There is a tree on a hill of yellow gorse,
Where skylarks sing, above the wild grey sea,
That I left long ago when the seed was in the ground,
And I thought if I had wings I could be free.
They said, you cannot live on a hill of yellow gorse,
That the skylarks sing the same in any field,
That life is lived in lights and the glitter of the night,
And silence kills the spirit if you yield.
But I hear it in my heart above the traffic’s roar,
The lapping of the waves upon the strand.
The wind sighs in a tree on a hill of yellow gorse,
And the bones sing in the deep depths of the land.
Stronger than the ties of a lifetime wrought of habit,
Than the cords I wove of silver and of gold,
Is the fluttering of feathers and the wind’s voice in the rushes,
Calling back my heart before I grow too old.
I dig deep into the river mud,
Where roots weave their tapestry,
Dead leaves bind the earth we tread,
And shoots pierce and climb.
Where worm galleries
Thread the dark loam,
Pitter-pattered with mouse paws.
Tunnelled arteries lead to the core,
Pulsing with nesting fox hearts.
I dig with reverent hands,
Through the tangled, matted mesh of life,
Finding the source of all things.
Brambles crawl ragged and riotous
around the base of the hill.
Stone stands moss-covered
grass to its knees
amid bullocks snuffling.
Higher still, clouds hang
pulled by the strings of the stars
and soft rain falls
puddling hoof prints
by the water trough.
Lark sings in the high air
and the stone stands.
And the stone stands
with its roots in the earth,
the earth that spills and spreads
and rolls beneath the grass
until it joins the sea.
The tides roll and waves roar
and sea caves echo with the lark’s song.
For all things join
From the stars in the sky
to the pebbles that grind and roll
in the depths of the deep sea caves.
And they join with the stone
that stands on the hill
where bullocks graze and the lark sings.
I look over the land from the stone on the hill
and I hear the lark sing
in the far sea caves.
My feet sink deep, down in the earth
that forever was mine and will always be,
full of the voices and breath of my past.
My heart listens to the soul of all things
singing the lark’s song
to the rolling deeps.
I remember as a child
gazing in wonder from the circling plane
at the green, field-tilting earth rising to meet it.
Clouds hung grey and rain-swollen,
light dim and moist
but the fields were the colour of dreams.
A fragment, a seed, a memory
fell from the heart’s molten core
into the heavenly green
and tied me with subtle strings
to that first sight of home.
And when the strings pull tight and draw me back
it is not to mountains or lakes or the bellowing cliffs,
but to a field and a wall of grey stone,
that first sight of the green hills of home.
When I first started to write, I was living in Paris. What emerged were stories set mainly in London from where I had just moved, Yorkshire, where I grew up, and Ireland, the place of family holidays, memories, roots and history. They were about first loves, family, children— I was in the throes of starting my own family—and my first serious thoughts about what makes us what we are.
We moved from Paris to a quiet corner of Picardy. In the walled medieval town, 1.8 kilometres long and less than a kilometre at its widest point, there were 81 historic monuments. You tripped over historic monuments. Many of them were inhabited; many more were in ruins and in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Wild boar, deer, red squirrels and pine martens wandered into the gardens along the ramparts, mistaking the town for an extension of the surrounding woodland.
My writing turned to Paris, the most recent part of our history, but was tinged with the light and textures of our new home. It was only today, walking past a clump of pink snapdragons growing out of a crack in the pavement, that I was put in mind of the way the walls of our old home were covered in yellow wallflowers (Christine Matthews). I remembered the soft, golden light, the wilderness that had crept up to the grey stone ramparts of the town, and the way we used to watch for signs of spring in the dark loam of the garden.
The south is different. The light is harsher, the heat thick and heavy. Flowers grow everywhere, on window ledges, balconies, around the trees by the roadsides. Hollyhocks push their way out of nothing, in the tiny cracks between house wall and paving stones, lining entire streets with their cottage garden prettiness. Saplings sprout out of old guttering, buddleia from the damp cracks behind drainpipes. Pansies, Jerusalem cherry, all kinds of mallow grow wild—bright, cultivated things, pretty but tame.
Looking back on how my writing has changed, I can see the influence of environment, and I wonder how I will be writing in ten years time. We absorb, possibly without even being aware of it, the light, the sounds and smells that surround us. The atmosphere shapes the way we see things, alters out state of mind. But it takes time to distil, in my experience at least. I don’t write about the immediate, but the immediate past, the sights and sounds that have been shunted into history because of a change in the immediate, the humdrum and banal.
I have started to wonder about those things that are now history: the walks along the coast at Dingle, or the Hill of Howth; holding laughing babies up to the fountains in Paris parks; taking small children to thrash through the goldenrod to paddle in the ruins of the royal cattle’s drinking troughs, or watch lizards disappearing into the wild wallflowers.
All those things found their way into my stories. Do we have to change, move on, keep our senses ever open to new experiences in order to find inspiration? Or do we reach a point where we go back to the beginning again in our writing, and recall, with hazy inexactitude, those golden summers and crisp winters receding into history? I’d like to think so.