Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Setting as story

A waymarker along the South Downs Way

One of my favourite places in the world is the South Downs Way, an ancient 106-mile trail which runs through the countryside between Eastbourne, Sussex and Winchester, Hampshire in southern England. (Cooincidentally, I was born in Eastbourne, and my family has lived in Winchester for the past 35+ years).

A few years ago I did a solo hike - covering 85 miles of the South Downs Way from Winchester to Clayton in eight days - before being felled by a bone infection in my leg.

Each visit I make to England I do one stretch of it or another with my uncle, who is 'up on the hills' every day, as he's been for the past 50 years or so.
Last year my husband, Uncle Jim, and I explored the Cuckmere Haven, one of those ox-bow shaped rivers you might have read about in school. We ended our walk standing on the beach in the shadows of the Seven Sisters, a spectacular series of chalk cliffs that run along the Sussex coast.

Cuckmere Haven / Exeat Country Park, Sussex, England

High above us to the east was a road, next to which stood a small row of houses sharing what must be been a spectacular view of the English Channel. The day we visted was damp and blustery, but I know this part of the English countryside experiences all kinds of weather.

I've been thinking about those houses,their history, who might live there, and the affect that weather has on how people react and interact to their environment. (Having a borderline case of Seasonal Affective Disorder always makes me wonder how other people feel when the sun is shining elsewhere, but not on them!)

So using this evocative setting, in the past month I've started to make notes for a novel entitled And She Lived by the Sea which answers some of the questions that this view evokes. In a week or so, rain or shine, I hope be standing again on the beach in the shadow of the South Downs, seeing what other impressions and ideas I can gather for my writing.

Setting can provide powerful germs for story, whether it's close to home or far away in a place you might just visit once. It's often just a matter of taking in the scene with all your senses, then wondering What if? or Why?

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