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From the Devon Ridge where a Book Began



 Women Writing on the Devon Land

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From the Devon Ridge Where a Book Began


   This new blog interlinks with the website South West Women Writers, as well as with my other occasional blog Scrapblog a Writer from the South-West. I hope sometimes to write up more posts for that blog, but meanwhile, am beginning a new blog which will focus on the background of and the journey of a manuscript I have now completed, for which I am now actively seeking a publisher.

   The manuscript is currently titled Writing Women on the Devon Land: The Lost Story of Devon's Other Women Writers, up to circa 1965, but that is just a working-title and likely to change.

    In 2015, I was thrilled when an earlier draft was shortlisted for the Devon based Impress Prize.

    Prior to that, I had been lucky to receive funding from the then South-West Arts for a 'free-read' of an excerpt from an earlier draft of the manuscript by a reader from The Literary Consultancy. Reader, Sara Maitland commented, 'I feel a bit humbled at the task of critiquing this complex imaginative and scholarly text ... there are some exquisite passages ...This is an important piece of work...'


    I'm also delighted that fellow writers have endorsed the manuscript. Here are a few extracts from what they said:




'... we're walking & looking with Julie Sampson much as on other memorable occasions one's joined Llewellyn Powys around Somerset & Dorset, Iain Sinclair in the footsteps of John Clare, David Caddy as he cycles after Edward Thomas, Simon Armitage singing for his supper along the Pennine Way, even Joanna Kavenna all around Scottish & Northern European climes seeking Ultima Thule …Julie Sampson's terrain is a Devon suffused, as she says, with 'spirit of place', and as one might suspect such perspective or vibration isn't handed out on a plate...Her subjects are women writers of the county, variously neglected but enthusiastically redeemed. My favourites here may well be 20th Century figures Beatrice Chase, Frances Bellerby and Mrs Willcocks, but Julie Sampson endows her 16th & 19th Century characters, such as Anne Dowriche and Anna Bray, with similar contemporaneity. I commend Julie Sampson's project and hope it finds speedy publication.' Kris Hemensley

'Julie has made herself an expert on women poets of Devon. She combines sound scholarship with her own direct experience and observations. Thus she can interest the general reader in a subject which might seem rather specialised or esoteric. Julie Sampson is also a fine poet in her own right, author of the collection Tessitura (Shearsman Books, 2013). I believe that her love and knowledge of Devon and of literature, and her abilities as a writer, make her the right person to write this book.' James Turner


'Threaded by tracks and ‘snaky lanes’ of Devon, luxuriating in ‘mysteriously named’ localities (e.g. Trundlebeer, Nymphehayes) Sampson draws the reader into their landscape and language, digging their linguistic origins and history while searching their women’s literary heritage introducing authors and their writing hitherto silenced by years of neglect; names such as Margaret Pedler (C20), Anne Dowriche (c16) and Mary Patricia Willcocks (C20. Through all this flows Sampson’s own connections and site-specific observation; a poetry in itself.'Tilla Brading 



'...Through a woman’s eye, we are treated to a symbiotic journey of both past and present over Devon’s rich territory, once illuminated by many women writers who are now largely forgotten by time. Julie Sampson sweeps away any conventional assumptions through what permeates as a deeper process of anamnesis, reviving lost names and the landscapes to which they were embedded. The journey takes us into a tangible fusion of places which are still recognized today but whose import was more pivotal to our ancestors’ existence... Through examining the work of Anna Bray for example, we can feel the contagion of boldness as we imagine her striding long expanses of heather sprung turf in search of Dartmoor’s legendary folklore during a Victorian era where most women’s creativity was harnessed to piano and petit point. Very much a writer after my own heart, I am immensely grateful to Julie Sampson for her regular work on women writers of the West Country and the joys unfurled from her research into archives and libraries which are vital to our social being. Her new book acts as an escarpment between different eras, lifting us through the aura of mystery by revisiting the Devonian contours of magic to logic … and back again.  Ruth Snell



    ... Well, to return to the present day. A long rewrite and edit of the manuscript took too much of my time in 2018 and, in consequence, the already neglected Scrapblog; a Writer from the South-West, more or less stopped completely. Rather than returning to write more posts on that blog, it seemed the apposite moment to start a related blog.
    I hope the blog of Writing Women on the Devon Land: The Lost Story of Devon's Other Women Writers will fill in backgrounds and contexts for the book itself, so that if and when it is published, there will be extra material available, online, to which readers can turn for more supplementary information and discussion.
    I plan to include excerpts from the manuscript and also intend that this blog will fill in gaps in the narrative. There are so many! The book is long; one of the challenges I have had over the last year is to shorten it. Inevitably, I have not been able to include all the writers and texts that I'd like. Instead, my hope is that they will eventually feature on this blog. I'd like also to expand on various ideas and information in the main book and include extended commentary on writers who DO appear, but because of space, not in as much detail as I'd like.  Last but not least, I would love to gather valuable feedback from you who might stumble upon the blog. So, on these introductory pages, I need to tell you just a little about Writing Women on the Devon Land: The Lost Story of Devon's Other Women Writers' background. Please also look at Page 2 Land as Language and Page 3, Textual Landscapes.

      The beginnings of the story of Writing Women on the Devon Land go back some years, to the time when I completed and was awarded a PhD at Exeter University. 

      Toward the end of 1997, when still gripped with euphoria of the achievement, needing a break from the years of intense study and writing, but by this time addicted to the processes of research, I began to haunt local archives and second hand bookshops, gathering material about women writers from Devon. Looking back it seems a snail's progress, but to start with, it was a time to chill, revel in the variety of writers, texts, places and a trail of serendipitous discoveries. I'd spent those PhD years concentrating on the life and texts of a particular writer, (H.D., Hilda Doolittle), who (though I loved and will always turn to her visionary work), gradually, as other writers came to the fore, receded into the background. I was breaking out of a locked room, opening a new door, or many doors, of discovery.


          And in any case, H.D. herself did have some input in my journey; she had spent spring and early summer of 1916 in Devon. I kept her life and work in mind when I began to open pages to find out about other female authors and Devon. During all the years of research about H.D. I hadn't yet had sufficient space to look more into her links with my home county and now had hopes of spending more time doing just that.


       Suffice here to say that at this stage I had no idea that this post PhD research was going to take up so many years of my time. The venture began more as a way of gentle kind of 'post-script' to those years of studying and writing up at Exeter University. I couldn't let go. I'd grown to love literary and historical research and thought I'd maybe write up a few articles, feature and poems, from my new discoveries. But at this early stage had no intention of writing a whole book; the project the thought of drafting yet another 80,000 words of a cohesive manuscript did not appeal. 

     Over a space of two or so years taken up with visits to The Devon Record Office, now Devon Archives and Local Studies, to Exeter University Library and many other local libraries, the Devon and Exeter Institution - now The Devon Heritage Centre and a host of online sites, I had accumulated an overload, a veritable labyrinth, of actual author names, real titles of books (many of which were out of print) and other texts; and as yet I had not had a chance to really search in the archives for unpublished texts - say letters, journals and other documents written by women in Devon.

      Paradoxically, again and again I was struck by the absence of names and texts apropos specific women-authored texts in prevailing accounts of the county's literary history. There was a contradiction between what must have once been in existence and what was still available to read or study. Did no women in Devon write before say the C19? Why weren't more female names mentioned in literary assessments of the county?

     With these and other questions buzzing round my head, I began Scrapblog from the SouthWest, starting to write up some of my research discoveries and ideas for it, then created the website South West Women Writers. I drafted poems about some of the writers, a sequence of which has been published in the collection Tessitura (Shearsman Press). I was asked by the editor of Shearsman to edit a collection of poems by the C17 Devon poet Mary Lady Chudleigh and papers on the C16 writer Anne Dowriche were published by the Devonshire Association, in 2009 (See DA Abstracts). Most recently, in 2017, South West' s Sea-Thyme, a sequence of poems commemorating H.D.'s time in Devon during 1916, has been published in Shearsman 111/112 .

        Meanwhile, gathering up new names and exploring a variety of long neglected texts, I decided to go out and about Devon's byways and criss-crossing lost-lanes. Wanting to seek out the homes of some of the writers I was drawn back into the landscapes of my once-home mid Devon territories, struck by the complex inter relationships of land and landscape with writerly activities.


          Concurrently, I found that as well as still reading H.D., I turned to Sylvia Plath, one of the few famous female writers associated with Devon, for guidance. The poet had, both explicitly and implicitly, inserted features, creatures and particular people from my childhood home's surrounding territory into her now iconic texts: the church; the trees; the school; the moor; the lanes; the fields; the sheep; our sheepdog. I could not help but fall back into the spirit of the place, and then as my plans developed, use it as a pivotal point to begin and eventually, uroboric like, to end, my own book.


      I was born at Wildridge, a house built by my paternal grandfather on a ridge overlooking North Tawton, which happens to be a parish positioned in the centre of Devon. From the ridge just north of the parish as you stare seven crow-miles north into the distance, a panorama draws your gaze right across, then over the town, with Cawsand (or Cosdon), tor and the blue-waves of Dartmoor receding into the far west horizons toward Cornwall.

     The town of North Tawton happens also to have a special and rather mysterious history, because of the once important Roman site on its outskirts and the recently identified and enigmatic 'nemetona' lands (see for example Roger Deakins' Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees).

     On one of my return visits to my home-town there was a light-bulb moment when I knew I must begin to write all my material. Must write a book. I wanted to share what I have found and encourage others to follow up and find more about Devonshire's neglected female writers and their place within the palimpsests of our treasured county landscapes.

     ... My intention is to write up this blog at least once a week, beginning with an ABC of Devon places linked with the book. But I will admit, it will probably not be possible to keep to this pledge!

     If you click on the first post of this blog you will find it begins with Ashridge, an old estate just eastwards along from the ridge from Wildridge and Ashton, the married home of one of Devon's most important woman writers.


    
There are also other Pages, which include more contextual background information. See Land and Landscape and Textual Landscapes of a Devon Childhood. Other pages include excerpts from Matryoshka, a fictional sequence I'm working on which complements the non-fiction version of the book. See Matryoshka

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