Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Talking Tales Again

I feel I’ve been neglecting my blog recently – mainly because I’ve got a new website, (Dianapowellwriter.com) and most of the news about events, publications etc. is being posted on there.

For a while, I started wondering if there was any point continuing with it, as I didn’t want to simply duplicate what I wanted to say. 

But a couple of weeks ago I attended a Story Search/Workshop organised by the Ancient Connections Project, and that helped me to change my mind, and led me in a new direction just for the blog.

Ancient Connections has been set up specifically to promote links across the sea, between Pembrokeshire and Ireland – from the starting point of St David (bishop of St David’s) and St Aidan (Bishop of Ferns, in Wexford). It also has a broader brief of cross-border arts and heritage. But it is also concerned with communities, the people within those communities, and the discovery of their own, very special, local knowledge about the area. Stories, in other words.

I was totally amazed by the amount of this knowledge among some of the participants, particularly those who had lived in Pembrokeshire all their lives, and those involved in the local history society.
In truth, I felt woefully ignorant beside them.

But something I wasable to contribute centred on the information I’d researched for one of my short stories, ‘Sea Change’.

This was a piece I’d written in response to a submission call-out by Arachne Press for their 2019 Solstice Shorts.

Arachne Press is a wonderful indie press, run almost single-handedly by Cherry Potts, with an incredible amount of energy and hard work. Their Solstice Shorts Festival is a mix of poems, stories and songs, held every year on December 21st(the Winter Solstice), followed by the publication of an anthology.

I was thrilled to have another story ‘Noon Child Unknown’ chosen for last year’s Solstice call-out, ‘Noon’. This year, their subject was ‘Time and Tide’, and they were looking for work about those living beside the water, or travelling over it, to be performed in several venues throughout the country, on the coast and on rivers. Living in a coastal county, and loving the sea, it seemed exactly the right topic for me, and I decided I’d like to write a story set in Wales – Pembrokeshire, if possible.
I started off looking for a story about a seaside settlement, abandoned by its inhabitants, on account of the rising sea levels. Although it would be historical, this would, of course, resonate with the theme of climate change, and what is happening in plenty of places today. Fairbourne in North Wales, is one such place. Another classic example of this nature is from Hallsands, in Devon.

But I couldn’t find evidence of the same situation based in Pembrokeshire, and I was still hoping to make this my setting, even though the Hallsands tale was very tempting.

And then, during my research, I came across a reference to some abandoned houses, not far from the coast, only a few miles away from where I live. True, this wasn’t exactly what I’d been looking for – there was no direct connection to environmental factors – but there were still intriguing elements within the tale. There was little left of the hamlet now, beyond a few ruined stone walls, and a line of white stones leading to the sea. One local belief held it to be a Quaker village, with some talk that the villagers had been driven away – even, possibly, by the poisoning of their well. But whatever the truth of this, it was almost certain that whoever lived there walked along that path, to the coast, and found their livelihood in the sea. This provided the bare bones of my story. I added a sprinkling of myth – well, there have to be selkies, don’t there? And ghosts. And a possible land across the sea, which materialised into America, where the Quakers departed to, with my main character following in their footsteps… or their boat wakes.

So there was history, there was time, there was tide, and I was pleased with my story, and even more so when Arachne accepted it.

But it was particularly rewarding because I had discovered some local history that I had been completely unaware of before. And as I say, I was able to pass on my new-found knowledge to the Ancient Connections workshop, and add another tale to the wealth of stories that Pembrokeshire possesses, from the Prehistoric to the present day.

The story will be read at Holyhead, and I myself will read it at Greenwich. It will be live-streamed, therefore stretching across the world. This corner of Pembrokeshire will be echoed across the airwaves.

And after I’d finished ‘Sea Change’, because I had come across so many marvellous tales of the ocean, I wrote another story, ‘Ballast’, which was also accepted for the Solstice Festival.
I’m also sure that, one day, I will go back to my idea of a village lost to the waves and weather.
More connections, more words, more stories. 

Which is what this blog is going to be about in future – words about my stories, where they come from, how they developed from idea to page. What happened to them afterwards, maybe. Talking Tales, again.