Wes Finch reflects on his recent Nest Residency
I am taking two weeks, one either side of chocolate-gorging at Easter, to spend time immersed in fairy stories, folk tales, legends, and fables and work out how I might write something in response, along those lines that reach so far back into our collective past and persists into our messy and fragmented present. Maybe I can even jump into the future and look back at where we are now? Maybe that’s a little ambitious for a two-week period but it’s good to aim high, even if I just read some great stories and get a few ideas.
There are certain characters, ideas, formulas, and progressions of events that repeat themselves, in different contexts and wearing different clothes, in the stories that we share and enjoy that have been present from the beginning of storytelling and are still with us today. There are a whole set of ideas, circumstances and narratives that come to mind when someone says the name ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’ or the phrases Let There Be Light! or The Chosen One. Stories are how we make sense of the world and inform how we navigate and interact with it. I’ve found thinkers and writers like Johnathan Pageua and Jordan Peterson fascinating in their unpacking of biblical stories in that regard – well what portion of it I can keep up with, anyway!
It’s a real privilege to have a room, a quiet space with wi-fi and books, with none of the distractions and obligations that come with trying to do this at home. I love being at home (which is a good thing, considering that last two years) but there are other people and animals that come in and out of rooms, people that knock the front door, guitars to be picked up, paint and pens, records, incomplete DIY jobs, things to tidy, laundry and washing up to distract and interrupt me. Here I have the luxury of time to dedicate thought and energy to something I hope I can form into a bigger project in the future.
At the moment I’m still trying to absorb stories and ideas, but I’ve written a little piece about a dragon that attacks Coventry and something about a metal detectorist finding a Golden Key…
The Nest is a fantastic place to be, amongst other creative people working in all kinds of disciplines. I’ve already bumped into a photographer and a dancer I know, passing between my room and the communal area downstairs. Now, I just need to find someone who might want to do some illustrations….
It’s now the end of the second week in my little office. I’ve met some more interesting folks working here and shared some of my writing with some, and as my time here comes to an end, I know I’m going to miss what such an environment has given me.
I’ve read more but nowhere near everything I’d want to (so many books, so little time!) and I’ve written a few more pieces. I worried I might not be able to get back into the rhythm of it after a break, but ideas have obviously been percolating and then insisting on being put on the page just as I’m trying to read another story.
The stories of Kurt Schwitter are bizarre, funny and brilliant, Katherine M Briggs’ British Folk Tales and Legends – A Sampler has been really useful, as have Lisa Schneidau’s Botanical Folk Tales along with Chainey & Winsham’s Treasury of Folklore.
It doesn’t help that Talking Birds’ small library downstairs is full of incredibly interesting and distracting titles too (I borrowed Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories over Easter and didn’t regret it, although I’m not sure it tied into my practice here other than highlighting some useful stuff about the practice of writing with a short contextual essay after each piece.)
There’s been some positive responses to whatever I’ve shared which has been encouraging. I wrote a retelling of an old French tale where a young lord marries a water sprite and I’ve started a retelling of the early life of Lady Godiva, when she was just called Evie.
I’ve struggled to get a foothold on something truly from the future perspective. After finding a map of the predicted flooding and redrawn coastline of the UK in 100 years’ time I really wanted to respond to that, setting a story on the Isle of Rasen where the market town of Middle Rasen now lies in Lincolnshire but that’ll have to wait to solidify a bit more.
I’ve been drawn to Fairies, or as I now know to call them The Gentry or The Good People and have a couple of pieces concerning encountering them in a more modern context.
As an over-arching theme I’ve been mulling over the idea of the ‘other’ or the ‘magical’ that features in so many stories and drawn to considering it all in a revised way; I think there is a lot to be gained from understanding and appreciating the symbolic reality of things and what they represent and manifest for us in the stories we tell and enjoy. We live in an age so dominated by scientific practice that to even deal with things like spirits and spells is at once dismissed as childish. Fantasy as a genre isn’t considered as worthy or important as say historical fiction because it involves things that have no basis in physical, manifest reality. If something can’t be observed, recorded, and quantified does it even exist?! Well, what does that say about your very own consciousness, eh…?
I think it’s probably important to remember the following, and it’s something that has been known eons before and is being slowly remembered and reconfirmed in physics labs today; what you observe to be real is very dependent on what and who is observing. Therefore, what is true might well depend a lot on you. So, just bear that in mind next time you turn the corner into your street and come face to face with a fox in the moonlight.