Geographical perspectives

I am in the middle of reading a biography of Oswald of Northumbria (otherwise known as St Oswald or Oswald Whiteblade): Max Adams, The King in the North, The life and times of Oswald of Northumbria, (Head of Zeus, 2013).

This has made me very much aware of the extent to which my perspective on Britain is limited by the places that I have lived. I was born in Kent and then spent time in South Wales, Sussex, Nottinghamshire and the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders, always on farms, before spending my secondary school years in Hertfordshire. Since then, I have lived in Sussex and Nottinghamshire (again) and my brother now lives very near where we went to secondary school, so that when I visit from Australia, I go to Hertfordshire (again).

Cholesbury Camp: view along one of the ditches

Throughout my childhood, as we moved from place to place, the constant homing point was my grandparents (and uncle and aunt and cousins) in South Wales, site of many family gatherings, especially at Christmas and during summer holidays. My cousins were learning Welsh, which I envied then and still envy now.

I realise that as I am writing these novels set in seventh-century Britain, I am forever steering the action towards these scenes of my childhood, landscapes that are more than loved; landscapes that are part of my mental framework.

The other book that is at the front of my mind at the moment is George Rebanks’ glorious memoir: The Shepherd’s Life, A Tale of the Lake District (Penguin, 2015). It is the work of a grounded man, someone with a lifetime relationship with a single area.

Envy strikes again, in a way. Well, perhaps not envy, but wistful ‘if only’s. In my peripatetic childhood, there were many fields and hedgerows and coppices; many farmyards and barns; memories of haymaking and blackberrying and collecting mushrooms with my father as he brought in the cows for morning milking. But there is no one place to which I belong. We were never anywhere long enough.

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