A couple of years ago, or more, I was approached by Little Toller Books to write something for their Monograph Series. As it transpired, the book that was to become Beyond the Fell Wall evolved out of the opening lines of a poem which I had just then begun:
to put down words
about this landscape
as if they were stones
It was as if the book already existed, “written in the scattering of boulders across the field’s page”, and it was simply my task to diligently observe, to record, to translate. It proved to be a more difficult proposition than I anticipated, however. Two years later, and I wrote the following lines:
The making of a wall: stones added to stones.
Align yourself with them. Imagine their position as the result of deposition. The work of an unseen river; their direction, a tracery of its current, its objective.
Place your thoughts with them. Release them. Let them be gradually laid to rest. With others.
This surrender to natural processes perhaps best describes the process of writing:
These thoughts, laid down incrementally, though my own are also the product of path, of streambed, of hedgerow. They are equally prompted by the rises and hollows of the land itself, its myriad rhythms, as they are the transits of the mind.
In opening myself to external influence, to both the unseen and the unheard, the book therefore feels both familiar and strangely other. There are parts which I find uncomfortable – which evoke a strong emotional response. My particular thanks are therefore extended to Adrian at Little Toller, for both his patience in allowing me the time to write, and his belief in the manuscript that I finally sent him, some two or three years later.
Beyond the Fell Wall will be published this autumn. It is vividly illustrated by Michael Kirkman.
Here’s the official synopsis:
Richard Skelton has spent nearly half a decade living in a small valley, high in the Furness hills of Cumbria, in northern England. It is a region of crags and exposed, weather-worn rock, of bracken, grassland and bogs, scattered with the remains of prehistoric settlements. “Life up here,” he writes, “amidst elemental nature and the tumbled stones, seems more precarious, and therefore more precious.” Beyond the Fell Wall is a distillation of his thoughts and observations from his brief tenure here, informed by his daily wanderings along its network of paths, the banks of its streams and the edges of its walls. It is also a poetic enquiry into the inanimate life of a landscape – its unheard melodies and unseen movements, its supernatural and heretical voices. It considers both vast geological epochs and brief moments of intimacy, conjuring both the imaginary and the real, which, in a place such as this, effortlessly elide. At its heart is the fell wall itself – a vast, serpentine entity; a vessel for lives, stories and myths; the dark centre about which all of life and death revolves.