ESSAY Nicholas Murray

NWR Issue 106

A Borders Bestiary

2 April 2013
My Literature Wales writer’s bursary period began on 1 April but since this was both April Fool’s Day and Easter Monday Bank Holiday I gave myself the day off and got under way today, sorting my papers, trying to redefine my strategy for the next four months. This could not have come at a better time because, as a freelance writer who ekes out his income with casual teaching. I have no classes from March to September so nothing, bar the odd poetry reading, is going to get in my way for the coming months. I have been given the most precious thing a writer can have: time! Alongside my main project I have been writing since last autumn a series of animal poems. Around half of the poems are completed (I have enough for a pamphlet) so I hope the remaining ones will continue to arrive during the next four months without detracting from the main task.

6 April
I am woken to a puffed up, rather contented-looking robin balancing on my windowsill to soak up the sun. (There are still vacancies in what I have been calling my bestiary but I may have to drop this term for something more popular.) The snow is still lying in unmelted drifts in the Radnor Valley as well as in my back garden. Across the valley I can see Hergest Ridge, in England, and in the far distance the Black Mountains with their filmy haze of white. Otherwise it is a vividly sunny day. Perhaps, at last, our savage winter is really over.

This Radnorshire/Herefordshire view I see symbolises my project, a book about borders, literal and metaphorical, and I immediately think of Francis Kilvert and that famous passage from the diary, the one that Bruce Chatwin was so fond of, about the woman whose cottage straddled the border and who insisted on giving birth in the corner of her room that was in Wales not England.

8 April
How can you write a book in four months, a friend asks incredulously. Well, of course I have already done a great deal of research and much of the first section (called ‘Crossings’), which will consist of a series of short reflections on the theme of borders, with accounts of border crossings (again literal and figurative) has been drafted. I plan to use this time to revise that first section radically, to carry out a little more fieldwork in Wales and to write the second section of my book, which will be called, provisionally, ‘Living in Border Country’.

Paul Valéry famously said that a poem is never finished, it is merely abandoned. I know that, at the end of the bursary period, I shall still be tweaking, refining, adding and subtracting, but I hope that the book will be substantially complete. No time to waste...

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previous essay: An Ugly, Lovely Year
next essay: The Girl in Red Boots


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