Owing to its modest height, easy accessibility and spectacular views of Derwentwater, Catbells is one of the most popular fells in the Lakes for walkers. There is some doubt surrounding the origin of its unusual name, but one theory is that it comes from a distortion of “Cat Bields”, meaning shelter of the wild cat.
This month’s guest poem is by Dave Cryer (@cavedryer), a writer from Keswick who runs drama and literary workshops. He also pens clever haikus online – covering anything from the fells, to Black Friday, to tomato soup!
By Dave Cryer
Across that strip of water she reclines, Her beauty clear and close, her swirls and swerves. You dwell by Derwentwater’s liquid lines And yearn to rise upon her crested curves.
It’s sure and simple, step aboard the launch Or skirt round Portinscale and through the woods And soon you’ll be below her handfill haunch And pausing to survey her goodly goods.
Now climb, clandestine, wrapped in full sweet smile And press upon the powdered peak – just stop – The softness of the spine, the next half mile – Now smooth across, then take her towered top.
Sublime. You’re there. She’s with you. Here to tell Of soft-blown synergy of folk and fell.
Thanks once again to Craig Hyde at Pure Photos for letting me use his work. See more of his fantastic pictures here.
Alfred Wainwright’s popularity shows no sign of slowing down. Nearly 25 years after his death, his guide books continue to sell in vast quantities as walkers follow in his footsteps to become ‘Wainwright baggers.’
Seen as we’ve got a fairly decent reputation for producing poetry in the Lakes, what better way to epitomise these celebrated hills than with a collection of poems?
John Phoenix Hutchinson, a poet and fell walker from the Lake District, has released a collection of poetry called Wainwrights in Verse covering all 214 Wainwright fells. It is described as a ‘poetical guide to the Lake District Fells.’ Below are two poems for your enjoyment: ‘Rannerdale Knotts’ and ‘Red Pike’. The accompanying photos are by talented Cumbrian photographer Craig Hyde at Pure Photos; you can see more of his work on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/purephotos. Craig also takes some stunning photos of wildlife, check them out!
Wainwrights in Verse (£8.99) is available from www.bookscumbria.com and from the Carlisle and Keswick branches of Bookends.
Region: North West Height: 1,165 ft Grid Ref: NY167182
The springtime hue is a stunning sea of blue,
Best visited when the dawning sunshine hits the dew.
Green the oasis where the medieval blood once flowed,
The first week in September saw the second Borderlines Book Festival take place over four days in Carlisle. A festival aimed at readers and writers, the event was a hub of activity including author talks, writer’s workshops and a murder mystery night! I attended four events, here is an overview:
The first event I attended was a talk given by Terry Waite on Saturday. Those familiar with Waite’s story will know of the dangerous experiences that he encountered through his work, most notably being kept hostage for 1,763 days in Beirut during his time as Special Envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Terry went into fascinating – and harrowing – detail of this time, explaining how he was beaten with cable and subjected to mock executions. After his release, he returned to Lebanon 25 years later and, remarkably, met up with his captors, in order to “reconcile the past”. They did, he said, apologise for his treatment. He also vehemently defended himself against the criticism he has faced throughout his dealings in the Middle East. Some of the press chastised him for what they saw as grandstanding and meddling. However, he responded that he felt he was in a unique position to help, and that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to sit by and do nothing. He added: “I knew full well what the dangers were and knew that I only had myself to blame.” Having had direct experience with the consequences of religious fundamentalism, both through his own capture and through his humanitarian work (he recently founded Hostage UK, an organisation that supports hostages and their families), Terry offers a personal perspective on the terrorist mindset. When asked if he believes those who carry out their atrocities are inherently evil, or simply brainwashed, he replied: “There are some people within the Islamic State who are in a word, psychopaths, and with whom dialogue is simply not possible. But there are also many young men who are becoming disillusioned with the West; they are being recruited to fight for what they are led to believe is a worthy cause. It is these young men with which we must attempt a dialogue.” Now Terry has released his first comic novel, The Voyage of the Golden Handshake, set aboard a ramshackle cruise ship. His choice to write a comedy stems from the desire to “cheer people up”, in an age where the news is filled with “doom and gloom.” Certainly, throughout the talk he came across as well-humoured and happy to poke fun at himself, adding that, despite everything, he has always been determined not to be robbed of his sense of humour.
Next up was James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life – this was always going to be a popular one! James discussed his journey from first joining Twitter to topping the bestseller lists with his book. He was reluctant to sign up for Twitter, not keen on joining the ranks of people “who talk about what they had for dinner”, but he was persuaded by friends to share his pictures of his working life on his farm in Matterdale. He did join, albeit anonymously. “My phone started going mental,” he says, “people from all over the world were telling me stories about how their grandparents had been farmers, and others were asking me questions about farming.” As the followers increased, James was given the opportunity to write a book. Incidentally, he had started writing the book sporadically many years earlier, but had hid the pages in a drawer and forgotten about them. His primary intent was for the book to show what life was like for people like himself, he added: “The Lake District to me is a working landscape…I didn’t want to make everything pretty and nice, I wanted to capture the bad days as well as the good.” He actually wished to release the book anonymously under his Twitter name, ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, however he was persuaded by both his publisher and wife to put his name to the book. In this way James is very modest, perhaps slightly uncomfortable with the limelight, but grateful all the same. He says that he is overwhelmed by the positive response from readers of the book, his favourite being from fellow farmers. One of his favourite responses was from a farmer friend who upon seeing him called: “I’ve got it…I haven’t read it, but I’ve got it!”
On Sunday afternoon I attended Paula Daly’s talk in Carlisle Library. Having read all three of Paula’s novels in the last few weeks I was particularly interested in hearing about her writing process (see the previous post for my review of her latest book, The Mistake I Made). Paula began writing after reading Stephen King’s On Writing; she simply finished it, began writing the next day and never looked back. Like many authors, prior to her first published book, Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, Paula had written some unpublished novels that she now regards as a practice exercise in which she learned her craft. She shared with us the general process of writing each book, explaining that she spends the first three months thinking about the plot and characters before drawing up a scene list. She discussed the use of twists and the element of surprise, saying: “Just when you think you know a character and how they are going to act, I want them to surprise the reader.” Up until now, Paula has opted for female main characters (her next book will have a male protagonist), explaining that she didn’t want to simply write about women in jeopardy, but wanted characters that are relatable, everyday working women that find themselves in extraordinary situations. She says: “I wanted to write about women like me; women like me that are in trouble.” Excitingly, the characters from Paula’s books are going to be featured in a future TV adaption, although she stresses that there will be no attempts by the actors to mimic the Cumbrian accent. As she (quite rightly) puts it: “No one except a Cumbrian can pull off a Cumbrian accent!”
The festival finished on a high with a sold-out talk from Owen Jones, a left-wing political commentator and author. His first release, Chavs, examines the social classes and the way in which the working class are demonized by politicians and the media alike (think Vicky Pollard in Little Britain). His latest, the bestseller The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It, investigates powerful groups in society that form the ‘establishment’, ones that he believes to be self-serving and exploitative towards the people they claim to help. He plans to release another, The Politics of Hope, an optimistic book he jokingly claims is an effort to cheer himself up. It is this positivity and optimism that tends to form his general rhetoric, and the central tenet of his argument is: if you feel aggrieved by injustice in society – stand up and do something about it! As he puts it: “Our problems are not like the weather; something that we just moan about but can’t change. We can do something.” Owen outlined the ways in which the establishment, particularly the media, encourage resentment towards struggling groups in society, such as the labelling of benefit claimants as ‘scroungers’ in the press. In his view, this is a method of shifting the blame “onto our neighbours and away from those at the top”, such as the tax evaders, exploitative employers and austerity-imposing politicians. So what, in Owen’s view, can be done by Joe Public? “It’s all about pulling together,” he says. With the prevalence of social media, we are, he feels, in a unique position in which we can all have our say, a chance to “bypass the media” and create an open dialogue with others through blogging and speaking out on social networks such as Twitter. As expected, the queue to meet Owen afterwards was long, and he took his time speaking to each person and thanking them for coming. Whether or not you subscribe to Owen’s brand of politics, there is no denying that he is passionate about what he does and that he strives for a positive change.
Here’s a date for your diaries: next year’s festival will take place between October 7th 2016 – October 9th, 2016. Keep up to date with them on Twitter and Facebook:
Is the ‘immoral’ choice sometimes the best choice? What lengths would you go to in order to keep your head above water?
Cumbrian author Paula Daly returns with her third novel, The Mistake I Made. As with her previous two novels, the highly-popular Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and Keep Your Friends Close, her latest offering is a psychological thriller set in the Lake District. This is a story that causes you to ask yourself: “What would I do in this situation?” It’s not always comfortable, it’ll get under your skin, and you’ll be glad you don’t have to provide an answer for real.
The central character of the story is Roz, a physiotherapist and single mother whose debt situation has left her with no furniture and facing eviction from her home. However, an introduction to Scott, a wealthy married friend of Roz’s sister, leads to an offer that could absolve her of all financial burden and give her and her son a fresh start. The offer, while suggested in as agreeably a fashion as possible by the amiable Scott, is somewhat uncouth. Think Indecent Proposal, in Hawkshead. But, as Roz’s situation worsens, she finds herself wrestling with her conscience and her need to provide a stable life for her son:
‘No one was going to come and rescue me from my financial situation in which I found myself. I either lay down and surrendered, conceded defeat, or I found a way to keep going.’
Roz’s narrative voice is trademark Paula Daly: honest, unpretentious and darkly funny – I smiled when I probably shouldn’t have! Roz exuberates a sense of deadpan humour, particularly when dealing with overbearing, amorous patients (Daly herself used to be a physiotherapist – I wonder if Roz’s experiences are inspired by her own?!). Though at times Roz is frustrating, she is an endearing protagonist and it is difficult not to root for her as she faces the dire consequences of her decisions.
As in Daly’s previous novels, this is a multi-layered story with unexpected twists and revelations about the characters. And, not uncommon of a psychological thriller, there are hints along the way (Daly is masterfully subtle in doing this), but even the most astute reader will be susceptible to an unexpected ‘Oh!’ moment at several points. A major point about Paula: she enjoys stripping away at facades layer-by-layer, and there is no such thing as a perfect family, marriage or person.
Residents and visitors of the Bowness and Windermere area will recognise the setting in which Roz lives and works, commuting daily on the ferry across Lake Windermere surrounded by ‘pretty mansions’, ‘slate-topped fells’ and of course eager ‘tourists taking photos of each other.’ She also captures Tarn Hows perfectly, ‘pretty cobalt’ or ‘inky black’ depending on the weather, but always picturesque.
Paula Daly will be talking at Borderlines Book Festival in Carlisle this Sunday, September 6th. I’m looking forward to this one!
The world of farming has come under the spotlight recently.
Currently, ITV are airing Flockstars – a series in which celebrities compete against each other in sheepdog trials. Although the light-entertainment, celebrity aspect is not to everyone’s taste, its current prime time slot is evidence of the rising interest in all things agricultural. More seriously, the media has been reporting on the current scrutiny on supermarkets to provide dairy farmers with a fairer price for milk. Positively, online polls show that there is a strong public backing for dairy farmers and that shoppers are willing to pay extra for their milk in order to support them.
And now, with the prevalence of social media such as Twitter, public figures from the farming world are giving us a glimpse into their working year, day-by-day. Two prominent figures are Amanda Owen, ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, and James Rebanks, ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, both of whom have amassed a large Twitter following and who have had recent book success. The last year in tweets from Rebanks, who lives in Matterdale, has seen an eclectic combination of herding, stunning shots of Cumbrian scenery, live sheepdog births, opinions (see above) and pony photobombs. His memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, has achieved commercial and critical success and was recently serialised on Radio 4.
So what is it about The Shepherd’s Life that has captivated readers?
The answer is in the writing. Rebanks’ prose is so engaging that, regardless of whether you are interested in the subject of farming, you want to read on and learn about his way of life and that of those before him. The descriptions are beautifully lyrical, yet don’t fall into the trap of oversentimentality, and Rebanks expresses a sense of affection towards his fellow land workers, their work, and the traditions that surround them. The book is arranged by seasons, from Summer (sheep-clipping) and ending with Spring (lambing). We learn about the day-to-day running of the farm, such as the gathering of sheep on the fells, a scene in which Rebanks draws comparisons to the film Zulu, except instead of native warriors there are ‘willing mongrels’ and ‘farmers in sun hats that won’t win any fashion prizes.’ These insightful and often humorous accounts are interwoven with folklore, local history and the author’s own past experiences. For instance, the vivid childhood memory of helping his father with the clipping (‘cruel work for men’), and the harrowing account of the foot-and-mouth outbreak (he describes the fields around his village as looking like ‘something out of a war movie’). Not forgetting the sheep themselves; it’s no mean feat to make this notoriously docile woolly animal compelling. But it is difficult not to be endeared by the descriptions of the Herdwick lambs, ‘Dark-brown fleeced, with sturdy white legs, a touch of the teddy bear about them.’
An interesting point in the book comes when James earns a place at Oxford University. He later acknowledges that his decision to study there was to ‘prove a point’, not only to himself, but perhaps also to other people. One of these people, a teacher, appears at the beginning of the book in a childhood recollection. Her embodiment of the snobbish attitude farm workers faced sets the precedent for what follows. Rebanks’ tale consistently proves that his way of life is neither ‘lowly’ nor for ‘idiots’, as he alludes to the type of intelligence that can only be picked up from years of working the land, such as his father’s ‘encyclopaedic knowledge of landscape’.
James returns to farming after university, and never really looks back. It goes to prove that he does the work not because he has to, but because he wants to. His feelings are clear as he returns from Oxford: ‘As the Lake District fells rose up in front of us, I felt that I was home. I could feel those fells encircling me like friends, and I punched my fist and shouted “I AM HOME.”’
James Rebanks will be speaking at the Borderlines Festival in Carlisle on Saturday September 5th. Tickets available here: www.borderlinescarlisle.co.uk
Fancy spending the evening listening to a bestselling political activist, or the Herdwick shepherd who is taking the book world, and Twitter, by storm? Or perhaps you are a writer who would like to enhance your skills in a workshop run by an established author?
Borderlines Festival returns next month after its successful first year in 2014. Held in Carlisle between 3rd and 6th September, the event hosts a wide range of talks and events in various areas of interest. Some of the impressive guests lined up this year include: James Rebanks aka ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, whose book The Shepherd’s Life is a Sunday Times bestseller, and who has currently amassed 70,000 followers on Twitter; Owen Jones, a left-wing political activist, Guardian columnist and author of Chavs as well as the recent bestseller, The Establishment: And how they get away with it; Simon Yates, an internationally acclaimed mountaineer who is widely known for his role in Joe Simpson’s book Touching the Void, and Kate Williams, a TV historian and author of The Edge of the Fall and recent World War II novel, The Storms of War. Be sure to check out the other events in the links provided, there are many more speakers from the world of literature, history, fishing and cricket!
In addition to the speaker events there is the opportunity to attend The Writer’s Quarter, a series of events aimed at those interested in writing, either for pleasure or with the intention of having their work published. All are held by writers with experience in their specialist areas. Some of the events include guidance on self-publishing, memoir writing, crime writing and poetry writing, to name a few. I’ve been told these soon sell out, so be quick!
I will be there in person covering the festival via Twitter, and most importantly, getting some books signed!