How walking helps my writing and my main character’s fear of cows: a guest post by Anne Goodwin #sugarandsnails

sugar and snails coverI met Anne Goodwin on 7th September 2009 at Ted Hughes former home. We were participating in an Arvon course. It was an excellent five days and, beyond the learning and time to write, the joy was in mingling with fellow writers, a disparate group starting out on the journey to a novel. I made short note in my journal of all the participants. Of Anne I wrote:

psychologist, teacher, giggler extraordinaire – really lovely person – story about…

but that would be a spoiler. Lumb Bank is perfect for writers, but also for walkers and during the afternoons Anne and I and one or two others took ourselves off into the woods for a ramble.

And here we are, nearly six years on and Anne is not just a writer but an author. We are still friends, still sharing this journey. I am delighted to give over this blog to Anne to tell us

How walking helps my writing and my main character’s fear of cows

A bee buzzes past my ear as a meadow pipit springs from among the purpling heather. A tortoiseshell and small heath butterfly weave in and out of each other’s flight paths. Across the shoulder-high bracken, the knock-knock of a stonechat. A patchwork of field and forest spread across rolling hills. My conscious mind on nothing else, I’m surprised when it comes to me: the resolution to a plot problem; a delicious image; a perfect phrase. A story that unfolds a little farther each time my boot hits the peat.

Of course, some gets lost in the drive home, but nothing beats a walk across my beloved moors to progress my writing. Treading familiar paths, I recognise, not just the landmarks, but the ideas I’ve formulated there over the years. The steady rhythm puts me in that state of reverie that nourishes creativity. A long walk not only carries me over the hurdles I’ve met in my fiction, but ameliorates the physical ills generated by long days at a computer.

Walking has been integral to my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, since its inception. I began the first draft on returning home from a long-distance walk across the breadth of England, and dedicated it to the coast-to-coasters who joined me along the way. I also made Leonard, my main character’s father, a walker, avoiding church and the demands of family life by heading to the hills. While I relished my research trips plotting his routes, Leonard didn’t have such an easy time of it. The space to think brought disturbing memories of his early adulthood as a prisoner of war, which strongly influenced his behaviour as a father.

When I cut the parents’ points of view from the novel, I also had to let go of most of Leonard’s walks. But one remained, told this time in the form of Diana’s memories of childhood; a rare day out that started well and ended badly, Leonard being decidedly intolerant of the ten-year-old’s terror of the cattle encountered en route. As my own fear of the beasts is the main impediment to my solitary walking, it made sense to gift that bit of my autobiography to Diana and create a scene illustrating the problematic attachment patterns originating in her childhood.

Knowing that Geoff is also a keen walker – and I’ve even taken him on one of my favourite Peak District routes – it seems appropriate for my debut on TanGental to focus on the hike that features in chapter 10 of Sugar and Snails. Earlier this week, I took time out of my hectic blog tour schedule, to tramp the route that Diana recalls, albeit at a different time of the year. What follows is a mixture of fact and fiction, my own walk interlaced with lines from the novel (in italics).

They arrived by bus:

Look out for a pub on your right. The Robin Hood.

Robin Hood

That’s our stop.

Bus stop

Although I made my way there this week by car and then on foot from the other side of Chatsworth:

Signpost

We got down from the bus and crossed the road, my dad jiggling his canvas haversack to sit more comfortably on his shoulders. He reached out to steady me as I clambered over the stile.

Stile

The path cut through the dried-out bracken like a parting through hair.

Path

He pointed out the ash and the spindly silver birch, its bark like alligator skin.

Silver BirchAt last I understood what drove him to come out here week after week: this was so much better than church.

View photo 1

All goes well until they meet the Highland cattle at the exact point where I once encountered them, making a huge detour through some very boggy ground. Fortunately there were none around this week:

View photo 2

The cattle had assembled on the path, waiting. “I’m not going past them cows.”

My dad grabbed me by the arm and dragged me forward. “Don’t be such a softy.”

With a deep lowing, reminiscent of the sound my grandad made when constipated, the orderly gathering broke apart. Cows galloped into the fields; others trooped back into the woods; the rest trotted up the path towards us. I escaped my father’s grip and stumbled away to park myself behind a rock.

Rock

“Stop this nonsense! I said they wouldn’t hurt you.” He beckoned to me to join him.

Whimpering, I rose to my feet, caught between the wild beasts and my father’s wrath.

The cattle had settled back into a steady walk, although one over-eager or sexually confused youngster was mounting one of her siblings. Ahead of the cattle, a woman in a green anorak ambled towards us.

The Ranger proves to be more sympathetic towards a frightened child than Leonard:

“Why don’t we walk past together?” said the ranger. “When you’ve done it once, you’ll feel more confident for next time.” She offered me her arm as if to lead me onto the dance-floor. “Shall we?”

When both ranger and cows had departed, I did feel rather foolish and wondered how I’d recover my dad’s good mood. If we heard another woodpecker or spotted a squirrel or stumbled across the shiny red dome of a fly agaric the day would not be completely ruined. I tried to remember what else he’d said we might see. “How far is it to the plague graves?”

My dad turned away as if I hadn’t spoken. Checking the shoulder straps of his haversack, he strode off, and I had no choice but to follow.

I trod the same route yesterday, but lots of points of interest along the way which, unfortunately, my characters would have failed to notice:

At the quarry:

Quarry A Quarry B

we parted company, Leonard stomping away onto higher moorland, his poor child limping behind on blistered feet:

S

while I took the path downhill to the plague graves which Diana never got to see:

Plague graves

Plague plaque A

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found these horned beasts straddling the path:

Cattle on path

But I swallowed my fears and inched closer for the sake of this post:

Cattle close-up

She does look quite cuddly, but I think I prefer the calf:

Calf

Thanks for following my fact-meets-fiction walk. If you’d like to know more about walking in the Peak District, consider joining a ranger guided walk; I’ll be leading one on Jane Eyre again next year. You can also follow these links to find out more about my debut novel or to check up what I’m up to on my blog.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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29 Responses to How walking helps my writing and my main character’s fear of cows: a guest post by Anne Goodwin #sugarandsnails

  1. Chris White says:

    What a brilliant post. Such lovely views. A very good point about walking and how it helps writing. Many well known authors mention how the build a walk into their daily routine. Exercise and health and inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sacha Black says:

    Fab post, some really gorgeous photos in there too. I adore that baby cow! its soon cute.

    Geoffle…. I fear to think what you wrote in your journal about the committee when you met us all, were all bonkers! I do love that phrase though ‘giggler extraordinaire’ lovely image 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Annecdotist says:

    Thanks, Geoff, you have put this together beautifully and I really appreciate your time loading all those pics. And what a lovely introduction – I’m still laughing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    Great post and lovely images of one of my favourite playgrounds 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Rachel M says:

    I love the highland cows! The baby one is particularly gorgeous.

    I agree that walking is a great way to find inspiration. My husband is a mathematician and he solves theorems on long walks 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Charli Mills says:

    This post is like a box of See’s Chocolates! I want to nibble on the photos, the excerpts and the real-life walk. I also like learning that Anne is a giggler extraordinaire. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Reblogged this on Barrow Blogs: and commented:
    A lovely post

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Norah says:

    It’s lovely to hear a little more of your friendship and writing links. I really enjoyed seeing the photographs of the walk from the book and to make the “autobiographical” connection. What beautiful countryside. Walking in “the wild” must be great for the spirit as well as for inspiration. Thanks to both of you for sharing such a delightful post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      Thanks, Norah, I’m afraid it’s not terribly wild – as a couple of lovely older women I met on my way to the plague graves said, you’re never too far from a teashop – and it’s our busiest national park as it’s surrounded by cities, but even on a summers weekend I can walk for hours without meeting many people. But I do love it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Norah says:

        Well then, that sounds superb! Out in the wilderness for hours, without another soul in sight – but always a teahouse close by to drop into should the need arise.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I can relate to this – the inspirational value of a good walk and the fear of cows. They’re allowed to roam freely where I live so there’s no avoiding them, and the dogs just love to chase them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      Yes, here too, Annabelle, and you do need to be extra careful with the dog (as I’m sure you know) and let them off the lead if the cattle are starting to follow. My fear never stops me heading out but I have taken some lengthy diversions to avoid them!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. roweeee says:

    Thank you very much for this post and I really appreciated having the novel snippets with the photographs. Don’t know how you could be scared of those exceptionally cute Highland cows. I’m with your Dad on that one.
    I also appreciate the value of a good walk. I walk my dogs along the beach every week day morning, although our poor beach is currently being treated for erosion and in what resembles a scene out of Bob the Builder, there are diggers, huge trucks and road works signs on our beach…such a travesty! xx Rowena

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Annecdotist says:

    Oh, sorry about your beach, Rowena, but hope all the upheaval is worth it in the end. I’m less scared of the Highland cattle than the Friesians now, as they are indeed remarkably placid, but those horns could do some damage if they were so inclined.

    Like

  12. Sherri says:

    Lovely post, wonderful introduction Geoff and really enjoyed reading about how walking helps your writing Anne. I find just the same. I find it very difficult spending so much time sitting down, walking is great for not only the exercising but for getting those writing juices going as you so succinctly point out. Lovely photos, gorgeous calf 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Annecdotist says:

    Thanks, Sherri, enjoy your walks!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Pingback: Interview with Anne Goodwin @annecdotist – Author of ‘Sugar and Snails’ | Lit World Interviews

  15. Pingback: The Story Behind The Story – “I’m not dead” by Anne Goodwin | Dr Gulara Vincent

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