Wednesday, 16 November 2011

How living in forests makes your stories refer to conversational, bonneted wolves...

"Totally speculative and extremely ill-founded", said Sarah Maitland, smiling broadly as she contemplated her about-to-be-published work 'Gossip from the Forest'.  "And overwritten", she added. 

Well, I doubt it.

We were listening to the famed author in a lecture theatre on the Crichton Campus, part of Dave Borthwick's excellent series of visiting writers talking about how their work is related to the natural world.  (Good for you Dave, Dumfries & Galloway is suffering a dearth of other lit programming until various powers get their act together again).

Sarah's new book will explore, she says, the impact of landscape on the imagination.  Specifically, it explores 12 walks through forests (yes, that's one for every month) and en route the relationships between such places, their natural science, their atmospheres, sounds, particularities etc - and north European fairy stories. 

She talked about Staverton Forest in Suffolk, with its 4000 ancient pollarded oaks, and expounded on the 'casual' nature of magic in story.  That is to say, it's usually wholly  unearned (by the feckless younger son, or undeserving bossy sister) and doesn't require study for even an OWL at Hogwarts. 

An hour flew by.  Tom Pow contributed the happy thought that fairy stories are there to explain to us that 'shit happens'.  Sarah leapt on this and in seconds they'd constructed the ground-breaking concept of 'Luck and Shit', to encompass all human eventuality.

'Philosophy is odious and obscure;
Both law and physics are petty wits;
Divinity is basest of the three, Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible and vile,
Tis magic, magic that has ravish'd me'
said Sarah, quoting Kit Marlowe.  

Luck, shit and magic.  I think that covers it, really. 


  1. Excellent talk it was too! I'm really looking forward to the publication of Sara's new book. Well done Dave B for getting such quality writers to UoG, Dumfries Campus this autumn.

  2. I can't believe I missed this! Poo. Or perhaps, shit.

    Great to see you Tuesday, and yes, hooray for DB. More literary programming please!