ESSAY Catherine Fisher

NWR Issue 99

The Other Wales

Literature Wales recently embarked on an ambitious programme of literary walks, allowing readers to visit the scenes and heartland of various Welsh writers, and I was lucky enough to be involved with two of these, one about my own work in relation to Tredegar House near Newport, and another exploring the Usk valley with readings from the work of the early twentieth-century author and journalist, Arthur Machen.

Preparing for both of these brought me face to face with the difficult relationship that exists between place and fiction: the delicate ambiguities linking the real landscape and the story which the writer finally achieves about it, or sets within it. That they are not necessarily the same in every detail is obvious. But one arises from the other. The place is a necessary cause of the story.

In my own work it was particularly clear to me that the real location can travel through the writer’s imagination, be transformed and end up very differently on the page. Touring Tredegar House and knowing very well that a room or a turn of corridor were settings where I had imagined a fragment of story, or a certain scene, it was disconcerting to revisit and realise that not only were they not as I described them, but that I had imported, changed, even transmuted the whole place into a fictional other. Reading one’s own words aloud to a group gazing around expectantly, in a room that bears little resemblance to your description of it, is peculiarly dismaying. Luckily the listeners were open to my fumbling comments about inspiration, that the remembered feel or taste of a place is often the only seed of its story...

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