Sending out a submissions call is rather like delivering invitations to a party: you’re never sure until the deadline whether people will be interested enough to attend. As it was, in the spirit of all good parties, we had a delightful mix of old and new, the familiar and the unknown. Some regular contributors turned up with a bottle of my favourite fizzington tucked under the arm and stayed late to help with the washing up; others, new to the neighbourhood, rang the doorbell and then took a step back, unsure if they had the right time, the right place or the right refreshment – but by the end of the evening, after a few games of Twister and fuelled by more packets of cheese and onion crisps than you can shake a stick at, we’d swapped emails and were already making plans for our next shindig.
We chose the travel theme as an opportunity to share our memories of places that had been and are still important to us. Underlying many of the articles is the single thread of hope – something that will resonate with us all in these strange, uncertain times. For Austin Donnelly, in ‘Moving Home’, it’s the hope involved in returning to the familiar curves and colours of Colmcille on the shores of Lough Neagh in County Armagh; for Meredith Stephens, in ‘From West to East’, it’s the excitement of moving to a new area and the surprises we encounter, particularly those moments of kindness when we feel at our most vulnerable. This was an important lesson she impressed on her two daughters. For Melissa St Pierre, in ‘I Didn’t Say Thank You Enough’, the lesson she learns is initially distressing. The painful recollection of a glorious holiday spoilt by penny-pinching could have been the conclusion to her piece. Instead, she looks forward to the memories her daughter will enjoy and promises that they will always involve “love without calculations.” We learn through our travels and many of the things we discover have ramifications for those closest to us, particularly our children.
This theme of discovery features in the remaining pieces of our travel edition too. In ‘City Chronicling’ Deborah Singerman strives to understand how and why cities, for all their hustle and bustle, continue to fascinate her, realising that the noise and activity are the very things that charm her most. Her final image of a “pipeline of hope” is arresting. Travelling alone is a bold step into the unknown; in reading Elizabeth Jaeger’s ‘The Monkey Temple’ many of us will recall our own feelings of bewilderment when faced with a labyrinth of streets and a map that makes no sense whichever way you hold it. Beyond this frustration, when things are ready to overwhelm us, there is always the reviving “silence and stillness” of our own room. In ‘At the Beginning of the Sahara’ Lincoln Jaques reminds us of an important factor that urges us to explore new lands; it is simply “the joy of falling in love with a place.” If stillness brings awe and contentment, he appreciates that there is still an underlying desire to move towards “the still pools – those oases.”
Thom Gunn’s suggestion in ‘On The Move’ that ‘one is nearer by not keeping still’ is borne out by Rona Fitzgerald’s account of her painful mountain climb which culminates in a view that is “majestic, moving and absolutely terrifying”; surely a reminder that the richest rewards are those most difficult to earn. Alison Lock’s ‘Rock Season’ encourages us to think of the land itself, its history and its formation. There is an important warning here, that we are misguided if we think of rock as thoroughly dependable. Our coastlines are changing at a pace that is frightening. Whether or not we are able to slow this down, new maps will inevitably be drawn and new discoveries made among the rockfall.
And after all, it is the hope of discovery that propels us – and the discovery of hope. In sharing our thoughts and memories, it is our words that will sustain us as we wait for events to unfurl over the next few months. Although we may not meet face to face, we can still write and, in writing, share with the world around us and the people within it. My opening to this editorial, in the light of our current enforced isolation, may have seemed flippant. Not so. I wrote it to remind us all that we are never alone. Our words enable us to engage freely, openly and creatively with each other.
Webs in fiction are often given a very negative press – webs of lies, of deceit, of subterfuge – but if you look out for spiders’ webs heavy with dew on an April morning, you’ll understand that they are also things of wonder and beauty. Our own web of words that we endeavour to weave through your contributions at The Write Life will, I hope, continue to entrance.
Seamus Heaney’s wonderful concluding image in ‘Digging’ shows how we can engage with the world around us in all its forms:
“Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”
Keep safe, keep well, keep writing – and until next time, happy digging!