A few years ago, way before the onset of Imminent Novel Deadlines, I enjoyed a long, luxurious spell with a notebook, writing about what I saw around me. Mere observational stuff, at first, but then I decided to sketch landscapes in text form. Fantasy, in particular, is about other landscapes, so my thought process was that I wanted to understand the landscapes around me with more clarity, to see the nuances, before I could create decent artificial ones.
In the last couple of years, I’ve started enjoying reading Country Diary, a hundred year-old column in the Guardian newspaper. It actually does very well what I tried to achieve in those notebooks. Here’s a recent one, for example:
Bounded by the steep, wooded slopes of Allt Dderw and Banc y Gwmryn, the valley that hosts the tiny stream of the Afon Peithyll gently rises towards the backbone of the Cambrian Mountains. A scattering of farms and white rendered houses, along with lines of trees and outgrown hedges, marks the line of the minor road that weaves upwards through the community before losing itself in the forestry and marginal land of the true uplands.
It’s wonderful descriptive stuff to have in your RSS Feed, but it’s also a nifty cheat for studying how to effectively recreate lots of different landscapes (the UK is blessed with huge variation) in just a few paragraphs. It shows how other communities or locales are constructed in word form – usually by someone who has a good understanding of the area, or for developing a sense of place.
It’s certainly worth following, if not for a quick cheat to get better at understanding real landscapes, to develop more confidence when you build your own.