I spent a lovely day yesterday with writers Melinda Appleby and Lois Williams in the beautiful surroundings of the the old Nunnery in Thetford, now the headquarters of the British Trust for Ornithology. Melinda is one of my fellow Wild Writers from my MA course at the University of Essex, and she and her colleague put on a thought-provoking, attractive and well-organised day’s creative writing workshop on the theme of “Bringing the Spring”.
Looking at poets from John Clare to Ruth Padel, we explored different ways of writing about spring migration – as celebration, elegy, and as analogies with human situations. Paul Stancliffe from the BTO joined us for a while to give a short talk about migration and the research done by the BTO which is helping us understand for the first time some of the hidden mysteries of migrant birds. Sadly, so many of the birds which used to represent the coming of spring in years gone by are now under threat by loss of habitat and climate change: including swifts, turtle doves and cuckoos.
The writing exercises provided throughout the day were well thought out and I personally found them all very productive – I managed one draft poem and ideas to develop for two more, sufficiently good that I want to progress with them now I am back home again. The indoor work was relieved by a couple of trips out into the grounds and down by the river, the Little Ouse, despite the almost relentless rain. Once, back in 2011, I was lucky enough to see an otter parent and cub on this spot, while on a bird ID course run by the BTO (me, not the otters) – I wasn’t expecting that to be repeated, and it wasn’t… However, keen naturalist Ali showed me the mayflies sheltering under the nettle leaves – somewhere I would never have thought to look for wildlife.
All in all, a splendid day out. There are still places left on Melinda and Lois’ forthcoming writing workshops, held at different venues in Breckland, and I would very much recommend them. As part of the Breaking New Ground project, these subsidised courses are at very low prices – an absolute bargain.