Monday, 9 February 2015

Sandlines - finding inspiration and making opportunities

Words & Women writers Melinda Appleby and Lois Williams have launched Sandlines, a series of Breckland workshops that connect people to landscapes. Here they talk about their inspiration and aims for the project.

Melinda: Words & Women’s Plantation Garden event for last year’s Chelsea Fringe Festival provided a perfect platform to hear a wide range of poetry, story and non-fiction. It was also where I met Lois Williams, fellow reader and contributor to Words & Women’s Anthology One. We were interviewed by Paul Young for The Breckland View, a community website, and discovered a shared interest in place-based nature writing.

Lois: Melinda and I both grew up along the Norfolk coast. This wild, open landscape was a big influence. It’s impossible to live there and not feel moved by it—sometimes literally, when the seas rise up in winter and the cliffs erode inches each year. From coastal childhoods we’d each gone inland and elsewhere, to towns and cities, but the pull of those first places stayed with us. As a writer I’m interested in how poems and stories happen in the context of a somewhere—places aren’t just a backdrop. They help shape our identities, our sense of the familiar. They’re also ecosystems, and we’re a part of that too. Melinda and I found that we were writing in different genres with a common purpose: to recognise and reconnect with the natural world.

Melinda: My throw-away line at the end of the interview: ‘it would be great to work with the Breckland Landscape Partnership project’ sowed a seed. The project, Breaking New Ground, had been set up with Heritage Lottery Funding. Its objective: – ‘to connect communities to the skills and understanding necessary to sustain the Breckland’s natural, archaeological and built heritage’.

Emboldened by my public reading, and with the completion of my MA in Wild Writing, I sought a meeting to offer the project some creative writing. My first lesson, setting out on my new writing career: – not just to take opportunities, but to make them. The ideas were warmly received and Lois and I worked up a project, Sandlines, offering creative writing workshops that would connect people to place, celebrating the history and nature of the Brecklands and encouraging them to share their landscape memories.

Lois: We proposed four day-long workshops, each at a different Brecklands site, along with online support to encourage participants to keep writing. We were delighted to receive a grant from Breaking New Ground, and to receive support from their team and from David Falk at Brandon Country Park. Later in the year Sandlines will publish a pamphlet from the workshops to celebrate everyone’s work and hold a public reading at the Park’s Copper Beech CafĂ©, a lovely gathering place in the woods.

Breckland covers two counties and offers stunning contrasts in landscape and land use, and we chose four locations that would open up this variety to participants. Each workshop is themed to create connections between place and writing. We’ll begin in April at the Santon Downham office of the Forestry Commision. This small, flint-built space is back-to-basics but is also wonderfully atmospheric, set among the tall trees of a working forest. In May we move to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) headquarters, set within the ruins of Thetford’s Nunnery and near the rivers Little Ouse and Thet. In June we’re at West Stow, the site of an Iron Age village on the Little Ouse, and in July we’re in a gazebo in the walled garden at Brandon Country Park, with access to forest, heath and warren.

Melinda: Creative energy came from our partnership, working together to develop the themes and approaches. Our complementary backgrounds in landscape management and writing (me), and poetry and teaching creative writing (Lois), provided the necessary inspiration and experience.

Lois: Poetry, perhaps all writing really, begins in a resonant moment—something you can’t quite stop thinking about, even though it might seem mundane. A walk to the bus-stop, a bird flying up out of a tree, a change in the weather. In a workshop you have time to tune in your senses and memories, your encounters with the natural world, before they get rearranged and overwritten by other priorities. Sandlines offers a creative space in the Brecks. Sometimes just being able to be in a place, without distraction, can set creativity going. You can hear yourself think. You can hear your own words and that you have something to say.

Melinda: Part of the Sandlines project is also to develop our own writing in response to our visits to the Brecklands landscape. An important focus for us was to walk out into places to inspire our writing. You need to taste the wind on the heath and hear history flowing through rivers if you want to write about landscape.

 For more information about Sandlines - dates, times and places for workshops - please visit
 and type Sandlines in the search bar.

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