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Part 3, on the craft of writing - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
wemyss
wemyss
Part 3, on the craft of writing

 

The same techniques – again, this is mere craft, not art – can be used in the home paddock as well.  Take this, from my recent A Dartmoor Eclogue:[1]

Beyond the coombe and the hollow, the classical West Somerset landscape rose, less grand and more intimate than that near Pottersfield House and Potterton Mallet, away upon the Mendips, on the other side of the county. Godric’s Hollow and district hid themselves away, doves in the rock, in the shadow of the everlasting hills, upon the margins of the moor. North-westerly stood Gryphon Hill, with its trig point and its ruined castle; beyond it brooded Exmoor, wild and free. To the north and east of the village, the Sam Brook rose, to make its merry way, chortling over the rocks, to the greater tributaries of the River Exe, and thence to the Exe herself and so to the ever-changeful sea. It was the long vac., and High Summer, a golden god of jocund aspect, sat enthroned upon the land. And this was not Dudley’s common Earth, water, or wood, or air: it was Merlin’s isle of Gramarye: yet it was not so far from, it was none so alien to, the fields he knew. For all its subtle thrum of magic in the breeze, in the soil and the roots that filamented that soil, in every vein of every leaf, this was as much England as it was Faerie: the intersection of the timeless moment, England and nowhere, never and always. The Summer-God was a kindly divinity: for the loss of the honeyed flowers in the bluebell wood of Springtide, he gave as recompense the first flowering of eyebright, white and gold as priestly vestments, purple and gold as the robes of a Byzantine emperor: and outwith the magic of this place, the same exchange was made in the fields the Muggles knew, on Heydon Hill and Heydon Common, on Haddon Hill, at Potter’s Cross and Huish Champflower, Clatworthy and Chipstable. Gorse and whin, dog-rose and bittersweet, maple, oak, and elm, took the Sun’s grace here just as they did in the fields the Muggles knew, in Skilgate or Gupworthy, for in every season, in may time with its hedges white with voluptuary sweetness, in Summertide of the children in the apple-tree, in wintry Pentecostal fire in the dark time of the year, in the autumn of burnt roses and ash on an old man’s sleeve, this was the ancient history behind the history, a pattern of timeless moments, now and England.

You see what I’ve done.  Everything in this magical place is earthed in the adjoining Muggle landscape, in its local geology and its local flora, and tied together with biblical reference, with Kipling, Dunsany, and Eliot.  I cannot stress that sufficiently: the proper diet of writers is great writing, and you are obliged, not merely encouraged, to filch like a particularly acquisitive magpie.  Or again,

Bindweed, bramble, brier, traveller’s-joy, ivy. Once, Dudley had thought, the prospect of stopping with his cousin would have been a weight and a binding; nowadays, even as he journeyed into this half-tamed countryside, it was always a slipping free of care; even as he entered into this world of trammelling bindweed, of bramble and brier, traveller’s-joy, and ivy, it was his cares that slipped from him even as the trailing plants and the kindly magic of the genius loci bound him fast with creeper and vine.

You see the technique.  It works on man’s own works as well:

The closure of the British Museum Underground station in 1933 had had causes other than those – efficiency, mainly – given out to Muggles, just as Dr Beeching, thirty years later, had wielded, not an axe, but a wand, in reserving and restoring several rail lines to exclusive Wizarding use. And of course, if there is one place in the Muggle world, let alone Britain, where Wizards and Muggles can mingle without so much as an eyebrow’s being raised, it is the British Museum and its purlieus: even more so than at Oxford, or that place in the Fens. So it was that Dudley and Elspeth met the Grangers and the Creeveys – who’d had an appalling time on the Muggle trains from Staffs up to town – at the BM tube station, to sink with relief into the 1920s, and the magical 1920s at that: the magical tube (Central Line) to Finchley Road and thence on the magical Metropolitan Line to Brill, all change for the Godric Express, via Boarstall, Oxford Magdalen, Calne, Black Dog Halt, Dilton Marsh Halt, Twatford Mulliner, Sutton Littlecombe Halt, Fisherton de la Mere, Potterton Mallet, dipping down to and through Ottery St Catchpole, and then back to Exeter St Aldhelm, Brompton Pixie, and on to Norton Fitzwarren, where they would be met. All by steam! O ghosts of Kipling’s memsahibs, all by steam! The journey, like the appointments of the various carriages and the service of the free-elf wine-waiters, respectively, was plush, opulent, and smooth, and very swift: yet not so swift that the Creeveys hadn’t time to relax from the agonies of the Muggle up train that had – eventually – managed to get them to London, a prospect that had at times seemed doubtful, nor so swift that Dudley and Mr Granger hadn’t time to think dark, envious thoughts, and voice them to one another, about the invidious comparisons to be made between Muggle and magical rail companies.

Here Faerie and England become indistinguishable.  And the marvellous thing about this trick of technique is how it can be used to do so many tasks at once.  Put Dudley and Harry, Hagrid, Nev, Charlie, and Ron, on Dartmoor, and see what a simple bit of nature-description can do:

The birdsong had stilled. An utter silence enveloped them, in which their own sounds, increasingly tentative as they slowed to a halt, sounded oddly.

And the landscape itself was as suddenly and ominously changed. The turf, the clitter, the tors, the sky, all were as they had been, yet changed utterly, like a scene in a dream of fever. The turf was no longer the field they knew, Muggle or Magical; its whites were white of bone, its greens the oozing green of putrescent corruption. The characteristic pattern of moorland vegetation was now like the last fleece on the carcase of a dead and rotting moorland sheep. The grey granite of the tors, the blocks of protruding clitter and the growan, were like bones poking through the decaying hide of a fallen Dartmoor pony. And all the reds and browns and purples of the moorland were now visible only as blood.

They were suddenly and utterly alone.

***

Forbs and weeds, fescue and bindweeds; thistle, burdock, and flax; bracken and wort. Heather, gorse, bilberry, and broom. The chest-wound lung-shot carmine of stabbing, needled bell-heather in flower, beneath which the day-shy grayling, like chips of bark from a dead tree felled in anger, camouflaged, hid from light of sun, and upon which the hallucinatory silver-studded blue fearfully fluttered and, fugitive, fed, both as ephemeral as all butterflies are, born but to die as swiftly as hope. Hidden away from the eye of the day, also, the nightjar lurked; the stonechat and perhaps the Dartford warbler, rare and far from his kindlier home, were silent, daunted presences in the silent, daunting landscape.

The ling, the vulgar heather, like old blood on a rusted blade, its flowers hangdog, head-bowed, dreading to face an honest sun.

Wet-glistening raw-meat visceral round-leaved sundew, a carnivore in ambush.

Bastard asphodel, the bog asphodel, yellow as cowardice, death of sheep.

The dried venous-blood colour of purple moor-grass.

The grey-green grime of lichen.

Tormentil, cowering down, its jaundiced flowers crouching to ward off a blow.

A cutting wind, a sterile air, flaying, a scalpel, inhuman, dispassionate, an air too pure to be borne.

A blue enamelled sky, screwed down, clamped and hammered shut, from zenith to horizon, like the inner lid of a sarcophagus above the face of a corpse, its sun like the one burning bulb of an interrogation room.

This was Crockern Tor and the Littaford Tors, the caput of the Stannaries, the ancient land of Dart-y-moor.

This was fear.

Awe.

Numinous terror.

***

They had fallen in beside [a mysterious personage, now revealed as friendly], unconsciously, walking northwards beneath a flawless sky. The crows were fled now, and dunlin and plover, whinchat and skylark, took riotous grace in the clean air. About them on every side, the bugle and the asphodel, the milkwort and the gorse, flourished in pure colours, violet and imperial purple, periwinkle, gamboges and gilt.

Heather, clad in Tyrian, its flower-heads bowed in prayer.

The moor-grass in its vestments, celebratory, imperial, lines delicate and pure.

Bilberry, where soon the berries would gleam, blue as the Navy and the wine-dark sea.

The hare’s-tail cotton-grass, white and pure as summer clouds, as cosy as a well-worn comforter in a grandmother’s house.

A bracing wind, a purer air, fleet and clean and free.

Lichen and moss, celadon and sea-green.

Bedstraw, all cream and pear.

The same plants and birds and weather and rocks and turf, in the same colours, yet wholly transformed by the way in which one writes them.  Even the length of the sentences reflects that. That’s not genius, I don’t own any: that’s craft.  And I can be crafty, after all these years.

And it’s dead easy.  A doddle.  All you want is An Eye, for colour and to choose detail.  That having been cultivated, all you want are OS maps,[2] Geographs,[3] county histories,[4] the Postcode Plants Database,[5] ‘A vision of Britain through time’,[6] the field guide to arable plants,[7] some search engine skills – and Bob’s your uncle.

It’s not high art, but it’s far better craftsmanship than far too much of what we see.  It may at the very least keep American writers from treating the counties of Britain as so many American towns (‘Coz[8] Harry was stuck in Surrey for the summer, he decided to hang at the Surrey Mall.[9]  Maybe Hermione would be there, she’d been talking about buying some cool stuff at Hot Topic.[10]  Harry figured he should of[11] called her[12] to see if she was going to be there’).

Well, one can hope, and it couldn’t hurt.



[1] http://www.fictionalley.org/authors/wemyss/ADE01.html

[8] No, really.

[9] Not the Mall.  Rather, it appears to be a name for shopping centres on the order of Trafford Centre in Manchester or Bluewater in Essex.

[10] Whatever that may be.  One sees it in the Pit, often.  Some things I don’t dare research.

[11] No, really, one sees that as well.

[12] ‘Rung up’, I understand.


 

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Comments
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: June 1st, 2009 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)

What to Wear to the Hogwarts Senior Prom

It's not "Americans", it's "these kids nowadays. What the hell do they do all day in school?"

I do not know the nationality of the person who kept referring to baby Teddy in his bayonet.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 1st, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well....

Ted IS a 'war baby', so....
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