Last night I went to a production of the Dylan Thomas play Under Milk Wood by Clwyd Theatre Cymru at the Northcott Theatre Exeter. I have always loved this play since I first heard the recording with Richard Burton playing the first voice. I rushed out to buy a copy and still have it. Last night’s production was memorable with an imaginative staging and I know has had some very good reviews. It is on tour so look at the website http://www.undermilkwoodtour.com for places and dates and go and see it if you can.
The real interest for any writer is Thomas’s use of language. Almost the first line ‘It is a spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible black, the cobblestreets silent and hunched, courters’-and rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack fishingboad-bobbing sea.’ makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The magic of a master of the English Langauge, whose descriptions paint such vivid pictures that there is no need of anything else.
And what about the imagination needed to create characters like blind Captain Cat, Rosie Probert and Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard. Apparently Thomas was worried because there was no plot, but he didn’t need one, just following the lives of these characters for a day is enough. It is the centenary of his birth this year and so it seems appropriate to dig out your copy, or if you haven’t got one, buy or borrow one, and read this magnificent work
I rewarded myself with some free time away from a computer on Friday when I went to the Exeter Food and Wine Festival. It provided some opportunities to watch people in a different environment from cafes and bars. In the large marquee’s the emphasis was all about the food. The behavior of individuals as they approached the various stalls varied; some were diffident and declined to look at whoever was manning the stall, others talked confidently about what they liked and why they were interested in a particular product. Among the crowds were the professionals looking for new products for their shops or restaurants, They listened carefully to the stall holders and also to customers who came up to buy. But the most fun was watching the professional chefs show off their skills in the cookery demonstrations. The top chefs are showmen, wielding knives as a stage prop and talking incessantly. They seemed to find it easy to build a rapport with their audience despite spending most of their time behind the scenes in their own restaurants. The one we watched Peter Gorton was a great raconteur and as he worked told tales about doing private dinners and on one occasion he had set the kitchen alight. The hostess was disappointed he hadn’t done more damage as she was trying to persuade her husband to buy a new one.
On the train home I watched a young man writing a letter -yes a real letter on real paper. When I sat opposite him, he was reading a letter written on pale cream paper with a decorated border. I assumed it was written by a young woman on notepaper given to her as a Christmas present. My imagination decided the contents were a plea to resume their relationship, a plea that from the firmness of the man’s jaw and the lack of any sparkle in his eyes I assume he was about to reject. He took from his brief case a folder containing notepaper and began to write. He was left handed and I noticed how his left hand curved round the top of the notepaper as he wrote, quite quickly from left to right. He held the pen between his thumb and forefinger with the hand above the pen. The position gave the appearance of hiding the contents of the letter as I remember children trying to protect their schoolwork from prying eyes. I recall that the word sinister comes from left handedness, and it did indeed seem a strange and secretive way of writing.
So my day out provided characters for my writing. Do other writers give themselves time just to observe?
Oh the popcorn. Well my favorite stall at the Festival was the Portlebury Popcorn Company.
This week I have been to two very different literary festivals. The Ways with Words Festival has been running for over twenty years at the very beautiful Dartington Hall, and is well established. Sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, the speakers, not surprisingly, are authors who have published books that the arts editors consider to be important. The other smaller and more community minded was in the small market town of Chudleigh about six miles outside Exeter.
I was one of the organising committee at Chudleigh and we put together a programme that would appeal to both readers and writers. Ways with Words is primarily aimed at readers although many writers do attend in the hope of learning something about the craft of writing from some of the countries most successful authors. Nevertheless I found a common theme in both.
One of the workshops at Chudleigh was taken by Chris Waters, a poet and member of the Dartmoor Poets, who provoked us into thinking about landscape by looking at photographs taken by James Ravilious of places and people in north Devon in the 1960’s although they looked like they were from a much earlier period. Later the author Fay Sampson www.faysampson.co.uk talked about her novels which she said were inspired by place, indeed her latest series, the Aiden mysteries are set in the sacred places of Britain. At Dartington Jane Feaver the author of ‘An Inventory of Heaven’ talked about how difficult it was to write about the countryside unless you had lived in a landscape since birth and your family had lived there for generations. She described the land as having no sense of humour. So three authors and three different views on writing about nature.