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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Don't forget the Detail

"Don't forget the detail," I always say when taking a writing workshop. A tree is not just a tree. It could be an oak or a willow or a flowering cherry. All are different. All immediately conjure up a vivid picture in the mind. That is what you are doing when writing a book; painting a picture with words.

In my next door neighbour's garden stands a large beech tree. It was present as a fully grown tree on a map of the area from 1912. This tree is probably about 130 years old, maybe more. But soon it will be cut down. The tree has been unwell for a couple of years, having developed a fungus which is eating away at it from the inside. If it is not cut down soon it may fall down.

I have looked at this tree every day for twenty-five years. As I sit up in bed with my morning cup of tea I watch squirrels scampering amongst its branches, pigeons courting in the spring and, right at the top are two precarious crow's nests.

Beech trees are stately and sinuous. Their bark is silky and smooth to the touch.When the sun sets the bark takes on a golden hue. In the winter with the driving westerly rain it is grey/green. I have sat in the garden and listened to the swish of its leaves, absorbed the creak of its limbs. In springtime its sticky brown bud casings fall to the ground and stick to your shoes. They are followed by unfurling pointed oval leaves of the freshest limiest green. Not much will grow under the dense mantle of a fully clothed beech in summer time. They are the ideal trees for seeking shade on a hot day.

In autumn many of the beech's leaves float like golden brown petals on to our lawn, clutter up the pond, drift under the hedges. Over the years we have must have cleared tens of thousands of leaves belonging to this tree. Then there are the beech nuts, shiny, hard and three cornered, the pointed hairy cases splitting open to release them and being surprisingly heavy when it comes to raking up and clearing away. Beech nuts were once much used for feeding pigs. We could have done with a couple of those to help us over the years!

Maybe this beech will feature in a book in the future. Maybe it will just stay in my memory. Either way it is a reminder to me not to forget the detail. It is also a reminder not to forget the love. For I have grown to love this beech, for all its hard work and inconveniences.

Trees are symbols of physical and spiritual nourishment. When you write, nourish your readers with detail. Your work will be all the stronger for it.

These are three of my favourite writers who are masters of detail, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields and Adriana Trigiani. At the moment I am reading The Child's Elephant by Rachel Campbell-Johnston which also contains beautiful details of Africa and animals.  Of course there are many, many more examples and I'd love to hear of some of your favourites.

In the meantime thank-you for dropping by.

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