View from the Hill

Summer does not tread lightly in Wales. It swoops in unexpectedly and disappears without a trace. Given the limited time we have with this season, Emma and I were delighted to host our third Landscape Writing workshop under the bright and cleansing sun. There is nothing quite like heat in the Welsh hills.

Like all our workshops, View from the Hill aimed to encourage reading, writing, and sharing in an informal and welcoming environment. And, as always, we were lucky to have participants who indulged this aim without question. We had a sculptor, yoga teacher, real estate agent, and freelancer all looking to gain inspiration, learn prose writing tips, and discover their own voices. Emma and I were excited to help with all these things as well as share some of the themes we really admire in landscape-focused prose.

As always, I led the first half of the workshop which focused, this time, on the importance of home landscapes and the impact of change. We read Michael Ondaatje’s Asia and Margaret Atwood’s Autobiography. We drank fresh mint tea, ate lavender cakes, and laid on picnic blankets. My shoulders got sun burnt and I forgot time while we discussed what places and writing meant to us.

After lunch, Emma gave us a lesson in perspective. She laid different materials related to the Welsh landscape including books, farming catalogs, newspapers, local authority policies, diaries, and so on. We all were given time to select the piece(s) that spoke to us and then were asked to write about a landscape that we knew in the style of whatever piece we choose. I was struck immediately by Horatio Clare’s A Single Swallow which lovingly likens Wales to “a small coat made of deep pockets.” It also describes something I thought was once indescribable about this landscape:

“There is that smell, the smell of alders by the stream, the sheep fields, the hay in the barns, and something else, a smell as pale as the sky but as sharp as the earth, which nothing else seems like, only this place.”

It was lovely to see what other pieces inspired the women on the workshop too. They wrote original things in new voices all about the landscapes they loved.

After this activity it was time to hike. Emma took us on a walk to the top of the hill overlooking the Ciliau. The view was glorious – rolling hills, a river, farm houses, and cows. It was idyllic. There we wrote about what we saw, thought about epiphanies, and considered how characters could fit into this place.

Back at the Ciliau, warm and red from our time on the hill, we sat down and shared our work. This is my favorite part any workshop and it did not disappoint. One participant, Amanda Tress, hoped that she would learn to trust her voice again. I think she may have gained that trust back from this piece:

Life Swamp

Square of pond water
four five inches deep embraces the drift
of blue clouded sun braided sky in one still place.
Small breezes ruffle and distort imaginary times.
What surface is this
to hold such wonders
muddy murky elemental
home to slime and algae
maybe as ancient as the sunlight
that dips through the reflectives untempered
to activate ingenious processes
illuminate green scum
motes of the life swamp.

The rest of the women shared work with wonderful imagery: children with plastic buckets, stone barn fortresses, veins of marble, mirrors lined with quality street wrappers, and houses bought like toffees. We talked and read together long after the workshop ended. What a hopeful and nourishing day.

I will post more pieces from this workshop as I receive them. For now though, please enjoy a random selection of photographs from View from the Hill – the first truly summery workshop of our summer series.

IMG_5871 IMG_5877 IMG_5887 IMG_5888 IMG_5886 IMG_5897  IMG_5908 IMG_5912 IMG_5915 IMG_5918

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