creative writing workshop with Stephen Moss 18.02.2017


our meeting was held in the west room at The Brewhouse, Taunton

I arranged this day at The Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton with Stephen Moss, a former BBC producer responsible for the award winning Springwatch programme, who now teaches Nature and Travel Writing at Bath Spa University. Creative writing is a degree pathway at The Open College of the Arts and I was interested in supporting writers rather than photographers for a change. In fact, there were more photographers than writers present but this did not matter as writing is something we are all likely to do not just to support it but enhance it; photographs usually require captions and I did one assignment where words assumed equal importance alongside the photographs.

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Stephen Moss talking to us at the workshop

Before the meeting actually began, some of us met beforehand at a small cafe-restaurant nearby to discuss OCA issues which tend to centre around distance learning and in particular the subject of the courses we do and the tutors we often do not meet. These days are as much therapy as learning experiences.


The Boathouse: next door to the venue. We met here for lunch and a chat beforehand.

After a brief introduction to the day from myself, Anna Godchild talked a little about the South West OCA which has acquired funding for a series of events this year. Anna was also the first to introduce herself which everyone did in turn. Seven of us and I the only male; I sensed a feminine presence!!

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Stephen Moss soon launched into his representation which was about current nature writers and those who have preceded them. These included the following books to which I include links (these were also in the brochure I made beforehand) …

H is for Hawk by Helen Mac Donald is probably the bestselling contemporary nature book. This is an autobiographical account of rearing a goshawk which includes frequent references to The Goshawk by T.White. Mark Cocker writing about in The Guardian said, ” The English-speaking world has an old passion for books about creatures and captivating companions … Helen Macdonald looks set to revive the genre.” I have been listening to this as an audio-book. Another book that appeared recently is Looking for the Goshawk which I am also reading; although not nearly so interestingly written, it is relevant to my own experiences of encountering Goshawks in the countryside around my home.

Mark Cocker not only writes for The Guardian, he has written his own books including one about birdwatchers. The one I liked is Crow Country. Stephen suggested we read an article by Mark Cocker published in The New Statesman which questions the present state of nature writing and wonders ” … how much do its authors truly care about our wild places?”

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some of the nature books I bought along for the day

Another author mentioned was Richard Mabey, whose book The Unofficial Countryside has recently been rereleased. I have been reading him for awhile but did not much like his Nature Cure book.

I made a video of this session and am sending the edit to the Open College of the Arts.

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walking along the River Tone

We broke after this talk and went for a saunter along the Tone towards the weir at Firepool Lock; the name suggests an industrial past and indeed we see some old building work suggesting this yet nowadays it is largely surrounded by new residential housing. Fortunately, the sun was shining and a winter day felt more like a Spring one.

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signs of Taunton’s old industrial past at Firelock

We saw a lot of different birds on the way and chatted with Stephen.

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swans on the River Tone; not all swans are owned by the queen!

After the walk we came back and wrote short pieces of our own; mine is included here.

A low Winter sun beams across the  river, burnishing buildings and water; birds move across the stage that has been set. As people pass, too close for avian comfort, the winged creatures rise with a flutter, audible above the discordant background hum of city life. Yet the birds cling on here and large Herring Gulls nurture their young in the shade of a supermarket whose trolleys sometimes find their way into the murky river depths to act as safe stations for watery delights. Ducks too are not to be disturbed for here they know they will be indulged with bread thrown at them but never hitting; instead food of a questionable nature yet not questionable to the ducks who gobble it up.

Smaller birds are here too, wagtails, both Grey with its misleading yellow colours, and Pied also known as Chiswick flyover, the Chiswick not referring to a place but the sound it makes. One of the smallest birds in the country is here too, a Goldcrest singing sweetly from a tree.

There are of course other birds in the quiet corner of a city centre, robins and blackbirds, moorhens and white Swans, though one swan still has a slice of brown threaded across its body marking it out as an immature.

There is other wildlife here that we don’t see such as the otters. Then suddenly we are back in the city again where life continues apparently unaware of what we have just seen and experienced. No longer the dank smell of water bank now the invisible asphyxiation of chemical fumes.