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There was not an empty seat in the house for the John Muir Trust’s Wild Words event, held at the Highland Bookshop on Friday, writes Kirsteen Bell.
The evening was one of three events, the others in Pitclochry and Keswick, to explore the nature of landscape and language. Writers Anna Fleming and Amanda Thomson made up the panel which looked at how art, poetry and prose are shaped by landscape and nature.
The discussion was followed by an open mic session, where local writers and musicians shared their own interpretation of the Wild Words theme.
Ms Fleming is a writer and artist who recently had work published in Waymaking, an anthology of women’s adventure writing, and she is also editing an anthology of writing on the Cairngorms for the National Park Authority.
Amanda Thomson is a visual artist and writer whose artwork is often about landscapes and how places come to be made, and she has recently published A Scots Dictionary of Nature.
Questions put to the panel included: what is nature writing, and what brought Ms Fleming and Ms Thomson to write about it? The writers discussed how nature writing can explore the relationship we have with things that aren’t human, such as place, animals, landscape, and how it can give readers the opportunity to see and feel things they may not otherwise be able to.
Ms Thomson also focused on the way in which language can create a lyrical connection to place, and the many words in Scots that come from a close attention to the landscape.
There were several questions from the audience, including the sensitively answered question of how female writers can offer something different.
Ms Fleming said that it was important that what is written, read and published is representative of society as a whole, and not just certain groups. She said: ‘We all have individual perspectives, it’s important that not only one voice is represented’.
The open mic session that followed was certainly diverse, with poetry on Glen Nevis, Manx shearwaters and the solace that can be found in nature.
There were prose pieces on storms and ravens, as well as Gaelic poetry and song. John Hutchison, from Banavie, commented how wonderful it was to find that so many people from Lochaber shared the common interest of language and landscape.
Ross Brannigan, engagement officer for the John Muir Trust, said: ‘It was wonderful to see so many people attending our Wild Words event in Fort William on Friday, to hear Amanda Thomson and Anna Fleming bring their unique interpretations of landscape and language.
‘Thank you to the talented writers, singers and musicians of Lochaber, who inspired us with their own wild words in our open mic.
‘I would also like to thank the team at Highland Bookshop for helping us create such a fun event in a community we are proud to be part of.’
The Wild Words event was part of a campaign that the trust has been running throughout October, promoting the links between landscape, nature, words and art.
Mr Brannigan added: ‘As the trust’s Wild Words campaign has grown, I have come to realise what Anna summed up beautifully: Nature writing is about re-peopling landscape – we are a part of nature, not apart from it.’