Somewhere Between a Rock and a Truly Wild Place – part two

I leave the rusted fencing behind me and return to cruise mode, following an easy right-hand curve beneath arching trees. To my left, the woodland gets higher and steeper and then suddenly the first set of cliffs known as, Seawalls, announce themselves.

A giant ramp of rock juts up towards the sky, joining a ragged vertical face that peaks at around 70 metres. I spot a couple of climbers, their bright vests and stretched limbs marking them out like strange crabs against the limestone.

I hop off my bike and balance on the kerb, waiting for a gap in the traffic, when there is movement in the air. I double take as what I can only assume to be a Peregrine Falcon, swoops lazily across the road and disappears behind the trees. ‘Tis the season I am soon to discover (see photos).

Across the road is a grassy bank and I trudge over it, losing sight of the road. Then the cliffs are all about me, magnificent and daunting.

I spy more climbers attached to the rock at impossible angles while others teeter about near the bottom. Towards the far end of the area is a gravel car park with a few cars and a mini-bus parked there. Ropes are strung up next to it, leading youngsters with mandarin-coloured helmets up and down the shorter part of the cliffs.

Back on the Portway, I find another enclave, labelled with the less adventurous title of Main Wall. However, this one appears much less tamed than the first. A Co-operative lorry and a line of cars are parked in a lay-by, all driverless. Behind them a mound of earth lies where a red barrier has long since been raised and left for dead.

I clamber over the earth and find myself in the remains of another car park. White lines painted on the tarmac get lost in fantastic carpets of orange moss while greater heaps of vegetation create corridors down which I wander.

There are odd remnants of human activity scattered about; a crash-landed radio controlled plane, a wildlife research project and a memorial of lanterns and flowers at the foot of the cliffs. I stop here a minute for some cool reflection and look up at the rock. It glares back at me unrelentingly, with a face even more extreme than the last in its concave shape.

 

Man in the Matchbox

It’s been a busy few weeks, having a holiday in Italy and then working to get my entry finished for the Bristol Short Story Prize. As such, I realise I haven’t made a post for nearly a month!

I’ve got a few things that I’m planning to write about in the coming weeks, but to briefly fill the gap, see here for a little thing I did for Visual Verse. It’s a fun exercise to stir up the visual cortex and also allows a bit of publicity for your blog or webpage 😉

Somewhere Between a Rock and a Truly Wild Place – part one

I make a quick stop at the viewpoint on the Downs and join the tourists and lunchtime strollers as they gaze into the hollow of the mighty Avon Gorge. It’s an epic sight, not least because of the majestic limestone cliffs and wooded banks that rear up from the riverside, but also due to its location right around the corner from Bristol city centre. In fact, I’m fairly sure that within ten minutes of passing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge that hangs across the mouth, it’s possible to find yourself in a pub with a nice harbourside view.

I keep that thought in mind as I ride off, turning down Seawalls Road into the genteel neighbourhood of Sneyd Park. Here is a land of pristine hedgerows and perfect driveways and more than a few properties that border on the castle variety. There also seems to be a distinct lack of traffic, which might have something to do with there being no obvious way to the river and I  follow any road leading downwards in the hope of eventually finding it.

Then all of a sudden, secluded wealth is swept aside and replaced by gritty 1960’s housing before the Portway makes itself known; a fast and furious carriageway that runs/ruins the entire length of the gorge. Being a Sunday, however, the traffic is relatively calm and I’m able to get to the other side unscathed where a cycleway runs adjacent to the river.

I start riding and find the pavement wide enough (just) for two cyclists to pass each other without getting sucked into the tailwind of a freight lorry or toppling over the fence and into the mud, but it’s no less a humbling experience. Everything about the surroundings makes me feel small, from the huge expanse of water flowing past to the banks of trees that start to rise up on either side.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing particularly eye-catching on this initial stretch until my urban decay radar picks up something across the road. A rusted fence lies half-collapsed and mangled, opening the way to what appears to be an abandoned sports ground.

I chain up my bike and make a dash across the road. There is a barrier that stands between a gate and the fence, but I easily push it aside and squeeze through. A ramp leads down to an area of bare concrete where some long-extinguished fireworks waste away in the sun. To my right is a stripped out hut full of rubbish while to the left are two basketball courts. In the first, masonry lies strewn about like broken slabs of chocolate while the second is empty all but for a sorry-looking bike ramp made of chipboard. The only thing keeping the place alive seems to be the fresh-looking graffiti that decorates the walls.

A word from the King

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, a great book about the life of the writer and his thoughts on how to write a story. I came across a passage in it that I thought sums up the writing process well (or atleast, his process) and thought it was worth sharing.

“I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and then watch them try and work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, but to watch what happens and then write it down.”

“The situation comes first, The characters -always flat and unfeatured – come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way…if I’m not able to guess with any accuracy how the damned thing is going to turn out, even with my inside knowledge of coming events, I can be pretty sure of keeping the reader in a state of page-turning anxiety.”

And for those shortstoryers out there (me included), here are a few bits of advice I came across coupled with a list of publishers…

http://ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/how-to-write-a-short-story-and-get-published

Hope some of this is helpful.

Over Steps and Stones

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I’ve just finished the last chapter of my project, exploring and writing about the Christmas Steps area of Bristol! You can read it and the rest of the chapters here.

I’ve got more urban journeys lined up for the Spring including a trek down the Avon Gorge and an amble around the new business district that calls itself The Enterprise Zone, so stay tuned!

Talking cranes

It’s a locally-known thing that the old industrial cranes on Bristol’s harbourside used to talk to each other. It started happening while the Industrial Museum was being transformed into the present day M Shed and many a passersby were entertained and informed about what the new museum would have inside.

A couple of years on and apparently the staff at M Shed still get asked whether the cranes are going to strike up a conversation again. As a result, one of the curators has set out to make it happen and I’m pleased to say that I’m one of the writers who has been tasked with putting together a new set of scripts for them!

I’ve been working on the final drafts and the plan is to get them up and running before the end of the year. I won’t reveal anything else yet, but instead here are a few pictures of a recent trip up in one of the cranes where we got to see things from their perspective.

(Update: I am now working on a new set of scripts especially for an upcoming exhibition at M Shed. See here for a new post all about it)

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Thanks for picking me up

I feel drunk, except I’ve had no alcohol, only short, bittersweet glasses of tea; ubiquitous refreshment on the streets of Istanbul. It doesn’t help, however, that I’m stood up in a Dolmus, the taxi-cum-buses that chug about the city, picking up anyone anywhere who flags them down en route. My friend, Colin and I, clutch at the handrails and grin at the madness of it all as the driver bumps and jerks his way through the traffic. It’s just one more moment in a sea of experiences that have happened today and, thinking back, it’s no surprise that I feel the way I do.

First off, it was Carsamba market, with its never ending tunnels of clothes and groceries that filled up my eyes and ears with colour and chatter. Then there were the crumbling buildings of Balat that caught my imagination, an old Jewish neighbourhood, where washing lines are strung out across the streets and children roam as free as the stray cats that call the area their home. And I’m frankly still a bit fazed by the shoe-shiner who reeled us in with his thank-you-for-picking-up-my-brush routine and offered to polish our shoes out of gratitude only to snatch a 20 note from my wallet after asking for a donation. In hindsight, however, it simply added a little extra adrenalin to the mix as well as reminding me that not only am I tourist here, but a very fortunate one too.

The sheer variety of experience has been a constant as we’ve explored the ever-changing quarters of the city and by the end of each day my head has been left spinning with a heady mix of information overload and travel-inspired glee. It’s this combination that has led to such a feeling of intoxication and it’s something I know will only continue as we are dropped off at a gondola station where we await a carriage up to the Pierre Loti café overlooking the Golden Horn and the cityscape at dusk.

Tomorrow, the hangover will surely kick in as I board the plane back to England. But I’m hoping that I can take home at least some of the sense of adventure that has characterised this trip, so that I might better appreciate the colours, sights and sounds that are everywhere in my own city, albeit in a less exotic fashion. That way the trip never really ends.

(Written for the Telegraph’s ‘Just Back’ travel writing competition)