A Storyteller's Process: Michael Jarvis

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I’ve been writing poetry since I was a teenager and stories for twenty years or so, but it’s only in the past few years, in my sixties, that I’ve tried my hand at nature writing.

Everything that I write starts from a moment looking out across open air, at a specific place, time and state of the weather. From that moment comes an idea and, usually, some fragmentary words. It would be good to sit down immediately and start writing, but often I can’t, being on the move. If I can, I begin to write later that day, either at home, or on a bus perhaps, or just sitting on a rock. If I leave it until the next day something is always lost, and I’m aware that what I’m writing is detached from the moment that I’m writing about. A couple of days’ delay and the idea is gone completely, such is the state of my ageing memory.

At first I just wanted to attempt some ordinary nature writing. But I spent my working life as a scientist and, somehow, the science nearly always seems to take over. I was fortunate enough to teach and do research in areas of science that connected with what was around me when I walked in the mountains or beside our local loch, and these connections are still built into my way of seeing. Elsewhere is an exception, in fact almost a rebellion against that habit. Or a kind of antidote.

Michael was one of the three runners-up in the Wild Words Summer Solstice Writing Competition 2017, with the following piece. 


The dog and I walk down towards the loch in the January dawn. As the daylight strengthens, long parallel rolls of cloud appear, running to the horizon like an ocean swell, each roller softly lit from behind. The geese are in the air, in small groups and larger Vs, talking among themselves as if discussing where they should go for the day. A single goose passes ahead of us, low and quite close. Just for a moment it stands out grey-feathered against the softness of the backlit clouds. You might say that the goose is sharply drawn, but drawings don’t fly.

There’s something about this momentary conjunction of goose and cloud, something that brings to mind the word ‘significant’. Only significance means a sign, pointing somewhere, elsewhere, and right now there is no elsewhere. Once I’d have felt tempted to invent a connection, a direction; a significance. But the dog is content to be here, just where we are, and that seems like a good idea.