Revisiting a place, tracing its echoes, proves fruitful material for novelists. Brideshead Revisited opens with Charles unwittingly sent back to the stately home whose inhabitants provided wine, strawberries and complicated relationships. To the Lighthouse is a novel broken in half by WWI and Mrs Ramsay’s death, a changed cast of characters returning to the island home after the interlude. In Great Expectations the marshes become the weight that Pip wants to ignore as he flees from his upbringing. Miss Havisham’s house, however, never changes, remaining fixed and stagnant from visit to visit. All demonstrate the importance of place. Settings wrap around characters, extending only as far as the eye of the author.
There are locations formed in the imagination of the writer, and then those that have been condensed from experience. The two often overlap. Laurie Lee, in his utterly extraordinary essay ‘Writing Autobiography’ talks of the process of “compression”, with years of living squeezed down into pages and paragraphs. Writing about memories is a means of revisiting and re-examining the past. Lee says: “A day unremembered is like a soul unborn, worse than if it had never been. What indeed was that summer if not recalled? That journey? That act of love? To whom did it happen if it has left you with nothing? Certainly not to you. So any bits of warm life preserved by the pen are trophies snatched from the dark, are branches of leaves fished out from the flood, are tiny arrests of mortality.”
Revisiting can also be physical. A pilgrimage to a previously known place is a way of getting nearer to the past. My mum sometimes mentions wanting to take my brother and me to see one of her childhood homes, while I nurture a vague longing to go and stand on the street of the hospital where my surgery took place. It’s a very natural desire. We feel that these places hold a resonance waiting to be accessed.
Resonance is a word that crops up a lot when I’m writing. I’m not sure whether it’s the sound, with round vowels and sharp s’s, or the multifunctional use. It suggests meaning, quality, importance, echoes. But perhaps it’s easy to get caught in talk of echoes; the thrall of words enveloping thought. Easy to yoke the tenses together, cleverly forging a relationship between past and present when typing. But then our lives are composed of what we have experienced so far.
Revisiting doesn’t have to be profound either. It might simply be habit: holidaying in the same place, or even just finding and then regularly going back to a favourite spot. This wood is one that my family visit each year. There is a brief seasonal window when it’s accessible. Our first excursion usually coincides with bluebell season, but this year’s staggered winter means that they are yet to flower. There is a comfort in its familiarity. The wood’s continuity seems to work as an anchor. Plants may be newly grown but that view is both reliable and recognizable. It is at its best when the sunlight slants through trees only just in leaf, leaving shadows like ink across shoots that crackle underfoot. It is even better with a sweep of blue topping the green. But I still have that to look forward to.
We revisit clothes too. Some, like this charity shop bought skirt, are pulled out of the wardrobe over and over again. It has been worn with jumpers, pink shirts, shawls, loafers, heels, hats, crop-tops, gloves, pearls. Longevity can often mean versatility. But no matter how it is styled, it retains the absolute joy of airy fabric swishing against my legs - whether they are clad in thick tights during winter or left bare in summer. It's an item I've worn in all weathers and it has appeared on this blog several times in the last couple of years. Here it is accompanied by a Ben Sherman second hand shirt, £2 striped heels from a charity shop, vintage jewellery and a length of fabric that I hacked off the bottom of a skirt when it was being shortened - worn as a head scarf. The usual 'non-edited' images approach has been lifted temporarily, as my dad is currently enjoying the wonders of photoshop.