Comment: A Writer's Landscape, by Gabby Willcocks
Gabby reflects on how Cornish landscapes and seascapes shape our writing.
For as long as we have been creating stories, nature and location have been central to their telling, shaping the way that we relate to our environment too.
Literature has always had a vital role in educating and informing society. It can change how we look at ideas and concepts, giving us the chance to adopt different perspectives. In some ways, environmental literature is even more important because it gives us the opportunity to change how we see and treat the world.
Two of the books that have influenced me since childhood are The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat, which are not explicitly environmental books but are grounded in distinct locations. Even now when I read them I feel a pull to the outdoors, a desire to go tromping around the woods in search of verderers or dinosaurs – whichever might appear first. As well as childlike glee, they evoke longing for a time when our relationship to the natural world was both more simple and symbiotic; they remind me of the responsibilities we have to the natural world.
In the times that we are living in, where the world around us is seen only in terms of resources available for exploitation, it is more important than ever that environmental literature is kept alive. We need to reconnect with nature on a personal scale, and one way to do so is through books and poetry. Creative writing allows us to be more open-minded and receptive to new ideas, and is a medium that makes the natural world readily available through its various forms.
Cornwall is well-known as a hub for artists, but why does it attract writers? As well as the literary history written in the moors and rocky coastlines, its relative isolation allows writers to access thoughts and feelings that we can’t reach in more urban areas. The environment inspires people, and in turn they immortalise it in their writing.
Writers such as Daphne du Maurier and Nick Darke were born and raised in Cornwall, whereas others like D.H Lawrence and Winston Graham were drawn to it. The former group may have the advantage of familiarity but it is the attraction towards Cornwall, evident in their creations, that makes writers stay. Alongside the large number of writers influenced by the Cornish landscape is a niche group who draw directly from the culture – people like Mick Paynter, a poet and initiated bard – who write in Cornish and the Breton languages to keep the language of the land alive.
The environment is a huge part of our lives at Falmouth, and is something that many staff and students feel passionately about. By living in a location surrounded by nature we become more aware of it, its complexities, and our relationship with it. While gaining a more rooted understanding of the world can be fulfilling, the landscape can also reflect the isolation we feel in other aspects of our lives.
I think that this is what environmental writing is about: expressing the different facets of nature and the way that we connect to them, but never losing sight of the cohesive whole. Without books and poetry we may be able to understand our environment, but we wouldn’t care about it in the way that we do now.
by Gabby Willcocks