Continuing our series of locations that have inspired us, Fiona Melrose talks about the haunting landscape of Suffolk.
Suffolk is in many ways its own country. Its landscape is flatter and wider than many other parts of the UK. Its skies, while offering the kind of optimism that a far off horizon suggests, also give one the sense of a borderless, unbraided energy, as if the earth might at any time simply return to salt and slip into the sea. It is this shifting beneath the feet, the SENSE of being caught between two elements, that gives the area its often eerie nature and one which I found perfect in both mood and metaphor for my debut novel Midwinter.
Land and location are as much a geographical orientation as they are an emotional one. Midwinter is the story of a father and son, Landyn and Vale Midwinter, who struggle to express their emotions and responses. As a writer this can be constraining. But, by using the location and landscape I was able to tap into a different register for both of them, allowing the landscape and its creatures to express what they cannot. Also, by moving my farmers around various locations in Suffolk, I gave myself the opportunity to press them into situations (be they confrontations, memories or simply a set piece to give some air to their conflict) that might force a response or prick the boil of active memory. A church in Halesworth, a particular tree in the Finn Valley, a pub in Woodbridge, or a boat off Orford Ness. While these were not specifically named, those who know the area would recognise the place or even an amalgam of a few locations where necessary.
The specific location in Suffolk that I have chosen for this piece is the Blytheburgh Cathedral, Halesworth and the shifting marshlands that surround it. Also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’, Blythburgh is one of the earliest Christian sites in East Anglia. There was a church there as early asAD654.
I have never been there on a warm day despite frequent visits and it is for me a place that has both a beautiful redemptive quality as well as a much more complicated, oily energy. The church is larger than it should be somehow and sits proud on the curve of the water and reeds which combine to give a sense that despite the dramatic imposition of the building on its modest landscape, the church’s foundations are set in nothing more than silt and sand. Among its most exquisite features are the carved roof angels which look down on both the congregation and the curious. Still betraying their former colour , each has a different expression. A crucial and difficult chapter of Midwinter takes place here and I like to think the roof angels are pleased with the work I did for them in that chapter. The church also appears earlier in the book in a flash back to ten years previous when father Landyn and son Vale go there to lay their wife and mother to rest. Another difficult chapter to write, and again, I was grateful for the company of the roof angels as I wrote.
MIDWINTER is published by Corsair in November 2016