You take a sudden turn in a road, the scenery shifts, open fields yield to dark woods. A stone bridge spans a gurgling rushing stream below. Beyond, high hills frown down as you shift up, placing toe hard on the hammer. You have never been here before and will never return, so enjoy the moment. You cross that bridge, the road narrows amidst twists and turns, you change down twice, giving it full gas until you crown that first rise. The scenery shifts again awarding wide panoramas. You ease back on the throttle, ahead looms another hill, at its summit stands a ring of stones. Dark sentinels watching from afar. Intrigued, you pull over, kill the engine, put your jacket on and take a short energetic hike. There is no one around. The wind cries hollow in your left ear, whilst close by a crow watches you in careful silence. All else still. You crest that craggy hill until the stones surround you like eager conspirators. The wind fades and falls away and the watching bird takes to silent wing. Then you feel it: only then. Earth Magic.
During my trucker days this would happen now and then. I’d be somewhere new, far away from the bustle and mayhem, taking a ‘short cut’ across random countryside. It was so boring using the same roads all the time, and my rebellious nature always ensured I take a scenic route at least once a week, to break the monotony of freeways and traffic. During one of these soul driven diversions I happened upon Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire. Close by is Salisbury Plain and on it Stonehenge. A sight most folk would recognise in an instant. But not Avebury, most people I know have never heard of it. I’ve been to Stonehenge, it’s okay, but I felt no magic there. Maybe it was the A 303 passing close by, or the echo of so many noisy tourist’s feet crushing those ancient stones’vibrations. Avebury is different. There is a real magic there. It’s far bigger than that better known henge and has no lintel stones. But unlike its famous sister, Avebury oozes earth magic.
That first evening I drove through the ring, eyes agog, (yes it’s that big the road divides it and the little hamlet Avebury sits cosy within, the Red Lion pub in its midst.) I found a place to turn the 60ft Volvo monster with its 40ton sheet steel cargo about, and then drove back through again. I found a pull in, the pub close by. Took to wandering the stones. It was February 1991, a Tuesday – cold and bright, a light dusting of snow coated the hedges, the brave green stubs of future daffodils just spearing through. I don’t recall the date but I should. For on this day that badass, Corin an Fol came into my life.
After a couple of pints I took to strolling the stones once more. Again no one around as the moon spilled pale from winter cloud above. I cannot explain how I felt on that night but those stones spoke to me. They shouted at me through their heavy silence. I felt an inner peace and could sense the world turning at my feet. Everything felt as it should. I stood there for a time then went back for another pint, before returning to the truck and my smelly ghastly night heater, and a lukewarm can of beans. Once there I jammed in a tape of Mike Oldfield’s Hergist Ridge and let my imagination do the rest.
So that’s how it happened – for me anyway. A winter walk through stones beneath a wandering moon. A few beers and some prog rock. From it came my first character and eventually his world – Ansu.
My point being a writer needs to travel off the beaten track. I’m fortunate in having seen many places, each one fuelling my restless imagination. Many folk stick together whilst traveling. Noisy herds wielding expensive cameras whilst clad in bad clothes. You know the type. That’s fine, but all that nattering and stomping about obliterates atmosphere. What’s the point of visiting somewhere special if you’re going to spend the entire time there gobbing off to each other about how exited you are to be there? Nukking futs. ‘Oh, isn’t our guide gorgeous, Mildred!’ And ‘Is there an Arby’s near here, Dennis?
Example. When I was at Yulara (Ayers Rock NT) there were hoards of tourists chomping their teeth and clicking their kodaks, (it was a while back) I felt no atmosphere there. But only 30 clicks down the dirt road stand the Olgas. We took a battered station wagon out there, popped a tire. But, man, it was worth it. The Olgas scream potent silence. The earth magic is strong there. The Dreaming they call it. Just half hour spent steeping beneath those ancient rocks inspired the desert scenes I’ve finally finished in the forthcoming release: The Lost Prince.
These wonderful places inspire us. But it’s more than that. They free the mind, reminding us that we are tiny cogs in an engine far larger than we can comprehend. Code name Mindy and I recently visited Utah where we were astounded by the weird and wonderful columns and arches surrounding the Colorado River. Years earlier I’d taken to hiking in Alaska. Gazing down at Ketchikan harbour from the snow capped mountain above was something I shall never forget. Steering the Brigantine Zebu through midnight water, with nought but Tasman Sea and Southern Cross for company – another treasured memory.
Life is busy and short. People need space and writers need solace. If you cannot find it take a long drive somewhere new. Cross that stone bridge, take to the hills and embrace the earth magic awaiting in their midst. J.W.W.