Today, I’m delighted to introduce Naomi Kruger on the Hub, one of the three writers commissioned by Litfest to write about a landscape they find captivating. Here, Naomi explores the starting points and process for creating her landscape inspired short story.
When I saw the call out for the Lancashire Landscapes project I immediately thought of Sunderland Point. I had been there once, and been so impressed that I took notes – hoping to filter the landscape into my stories somehow. That never happened (and I subsequently lost the notebook) but the place stayed with me. I remembered bleak, squeezed terraces and distant sea. Hair blown across faces like sharp-moving marram grass. The dominating cloud-bleached sky. I remembered tide markers and danger signs; the thrill of driving on a road that had been submerged only hours before, and would soon be again. Walking on gravel mixed with sand, across dunes and marshes accompanied by stories of slavery and redundancy, rusting ships and newly tended graves. Every step like a new trespass.
Since that first visit years ago I have written a whole collection of stories set in Morecambe bay. I am continually drawn to the shifting sands and the subtle hazy light. It’s a place of contrasts, often by-passed for and literally overshadowed by the Lakes. For me, Sunderland Point seems to possess this liminality in a more concentrated form; a peninsula accessed by a tidal causeway that is often cut off by the sea. A place alive with metaphor; otherworldly, seductive and forbidding.
I went back there recently, after checking and re-checking the tide tables. I took a camera and a new notebook. I had forgotten how strange it was to drive along the winding causeway. The road feels borrowed from the sea, the mud banks and channels around it only waiting. I went to Sambo’s grave, and walked along the path in front of the terraced houses, trying unsuccessfully to identify the birds wading out on the glistening mud and not quite daring to talk to the locals. I couldn’t wait to start writing.
I was sure I wanted to write from an outsider’s perspective, but it took me a long time to find my narrator. I started several drafts that involved drownings; characters being trapped by the tide, small betrayals, the severing of family ties. Nothing felt right until I started more simply: a young girl spending the night on Sunderland Point at her best friend’s house. The excitement of being away from home. That feeling – like looking into a lighted window in winter, and imagining better, kinder, more exciting lives inside. Feeling transported – as though you could be a different person and wanting desperately to belong.
I realised that power of the place, for me, comes from a constant sense of threat and anticipation, confinement and release. The story became full of different layers: present and past, memory, dreams and imagination. The second-person narration echoes this, I think – a kind of between state, the protagonist speaking both directly and at a distance, moving towards the terrible and mundane discovery that things are never quite as perfect as they seem. It’s a story about how memory can be both an escape and a haunting and – appropriately for me – about how certain landscapes can seep into your consciousness and stay there – whether you want them to or not.
The commissioned piece will be read during Litfest 2012, on Sunday 21st October, at LICA in Lancaster at 12 pm. For full festival details see the Litfest 2012 Brochure.
Naomi Kruger was born in 1981 in Preston where she still lives. Her stories have been published by Wag’s Revue, Flax and commended in Aesthetica. Her first collection written as part of her MA was awarded the Princess Alexandra Medal at Lancaster University. She is currently completing her PhD there: a composite novel partly narrated by a character with dementia. Her research is funded by the AHRC.