Saturday 6 April 2019

History in Abundance by Sheena Wilkinson

Greetings from the Clockhouse, Arvon’s writing retreat in the grounds of The Hurst in Shropshire. 

I’m sitting here in front of a view that hasn’t changed substantially in centuries, a landscape that has inspired writers from Housman to Webb to Malcolm Saville. The building I’m in, while recently refurbished, is properly old, with windowsills two foot thick. I’ve spent hours wandering ancient forest pathways. The ground is riddled with hoof-prints and it’s so easy to imagine them belonging not to a modern pleasure horse but to a hack or carthorse of years gone by.

Oh yes --  and I’m here to edit a novel set in Belfast 1921. A story of politics and rioting and tribal loyalties and young women. A story of despair and hope. 

So there’s HISTORY in abundance – in my head, on the manuscript at my elbow as a type, in the built and natural environment in which I have my being for this week. Easy, I thought, when I realised my History Girls post would fall due while I was here: lots of inspiration all around you. No excuse! And yet…

Sometimes, I admit, it’s really hard to think of what to write for this blog. I checked through some recent posts for inspiration. Maybe one of them would spark a response in me. There’s certainly an eclectic mix of topics – from Roman medicine to Thomas Cromwell, women artists to 195os housekeeping. All fascinating, all guaranteed to pull me out of Belfast 1921 and into various other worlds. And let me assure me, almost anywhere is a better place to be than Belfast 1921. Belfast 1921 is the last thing I want to write about just now. And yet, it's here in my head, chasing out almost everything else. 

It never fails to astonish me, how much work people put into their History Girls posts – the careful research, the detailed analysis, the well-chosen and often hard-to-source pictures. I know I often take a History-Lite approach myself – a bit of family history, a few old houses, some Musing. Other times – like next month, I promise, when I will have emerged from Belfast 1921 sufficiently to have something interesting to say about it – I manage a more thoughtful, erudite post. 

But for now, I’m so mired in my own historical fiction, in what I often call The Editing Cave, that I don’t think I have much more to offer. Apart from these pictures of an ancient landscape. 

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