Sitting at the back of the room at on the last evening of the ‘A Way with Words’ course at Plas Tan y Bwlch in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. I am watching James Carter entrance this group of budding (and some fully flowering) interpretive writers with his Words of Power session. He invites them to magic, to use words to ‘conjour images in people’s minds’. They don’t realise it yet but they will soon be completely spellbound, bewitched, possibly awestruck. I know this because I have seen him do it before: this is the twentieth time we have run this course together.
It is still a delight to me. This fine old country house in this lovely and remote Welsh valley has been a source of early Spring refreshment for me year on year. Here I reconnect with the English language and the joys of working with it, remember that wild places are a route to creativity, and feel the weight and challenge of the past. And most of all, I am re-inspired by the participants who come from all around these islands, by the stories that they bring with them and their passion to tell them.
They come to write. Some arrive excited, probably more are nervous or timid. But, as it should be after two decades, this is a good course: by this stage they are encouraged and writing better than they ever have before. They are working hard at it and that is bearing fruit. Along the way they tell us what they want to communicate, what they want people to understand about their place.
On Monday afternoon we arrived as strangers, as people always do at the start of a training course. Now I know them not only as individuals but as representatives of their localities. More powerfully and poignantly I have heard the stories they want to tell. I know now about the remarkable Lucy Thomas ‘the mother of South Wales steam coal’, about marsh fritillaries in grassy tussocks, about the first brick house in Wales and its Antwerp connection, about Windsong the Barry pilot boat, a Yorkshire welder who loved black terns and butterflies, a fine walk through the countryside north of Swansea and another, marked by music, along Offa’s Dyke.
People. Places. Past. Present. Protection. Preservation. Putting it on the Page. Precisely. Punctuation and paragraphs. Working it into Words. Weaving words. Wonderful.