Intrigued by this photo? Anyone who is in the Colchester area this evening (Wednesday, 13th January), come along and find out more. My talk for Lexden History Group is entitled For the Love of Silk and will describe how my family’s remarkable 300 years of weaving silk has influenced my novels. http://www.lexdenhistory.org.uk/program-of-events/4580505205. Just £3 for non members including refreshments. What a deal!
This is the view from the place where I have been writing for the past few days – wild, bleak, and utterly beautiful, on the coast of Suffolk, the easternmost county of England.
In front of me is the grassy marsh, currently covered in brilliant purple sea lavender, then a narrow muddy creek, and then some more marsh, sandier this time and home to countless sky larks, leading to sand dunes and, beyond them, the great grey North Sea. And has it been grey, these past few days! Sometimes it’s been almost impossible to distinguish where the sea ends and the sky begins – the horizon merely a thin faint line in a paler shade of grey than either of the elements above or below it.
But that’s all to the good, because if the sun were shining I would be on the beach, or swimming in the sea, or walking on the marshes, or drinking beer in a pub garden. But when the sun is not shining there is nothing much to do here, so I write*. There isn’t even any distraction in the form of the internet (no broadband in this little house), which is why I have had to wait until returning home before posting this blog.
Well, that’s not entirely true, there are still plenty of distractions. Take the groups of schoolchildren who arrive in mini-buses each day wearing their rain gear and carrying buckets, nets and crabbing lines, excitedly gathering like flocks of birds across the bridges and along the side of the creek, ready to fish out the long-suffering little green crabs so they can be compared for size before being released back into the water. Take the walkers, and the artists, and the many others who love this place and come here for a few hours just to imbibe its calming effects before returning to their busy lives. It all affords us great people-watching opportunities.
Then there’s the wildlife: like the swallows nesting underneath this hut. It stands on wooden stilts to raise it out of the marsh and to keep it safe from the high tides that regularly swamp the land around us. So beneath my makeshift desk and the wooden floorboards is about eight feet of air and the rafters provide swallows with safe hidden places for nesting. I can hear the little ones cheeping for food as their parents swoop past the window and underneath the hut. Seagulls strut across the roof with their scritchy-scratchy claws, and you can often hear the distinctive piping sound of the oyster catchers striding through the mud at the edge of the creek as they search for dinner. Rabbits hop around the hut undisturbed and oblivious to the fact that we are watching from above.
If it is not actually raining there is the possibility of taking the small rowing boat ferry (it has been going for 500 years) across the river to the fishermen’s huts on the other side, where they sell the catch I hear being brought in early each morning, the deep chugging of the fishing boat engines invading my dreams. A crab salad for lunch, oh yes.
And when evening comes around and there is any chance of a sunset, we sit on the verandah with a glasses of wine in hands, watching as the sky all around turns spectacular reds, oranges and purples. Here, where the land is so flat, we have 360 degree views, and sunsets can light up the whole dome of sky, not just in the west. Thunderstorms with lightning can be terrifyingly impressive for the same reason.
And so the day passes, here on the Suffolk coast. A little writing, a lot of fresh air (sometimes coming at you at 60 miles an hour), reading, watching the world go by and doing a lot of just thinking. Bliss.
*I am around 30 thousand words into my new novel, provisionally entitled The Master Piece, about silk weaving and illicit romance against the backdrop of religious persecution, mass migration, racial tension and wage riots in 18th century Spitalfields, London.