Lisa Blower was writer in residence at our exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum, Treasures: The Literature and Landscape of Mary Webb.
Lisa gives us an update on her progress with this very exciting project,
“It really did begin with an empty desk, bare walls, and a blank television screen. As the first writer in residence for Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, this was a new experience: to draw inspiration from the Mary Webb exhibition for my second novel and write live. I started by exhibiting my research – mind maps, chapter breakdowns, photographs, poetry, key quotes from Webb, maps of the area, library books on folklore, Shropshire’s countryside, its myths and legends: Chris Kinsey put me through my nature paces by offering advice on how to write the natural world: Jeff Phelps discussed creative interpretations of Shropshire with me: I met a family who had grown up living off-grid around Chirbury: I visited the Stiperstones, the Bog, the Vessons, Lordshill and Snailbeach and wrote whilst squatting in Blakemoorgate cottage: then I revealed my first draft of a first chapter with Gladys Mary Coles to mark the end of the residency. I’d also hosted a sold-out novel writing course, a writer’s networking morning, delivered a public lecture on Gone to Earth at University Centre, Shrewsbury, launched the museum’s book club with Gone to Earth, collaborated with local illustrator Meg Hawkins on the verse story The Fox that Rocks for Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest and with the help of 90 primary school children. It was a busy 12 weeks engaging with hundreds of writers, visitors, students, schoolchildren and Mary Webb enthusiasts. And then the exhibition was dismantled and I returned to my desk at home.
I am three-quarters of the way through a first draft of my contemporary reimagining of Gone to Earth. It is called ‘Green Blind’ and it remains set in Mary Webb country, mirroring Webb’s major themes of nature, belief, the role of women and the notion of the hunt. My Hazel is Jessamine Wood, the daughter of political activists and residing off-grid in a squatters cottage somewhere in the Vessons. Jack Reddin has become Leighton Allard, landowner and rogue pheasant breeder. Edward Marston is Ellis Ruff – a minister’s son and theology scholar, returning to Lordshill parish for his father’s funeral. But what Webb couldn’t quite contextualise pre-suffrage, I can, as I’ve used the sale and resale of Pontesford Hill as an environmental backcloth as Webb’s polemic was WWI. And yes there’s a fox. How could there not be? And yes there’s the hunt: for power, for money, for water and oil. And for Jess, of course. Though I am still to determine just how this version will end”.