First day out in the world

baby with mouth openMy blue tit babies are out! They were in the box at 6.30am this morning but by the time I came out of the shower they were fluttering around my garden like bits of coloured cotton wool blown by the wind. I feel as nervous as a parent watching a child head off for their first day of school. I want to watch over them and chase away the neighbourhood cat who has taken an unhealthy interest in proceedings, waiting with endless patience until I spot him and go haring down the garden in my dressing tit on box

The first few days out of the nest must be the most dangerous time and I curse that I have to go out today and can’t help out these parents who have worked so hard for success. Their industry has inspired me. Round the clock they have flashed in and out of the box like winged jewels drawn, drawn, drawn by the endless begging calls. Now life gets even harder for them. They dash around after the babies, who tumble between tree and box and window pane on wings which seem to short to support them.

Nature Writing Courses

Anthony Albright

Anthony Albright

Would you like to try your hand at nature writing? It’s the new rock n roll, so I’m told and with authors such as Robert Macfarlane and Heather Macdonald topping best seller lists then it’s popularity will continue to grow.

If however your ambitions do not lean to these heady heights but you would just like to write about the nature in your garden and learn new ways of getting beyond the cliché’s and really express your true thoughts and feelings about the world around you, then taking part in a nature writing course should still be a fulfilling experience.

This year I am running a serious of nature writing courses as part of the Rochester Literature Festival and Up On the Down Big Summer Festival. The courses range from 2 hours to a full day and hopefully should be enjoyable and a positive experience.

No one is made to read their work out aloud on my courses. Reading your work out aloud is, at some point, a fear you should tackle but I would not want anyone to sit in agony through a whole workshop dreading their moment in the spotlight.

If you would like to find out more about these courses and how to book a place please visit the forthcoming events page or follow this link

A Good Read – Meadowland – John Lewis-Stempel

613pL0kjIPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Meadowland – The Private Life of an English Field – John Lewis-Stempel

Meadowland follows the yearly cycle of a field in a corner of John Lewis-Stempel’s farm in Herefordshire. This, on the surface of things, would not seem a wide enough subject about which to write a whole book but from the first line we are transported down into the meadow with the author to watch the ice moon rising, feel the frost biting at our finger tips and watch the badger dragging his lame back legs across the field. The prose in Meadowland takes you down amongst the grasses and allows you to witness the lives of a host of creatures that live around this quiet corner of the English countryside.

Time and again in this book you wish to applaud John Lewis-Stempel’s patience and field skills. The hours he spends simply sitting and observing and recording those intimate moments of nature which can only be witnessed by long hours in the field. It is the detail that sings off the page here; a fox catching craneflies along with a flycatcher, a shrew rolling a slug into an appetiser, voles running from the brushcutter blade.

There are some subjects touched which are likely to rouse the blood of many wildlife  lovers and at times the authors shows a slightly schizophrenic attitude towards his hay meadow. He finds the foxes beautiful but would happily shoot them. He gently covers up a nest of field voles which he exposes during his hay cutting but downs a pigeon just as it performs a last swoop towards the safety of cover. He delights in seeing the badgers but is relieved that his borderline TB cattle are free to go out and wander amongst them. Still, John Lewis-Stempel is at least not hiding his views on such issues. He holds his hands up to being somewhat confused about where his loyalties lie. He admits that he has both hunted foxes from horse back and been a hunt saboteur.

This is nature writing which will stand the test of time. A book dip into to enjoy the turning of the year. It is a beautiful observation of wildlife in an unspoilt corner of the country and made me want to go out and spend more time simply sitting and watching and enjoying the everyday delights to be found on our doorsteps.

Another one bites the dust

There it goes. Land at Conyer earmarked for development Copyright: N Chadwick

There it goes. Land at Conyer earmarked for development
Copyright: N Chadwick

Last night I travelled to Conyer Creek. There is a spot on the wall of the old brickfields where you can sit and with a view down the river and hear the nightingales sing. Last night one sang it’s full repertoire, whistling and syruping and twizzling amidst the scrub. It is the last spring that a nightingale will sing from this spot. It is the last spring I can sit at the bend of the creek and see the shelduck fly to the marshes. Conyer Creek, along with seemingly every other little scrubby delight in Kent, has been given over to development.

A company called Pod Architects is developing 24 luxury homes on the site. Twenty Four? I very much doubt this will be the affordable housing the government dupes us into thinking it is supplying. Instead it will be twenty four wealthy people owning second homes with a view of the creek, twenty four portfolio holders buying them up and renting them out at stupid prices.

How can this happen? How can permission be given for the destruction of a site that is so valuable for wildlife when it will only build 24 homes? Of course this part of Conyer is a brownfield site. useless, valueless in the eyes of many, except this is nonsense. Many brownfield sites are highly valuable to wildlife, irreplaceable for insects, reptiles and all those little birds flying across from Africa in the spring only to find the places they traditionally breed given over to hideous toy town developments of fake fishing cottages.

Everywhere I look these sites are going. Conyer Creek destroyed, Bakers Field, a scrubby patch of land at the end of my road where little owls hunts and orchids bloom, threatened, Lodge Hill, the best nightingale site we have, not yet safe. At the same time, on the outskirts of our towns, super large retail developments with mega car parks are built. It does not add up. Does any town centre in the entire country really need another supermarket? Wouldn’t this land be better used for housing? Wouldn’t it be bet to tackle the real problems, over population and too many second homes lying idle all week?

But of course, no government has the stomach for that, and certainly not the current bunch with their hands in developers pockets. It makes me want to weep, it makes me want to emigrate, it makes me want to find a time portal and whip back to another age when we valued our countryside more. Instead I plod  on, into a future where ugly ribbon developments spread out from our towns and we sit in gridlocked in traffic at weekends, trying to escape into a countryside which once existed on our doorsteps.

They Came From The Marshes!

Carol with presenter Mike Dilger and the crew of The One Show

Carol with presenter Mike Dilger and the crew of The One Show

They came from the marshes…a weird cackling sound that drove the locals mad and, from foreign parts, invaded Sheerness High Street.

We were talking about marsh frogs, those bulbous eyed amphibians whose calls sound like the noise a toddler makes when you tickle them but we could so easily have been talking about the crew of The One Show, who set up their cameras this morning in Sheerness High Street to interview me and two other ladies about our experiences of being kept awake by aquatic inhabitants.

Frog Chorus

Frog Chorus

Why Sheerness High Street? Well, it turns out people have been complaining to Environmental Health Officers about the noise of marsh frogs, claiming their calls are louder than the traffic in a busy urban area. I’m not so sure, as we filmed vans revved up, girls shrieked with laughter as they tried to get on camera and a women with the loudest sneeze ever shocked us all into silence.

Poor old marsh frogs, their love song is quite jolly in comparison.

Still, the crew were more than used to such antics and filming was over in a matter of minutes. My two seconds of fame will be shown to the nation in the next few weeks.

Estuary Life – The next step

Estuary Life notebook and scallop shell

Estuary Life notebook and scallop shell

For the last year I have been walking the estuary from Lower Higham in Gravesham to Whitstable. Along the way I have met houseboat owners, chalet dwellers, plotland holders and friends of hermits. All winter I have dwelt in my cellar writing up their stories along with my own tale of living in, and finally being evicted from, a caravan on the marshes.

At the end of the month I will take the last part of this journey, heading back to the Hoo Peninsula where I used to live and the little church on the marshes where I started my trip. It has been a journey both physically and metaphorically. I have learnt things about myself and re-evaluated my past as much as I have found out the stories of others. Now the end is in site.

Last week, on a wet Wednesday afternoon, I sent the first 13 chapters, 70,000 words off to the literary agents whose interest in the idea and my writing was the spur I needed to leave my job, go freelance and begin this journey. The next day one of them got back to me, telling me they loved what I had written and wanted to take me on as a client.

This is brilliant news. These days getting an agent is almost as hard as getting a publisher. No agent will take you on unless they think they can get you published. It is the first step on the road to seeing that book on the shelf at Waterstones. It has been a long time coming. I wrote my first ‘book’ at 12, sent my first full length novel to a publisher at 14 ( clearly a precocious and unrealistic child). I should have been leaping for joy at this positive feedback.

Weirdly, I stalled. Can someone tell me why? Looking down the barrel of success, I was scared. Partly it’s because this book is such a personal account of my life in the caravan. Fine for strangers to read it but I am freaked out at the thought of people I know reading stuff I would never actually say. I guess also it’s the thought that success could, on the one hand change everything and, on the other hand, be a damp squib.

Still, I have sucked it up and am meeting agents next week to talk about the next step. It is exciting, scary exciting, but that’s a good thing….I think.