Thursday, February 26, 2015

It was Chaos...

AIKB group
Very pleased to take a large group of AIKB members around the forest at Huelgoat today, considering basic questions of history and legend. We started with a Trembling Rock and ended near the spot where Victor Ségalen finished his life under the beech trees high above the Gouffre. A bit of Chaos and King Arthur came in between. I really enjoyed the afternoon and thank everyone for their company and good cheer.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Welsh victory

Spent the day at book fair at Le Cloitre St Thegonnec (a good old Welsh saint himself) and so missed seeing the match and Wales' great win over Scotland, but managed to fly the flag nevertheless. Writer Hervé Bellec told me that a group wants to ban the dragon from the Welsh flag as it represents the devil, but that can't be right as everyone knows the Devil is English. It was a good day, with lots of old friends - both writers like Catherine Chartier and Anne Guillou, and visitors - and some new ones, like professional magician and now thriller writer Alex Reeve (

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Walking, noticing and leaping hares

Walked for hours today, on familiar territory but with renewed awareness, thanks to a book by Claire Thompson recently given to me by a perceptive friend. Mindfulness and the Natural World is one of the simply meaningful editions published by the Leaping Hare Press. (That name in itself is enough of a connnection for me as David Brayne's unbelievably rich painting of a leaping hare has long hung on my wall, purchased in the far off days when I had money to invest in art.) I already have The Art of Mindful Walking by Adam Ford in the same beautifully produced series - these books deserve to be better known.
What I am most grateful for today is the reminder of the difference between looking and noticing, and the concomitant quality of mindfulness as an active state. Walking with all the senses is a direct experience, complete in itself and only stifled by the process of thought. Claire Thompson's opening chapter 'We are Nature' joins up all the dots of existence and expresses my own feelings of belonging in the natural world where - as she puts it - 'I don't feel alone, I feel alive.'

Sunday, February 01, 2015

A big change

After writing the previous post on this blog, I could no longer ignore what has been gnawing away at me for the last two months, ever since I started work on the new Finistère guidebook. Raising the perennial problem of guidebooks (where the good stuff that digs beneath the surface gets cut and only the basic facts remain) made me finally face up to the most important basic fact of all. I do not want to do this any more.
My last book, Brittany – a cultural history (Signal Books, Landscapes of the Imagination) at least allowed me the luxury of arguments and issues to the extent that overall word and page count would permit, and now there is no way back to the more constricting, prescriptive format of conventional guidebooks, the need to conform to expectation in terms of sites and coverage, to reader profiling and in-house styles.
I need a more creative process, a focus on my landscape writing, whether or no a book in publishable form emerges. I need to work from the inside out and not vice versa. I need to give more time to other things and other people. What I no longer need is to sit at my computer for ten hours a day or travel under frustrating pressure of collecting and regurgitating information in a limited timescale. So I have reneged on an agreement for the first time, something quite against my normal instincts, and in doing so have made a major change in my life.
Walking in the early evening today, the debris of frozen hailstorms still lingering on the rocks in the forest, I felt a sudden sting not of panic but hesitation and uncertainty. What on earth will I be doing at 9 o’clock or 10 or 11 tomorrow morning? I have worked so hard for so many years on a clear progression of full-time, demanding writing projects (usually fired by economic imperative) that I’ve forgotten the sense of freedom that accompanies true creativity. 
A minute later, the last ray of a previously veiled sinking sun flashed through the skeletal trees right into my face, lighting a golden path ahead. It was a simple reminder of alignment, of the beauty of doing the right thing at the right time. Whatever I do tomorrow morning will be new and exciting and worthwhile, even if it’s only sleeping in for a change…

Monday, January 26, 2015

Perennial problem

I'm writing about Morlaix for a new guide to Finistère, and the creation of the text soon brings up the perennial problem of guidebooks. It's important to write about the famous viaduct, a work of art as much as functional architecture. When and why it was built are essentials. How it transformed journey times between Brest and Paris must certainly be mentioned to give the economic context of such a major construction. Then of course it's necessary to describe the RAF bombing raid on January 29 1943 that killed 67 civilians. Surely people will want to know that of those victims, 39 were children between the ages of 4 and 7, studying the catechism with their teacher in a school at the western end of the viaduct, not least because a little chapel 'of the angels' built in its place to mark their collective burial on the spot can be visited today. And that's really as far as I can go.
There's no room to write about the painful religious manoeuvrings that presented the tragedy as God's will, a new 'Slaughter of the Innocents', the children as chosen martyrs for the redemption of others (a stance which not surprisingly roused some of their parents to anger). And how barely a word was spared for the other 20 who died. Or the political repercussions and attempts to stir anti-English feeling: La Bretagne's headline on February 1 read 'Raid terroriste de l'aviation anglo-américaine sur Morlaix. Or to analyze the extraordinary decision of the allies to make such a day-time raid where large loss of civilian life was highly likely instead of targeting other viaducts carrying the same railway across other valleys in the middle of unpopulated countryside. Or the fact that only one arch of the viaduct was hit, and that the Germans had the trains running normally again only eight days later...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

We marched in Morlaix today...

... powerfully in the spirit of freedom and equality. Thousands of Bretons and others of all ages and backgrounds - the presence of many young adult men and women was a special sign of hope - milled and smiled together in what amounted to a considerable display of solidarity within wide diversity. There were those who laughed and chatted, others grim or solemn with tears in their eyes, but all alerted by this simple physical act of walking together to the importance of our shared values and the reality of our enviable quality of life, which rests on tolerance and inclusivity.