Gone to Earth can be called many things. A sexual melodrama. A mating-triangle. Paradise Lost. A regional novel. Over the past few years, I have been rather preoccupied in mastering regional writing with both my short stories and novel drawing heavily from the Potteries where I grew up. Until I was 11, that is, when we emigrated to Shropshire.
Still, I am asked a lot why Stoke-on-Trent has had such an impact upon my writing, why the well of stories never runs dry. I often reel off a stock answer that involves my Nan (she’s the Nan is Broken Crockery), the stories she used to tell me (the one about the pram with the wonky wheel in Barmouth? That’s my Nan’s), and the character she was (yes, some of the lines in Chuck and Di are directly from her mouth). But I’m also Alan Bennett’s biggest fan and hugely influenced by the working-class writings of Alan Sillitoe and Nell Dunn. Fuse these parts together and you’ve got Sitting Ducks and a collection of short fiction under the title It’s Gone Dark over Bill’s Mother’s.
So it felt like the right time to emigrate again. Like I did almost 3 years ago. Back to Shropshire. And then lend all that I’ve learnt about writing regionally to rediscovering these parts.
I was fortunate enough to be visited by the novelist and poet Jeff Phelps this week. I asked him to pop in because Jeff is curating a whole programme of Shropshire-focused poetry events at this year’s Wenlock Poetry Festival. From showcasing new voices, to celebrating the diversity of its writing groups to a discussion on Why Shropshire? What is it about these parts that continues to inspire?
Mary Webb had a profoundly intense bond with Shropshire. For me, it’s the main voice in all her novels: pages and pages devoted solely to translating its landscape, recording its beauty, bringing to our attention so much that we don’t see. These parts were, for her, the mainstay of her life, not just in terms of inspiration but in her well-being. I don’t have that relationship with Shropshire. Not yet, anyway. But with weekly trips out into the sticks taking in Lordshill, the Vessons, Mitchell’s Fold, The Gatten, the many beaches that line the bottom of the Stiperstones, I am slowly starting to see what Mary did.
I have to thank Jeff. A lot. I don’t think he knows what he help he was. Because what Jeff did was make me realise one thing: you can write about any part of this world or that world or the one where we’re all headed, but writing of these parts is very much like curating a festival programme celebrating all that’s new, old, existing, natural, and emerging. And why?
Because it’s there. Because one day we won’t be. Or it won’t be. And because what’s on your doorstep is a story dying to be told.
These Parts: A Day of Contemporary Poetry from Shropshire curated by Jeff Phelps. Methodist Church, Much Wenlock. 10.30am-5.15pm Sunday 24th April 2016.
(Photo credit: Shropshire hills from the Long Mynd (Dave Croker) / CC BY-SA 2.0)