Writing the Landscape: Sarah Schofield responds to a Litfest 2012 commission

Today, current Guest Editor here on the Hub Sarah Schofield, shares how she responded as one of the three Litfest commissioned writers to create a narrative about an inspirational Lancashire landscape.


Ainscough’s Flour Mill, Burscough

When I saw the call for proposals for the Lifest 2012 Landscape commission I knew instantly that I wanted to write about an old flour mill in Burscough. Nestling between the canal and rows of residential housing it is slowly decomposing and going to seed. Lancashire is scattered with these magnificent industrial buildings, but the positioning of this one, in the heart of what is a fairly rural setting, holds special interest for me. There is something incredibly dignified and lonely about it, the crumbling brickwork, the shattered windows staring out across the land, the cooling chimney all make a prominent silhouette across the otherwise flat farmed landscape. It is a beacon as you approach and navigate the village.

I remember when the mill was still operational. And as it gradually declined and shut down one section at a time like organs failing, I grew up. Like infant and grandparent, we developed and declined with divergent alacrity.  The building is under planning permission to be turned into luxury apartments. And I felt an urgency to capture the mill as it is now; in this inbetween phase, this interregnum.

In exploring and shaping the narrative I realised that the landscape was predominantly reflected back through the motivations and emotional response of my characters.  The mill, hunching into the surrounding landscape, is both a dangerous monster and also a playground, and it began to develop personality and characterisation in its own right. This started me thinking about misplaced giants, size and scale. I remembered and reread Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant. Various threads of Wilde’s story began to surface through my thinking. I also considered how size and scale perceptions could apply not only in a physical sense but also manifest in character’s personalities. I decided to explore the idea of returning to a landscape that had once been known intimately, and how time and distance can affect response. About misplaced memory, the things we carry with us and the things we leave behind. I find it interesting that on returning to take some more photographs of the mill after I’d finished the story, my perceptions of the landscape had altered slightly.

It has been an immense privilege to be part of this project and to have the opportunity to explore and write about a place that I find important and intriguing.


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.


Sarah Schofield is a freelance writer. Her stories have been published in magazines such as Woman’s Weekly and anthologies including Bio-Punk, Lemistry (both CommaPress), Spilling Ink and Back and Beyond Arts Publication. She lives in Lancashire with her one eyed cat.


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