Thursday, 9 June 2011

"Magic" in the woods

Africa, which is where I make my home, is so very different from the Northeastern United States where I grew up and spent most of my life. I was really blessed to live in a very pretty, safe, middle-class town with a sandy beach where I spent summer days making sandcastles and playing Marco Polo. In college I discovered the magic and beauty of the woods, something that has been a part of me ever since. When I think of a happy, peaceful, lovely place, I invariably picture the sun flickering through maple leaves and water trickling over smooth pebbles, a wood thrush piping high above.

When we moved to Nigeria it took me a long time to find the beauty there.

Surprisingly, I found it at the worst possible time-- in dry season, when all vegetation but the hardiest trees are brown and dead, and the land was mostly burned over by bush fires (yes, not "brush" but "bush"). The air was choked with Harmattan dust that blows from the Sahara and forms a pall over West Africa (and sometimes blows as far as Europe and America's eastern seaboard). I realized that the dryer and more lifeless the country became, the greener the mango trees appeared. Their lush branches actually became fuller; they bloomed with insignificant reddish panicles, and then produced thousands of tiny fruits that await the rains to swell and ripen into the sensuous, aromatic fruit.

And the sky in Nigeria-- during rainy season it towers with fantastic cloud castles and mountainous pillars, illuminated at night by an almost constant, silent show of distant lightning bolts.

But most of all, the people; souls blooming like gems from the sere grasses and mud huts; West Africa is awash with the happiest people living under the hardest circumstances.

Still, I missed the woods of the northeast.

That played into my motivation in writing Blackbirch Woods. As long as I was writing and editing and changing the story, I could envision that flickering sunlight, and feel the cool of the woods, and hear the murmur of a brook. They are as much a part of my soul as my children's faces and hearts.

Not to say that Africa doesn't have a "magic" of its own; and that will feature strongly in my next story (if I ever get that one written! People have asked me often, when did I find time to write a book, and my honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea), which is in its bare beginnings...

I named this blog partly from my desire to share that "magic"-- not the showy kind associated with movies and Disney and the fashion world, something quieter and stiller. A place where one can hear oneself think, feel oneself feel. A place with no demands, no agenda. I hope to add more of that to the world before I'm done here. "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3:18 (NKJV)

Monday, 6 June 2011

"I could swear I was really *in* those woods!"

I received this message on Facebook from a friend of a friend, who is becoming a good cyberfriend. When I read this, I feel that I accomplished exactly what I set out to do in writing Blackbirch Woods. Thank you, Bridget, for "getting it"!!
Meredith, I wanted you to know that I read "Blackbirch Woods" and really, truly loved it! I'm a pretty chronic insomniac and, especially lately, have fallen into a bad sleep cycle, so I've been reading a lot. I've been kind of plodding through a really interesting but sometimes, well, plodding, book, "In Pursuit of Silence." I hate starting a book and not finishing it (or reading more than one at a time), so I told myself that, as a reward, if I finished that one, I'd get to read your novel. Perhaps because I have never been good with the concept of delayed gratification, this last Tuesday night, I went ahead and took a peek at your book.
Several hours later, with the sun starting to make its appearance, I finished the story-- and a little sadly, too. I didn't want it to end. That, my friend, is a sure sign (to me at least) that a story is very, very good.
I loved your characters, your immensely inventive plot and the beautiful poetic prose, especially when you wrote about the natural world. Your richly worded passages gave me a very immediate sense of things like wet leaves or rain hanging in the sky and about to pour. The way you led me through page after page was mesmerizing as was the kind of suspension of time I felt whenever I was in the woods with Violet. You made that forest so lush and powerful and enchanting. I was really impressed, too, by your ability so skillfully to weave a lot of different elements into a wonderful whole.
Nothing about your story seemed contrived or far-fetched. I enjoyed it immensely. And the cover art is fabulous. After I finished the book and looked at it again, I thought about how well it captures what I thought was a really meaningful "essence" (That's not the right word. Language can be so wonderfully precise and wholly lacking at the same time.) of the book, the thickness of those trees and the light cast through them, holding up a promise: literal light, enlightenment, redemption, peace.
There were lots of great themes and metaphors.. It seems from what I know about you that your faith is very central to your life. Among other things, my father is an Espicopal priest. He baptized me and my sister, though none of my immediate family practices any particular religion. I guess I'm not quite sure how to say that I liked the Christian elements in your story and I liked that, even if I don't worship the way you do or others do, I could still take away a lot that I thought was very moving from your story, things about love, faith, fear (Your night people/ghosts/demons were very powerful images, a fantastic and fanstastical element.) patience, and the exquisite beauty of those woods. (I could swear I was really *in* those woods!) It felt very accessible, if that makes sense.
I hope it doesn't seem patronizing of me to say how delighted I was by your book. I'm afraid that might sound if I'm surprised you had it in you. You are a really wonderful writer and I thank you for sharing this lovely tale.
Thank you for sharing your lovely praise. I am highly gratified and very grateful.