|Weald and Downland Open Air Museum|
And landscape itself is filled with clues of how it might have been when people used it differently. I always think of place as one of the main protagonists in any story, speaking volumes without dialogue, not as a backdrop but as an active player. And trying to read a landscape or environment is one step closer towards knowing the people who live or have lived previously in it.
|Poplar Cottage from Washington, Sussex|
Now it’s a fully assembled village, in itself an entirely new place: 15th-century Wealden hall-houses, smoke-bay cottage, 17th-century farmhouse, medieval barns, working watermill, granaries, early 19th-century tollhouse, working Tudor kitchen. Many of the houses are authentically furnished to a specific period.
|Bayleaf, Wealden hall-house from Chiddingstone|
During my residency I wrote about four of these houses at the museum, but in the context of their original sites. I wanted to try to make each house-portrait into a narrative arc that gave a sense of time swooshing along, a kind of flipbook of moments. (The end result was The Visitor, which at the moment you can download as a free eBook at Lovereading.co.uk to read on a computer or Kindle etc.)
|Medieval house from North Cray|
The more I write fiction the more I realise how my idea of the past is bound up with place, and that what I write is an attempt to pin down aspects of time that are captured tangibly in the actual matter of place (building or landscape) as traces, marks, buried pieces, snagged things, steepings, footprints. Maybe ‘pin down’ is too dry and specific; I suppose I mean that writing stories is a way to create the illusion of somewhere that appears whole enough to climb inside, if only for the duration of reading. (When it really works of course it becomes an entirely new place in its own right, lodged in the head and carried around indefinitely.) The past is a place we can only visit in our minds – and how very many ways it can be constructed. Historical fiction positively demands that we try to dwell in it, to ‘be’ inside its moment, trying it out in time and space. And places like this museum are a rich source of information about how things actually worked in terms of scale and physical effort within a given environment.
|Winkhurst Tudor kitchen|
|Bayleaf farmstead from Chiddingstone, Kent|
Speakers include bestselling authors Alison Weir and Maria McCann. Click here to buy tickets for the day or to find out more.
And their Historical Short Story Competition (1st prize 1000 pounds, judges include Kate Mosse and Emma Darwin) has a deadline of 22 June – just one month away today!
It would be really nice to meet some of you at the HF day, or read your stories…