of adapting London notions to a smaller town. Because it goes without saying that there is much less flux in a town like Worthing. In London new narratives arise as a matter of course. People arrive to study, to start work, to explore the big city, to catch their big break, to escape from their beginnings. There is a constant sense of potentiality. It does not feel so in Worthing. More usually this is where people move to when they want to slow down. Consequently it’s not unusual to come up against a certain kind of discomfort, even mistrust, around new ideas, a communal mind-set which can be creatively stifling. But I’ve gradually started to understand that there’s more to it than just that.

At the start of Reading The South I had assumed that place informs, to a greater or lesser degree, some fundamental part of our identity. What I hadn’t considered was whether the converse might also be true. In the last few weeks I’ve been following the news about the London Garden Bridge project. It’s baffling to read the list of suggested prohibitions for users of this proposed new urban space: no running, no cycling, no picnics, no large groups. It strikes me that a garden, on a bridge or otherwise, is a space that demands inhabitation. It requires human narratives to be embroidered into it to make it fully the thing that it is meant to be. A garden bridge should have not just picnics and runners but also espresso carts and ice-cream vendors and communal Tai Chi sessions and buskers and pre-schoolers chalking multicoloured pavement art. Because without these things such a place will lack meaning, cannot achieve full place-hood. And place-hood, like self-hood, surely must continue to evolve, otherwise all that remains for it is to ossify.

The result of all these various threads of thought is that I‘ve been wondering whether, like Hana Doda, it’s time to re-emerge rather than reinvent. I’ve worked here for years as a doctor, but my heart is a writer’s heart. And so, lately, I’ve finally stopped thinking of myself as transient in Worthing and started wondering how I might now weave my most authentic narrative into the communal one. With a friend, I’ve started programming a series of literary events to bring new voices to Worthing. We are setting up after-school book-clubs for able readers and planning a children’s mini lit-fest with the hope that we might play our part in inspiring the next generation of writers here. The effect of doing these things feels to me like an act of affirmation but also, at long last, of re-connection.

Niyati KeniNiyati Keni

 

Hannah Vincent: “Living and Writing on the Edge”

Cliffs at Beachy HeadIn our Reading the South workshops we considered ‘place’ as a starting point for story, character and voice. We wrote about the journeys each of us had made to Eastbourne library – in the course of our lives and in the course of the day on which we gathered for our writing workshop. A handful of participants have moved South from other parts of the country and these geographical, cultural and temporal shifts offered rich material for creative work. We considered what it means to be ‘living on the edge’ of the country, and ‘living on the edge’ in other ways too.

Workshop attendees were generous with their stories and experiences and in their willingness to share their writing. One exercise, in which we wrote each others’ stories, reminded us of the respect that writing involves, and the listening skills it requires. The challenge was to do justice to another person’s experience and record it accurately as well as creatively. It was a challenge that workshop participants met with skill and grace. You can view some of the writing that emerged here.

Hannah VincentHannah Vincent

 

Tessa Boase: “My Reading Workshops”

reading-a-bookAn invigorating three afternoons at Hastings library, working through ideas of belonging and alienation; of seaside decadence and sleaze, and of what it means (to us, and to writers) to inhabit a suburban Sussex town or rural village.

As a provocative opener I read a paragraph by Viv Albertine – punk singer songwriter of The Slits; more recently found rebuilding her life in Hastings. Her memoir Clothes, Music, Boys was a surprise hit of 2014, and for me she puts her finger nicely on this town’s ability to hold all-comers in the palm of its slightly grubby hand.

‘This is a town that people come to when they want to get as far away from other people as possible. This is a town of renegades, musicians, writers, artists, drug takers, teenager mothers and pyromaniacs. It’s lawless, a frontier town, where anything goes and everything’s acceptable, even failure. I f***ing love Hastings.’

Vigorous head-nods all round. Except for one: ‘That’s just pandering to cliché!’ cried social worker Joe. We debated this point for some time, before turning to Brighton, and to Patrick Hamilton and his brilliant, beer-sodden novel Hangover Square (1941). How does a pleasure resort look in high season when viewed through the eyes of a schizophrenic? More on the sinister side of Brighton from Graham Greene (of course), moving to its paint-peeling suburbs and a windswept caravan park with Will Self and My Idea of Fun (1993).

It proved hard, in Hastings, to keep my reading groups on track. But this was part of the pleasure. Each extract prompted reminiscences and debate, from the ‘monkey man’ who used to stroll the seafront with his camera, to the pier’s current rebuild. New friendships were forged. Book titles jotted down. Faces recognized.

I come from Chelwood Gate, an East Sussex village in the Ashdown Forest. So I wanted to explore that particularly British phenomenon of net curtain-twitching rural communities. I asked what sprang to mind. Responses varied: ‘claustrophobia’, ‘support’, ‘loneliness’, ‘safety’… even ‘murder’. Sarah wanted to remind us of the mysterious ‘missing years’ of those who return in adulthood to where they grew up, as so many of us here do.

The class system cropped up again and again, so it was apt to kick off with H.G. Wells and his biting satire of life below stairs in a large country house, Tono Bungay, based upon his time spent at Uppark where his mother was a Victorian housekeeper. I explore Mrs Wells’ life in my book The Housekeeper’s Tale, and conclude that she was aggrieved by the fact that her mistress was born plain Fanny Bullock, dairy farmer’s daughter.

More servants followed: Virginia Woolf and her fraught relationship with cook Nellie Boxall, as explored so brilliantly by social historian Alison Light. Nellie put up with giant rats, floods and a kitchen the size of a closet at Monk’s House in Rodmell (where Virginia and Leonard used to take their bath, behind a curtain).

Ruth Rendell uses a fictitious Sussex village for her Inspector Wexford series: Kingsmarkham is based, some say, on Midhurst. We read from her last book, No Man’s Nightingale, published shortly before her death at 85 this year. And she is absolutely spot on: a modern day servant, a cleaner, is the first to discover the vicar strangled on the floor… the vicar being a single mother – naturally – and of mixed race.

Tessa Boase

Stephanie Norgate: “Wild Weather in the South”

Grass-and-beach-James HollandIn the last of my Reading the South Workshops at Bognor Regis Library, we tackled the subject of weather in the south. Our group discussions circled round gales, snow, floods and uproarious seas. Roads and houses blocked by fallen trees, the unexpected challenges thrown up by nature, led us to discussions of diversions and changes to our routine worlds. Wild weather prompted ideas about characters who were suddenly out of control, faced with something more elemental and strange than they were expecting. Simple decisions became more complex as fictional characters set out on icy roads or climbed over fallen trees or contemplated being cut off from where they aimed to be. Each invented character wanted to reach another person and was thrown back on her or his resources as they tried to battle on. Though the weather in the south is usually fairly mild, freak weather in our region had certainly made an impression on writers in the workshop, and showed how such events heighten the senses, as well as creating an atmosphere of danger and tension.

As this is my last blog, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed giving these workshops and was very impressed by the writing that the participants produced.

So over to them, I’m posting up one piece that came out of the workshops, Pagham Beach by Suzanne Houchin. Many thanks to them for sharing the work and to everyone who came to the workshops for being such lively and thoughtful participating writers.

Stephanie NorgateStephanie Norgate

Juliet West: “Sand Flies and Shopping Trollies”

Worthing seafront - Juliet WestMy family moved to Worthing in the early 1970s when I was a toddler. From my bedroom window I had a view of the allotments opposite and the wide alley which ran along one side of the veg plots. As a young girl I would puzzle over the graffiti sprayed on the alley wall. Stiff Little Fingers. Sham 69. Fair to say punk passed me by.

We lived in St Andrew’s Road, a nice street of 1930s houses about a mile from the seafront. I’d like to claim that I was enchanted by the Sussex coastline from an early age, but in truth I have mixed memories of childhood trips to the beach. Clouds always seemed to gather, and the wind would whip up, and there were those weird little pink sand flies which would jump onto your goosepimply skin…

Outings to the countryside were better, and best of all was a trip to Bramber Castle. Here were hidden stone stairways and crumbling turrets, butterflies and blackberries – a landscape straight from the Famous Five stories I loved to read.

By the age of fourteen or fifteen Enid Blyton had become an embarrassing memory. I’d moved on to Shirley Conran via Stephen King and Virginia Andrews; X-rated novels we handed around and marvelled over at school. At home, furtively, I read poetry and books by George Orwell. My parents were never given the opportunity for further education, but fortunately for me they were both great readers. There were always books in the house, and we visited the library often.

We all thought Worthing was boring. ‘Costa del Geriatrica’ it was nicknamed. Still, the demographic provided the town’s teenagers with washing-up jobs in care homes. I had a part-time job at a nursing home in Tarring, and later I was promoted from washer-upper to cleaner. I liked this job and especially enjoyed cleaning the residents’ rooms, dusting their faded photographs and chatting to them about the sepia people in the pictures: Victorian matriarchs and young soldiers – fathers, brothers and husbands, many of whom had fought in the First or Second World Wars.

Our town was run-down and a little seedy – it lacked the vibe of nearby Brighton – but there were plenty of pubs and several nightclubs. By the age of sixteen we could get served in pretty much any pub, no ID required. When Morrissey released Everyday is Like Sunday the lyrics were a gift:

This is the coastal town

That they forgot to close down

Armageddon – come Armageddon!

Come, Armageddon, come!

…Perfect for sing-shouting while wheeling your mate home along Heene Road in a shopping trolley.

I hung out in the arcades and pubs but at heart I wasn’t much of a rebel. When my friends left school, I went on to sixth form college. My history teacher suggested I was bright enough for university, and my dad conceded that a degree wasn’t just a three-year-jolly-up after all. I applied to Cambridge, I got in and I couldn’t wait to leave Worthing behind.

Looking back I cannot believe how confident I was – what a brat! Of course I was punished for my hubris. During most of that first year at university I pined for my family and friends at home; for a gusty walk along the prom or a classic night at The Carioca, for gulls and seaweed and the shabby glamour of the Dome.

Acute homesickness passed but the pull of the south coast never disappeared. After a spell in London I moved back to West Sussex, half an hour’s drive from Worthing. Family and friends still live in the town and I visit often. One day I hope to persuade my (northern) husband to move even closer to the coast.

How has my Sussex childhood influenced my writing? The first short story I wrote was set in a nursing home, my debut novel Before the Fall explores family tragedy during the First World War, and my second book (almost finished) is set partly by the Sussex seaside. I’ve never thought of my writing as autobiographical but on reflection the connections are evident. No shopping trollies as yet, but there’s always book three…

Juliet WestJuliet West

 

Jane Rusbridge: “Astonishments on our Doorstep”

wittering-beach-stormy-sky-Credit-Natalie-MillerIn my workshops for Reading the South at Midhurst Library we thought about ‘sense of place’ – one of my favourite preoccupations – and the ways we are shaped by the landscapes we love. Drawing on our experiences of living and working in the south we talked, wrote, exercised our imaginations and discovered ‘the astonishments on our doorsteps’ (Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways). My sessions are for writers of all levels and for readers with a sense of adventure.  Each workshop had a different focus and covered different aspects of the writing craft:

 1:  ‘Sussex by the Sea’ – flotsam & jetsam; memories, emotion & place.

One of my favourite writers, Tim Winton, describes the coast as ‘the precarious, wondrous edge of things’ – so this is where we started, working with the flotsam and jetsam of memory and the writers’ ‘wild mind’.

We talked about our connections to Sussex, the vivid detail of flashbulb memories and listed our current fascinations.  In the second half we looked at ‘Stornoway Harbour’ by Catherine Smith which, like most of her poems, has bite, encouraging a lively discussion about the power of imagery to suggest atmosphere and mood and to add depth of meaning. This was followed by a writing exercise entitled ‘The Pier’, which focussed on the importance of selection of detail. The room went quiet and, at the end of the session, participants had produced in response a wonderful variety of edgy and colourful writing.

2:  ‘Forests, Fields & Footpaths’ – magic, myths & legends

In this session we moved inland, turning to the beech woods, yew forests and chalk paths of Sussex for our writing inspiration. We also looked at point of view, and the way sense of place enriches character development.

 3:  ‘Fire & Stories’ – historical, local or personal?

In the final session the focus was on gathering material from the stories which surround us and how to find the right voice to tell our tales.

Jane RusbridgeJane Rusbridge

Photos courtesy of Natalie Miller