Which of your books has more of an Essex focus?
My novel CYMBERIE is set in a semi-fictional Essex in the late sixteenth century. Its story is a tale of love and loss, in which a destitute stranger arrives at a great Tudor house. But its setting is based on the common land where I often walked our Irish setter rescue dog – gravelly woods of birch and oak, which I got to know – and love – really well.
Essex settings also feature in some of my poems – anyone who knows the RHS garden at Hyde Hall will be able to recognise exactly where the following poem is. It’s included in my collection SINGING FOR MR BEAR – and the grieving man in it is purely fictional.
At the crest of a bare tree whose branches
twist against the bare sky, a bird sings:
and at its foot camellias bush, evergreen, glossy-leaved
shading the man pacing the earth path between them
the whisper of his coat telling his grief.
The camellias put out flowers to console him –
the white ones too soon – they are tipped tea-brown
by the frost – and then the others,
fat cups of pale to deep pink, petals orderly
the fullness of them weighing down the twigs;
long stamens like tongues tipped with yellow
tasting the transitory, the cool air.
Which aspects of Essex do you write about?
I think you’ll already have gathered that I mostly enjoy writing about the countryside, and the natural world – though I’ve certainly included buses and trains in my poems! I also enjoy writing about old houses, in which Essex is rich.
Why do you like writing about Essex?
I’ve lived in Essex for over thirty-five years and it’s grown to be part of the fabric of my being.
Are there books about Essex you’d recommend?
If you want to read work by someone who knows the Essex coast and countryside really well, try Mervyn Linford’s poems and diaries.
For writing about the past, try Jan Williams’s Essex Folk Tales or Alison Barnes’s Essex Eccentrics.
Name your favourite Essex place, person or whatever.
I’ll skip the ‘person or whatever’ section. Favourite Essex place… perhaps Epping Forest, because I love its ancient beech trees – or St Peter’s Chapel in Bradwell, because it’s so old, and lonely, and on the coast – or Copped Hall, near Epping, which volunteers are working so hard to restore – or Blake’s Wood, in bluebell time – or Firstsite, in Colchester, because it’s an interesting modern art gallery, and fun for kids – and then I love the Gallery in the Garden, in Great Saling, where the exhibitions are more to my taste.
One tip for writers who want to write about people and places
Think about using all the senses when you’re writing. Don’t just describe what you see – make the person or place come alive by thinking about what you can hear, and smell, and taste and touch as well.