Memo from Devon – 5

I moved to Devon in 2003 because of my partner’s work re-location. I had published educational research articles for, amongst others, the Independent, the Guardian and the Times Educational Supplement, but no ‘creative writing’ apart from a few student magazine poems in the dim and very distant past.

In October of last year, ‘First Flame’, an anthology of twenty five of my short stories was published by SPM Publications, www.spmpublications.com. It is also now available as a Kindle or e-book at www.lulu.com All of them have won something – prizes, commendations, shortlistings – in competition, usually against hundreds of other entrants.

It might have happened anyway. But I think Devon has a lot to do with it happening at all.

The clichéd image – cream teas, quaint cottages, sleepy little towns – doesn’t immediately suggest a hotbed of creativity. But Devon is actually an incredibly creative place. Musically, the tradition traces as far back as Robert Stone, composer and member of the Chapel Royal and renowned for his setting of the Lord’s Prayer, who died at the age of ninety seven in 1613, a time when life expectancy scarcely approached what we would call middle age. In our times, the list goes on and on – Joss Stone, Muse of Teignmouth, Chris Martin of Coldplay. Will Young of Pop Idol and Thom Yorke of Radiohead both studied at Exeter. The literary tradition goes as far back as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and passes the likes of Agatha Christie along the way. It now includes Hilary Mantel, twice Booker Prize winner, Clare Morrall, Booker shortlisted, the reforming journalist Thomas Latimer, a close friend of Charles Dickens, and J.K. Rowling, who studied at Exeter University. The towering reputations of both Plymouth and Exeter universities in creative writing courses continue the tradition.

So what is it in the Devon air which so consistently boosts the creative process? Talk about the slower pace of life and the metropolitan mind thinks bucolic peasants and country yokels, but it is chiefly the metropolitan outlook to believe that speed is a virtue in itself; creatively, it is nothing of the sort. Few authors, poets or composers would deny the time it takes them – rethinkings, revisions, rearrangements – to bring their work to the standard which gets results, and when life all around you is bumping along like a roller coaster, time is at a premium. Rat races don’t allow for much contemplation.

Devon people, on the whole, seem to incline to a more philosophical frame of mind than many of their compatriots. Perhaps that’s because of Devon’s long traditions of fishing in dangerous waters and taking part in life-sapping naval warfare dating back to way before even Sir Francis Drake. When the boat doesn’t come in, the people left on the shore can either destroy themselves with grief and anger or determine that life nevertheless has to go on in some way which makes sense.

Eleven years doesn’t qualify me as a Devonian; perhaps I’m condemned to permanent grockledom. But, for a flowering of the literary muse relatively late in life, I will always be grateful to Devon, and if it should occur to the major tourist organisations in the area that bigging up its creative promise as well as the cream teas might not be a bad idea, perhaps those bucolic stereotypes might find themselves seriously challenged.

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