Introducing the Museum’s Writer in Residence, Suzanne Joinson, who is working with us until May 2017. This is Suzanne’s first blog, which we hope you enjoy!
Suzanne attended one of our excellent evening talks, the Management of Sussex Wildlife, which was given by Richard Williamson.
“What a pleasure to start my writer residency at the Museum by meeting the charming naturalist Richard Williamson. Known in person to many around these parts, until now I have only met him through his book ‘Favourite West Sussex Walks’. I have taken my family on five of these walks so far and we have got thoroughly, happily, lost on each one.
Richard’s talk on the management of Sussex wildlife was full of impressive and entertaining information, but what I found most inspiring was his series of photographs of the same view taken at ten year intervals since the 1950s. Like many, I tend to a highly romanticised view of woods and it was a shock to see how pernicious and domineering unmanaged woodland gets over time.
Richard’s father’s book, Tarka the Otter, was one of my favourites as a child, along with Black Beauty and Swallows and Amazons. (Try getting kids to read these books today!)When I was young it was still just possible to roam the countryside without adults.
I remember stream-jumping, butterfly-catching and tree-climbing, but what I didn’t know (and still don’t, though I’m working on it) was the names of everything: the different types of weeds, the exact bee, the type of nest.
One of the brilliant things about wandering the South Downs with small children is that under the guise of teaching them, I can teach myself, armed with a butterfly book, a bird book and much enthusiasm.
Idealists from the town have always looked to the countryside for a glimpse of wilderness, but do such places exist in the South of England? Richard’s photographs showed me that the wild, with its thorns and its shadows, is never that far away.
On walks I have had encounters with the wild: the eerie sense of being watched deep in a Yew tree forest, or the spooky shift of atmosphere that occurs with a change of light under a canopy of trees, but being wild doesn’t mean unmanaged.
It is this relationship between the land and the people who live and work on it that I hope to explore further during my time as writer in residence at the Museum.
Today, walking in my own patch near Worthing (on Bost Hill, across the valley from Cissbury Ring) I came across a cluster of orchids, that most magical and wild of Sussex flower.
It felt like a gift, and, inspired by Richard Williamson, my plan is return to same spot regularly – we’ll see if I keep it up for fifty years – to observe the changes that happen and will keep on happening, whether we are looking or not.”
About Suzanne Joinson
Suzanne Joinson is writer in residence at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. She has published two novels, The Photographer’s Wife and A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kasghar, (both Bloomsbury) and writes for a wide range of places including the Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent and many others. She lives in Worthing with her family.