The Pull of the South-West

If that’s a strange title for a blog mainly about writing, reading and the experience of being a writer, it’s because this post’s link to the topic will be tangential at best. But I wanted you to know that I’m still alive, despite my silence.

Perhaps as a result of my sprained ankle, I’ve noticed a definite list to the right recently, or more specifically a leaning to the south-west and the sea.

Three weeks ago I was in Bantry in the south-west corner of Ireland. Last week I went to Sagres, the south-west tip of not only Portugal but Europe as well, and later today I’m off to Plymouth – okay not quite the south-west tip of England but definitely close.

There’s something magical for me about all these places. I don’t know whether it’s the pull of the sea or the fact that you’re at the edge (and for medieval Europeans, Sagres was the tip of the known world) and the edge is scary but exhilarating, offering endless possibilities if you’re brave – or foolish – enough to take the next step.

I found Sagres particularly fascinating. It’s notable for its superb, uncrowded beaches, washed by the Atlantic Ocean, but the windswept promontory where Henry the Navigator founded a School  of Navigation in 1418 is evocative and compelling. It’s said that Henry built an astronomical observatory and gathered others round him for training in navigation, map-making and science. He designed a lighter boat, the caravel, in which intrepid sailors set off to explore unknown territories – although Henry didn’t go with them himself!

You can still see the giant pebble wind compass, the Rosa dos Ventos (141 foot in diameter) which Henry is said to have used. And the little white chapel, Nossa Senhora da Graca, dating from the 15th century is simple but emotive. The whole  promontory looking across to the Cape of St Vincent and out toward the Atlantic is exhilarating and atmospheric.

Okay, now for the tenuous link with writing! This exhilaration of being ‘at the edge’ made me think about pushing myself with writing. The cliché says write what you know, but I don’t think that’s always good advice. If those sailors ar Sagres had stuck with what they knew, they wouldn’t have discovered ‘things previously hidden’ from them.

I’m finding my current novel difficult. I’m adrift, becalmed, to keep my sea metaphor going! So much so, I’ve more or less stopped writing it. But I’m not going to give up. I have to take heart from those long-ago sailors at Sagres, and keep pushing toward new territory, to things currently hidden from me, even though it’s scary and I might fail.

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  1. A great post. Those navigators are amazing…. good point you make about heading into the unknown. Maybe you have your answer…. maybe you are just waiting for the reservoir to fill…or for Piano to see the light of day!
    Hope ankle gets better soon.
    Love becky

  2. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Becky, glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for the encouragement. I’m definitely waiting for Piano to see the light of day! But otherwise, I can’t let myself wait any more – I’ve got to hoist my sail and catch the wind! Ankle’s much better. I’ve been able to ditch the boot and the crutches, thank goodness.

  3. Polly says:

    I think Horror and Fantasy writers would be in trouble if any note were taken of ‘write what you know’!

    I enjoyed this post, Lindsay, good to see you’ve had a relaxing break – great that you’ve been able to ditch the boot and crutches – as for the writing, you’ll get back into it and then wonder why you hadn’t before (!)

  4. Caroline says:

    Your trip to Sagres sounded inspiring and I’m glad to hear the damage to your ankle has not stopped you. I’m sure you will come back to the writing or it will return to you.

    Best wishes

  5. Christine Steenfeldt says:

    Excellent post and the link between the navigators and a writer wasn’t too tenuous! I’m sorry to hear you’ve stalled on your latest novel and can only hope a breath of wind wafts your way and gently nudges you back on course!

  6. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly, and glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I think ‘write what you know’ is not necessarily good advice although it is what is often suggested.

  7. Lindsay says:

    I found Sagres to be a wonderful place, Caroline – beautiful, remote and inspiring. I’m fascinated by Henry the Navigator.

  8. Lindsay says:

    I like the continuation of the metaphor! I’m sure I’ll get back on course eventually – thanks for the encouragement.

  9. Derek Taylor says:

    Wonderful! There’s a history of artistic creativity associated with explorers’ jumping-off points. The Spanish conquitadors set sail (and if they were lucky returned to) the port of Seville. As result the place was full of excitement. Gold and other treasure being off-loaded at its quayside. Strange looking foreigners with tales of sea monsters. Black slaves, of course. Seville was regarded as so magical a place – one where anything could happen – that over a hundred operas were set there. If you wanted a statue to come alive or the devil to rise up before you, then Seville was your place. I guess it’s a piece of the Seville spirit that’s captured you.

  10. Lindsay says:

    The link between ‘explorers’ jumping-off points’ and artistic endeavour is interesting. I haven’t discovered any operas etc being set in Sagres, but the link with Seville is interesting, Derek. I found all of Sagres inspiring – there’s a wonderful harbour as well – but Henry’s promontory is especially compelling. I just need to be as artistically brave as those explorers were physically and psychologically brave. At the moment, I’m paddling in the shallows whingeing because the water’s cold!

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