Inspired By Nature: Sue Johnson


My work and the natural world are closely linked. I am fortunate to have lexical-gustatory synaesthesia where I interpret some words and names as a specific taste.

For instance, ‘world’ tastes of pink blancmange, ‘feather’ tastes of whipped cream and ‘thunder’ tastes of thick porridge. These sensations never change and can’t be switched off!

Since 1st January 2013, I’ve written a poem a day every day. I discovered that, even on days when time was a problem, I could always find a few minutes to scribble the draft of a poem in my notebook – usually sitting in a car park and watching the clouds or focusing on a bird or a tree. Some of these poems have gone on to be published in small press magazines – often with minimal alteration. Others have been developed into longer poems or they’ve formed the nucleus of a short story or a scene from a novel.

A friend of mine keeps a nature journal which includes photographs, pressed flowers, sketches, feathers, leaves and short poems. It occurs to me that this would be a brilliant idea for developing a series of story boards for a short story collection.

Obviously, not all my poems ‘work.’ This doesn’t matter. I have great fun recycling them.

If you fancy trying this, it involves scissors and glue and you can create more than one version. Print off a copy of a poem that hasn’t worked. Cut it up. Add six new words, a colour and a sound. Reposition the words. Play around with them until you’ve got something you’re happy with then glue them in place.

At the end of his life, the artist Picasso said he regretted not playing more. I’m determined not to let this happen to me.

If I do get stuck with a writing project I find that a walk amongst trees or by water helps me to sort the problem.  I’m also lucky to have a summerhouse in the garden where I hear blackbirds on the roof and the scent of lavender and honeysuckle drifts in through the open door.

Nature is playful. Look at the way the clouds move. Look at the common names for wild flowers – what could you do with ‘enchanter’s nightshade’, ‘fox and cubs’ and lady’s smocks?

Listen to the sound of the wind and the different birdsongs.

For a long time now, I’ve looked on the words I create as being like a seed bank. They will yield a harvest when the time is right.