If you have been visiting blogs recently you may have seen the meme, the Next Big Thing, floating about, and I’m happy to have been nominated by the poet, Anthony Wilson, to write mine. Anthony has written very movingly about his own ‘next big thing’, his memoir, Love for Now, of being diagnosed on Valentine’s Day, 2006, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He’s a wonderful writer, and you can read about it here. His poetry collection, Riddance is lovely too.
To be honest though, I have been tagged several times before but wasn’t sure what I had to write about. But then, when Anthony got in contact, I thought hey, why not write about what I’m writing about!!! So here you go… it’s an account of where I am with my Writer in the Garden project.
Where did the idea of the Garden Journey come from?
I started writing a portrait about Kent through its gardens when I was Canterbury Laureate. This was to tie in with the county being known as the Garden of England, but along the way, I learnt two things – firstly, the ‘slogan’ actually began as the Guardian of England (not garden) and secondly, not much in many of the gardens – the plants, the designs, even the gardeners – is actually English. This was fascinating for me – I love how these shifts happen, and what that can mean at a deeper level.
I was visiting each garden to understand what I wanted to write about from it – not an account of plants or history, but what resonated for me on a creative level. There had to be a connection, and often this was deeply personal and surprising. I wanted to open myself up as a writer, and by doing so, to explore the private/public nature of gardens. I felt that a website would be good for this, using video, podcasts and photographs as well as the poems. I’m not sure if it will be a book yet because I haven’t worked out how, if at all, these things can be shown on paper. I like the idea of readers of the website going on a virtual tour as well. I’m working on a map for this, but it’s a case of learning every step of the way and that takes time! I’d much rather be in the garden, to be honest!
What genre does your website fall under?
The website was a finalist in the Garden Media Guild ‘New Talent’ awards, so I guess gardens and, of course, poetry. But then there’s local history too, and psychogeography. Is there a genre for ‘muddly’?
Although, maybe given the weather, ‘muddy’ might be a better description for my garden visits last year!
I like to think of it as exploration – because every time I visit a garden I find a new space within myself. It’s a kind of alchemy.
In fact, one of the routes the garden visits have taken me is to start a detective novel, with Capability Brown featuring on the side. I don’t want to talk too much about that yet because it’s still very much in progress, but a detective novel – and historical at that – was unexpected genre-shift for me.
Although perhaps not as much as founding a touring music and poetry promenade group with two writing friends. We performed already during the Canterbury Festival and are now branching out to perform at gardens and outdoor events.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a film version?
Oh, there are so many attractive gardeners on television now who are almost like film stars (in my eyes anyway)! But I think that Hugh Jackman would be a great Lancelot Brown (and this isn’t just so I can stick a hunky photo up here.)
Here’s the real one…lovely eyes, eh?
As for who would play me, hmmm… she’s a little older than me but I would watch anything with Harriet Walter in, and look, here’s her with Michael Fassbender. Wouldn’t they be pretty together in a garden?
How long is a piece of string? I have in my files, photographs and notes of gardens I visited back in Spring of last year and I can’t get the right voice or form for them. Others come almost fully budded as I’m walking round. It’s the first time I’ve done something like this – with such a strong theme – so I’m taking care it doesn’t become formulaic. I hope it hasn’t. And won’t. I really try to keep open before each visit, although I will do some research so I normally have a couple of points that have piqued my curiosity. I have only visited one garden and it was so groomed and soulless that I really didn’t want to write anything. Most of the time, you understand the joy of gardening – perhaps it’s one of the few things nowadays that we can’t quite control. That and the weather. (And it seems the banks but that’s another story…)
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My mother was the garden historian and writer, Elizabeth Peplow. I’ve written about her here. So I grew up with gardens, and as much with the stories in the garden. I think the initial inspiration to write about them in this way was a sadness at seeing some people go round National Trust gardens without engaging at all. As if the garden was just something to tick off the list, and they had no ownership at all. Well, I think that’s wrong. One of my favourite stories was from one man who had opened his garden as a commercial enterprise, but still obviously had a deep personal love for it. He noticed a woman coming every day to the garden to knit, and when he approached her one day, she basically told him to go away. He was left wondering whose garden it was – and it made me think how, even in a busy public park, we mark out our own little spaces. It must be a primitive thing, and maybe these poems are my way of marking my space! They certainly help me look deeper at each garden I visit, and that’s a privilege.
A virtual poetry promenade through the English garden, and all things gardeny!
What else about your website might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s been wonderful to hear from people who have visited gardens because of the website, and who write to me with their own feelings after. The Margate shell grotto seems to be a particular favourite for this, and the wonderful Quex Gardens too. But not all the gardens are visitable – I was so moved at finding a book of the fictional garden backdrops American prisoners used to have their photographs taken against, I wrote a piece about that too.
At the moment, I’m very happy to be getting involved with the Chelsea Fringe in May this year – watch this space! I am also continuing to visit and write up gardens, although the inspiration seems to be coming from unlikely places at the moment. A visit to the Manet Exhibition in London sparked off a very happy hour of creative daydreaming – he painted many of the outside portraits actually in his studio. I love this idea of a true artist’s garden of the imagination…
So who’s next? Well, dear readers, I’d like to invite you to take part and tell me what is your next big thing! Please leave links and comments if you take part so I can follow your journeys too.