The natural landscape and weather, not always, but often, goes unappreciated in Lancashire and the North-West. And yet, the surrounding area can be a key aspect for literary inspiration, and in this article I aim to explore the opportunities writers have obtained from Lancashire and what they have left behind for others.
A key example, and literary inspiration for myself, is Ted Hughes. Ted Hughes was poet laureate (from 1984 until his death in 1998) and famously married Sylvia Plath, and although he was born in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, he used much of the Lancashire and Yorkshire landscapes as a catalyst to fuel his poetic technique. A recurring feature of Hughes poetry is the use of animals as a metaphor for his views upon the World and exploration of contrasts, for example the vivid imagery in his piece ‘Pike’. Highly crafted lines such as ‘Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold’ imply the infusions of nature within a creature, and an almost intrinsic capacity for value – such as the capacities for destruction, but also for beauty, in nature. Connections to Lancashire and its implications upon Hughes’ poetry are evident, especially considering that his father William Henry Hughes was one of only seventeen survivors of a whole regiment of the Lancashire Fusiliers in the First World War. This could suggest the influence of territorial tensions upon Hughes poetry, as is evident in the opening lines of the poem which provided name to his first collection ‘Hawk in the Rain’ –‘ I drown in the drumming plough land, I drag up /Heel after heel from the swallowing of the earth’s mouth’. The personification of the surrounding landscape illustrates the animation of influence. It appears that Hughes did not want this activity of influence to escape, especially for Young writers, as not only did he publish a number of books for children including ‘The Iron Man’ but left many opportunities behind for writers, regardless of age.
One of the key opportunities, I found, was being able to empathise with my local landscape through literature. Hughes wrote a number of poems about Calderdale and the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire, such as ‘Hardcastle Crags’ and his collection of poetry ‘The Remains of Elmet’ is actually based in The North-West, upon Elmet, which was an independent Brythonic kingdom covering a broad area of what became the West Riding of Yorkshire during the Early Middle Ages. The capital of this ‘kingdom’ is now Leeds. Hughes employed however, especial focus on The Calder Valley and a focus which still remains in terms of the Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank, a charity which works to ensure that all have the chance to benefit from the opportunities of creativity and literary inspiration. This branch of the charity operates close to Heptonstall, Yorkshire, from Lumb Bank, which is a large house previously belonging to Ted Hughes. There are a number of courses available, which can consist of up to week-long slots with accommodation provided, and there are a number of courses such as ‘Writing for Young Adults’ and ‘Writing Fiction’. The charity does appear to consider Hughes’s own want for creative capacity in others and does offer bursaries to those who may find paying for the whole of the course difficult – there is clear emphasis on creative capacity not going to waste. The website address is http://www.arvonfoundation.org/8414/Lumb-Bank and is a potentially exciting prospect for anyone wanting to specifically focus on their writing abilities.
Yet for a specific focus on Lancashire itself through and poetic contribution, Edwin Waugh is a prime, but often sadly-underestimated figure. Waugh was poet known especially for his poetry written largely in Lancashire dialect – which therefore makes excellent oratory pieces at large gatherings. He was born in Rochdale, Lancashire in 1817 and evidently displayed what I am today so eager to encourage today – the capacities for creative abilities in young people. Waugh read eagerly from an early age and went on to work as a secretary for the Lancashire Public School Association, before His first book Sketches of Lancashire Life and Localities was published in 1855. Yet it is in his ‘Poems and Songs’ that Waugh perhaps best expresses the rhythms of Lancashire life at the time as an industrial centre of the North, for example in terms of “COME, Billy, come; dost yer yon bell?/ Thou’ll ha’ yon mill agate/ Afore thou’rt up! Do stir thisel’/ Or else thou’ll be too late: /’’ from his poem ‘The Factory Bell’. The depiction of Lancashire dialect I believe intensifies the opening urgency of the piece, and especially valuable in an appreciation of Lancashire history.
It was this displayed ability of observational writing which I believe makes ‘Waugh’s well’ so special, which is small well and monument constructed to mark his achievements in 1866, before he died in 1890. The well lies above Waterfoot, Lancashire and is an enthralling scene of natural beauty where poets and writers often explore to gain inspiration for their works. For anyone interested, regardless of age, there is an Edwin Waugh Dialect Society based in Lancashire in terms of appreciation of his words and works, which can be found online at www.edwinwaughdialectsociety.com. There are a number of groups which often hold walks up to the well and I would definitely recommend attending, and even taking a solitary walk to the well can be an inspiring experience.
I think that it is important for writers in Lancashire to realise the accessibility of opportunities available, and especially if in their local area, in order to enrich the textures of their writing experience. In this article I have explored briefly the legacies and opportunities left behind by two inspiring writers from the North-West and hope that others can be inspired in turn, regardless of background. If anyone would like more information on the whereabouts of ‘Waugh’s Well’ and routes of access, please feel free to comment below also.