Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How important are your roots in your writing? This is a question I've been thinking about for some time now, not least in relation to the whole aspect of making things new. Trouble is, with the best will in the world, the area of England I grew up in isn't very exciting. Even its own website has John Major as the pin up boy and admits that it is normally thought of as 'hardly remarkable'. But is that the case? Surely it's up to me as a writer to make it interesting? This is a challenge I intend to rise to, particularly as I freewrite about all the images and memories that have stuck with me - getting bogged down literally in the bog for several hours in a cold landrover on Christmas day, going to see ALL of the original Planet of the Apes films in the local fleapit, my first kiss outside the youth club, horseracing, the postman we had in the village who couldn't read and so had to ask at each house what letters he should deliver to the next house, cycling along straight windy roads, the smell of sugar beet, the reflected glory we got from having BOTH Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell as 'local lads', and above all the strange relationships and names of the families living around.

The wonderful Laurie Graham, a writer I've just discovered but who must have some Fen blood in her somewhere has tempted me with this last one. Here's an extract from her book, The Future Homemakers of America, about a conversation between an American and a Fenwoman:
"She was Annie Jex, then she married Harold Howgego. Their boy Colin was took prisoner in the last lot; Japs got him. You should have seen him when they sent him home. I've seen more flesh on a sparrow. Now, he married a girl from Lynn, and her mother was a Jex, only not the same lot, of course. Annie as one of the Waplode Jexes, and her mother was a Pargeter."
This sent shivers down my spine as it could have so easily been my mother talking when she was trying to explain - as simply as she could - who someone was. It used to send us into gales of laughter - matched only by the time she described a 50 year old man as 'young Arthur'. Actually, I'm not sure now if it was her description or her anger at our laughing about it that made us the happier. Although of course we also got pretty merry with the way a real Fenman we knew used to start every sentence with 'I'll just turn round and ...'
So my writing prompt for today is going to be to try to capture the essence of Huntingdon. There's more food for thought about how our place shapes us here.

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