A Thank You To Earth Pathways Diary

This year I was for the first time a contributor to Earth Pathways diary. Once again, next year I am honoured to be contributing, not only to the diary but also to their beautiful calendar. 2018 is Earth Pathways 10th anniversary. These diaries are so beautiful I have kept every one I have ever had. The selection of gorgeous artwork, photography, inspiring words and lovely hand drawn and decorated layout by Jaine Rose is a perfect combination. I feel honoured to be a part of it. The Earth Pathways team are a lovely bunch of people, unsurprisingly, and I wish them continuing success. you can find out more about Earth Pathways and their contributors on the Earth Pathways website. https://www.earthpathwaysdiary.uk/

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A Book Review: ‘Uncommon Ground’ by Dominick Tyler

Uncommon Ground Uncommon Ground page

‘Uncommon Ground: A word lover’s guide to the British landscape’ by Dominick Tyler, and published by Guardian Books and Faber & Faber, is one of those gorgeous books to dip into with delight. For me, this book is perfection. Dominick has travelled around the British landscape, taking beautiful photographs and collecting old and often obscure words that refer to the features of nature and the landscape he encountered. As it says on the sleeve, “Here Dominick Tyler gathers them into an enchanting visual glossary of the British landscape.”

This is far from a mere glossary, ‘enchanting’ is certainly the word for it. The book is a beautiful weaving of natural history, discussion and personal observations, and an exploration of the origins and meanings of a collection of words, some familiar, and some obscure, but all useful to describe precise manifestations of natural phenomena. These words enrich the language, but more significantly, they name the places and features of the landscape. When we name something, we enter into relationship with it. This book is important as part of the movement to bring us back into real connection with the more-than-human world. Dominick doesn’t take us on a journey deep into the unknown and perilous wilderness. He takes us on a journey into a world where we belong in the landscape. He takes us on a journey back into ourselves, back home. These places are familiar, yet he can tell us fascinating details that make us look afresh. Looking at the origins of words takes us into our own history, a history tied to the land and to making a living from it. But this is no museum piece. Our relationship with the landscape is forever evolving, our impact is greater than ever, and Dominick doesn’t shy away from this, yet still his book is delightful. ‘Tidewrack’ is a word to describe the line of remnants left on a beach, marking the high tide. The photograph is strangely beautiful, yet poignant, showing a plethora of colourful plastic, along with the natural debris. In this tidewrack Dominick sees a symbol of our guilt, fulfilling an archaic meaning of the word ‘wrack’ as ‘retributive punishment’.

To intergrate the narrative of human life with the narrative of nature, as if it has never been parted, as if we had never forgotten, is a skilful art, in the Age of the Anthropocene, an age when the majority of human beings live in cities. Dominick succeeds in doing this, in gentle fashion, acknowledging the modern farmer on his mobile, imagining that like the ancient art of fisherman sharing knowledge of the tides, locals now share knowledge of where, in the hills of the Lake District, one might get a signal on a mobile phone.

Dominick compares the British knowledge of mud to the Inuit knowledge of snow. Mud is our default medium here in Britain. As adults we lose our fascination with it. It becomes an inconvenience. Dominick reminds us of the many uses of this humble material. He brings us back to an appreciation of the elements we take for granted. Who knew there were so many words for mud? ‘Loblolly’, I think, is my personal favourite, which means, “a mud hole, especially one with a deceptive dried crust on the surface. Also a name for a thick stew of similar consistency.” As well as providing definitions, Dominick engages us by playing with new ways of using these ancient words, for example, “I loblollied about for half an hour before I got free, and lost a boot in the process.” And yes, Dominick, I too would buy a ‘dictionary of mud’, if there were such a thing.

I like his gentle humour, and his honesty at personal vulnerabilities, which make the book all the more endearing and relateable. He tells of his moment of primal fear swimming in a lake, when his foot struck colder waters beneath, reminding him of the depths beneath.

The book contains OS map references, where relevant, so that we can go and see the landscapes for ourselves. It also includes standard dictionary pronunciation guides for the main terms. George Monbiot, of the Guardian, described ‘Uncommon Ground’ as, “an astonishing book of heart-wrenching beauty”, and that sold it for me. If you are a lover of nature and of words, this book is a perfect synthesis of all that is good.

Poetry and poetical things

Honoured to get a good review from Nimue Brown on her blog, Druid Life.

Druid Life

After my recent rant about bad poetry, here are three poetic titles I’ve read in the last week or so that I can heartily recommend. All are accessible, and offer rich, rewarding reading experiences that draw you in rather than leaving you confused and/or alienated.

See With Heart – Janey Colbourne. This is a small collection of poems and photographs reflecting a deep love affair with the natural world. Clarity, simplicity and soul – this is a lovesong to life, joyful and reflective in tone.

More about the book here – https://heartseer.wordpress.com/publications/

And do potter around Janey’s blog and read some of her writing – there’s a great deal of poetry there freely available.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter

A bit mainstream by my usual book hipster standards, but at the same time, this book gives me hope for the publishing industry because it is…

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Book review: The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore

‘The Mindful Writer’ is written by Dinty Moore, a well established author and writing teacher. Moore is a Buddhist, but it is certainly not necessary to be a Buddhist to find inspiration from these widely applicable words of wisdom from successful writers. The author was already discovering Buddhist truths in his process of writing before he became a Buddhist. He says that his work is not so much influenced by his Buddhism, as that his writing process is confirmed by Buddhist philosophy. There is very little direct mention of Buddhism and his warm, compassionate writing style is very appealing.

This is a mindfully written book about mindfulness. As a writer myself, who writes from the heart, I was very interested to read it, and I was not disappointed. I would highly recommend this book for any aspiring writer, for those looking for fresh inspiration, or for those times of stagnation and ‘writer’s block’. It is also nice to read confirmation of your own process. I like the format; in the main section of the book each chapter begins with a quote by a famous writer, followed by discussion. The book ends with a chapter of prompts for mindful writing, which are useful for getting started or shifting blocks. The style is easy to read and digest.

What made this book stand out for me was that Moore focuses on the deeper meanings and inner process of being a writer, the heart of it, rather than the technical skills. On the qualities needed to be a writer he says, “Are you still insatiably curious…Are you feeling as well as thinking…to be so open that it actually does hurt?” Moore writes on finding your authentic voice, freedom, opening the heart and writing for the love of it, but points out, “Write with your passionate heart, but edit with your calm brain”.

There are also practical suggestions, such as the quote from William Faulkner, “kill your darlings”, meaning that there may be times you have to find the courage to cut even writing that you love, if it does not fit. Sometimes being too precious about certain passages or phrases may actually hold us up from moving forward.

You know it’s a worthwhile book when you want to highlight almost every sentence. There are many humorous metaphors and clever analogies that ring true. For example, “It helps me to think that I have a certain number of bad sentences stacked up inside of me…and they have to come out, like the dried glue often found at the tip of the tube; dried glue that has to be squeezed through the hole before you can access the good glue necessary to finish your current project.”

I would say much of the philosophy and advice in this book is relevant to most forms of creative endeavour, not just writing. Overall a great read and would make a good gift for the writer in your life.

Janey Colbourne 2016

My book review of ‘Ancient and Epic Tales from Around the World’ by Heather Forest

Ancient and epic tales

Ancient and Epic Tales from around the world by Heather Forest

This a beautifully written book of epic tales from around the world. Some, including Aesop’s Fables, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were familiar to me, but there were several that were new to me, such as Mwindo’s journey, an African tale. It is a pleasure reread the familiar tales as well as the new. The tales are timeless in the sense that they are still relevant today, touching on life’s lessons in an engaging and vibrant way. The stories are evocatively retold in an accessible style, equally enjoyable for adult or older child. I like to collect tales of wisdom and this is certainly one worth having on the shelf.

Janey Colbourne 2016

My Review of “Elemental Island”

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This is an adventure story set amongst an isolated community living on an island. The beginning sets the scene in a world where technology and culture has developed differently. Life is comfortable and safe, for all in the community, and society is technologically advanced, except in one respect, that of flight, which is forbidden. Astie is a bored and frustrated 11 year old who longs for something new and different to happen in her predictable life. Little does she know how much her life is about to change when she meets a new boy on the beach who has come from the mainland. Intrigue and suspense unfold as she tries to help him, and ultimately forgotten truths about the island’s history are revealed. The story turns the tables by creating a scenario where the majority of the population have Asperger’s syndrome (without actually ever mentioning that term; in this story “Asperger’s” is normal, not a syndrome). It cleverly challenges our perception of what we call “normal” and how we define something as a disorder. Whilst remaining entirely a fictional adventure story it prompts a questioning of assumptions we as a society take for granted. What would life be like for autistics living in a world that accepts and accommodates their needs as normality? The main character Astie has difficulty fitting in with her peers and conforming to adults’ expectations. She is given a diagnosis of Social Syndrome. Is it wrong to label those who are innately different as having a “syndrome”? The reversal of the usual scenario starkly highlights how it is a struggle for people who experience the world differently to find acceptance and recognition. I had a little difficulty with this story initially as it seems in the beginning to perpetuate stereotypes such as all autistics dislike physical contact, or are not interested in creative careers such as fashion. However it was interesting to conceive of a world where these sorts of qualities are the norm. Nevertheless I soon became gripped by the plot and engaged with the development of the characters. My 11 year old daughter was similarly gripped by the story and we are both keen to read more by this author. It is refreshing to read fiction for an older child’s age range that portrays Asperger’s as normality. This fills a niche that was previously lacking for me. It is a good book that can engage both adult and child. This book succeeded at that for us.

Janey Colbourne 2016