Excuse me for the length of this post, and excuse me for gushing a little too much, but as the September Festival in St Ives, Cornwall is getting underway, it's got me thinking about a post I wrote this time last year when I still blogged under Pink Cupcakes, about a talk I attended about writing and Zennor, so, while I'm waiting to sit in on a few talks from this years' festival, I thought I'd re-write the "Zennor Heights" post to see what you think.
I am inspired.
I'm lucky enough to be in St Ives for the September Festival, so with notepad and pen I braved the crowds to get to the Arts Club for 1pm.
I spotted this talk by local author Michael Bird weeks ago, ("Anyone For Zennor? - Experiments in art and life on the Penwith moors"), and since it featured the word "Zennor", I was happy to part with £5 (towards the Smart Regeneration Project to restore the Porthmeor Studios) to hear if Mr Bird could help me understand why Zennor continues to feature heavily in my recent work.
I was a little early so I sat on Westcott's Quay to see if I could spot anyone who looked remotely like they would attend a talk about Zennor. When I bought my ticket back in August, Big Fella ribbed me to despair about how I'd be the only one there, so when I handed over my ticket and heard the conversation in front of me, I smiled as the lady declared the event "sold out" - it seems I'm not the only "Zennorphile".
With a W.I feel, the audience sat poised with pen and notepads, me included. I felt as though I'd entered another atmosphere; the wind rattled the 1890 windows, and waves crashed outside as High Tide subsided. Michael Bird (writer and art historian), adjusted his slide show and I sat in apprehension on a rather uncomfortable, but bohemian wooden bench with a tapestry cushion.
So, what did entice D.H. Lawrence, Patrick Heron, Bryan Wynters, W.S Graham amongst many others to Zennor? Educated in Oxford, Michael Bird is far more sophisticated and literary than me, so I'm relaying my understanding as I heard it, and that is - for a simple life; an escape/retreat from Post war Britain and literary London to experience freedom and creativity with fellow writers and artists. I loved the way Bird described the creative relationship between Roger Hilton and Sidney Graham as "drink and arguements". His slide show indulging the intrigued audience an insight into what this "hub" of ideas would have looked like as Bryan Wynters and Co. are pictured sitting around a kitchen table talking into the early hours - bottles of drink, cigarettes and papers sprawled everywhere. Bird described this as a "unique moment"- the idea gives me butterflies.
I have to admit, I had no idea quite so many City writers and artists had a spell in Zennor. I knew D. H. Lawrence (who ironically left London for a while after his novel "The Rainbow" was burned in despair after a little known thing called "sex" featured in it), lived in Tregarthen Cottages with his German wife Freda, but didn't know Heron (Eagles Nest) or Wynters (Carn Cottage) also had . Of course I was aware of these artists' association with Penwith, most famously St Ives, but had no idea they had lived in Zennor.
Interestingly, Bird talked about how each artist or writer perceived Zennor. Lawrence aspired to the freedom it gave him, resulting in Cornwall featuring heavily in many of his works, whilst artist Peter Lanyon saw it for it's Tin mining. Heron painted with light and colour, whilst poet John Heath Stubbs rebuffed it's romanticism.
Which brings me to my own work.
Despite having regularly visited St Ives for the past 6 years, I am ashamed to admit my first outing to Zennor was Boxing Day last year. We were staying in St Ives for Christmas and fancied doing something different. I'd read about Zennor, and D. H. Lawrence's connection and the popular legend of the Mermaid, and being someone fascinated by mermaids it was a done deal, what I didn't expect was to fall in love.
Since then I have fantisised about making a life with my family in Zennor; about a cottage overlooking the sea, a kettle boiling on the Aga, chickens in the garden, but the inspiration I get from this tiny village is beyond superficial. I have just penned a novel provisionally titled "The Poet"*, a huge chunk set in Zennor - not because it fulfils a fantasy, but because it provides a powerful and handsome back drop for the kind of love stories I write, it's like my Wuthering Heights I suppose.
But why do I love Zennor?
From a cliche point of view I have to say it's the rugged coast line, granite cottages and quaint village pub with open fires, but Michael Bird got me thinking today about how my life experiences affect how I see Zennor. Like Lawrence, it projects freedom, and like Heron I see brilliance and colour. On a recent trip with friends, one commented on my gushing saying, "I imagine in the winter it's very bleak" - but I absolutely don't see the moors like that, but obviously she did; experiences you see, Bird is right.
Anyhow, I am confident Zennor will continue to feature in my work. It offers so much of what I enjoy writing about - the elements, creativity, history, a Mermaid, the ocean, enchanting views and open space - an infalliable surrounding for lovers.
Anyone for Zennor? Yes thank you.
*The Poet was written in Autumn 2009 - may or may not be put forward for publication.