In the zone: Famous authors reveal the locations that inspire them
The photographer Harry Cory Wright teamed up with famous authors to discover the locations that inspire them
Saturday 29 January 2011
The landscape photographer Harry Cory Wright has long been fascinated by place – whether it be the salt marshes and mud creeks of the north Norfolk coast where he lives, or the sites included in his award-winning 2007 book, Journey Through the British Isles. But, based on the theme "Place in Mind", his most recent work explores a completely different aspect of the word. "Each picture in my Journey book," Cory Wright explains, "was pinpointed by a grid reference, and a time of day, but, when it was finished, I started wondering about places that belong as much in the mind as in reality."
He is tackling this question in two parallel series. The first is a collaboration with the writers David Almond, Geoff Dyer, Tim Lott, Adam Nicolson, Ruth Padel, Lionel Shriver and Henry Sutton. "It is my attempt," the photographer explains, "to have a dialogue, something that frees up the relationship between image and caption. So they each name a place they have in mind, somewhere important to their work. I go there, get a flavour of the place, throw it back to them in a photograph, and then they respond by writing about the photograph." He likens the exchange to "a series of steps on a ladder", and the results can be seen on these pages.
The second strand sees him exploring the theme alone. One of the new works in the exhibition, East Anglia, attempts, with its pale sun dawning over an unidentified flat landscape, to capture a whole region in one image. "It is," Cory Wright says, "an adventure, opening a door, trying to capture something in the collective imagination."
Place in Mind is at Eleven, 11 Eccleston Street, London SW1 from 4 February until 26 March and the collaborative works are at placeinmind.com
Shelter from the storm
By Ruth Padel
Princelet Street is a Georgian terrace running east to west off London's Brick Lane. North-south afternoon shadows sliced the street perfectly in two when I came to number 19 in the early Nineties, for a poetry reading. There was dust everywhere, broken stairs, doors hanging off hinges and the electricity off, too. The attics felt as if the Huguenot silk-workers, who escaped persecution in France to live here in the 18th century, had just left, abandoning their silk-wound bobbins to the grit-silted shelves.
The reading, held downstairs by candle-light, was for a charity with Huguenot, Jewish and Bangladeshi trustees (the latest Spitalfields immigrants spoke Bengali), determined to save this house haunted by multiple asylum-seekers. Irish immigrants, fleeing famine in the 1850s, replaced the Huguenots. Jews escaping eastern Europe's pogroms built a synagogue in the garden, where we stood in shadow on soft dust under a peeling ceiling, looking at scuffed gilt Hebrew inscriptions.
When I returned, 15 years later, the house was Europe's first Museum of Immigration. My daughter was studying literature of post-colonial London and I was writing poems about migration.
"Where are we?" asked the Museum Director, meeting us outside.
"Just outside the City... "
"...which was built by Roman mercenaries from Africa. London was made by immigrants!"
Inside, steel joists supported the upper floors – the house is so fragile only 40 people can be in it at once – but the dust had gone, dark wood panels glowed and the touchable, breathable histories were celebrated by local schoolchildren, mainly Bangladeshi and Somali, the latest immigrants. Working with imams and artists, they had written stories about those other children, Irish, Jewish and Huguenot, who came here like them to escape famine, or slaughter, and make a life.
"Who are the immigrants in your family?" asked forms laid out for visitors' comments. I was born in London. But back two generations my family, like everyone's, was made by immigration. Number 19 Princelet Street reminds us all that identity, like poetry, comes from making a new home after a difficult elsewhere. We all came from somewhere else, once. And so did London, too.
Hear Ruth Padel on British wild animals and their places, starting Monday to 4 February, at 11pm on BBC Radio 3
By Tim Lott
I have a slight – and slightly morbid – fascination with the vast Victorian cemetery that lies a few minutes walk from my front door in London's Kensal Green. Photographs of stone angels from the rows of memorials adorn my bedroom. A few years ago, I bought a large framed colour print depicting memorial photographs from the gravestones. I would rather walk in the cemetery than any park or field.
It is overgrown, ramshackle and overseen by the sentinel of a decaying gas container. But I am at peace here. Here, the children make no noise. They break your heart silently. When I want to gather my thoughts, here they flourish.
There are other writers for company, too – Trollope, Thackeray, and more recently, Harold Pinter. Chesterton even wrote a poem titled Paradise by Way of Kensal Green which concludes, "My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,/ Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,/ But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,/ And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;/ For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,/ Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green".
But proximity, peace and poetry are not the only reasons I wander among the stones and overgrown plots. More simply, I am a grave robber. The names on the stones here are so rich and weird and eloquent that they provide material for the dictionary of names I am always compiling in case I one day need them as characters in my novels.
So Crafton Witter, Lizzie Crump, Billy Barf, Edward Scantelbury, Limbert Farrell, Suzy Musk and 'Little B' Serviatrice – take comfort, there is hope indeed that you will be reborn, if not as an earthworm or an angel, then at least as one of souls that people my books. It is not immorality. But it is, amid all these acres of fading memory, more than you might have hoped for.
Tim Lott's new novel, 'Under the Same Stars', will be published later this year by Simon and Schuster
By Lionel Shriver
I am fascinated by ugliness. In sufficient concentration, garish urban kitsch alchemises into the backhandedly beautiful. Witness Elephant & Castle. Voted by Time Out readers four years ago "the biggest eyesore in London", this architectural grotesquery from 1965 has so wormed into my brain that it cropped up in my last novel: "decked with a giant plaster elephant like a dipso hallucination, a shopping centre of such suicidally depressing design that it was a wonder you didn't dodge customers plunging off the roof on a daily basis".
I live nearby, and used to dread trips to this windowless sarcophagus of tat, where perhaps some modern-day emperor had been entombed with an afterlife's supply of plastic. Now I rather look forward to them.
The jangle of brash, gaudy trash for sale both in shops (Iceland, 99p Stores, Pricebusters, Better Ethnic and European Fashionware, the obligatory blackened Woolworths) and in junky kiosks cluttering the corridor, forms a chaotic collage worthy of Joseph Cornell, a bright, excited canvas reminiscent of Kandinsky: bogus-brass bangles, synthetic shag bathmats, and toothy Alice bands. Giant ceramic piggy banks, off-brand batteries, and five-for-£1 exploding cigarette lighters. Leopard-print leggings, nylon-net tutus, and fake-fur-trimmed booties. Artificially buttered popcorn, glaucous chocolate-curl doughnuts, and lumpily iced "yum-yums". Cowrie-shell necklaces, knock-off watches, and chrome-studded belts. Fluffy slippers, neon anklets, and I-heart-Jesus scarves. Rose-festooned communion dresses, sequined party frocks, and "full-size" knickers that could double as national flags. Porcelain Buddhas, sandalwood incense, and roaring-lion carpets. Afro Sheen, hair relaxer, and "Gracious Women" perfume. Zips, wigs, Sim cards, calculators, and boxes and boxes of buttons. It's awesome to see assembled in one place so many objects that no one could conceivably want to own.
After its own tawdry fashion, "Elephant" (as it's locally known) is magnificent. The fact that this icon of fin de siècle tastelessness is slated for demolition breaks my heart.
Lionel Shriver's latest novel is 'So Much for That' (HarperCollins)
By David Almond
They were herring boats. They were hauled ashore a hundred years ago, turned upside down, sawn in half, and turned into fishermen's sheds. Top to the earth, doors to the sea, keels to the sky. Huge new steam-driven ships took their place, harvested the North Sea's icy depths and quickly fished them out.
They lie on Lindisfarne, the island that's only an island at high tide, the island of St Cuthbert. His wattle-and-daub monastery has long been blown away by time and weather. He prayed neck-deep in the icy sea while seals and eider duck played around him. He lived for years in a cell from which only the sky was visible. After death, his uncorrupted body was dug up, and carried for years across the northern wilderness to protect it from the Vikings. His life was written by St Bede, one of our first great writers. One of the first great books – The Lindisfarne Gospels – was made on the island in memory of him.
The sheds lie as if they're waiting, poised for a voyage that will be a flight. I have seen their echoes in the Lycian tombs that stand in the sea at Ucagiz in Turkey: in the ark-shaped roofs of Coptic churches in Cairo; in Gallarus Oratory; in my grandfather's allotment shed; in the roof of the pebble-dash council house in which I grew up.
They've been in my dreams since I saw them as a little boy with my family on a parish trip, since I slept curled up against them as a 15-year-old after a beach party. They've haunted my notebooks since I started to write. I've written half a novel with the boat sheds at its heart. I'll write another, and I'll finish it.
When my mother lay dying, her words condensed by pain and her dreams enhanced by morphine, she talked of them. She said the doors had opened and she was carried in. She said it was proper to be upside-down in death, and proper that the earth should be the sky. When she died, I dreamt that she was ferried away by a Lindisfarne boat shed across a sea of never-ending stars.
'The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean' by David Almond will be published in September
By Geoff Dyer
The only thing I love more than playing tennis is discovering new tennis courts.
I chanced upon these, at Cartwright Gardens, as I was cycling into Soho. It seemed an idyllic, completely urban oasis but since it was part of London University I assumed the courts were only for use by students.
Then I found out that although they were indeed university courts they were available to the public. There followed a brief honeymoon period because these were the nearest courts to my house and one of the four was always available. Then it became apparent that two of them were so cramped – at both ends and at one side – that they were virtually unusable. The other two were OK at the back but badly hemmed in on the other side. The poorly maintained surface chewed up balls so fast that after three games they were fit only for a dog to chase. And the lines, which must have been freshly painted when I first chanced upon this secret place, faded quickly so that it was like playing on the ghost of a court. This raised a larger question: when is a court not a court? In no time at all I became so fixated by the inadequacies of these almost-courts that I hated playing on them. In the middle of rallies I would be saying to myself: "Why can't they maintain the courts properly? I mean, you pay money to play here and the courts are barely playable at all...". My opponents were less troubled than me, which may be why I lost consistently.
Still, at weekends, when it's impossible to get a court elsewhere in London, I often end up playing here even though I hate playing here. It is, as they say, better than nothing. But in my experience of things that are better than nothing they never are. So although I am glad to have found a place where I can play at the weekends, all the time that I am playing I'm also thinking to myself that I would rather not be playing at all.
Geoff Dyer's book of essays, 'Working the Room', is out now (Canongate)
Murder he wrote
By Henry Sutton
At the very end of North Drive, Great Yarmouth, opposite the entrance to the Haven Holiday Camp, is the North Denes Coastal Watch lookout hut. Painted orange and white, it hangs onto the edge of the pavement, before a stretch of dunes, a strip of beach and the North Sea. A mile out to sea are 30 giant turbines, making up the Scroby Sands Offshore Wind Farm. But these are not visible today. The area is cloaked in fog.
When the fog clears, when the stark beauty of the North Denes Special Protection Area is slowly revealed, nothing will be the same again for Yarmouth's tight-knit Latvian community, or for Detective Inspector Barry Hayes. Lying by a clump of marram, only 50 yards from the lookout, is the body of a naked woman. An autopsy reveals that she was strangled, having suffered a gross sexual assault.
By the time DI Hayes has identified the killer, the Dutch captain of a gas supply ship, two more young, Eastern European sex workers have lost their lives. Spring has come, though few tourists, that trade having dried up years ago.
With a population of just over 90,000, Great Yarmouth is Norfolk's second largest conurbation after Norwich, sitting on a spit of land sandwiched between the River Yare and the sea, and cut off from the rest of Norfolk by Halvergate marshes.
Unemployment is four times the national average, crime twice. Yet amid the deprivation there is history, and passion, a fragile nature and a brand new harbour. And there is Barry. Barry is the protagonist. He represents everything that is good and bad about the place. Hidden in this picture, on this freezing January day, is Barry's first Great Yarmouth crime scene.
This is where fact becomes fiction. In the future he will uncover worse crimes, but he will also find calm and truth.
Henry Sutton is a writer embarking on a new series of crime novels based in Great Yarmouth. His latest novel is 'Get Me Out Of Here' (Vintage)
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