Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paths to writing

It was lovely to hear Claire Tomalin talking on this afternoon's Radio 4 Book Club about her biography of Thomas Hardy: 'The Time-Torn Man'. She spoke of how significant to becoming a writer the long walk to school had been to Hardy, offering him a rich internal life. When I read the biography, whilst I was re-walking some of Hardy's Cornish paths, I was very struck by that childhood development, and wrote the following as part of a longer essay:

'As I approach [St Juliot's Church], I feel again that sense of path as theatre, but also path as custom, repetition, familiarity. The two things seem at a kind of odds with each other. For me, a recreational walker, it is the meditative inner world that predominates as I walk. There is rarely drama.
I know from reading Tomalin’s biography of Hardy how walking was central in his youth. The decisive turn his education took when he was enrolled at school in Dorchester at the age of ten, set him on a three mile walk each way in which he observed hares, ‘learnt to read the noises of the fields and the woods, the bark of the fox’ and exercised his imagination. This time for solitude and reflection no doubt walked him towards his writerly sensibility and helped shape the exquisitely sharp observations of nature that have startled me in my re-readings of his novels. But as Tomalin says, ‘Walking the roads, meeting others on the road, exchanging news with travellers, being overtaken by riders, carts and carriers or offered lifts’, will also have educated him about human life and led towards speculation and then drama. As his success grew in literature and public life, his walks continued but became a matter of recreation, an airing for his writerly mind, rather than of necessity.'