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Sandlines - finding inspiration and making opportunities
& 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
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: – ‘toconnect communities to the skills and understanding
necessary to sustain the Breckland’s natural, archaeological and built
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
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 Café, a lovely gathering place in the woods.
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
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
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 www.breakingnewground.org.uk and type Sandlines in the search bar.