On the Marshes – Launch party

2-breakfast-in-the-church-porch

Breakfast in the porch of St Mary’s on the last day of my walk for On the Marshes

Things are beginning to get real now that we have hit 2017 and I begin to plan for the publication of my book, On the Marshes in April. Yesterday I met with Sue Sparks at St Mary’s Church, Lower Higham, where I am planning to hold the launch party.

The church is set on the marshes and the journey I took when writing the book began and ended from there so it seemed the ideal place to do the launch. However, planning an event in a church does feel decidedly close to planning a wedding.

We talked about candles, background music, refreshments, lighting. Seeing as partly the book is about the break up of my relationship then it feels a little ironic that I now appear to be wedding the book.

I am still a little dazed and maybe can’t quite get my head around that, yes, this book will be out there, published, properly published, like you can go into a book shop and buy it, published.

April will be on me before I know it though and my book and I will meet at the alter. I am quietly fizzing with excitement.

Longshore Drift

DSCF7273

photo by MLP

Longshore Drift is a new online magazine published jointly by the Medway Swale Estuary Partnership and Longshore Editions. Its primary focus is the landscape of the north Kent marshes, with occasional diversions into areas of related interest. They welcome submissions from writers, artists, filmmakers, photographers, musicians and craftspeople, who can inspire our readers to explore, understand and appreciate the importance of the area.

take a look at the first edition and find out how to contribute here

.

 

On the road to being published

On the Marshes - Success at last.

On the Marshes – Success at last.

It’s been a bit of a journey from being one of the many thousands of hopefuls submitting their manuscript to getting published and I guess I am still only half way there. I learn something new every day.

It started with an idea, that grew into one prospective chapter of a book. One chapter and a synopsis of how the rest might pan out. One chapter which I submitted to three agents, all of whom came back enthusiastically and said great, where’s the rest? There was no rest. That was it, one chapter. I felt then I’d blown it, shown myself as an amateur before I’d even begun but I also knew from previous attempts at submitting work to agents and publishing houses that three agents, keen and interested and saying flattering things about my writing wasn’t nothing. It was far from nothing. It was something which made me so excited I wanted to run round my office whooping if only I hadn’t been sitting next to the miserable bosses, boss.

Better still, one of the agents, Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency wanted to meet. I took her out to the location of my planned book. The Hoo Peninsula in Kent on a day when the rain poured down. I took her to a pub where the meal was terribly salty. I talked ten to the dozen, but still she was keen.

‘30,000 words,’ she said. ‘Show me that and I will see if I can get an advance.’ I went off and started my journey across the marshes and wrote and wrote. 6000 words a day at times. Crazy wordage, much of which didn’t survive but still I was writing. When I had my 30,000 words I went back to her and fearfully asked what she thought. She responded with huge enthusiasm, she asked me if I wanted her to submit it to publishers. Amazingly I replied that I wasn’t ready. I wanted no other voices and opinions in my head until I had completed the book.

So I went away and completed my journey and wrote and submitted my manuscript to trusted readers, who made comments. I edited, long and sometimes tedious days getting the manuscript to a standard I was happy to show to the world.

And then came the tough part. Months of submissions to editors, comments that glowed with praise, that made me want to weep with joy from editors who really supported the book and really understood what I was trying to say and still they all came back and said no. That is tough. Seven rejections in one day with the kind of comments that make your spirits rise and fall with equal measure. It is tough, it is frustrating. It gave me real insight into how hard it is to get published. How, nowadays it is not just one editors huge enthusiasm but a whole team of editors and marketing people who have to agree to take a book on.

It was a black time. Joanna told me not to give up hope. I began writing something new, just to remember the joy of writing once again. Then suddenly it all changed we got not one yes but two in as many days.

I had to choose. One publisher just seemed to understand the book better than the other. Said they wanted to develop me as a writer and seemed to be in it for the long term. I went with Little Toller Books.

Today the journey took a new turn as I begin on the official second draft (although the reality is it is probably the 20th draft) I am working from the comments of one of the editorial team. Her comments have made me think of some of the subjects and issues I raise in the book in new ways. I have been doing more research. I have been contacting people who knew me at that time and asking for their take on events. It is so exciting to think that professional people have taken such time with my writing. To have read it, thought about it deeply and are going to help me improve it.

The book is not due to be published until next year. It is still a long way off but it is half way on a journey I have for so long wished to take.

A walk to Yantlet Creek

yantlet 6 creek

Yantlet Creek looking towards the London Stone and the Thames

Just finished the first round of dawn bird surveys. Even at 6am on a barren grassland with an Arctic wind flying along the Thames then I know that this job is a privilege. I see isolated bays and sunrises, the sharp light of dawn, hunting marsh harriers and a world with only me and the skylarks awake.

Tuesday I walked the sea wall at Yantlet Creek on the Thames Estuary. The bay at the creek mouth was deserted apart from me and a big dog fox who bounded off in puppy leaps but was overcome with curiosity every few steps, stopping to turn back and judge me. Deciding I was harmless, he stopped to shake himself sending a shower of droplets into the air, an eiderdown on dew sent skywards.

I walked down to the memorial stone marking the entrance to the bay. When I came here many years ago there had been a plaque commemorating the death of a young boy who had drowned in the bay, now all that was left was a green stain where the copper plaque had been lifted by thieves, for its scrap value no doubt.

yantlet 1  memorial stone

memorial stone

 

I sat down for second breakfast, coffee and muller rice and watched the moon fade and an egret fishing the shallows. The trails of water reaching the creek wriggled their way across the mud like blood vessels across the brain. There were birds in the bay, redshank, oystercatchers, godwit, a whole flock of knot peppering the water with their wing beats but none on the land I had come here to survey.

That is where my real work begins, not on these dawn walks to count birds, that part is easy, the real work is in enthusing a farmer to make the changes that are needed to create land suitable for these birds to breed.

An easy jet plane flew over the gas container storage depot out on the Isle of Grain and I felt myself slip through a wormhole in time. The marshes, the bays do not seem of this century and, in them, I become not of this century. Slipping into a world of Bawley boats and labour on the land and gentleman naturalists heading out with butterfly nets.

Despite its fragility the world I occupy seems more solid. If the industry and the aeroplane vanish, as one day they will, the bays will remain and part of me will remain in them as having attempted to create an alchemy of land and water and wildlife, the bones of life, onto which the 21st century’s imposition seems tinny and temporary.

yantlet 2 sea pursulane in flower

Yantlet Creek looking towards the London Stone and the Thames

 

Second breakfast finished I continued on my way past the saltmarsh towards the head of the creek where two black backed gulls guarded an ancient dock demanding tolls from all who dared to pass.

 

On the marshes – To be published

14 writing by the estuaryAlmost a year since I finished my journey across the North Kent Marshes meeting people living alternative ways of life, I am happy to announce that I have just signed a publishing contract with Little Toller Books.

Little Toller Books are an independent publisher who look for writers who ‘seek inventive ways to reconnect us with the natural world and celebrate the places we live in.’

On the Marshes follows my journey from Gravesham to Whitstable meeting houseboat owners, chalet dwellers and friends of hermits living in the woods. The journey was a way of understanding my own experience of living in a caravan on the marshes for three years, my eviction from my home and the subsequent breakdown in my long term relationship.

I hope the book will help people see the beauty and value of an atmospheric corner of England which is under constant threat and give an insight into why some people follow an alternative route in life.

Many thanks to Little Toller for seeing the books potential, to my agent Joanna Swainson of literary agency Hardman and Swainson for working so hard to get me a deal and mostly to the many wonderful, kind, brave people who took the time to meet me and share their stories with me.

Getting a publishing deal is a huge and longed for step for me but I get the feeling that a new journey is just beginning and their will be a lot of learning to do before the book is finally on the shelves. Like any big and scary change in my life I am dealing with the only way I know how and have begun to write something new.

 

In praise of the abnormal

Barn_Owl_South_Acre_2

copyright Edd Deane, Swafham, England.

Back at my parents for Valentine weekend was never going to be easy. I escaped on Sunday afternoon for a walk in the woods. My childhood wood. The one which had always symbolised wilderness and magic and adventure to me because it was the only one I could get to undetected by my parents.

I avoided the crowds of the Country Park and headed ‘off piste’ to lean my back against a many branched oak tree and blend and be still and become part of nature, not apart from it.

A friend told me recently that he too felt this need to separate himself from people, to head for the countryside and be alone. This, he told me, made him, ‘not normal.’ I had thought on this. Was I also not normal? Probably, yes. After all, few women of my age were spending Valentine’s afternoon snuggled up to an oak tree in a wood. Clearly, by this benchmark, I was crazy but, to my mind, wishing to be surrounded by people 24/7 was unthinkable, that was simply insanity!

A blackbird dashed through the wood in alarm pursued by a sparrowhawk, twisting on its side, flashing its pale plumaged undercarriage. Neither of them noticed me. The sparrowhawk missed, the blackbird crashed into scrub. I saw the path the hawk took by the wave of crows rising to mob it.

It was growing dark. I knew the parents would worry. I headed back, taking the less used path beside the derelict hospital.

A barn owl hunted the rough grass, luminous and long winged in the gathering gloom. I hid in the trees watching it quarter the grass, legs hanging low, listening, listening to the shrews, that I too could hear. Out here alone, silent, abnormal and happy to be so.

The grass is always greener

Travel broadens the mind, so they say, and having returned from a week staying with friends in Hamburg I have come back with a sense of sadness at what we in Britain have lost and continue to lose at an ever increasing pace.

I was staying in Rahlstedt, a suburb of the city and each morning of my stay I would take a walk along a stream which ran near my apartment. It was -6 and snow was on the ground by wildlife was everywhere.  Trees reverberated with drumming woodpeckers, blue and coal tits called from every garden, red squirrels chased each other through the trees. It made me realise how impoverished our own wildlife in Britain has become, how concreted over our towns.

The difference was that here wildlife was allowed to live alongside people. gardens were allowed to run wild not turned into football pitches or car parks, mature trees were not removed as potential health and safety hazards and how delightful was it to walk past a field with horses grazing or a patch of scrub and not have to feel that constant anxiety that it would soon be gone for housing.

A roe deer watched me from a field edge, bullfinches flew between the trees in line with the balconies of flats and then, in a small woodland, I watched a goshawk fall from a tree and crash land on its prey feet from me, mantling it’s feathers over the creature before flying off to a nearby branch and watching me, seemingly unconcerned by my presence.

Red squirrels, bullfinches, goshawks, when was the last time a person living in Britain saw any one of these creatures? Most people in Britain have never seen them and yet we had them once, they are not scarce because they shouldn’t be here but because we pushed them out onto the edge of things.

In the city of Hamburg wildlife is part of everyday life, it surrounds peoples lives. Why then in Britain’s suburbs is wildlife increasingly portrayed as the enemy, an annoyance which stands in the way of progress and growth, and needs to be moved somewhere more convenient.

We have much to learn from other countries, not least, how to make our cities liveable for all, people and wildlife alike.

 

 

 

A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.

A Good Read – Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk.

final-H-is-for-hawk-cover

We’ve all done it. Dismissed a book based on the hype without ever opening the front cover. I was all poised to read this and be a bit sneery but, within the first few pages I changed my mind.

There was something real and honest in Helen Macdonald I hadn’t expected to find. Despite the reviews I don’t think this book is a work of dark genius. It’s not The Peregrine. I did not find it a hard, difficult, painful read but a simple account of grief and the desire to withdraw from the world.

Maybe it says something about me that I found so much in this book I could relate to. That the author’s desire to hide out with a hawk, lose herself in the wild, bury herself in non human instincts was something I could sympathise with.

I like the unapologetic way she deals with many of the issues this book covers. She doesn’t get bogged down in the ethics of killing animals it is just something she does. She takes responsibility for ending an animal’s life and she eats what she kills. Maybe at times you do feel uneasy about her lack of comment on the contrast between her own sustainable hunting and the pheasant shoots whose rearing pens her hawk plunders but ultimately the ethics of hunting is not what this book sets out to explore.

I also appreciated the lack of melodrama when talking about her grief and depression and her realisation that she can’t continue to hide out in the wilderness but needs people in her life.

If you are one of the people who have become sick of hearing about this book and actively avoided it then think again. Ignore the hype and enjoy the book for what it is. A simple and well written book from a women, who you sense, never sought the limelight.

The edgelanders

untitled (17)

by MLP

 

Yesterday I crashed around in the damp leaves, in a quarry with a women called Vanessa. It was not a time for ‘normal’ people to be out. A wet Sunday afternoon in a quarry on the edge of town. The only people here were the teenagers, smoking in a sodden pack, perched on a rotten tree stump, and the ‘wierdos.’ I was the latter. The teenagers greeted us like fellow edgelanders, people who skulk on the scrubby edges of society.

We were here to do a meditation nature walk and had dressed in a bundle of odd layers, mine, moth bitten with burn holes from bonfires, Vanessa’s, so peculiar her teenage daughter had urged her not to leave the house.

We found a quiet spot, springy with raked up piles of beech leaves, we meditated, we walked around in the leaves, feeling the earth, our muscles, smelling the loam.

The birds alarm called, travelling flocks of tits and goldcrests, but then settled down, sensing we were ok, not likely to do human things like shout or call in dogs. We quietened down too, became centred, absorbed the outdoor world into our pores and let it be. Our muscles relaxed, our faces relaxed, we became part of the earth, not balanced upon it.

The rain stopped. The ‘adults’ emerged, dog walkers. They eyed us warily, they called their dogs away from us, the wierdos. I didn’t care. I felt my otherness and liked it. This stepping off the ledge of modern, normal, acceptable, life. Not shopping, not playing with a gadget, not exercising, me or a hound, just being.

I felt a woodlander in vaguely human form, a shapeshifter. It was the same feeling I used to get when camping rough in the woods. I would walk into a village in the morning and sense that my life and the life of the people I passed were on parallel tracks. I was walking just off to one side of the present, living an older, more natural, more animal existence, letting go, not caring about fitting in.

As the dog walkers scurried away I fell backwards into the pile of leaves and, laughing, looked up at the roof of skeletal winter twigs. The eiderdown of the woodland floor sucked me in