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'Nature Writing Workshop' with the Guardian's Country Diarist, Mark Cocker.


As the nation honed its online skills, and meetings at a distance became increasingly slick, an invitation dropped into my inbox for an online workshop that I could not resist - 'Nature Writing', with celebrated author Mark Cocker mark cocker – 'the man of most science is the man most alive, whose life is the greatest event'. Henry Thoreau

The National Centre for Writing* Home - National Centre for Writing I recently discovered, is, amongst other things, a gem collection of writing resources, and this workshop appealed to a specific interest of mine. It was also a chance to meet other writers with a like mind, and to enjoy learning from the best.

Click link...Zoom preview... (visual adjustment...) final check...the usual procedure:

Water, blanket, notebook, pen and tissues, present and correct... ‘join with camera’.... and I was in.

The Workshop

The atmosphere in the meeting room was relaxed. The workshop began promptly, with a warm welcome from Flo, the workshop facilitator, transporting us with efficiency and expediency from disparate beginnings, to a coherent and focussed collective.

Straight into the first writing exercise, and we were presented with a photograph Mark had taken, a prompt, and eight minutes to begin to flex our existing Nature Writing muscles*. The image of a fox was taken in such a way as to offer primal opportunities for expression. Eight minutes is not a long time, but sharing these pieces aloud afterwards revealed that I was sharing this temporary space with calibre writers.

The workshop progressed, and Nature Writing themes emerged. Mark skilfully imparted some of his extensive experience, encouraging us to think about how we engage with and position ourselves as Writers relative to Nature. Observing a natural scene with all our senses can then be a way to tell a story, navigate our own way through life, and communicate this to others. We are, after all, also part of nature.

In my view, the prize-winning line of the morning which best illustrates this connection, came at the end of 'Sperm Whale' by Dru Jaeger*. In the piece, a whale, observed at a distance by tourists on a boat, finally breaks the water surface after a lengthy dive, and the author notes.... ‘you realise that all this time, you, too, have been holding your breath' . Beautiful.

Other writing also stands out in my memory. I remember feeling as though I was being swept along in a literary river of an experience, listening to Fawzia Muradali Kane* read her piece 'Ogmore' (also inspired by one Mark's photographs, this time of a beach).

There were many more highlights. The quality of the writing on the workshop was outstanding, and it was an honour to be there. Mark offered some general pointers and tips for Nature Writing throughout the day, in addition to insights that hold true across all genres. We played with styles, voices, time.... and before long it seemed, we had reached the end of the session.


The workshop drew to a close, and as we said our thank yous and farewells, the moment reflecting the transience inherent in all Nature Writing, I reflected on the awe I felt, having witnessed ‘writing bars’ being set at such a high level.

We each then dispersed into our day, becoming individuals once more, and taking the seeds, shoots, and nutrients of our shared experience to nurture our nature-inspired writing far into the future.


Acknowledgements, and related links:

* Many thanks to the National Centre for Writing, Flo Reynolds and Mark Cocker.

* 'The Wisdom of the Fox' - Laura Feinberg

‘The fox looked over the open landscape, then looked down: There was blood on its paw.’

The trap lay wide – it had escaped, not free.

Looking back, the farmer, shaking his fist.

Looking forward, the countryside, expansive and real.

It glanced for a moment, meeting its aggressor, eyeball to eyeball:

‘You,' it said accusingly, ‘You did this to me’.

And then it was gone.

* More information about Fawzia Muradali Kane - @tantiederosas

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