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.