Writing in exile


In my interview published today on The Displaced Nation, author Harriet Springbett talks about being an English writer living in France:

‘When I go back to England and see bookshops stuffed with books, or blogs featuring new books every day, I feel intimidated. Writing stories suddenly seems rather pointless and I wonder what I can possibly add to the overloaded bookshelves. Then I come home to France and it feels rare and right once more. France is my cocoon. If I lived in England, I’m not sure I’d be a writer.’

Harriet’s Tree Magic is published by Impress Books. She is currently writing a story set in the Pyrenees.

The photo shows the tiny chapel at Alendo in the Pyrenees.


SAÓ Festival in the Catalan Pyrenees

110 people attended the SAÓ Festival on 11 October 2015 organised by the Centre d’Art i Natura in the vicinity of the village of Farrera in the Catalan Pyrenees.

In the morning the audience saw Joanès Simon-Perret’s tree caressing machine and his mountain mirrors greeting the midday sun. Next they passed by my writing on water at the ford. Then Quelic Berga presented his comparative circles designating the amount of landuse to produce one meal with meat, one vegetarian and one vegan. And the audience could also view Quelic Berga’s GOD installation.

At lunchtime documentation of Jutempus’s Mycomorph Laboratory was on display using living mycelium (mushroom roots) to create a new material.

In the afternoon the audience made their way along the narrow vertiginous path to the ruined chapel of Santa Maria de la Serra where Anna Rubio worked with musician Carola Ortiz. Josep Maria Mallarach gave a talk on the history of the chapel responding to Anna Rubio’s presentation. In the guise of an archaeologist from the future Meritxell Romanos presented her project with Blai Mesa, to paint the chapel with brilliant blue and gold representations of the universe. Finally Anna Rubio and Quelic Berga’s haunting film shot in the chapel and featuring the voice of Carola Ortiz was shown, and provoked a spontaneous finale of collective singing from the audience.

You can find more information on the artists and their projects on the SAÓ Artists Blogs.

Centre d’Art i Natura, Jutempus, Joanès Simon-Perret, Tracey Warr, Quelic Berga and Anna Rubio are partners and artists contributing to the Frontiers in Retreat five year art and ecology research programme.

the little river tributaries number more than your eyelashes

Hydra Map of Pallars Sobira in the Catalan Pyrenees

On Sunday 11 October I will make an action in the landscape concerning water for the SAO Festival organised by the Centre d’Art i Natura in Farrera in the Catalan Pyrenees. The other artists presenting work are Joanes Simon-Perret, Quelic Berga, Anna Rubio and Meritxell Romanos and Blai Mesa.

[The post title is adapted from a poem by Keats.]

Authors’ Foundation Award

11th century fresco of Llucia de la Marca by the Master of Pedret in the church of Sant Pere del Burgal near Escalo in the Pyrenees
11th century fresco of Llucia de la Marca by the Master of Pedret in the church of Sant Pere del Burgal near Escalo in the Pyrenees

I am delighted to be a recipient of an Authors’ Foundation Award from the Society of Authors for a biography I am writing on the medieval female lord, Almodis de La Marche, and her sisters, Raingarde and Lucia.

Almodis was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona and acknowledged as an active participant in the rule of those two counties in the 11th century, alongside her husbands. Her sister Raingarde was Countess of Carcassonne and their younger sister Lucia was Countess of Pallars Sobira in the Pyrenees (where she was known as Llucia de la Marca). Both Raingarde and Lucia ruled as regents for their young sons, and were significant to the political strategies of Almodis.

Almodis had a very colourful life, with the monk chronicler William of Malmesbury accusing her of ‘a godless female itch’ because she had a series of three husbands, with the third one kidnapping her from the second, perhaps with her collusion. The biography, entitled Three Female Lords, will be published by Impress Books in 2017. My novel Almodis the Peaceweaver was published by Impress in 2011.


Sant Pere del Burgal frescos in MNAC, Barcelona
Llucia de la Marca
Llucia de la Marca

Went to Sant Pere del Burgal near Escalo in the Pyrenees a few days ago to see the 11th century frescos in the church by the Master of Pedret.

Below the Holy Family and the saints, Llucia de la Marca is represented. She was the Countess of Pallars Sobira and the sister of the heroine of my first novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver. The originals have been removed for safekeeping to MNAC Museum in Barcelona and the church has very good reproductions in their place. It was good to imagine them in situ and to see the situation of the monastery.

Also visited medieval tombstones in Tirvia which show the deceased persons’ occupations.

Headstone for a dog-handler?, Tirvia
Headstone for a houndsman, Tirvia
Headstone for a Smith, Tirvia
Headstone for a Smith, Tirvia
Headstone for a Bellmaker, Tirvia
Headstone for a Bellmaker, Tirvia

Moon Mountain, Fire Mountain

Anna Rubio. Photo: Quelic Berga
Anna Rubio. Photo: Quelic Berga

Watched two of Anna Rubio’s beautiful and moving dance films, one made during her Frontiers in Retreat residency in Latvia. She is working with sites – the valley and mountains here, or old neglected stone steps in Latvia, and with natural materials – sheeps fleece, leaves, water, and her dance has a quality of antiquity in the way it relates to the surrounding natural environment. She uses her moving body as a way to sensuously explore environments and uses ephemeral sculptural elements such as a wool web strung in trees that she danced within in one film.

Anna Rubio, Clarobscur. Violin: Christian Risgaard. Film: Quelic Berga.

Quelic Berga was working late nights to send material for his Frontiers in Retreat exhibition in Serbia which opened yesterday with work on dwindling bee populations and the spiralling patterns of nature. I walked round to Alendo with Quelic to help take pictures of his God/Google installation. Between the artists and curators that are coming into contact in the Frontiers in Retreat project, and the artworks being made and in process, we are starting to describe what the project is.

A large herd of cream-coloured cows ambled through the village yesterday, with their white calves running to keep up besides them, and their herder behind with a long stick and the odd whistle. I guess they are moving to lower winter pastures. It’s good to see them when you hear their bells all the time and can’t always find them in the landscape. I heard that this place was known a long, long time ago as Moon Mountain. There is a story that the mountains are called the Pyrenees because of Hercules’ rape of Pyrene and her horrible death here, but I like to think it might be instead because of the fire of the sunsets, or the autumn blush.

20 sunset

Wind, Water, Bees

Tuula Narhinen, Cometa
Tuula Narhinen, Cometa

The three artists in residence at Centre d’Art i Natura in Farrera, including myself, gave presentations on our work in progress to a local audience on Friday 24 Oct. The room was crowded and there was a very good dialogue with the people who came along. We are doing quite different things. Tuula Narhinen from Finland is flying a home-made kite camera rig to find a way to image the wind, and she has been creating a watercolour palette of the colours around us in the environment. Quelic Berga from Spain has been working on an installation about the environmental threat to the honeybee and a project using spirals for data visualisation of ecological information. I am working on a forthcoming book addressing art and geography called Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture and on two new novels – one historical set partly here in Farrera, and one future fiction concerning rising sea levels and drowned coastal settlements and infrastructure.