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Award-winning writing inspired by Norfolk at night

PUBLISHED: 18:22 31 October 2012

The 2012 Norfolk Arts Awards as part of the Hostry Festival. Winners of the Bernardine Coverley Nature Writing Prize, Ashley Ford, left, and Keiron Pim, right, receive their award from Henry Layte. Picture: Denise Bradley

The 2012 Norfolk Arts Awards as part of the Hostry Festival. Winners of the Bernardine Coverley Nature Writing Prize, Ashley Ford, left, and Keiron Pim, right, receive their award from Henry Layte. Picture: Denise Bradley


Two writers inspired by Norfolk at night were crowned the winners of a competition celebrating the county’s natural beauty and paying tribute to author Bernardine Coverley, and today the EDP is sharing excerpts of both their work.

The inaugural Bernardine Coverley Nature Writing Competition, organised by Norwich bookshop the Book Hive and run as part of this year’s Hostry Festival, was won by 26-year-old Ashley Ford, from Shipdham, and EDP feature writer Keiron Pim, who is 34 and lives in Norwich.

Both writers impressed judge Henry Layte, from the Book Hive, with the creative and unique way they responded to the competition theme of night and dark, and what happens when a familiar place is immersed in darkness.

Mr Ford’s writing was inspired by walking his dog around the area he lives at night, while Mr Pim’s writing is a description of a walk after dark through the meadows between Brampton and Burgh-next-Aylsham.

Mr Layte said it was a wonderful tribute to Ms Coverley that such evocative writing had been created in her memory.

As previously reported, Ms Coverley, a traveller, writer and gardener, who lived in Suffolk, twice visited the Book Hive to speak about her book Garden of the Jaguar, a tale of travel, plants and people in Chiapas, before she died, and one of the last conversations Mr Layte had with her was about nature at night, adjusting to the darkness and experiencing a whole new aspect to your surroundings,

Mr Layte said: “The two winning entries are such totally different pieces of writing but both about walking outside at night. It is like an extension of Bernardine’s idea which is lovely.

“I hope the competition will become an annual event.”

Reacquainted with the Night by Keiron Pim

I trudged down a rutted track to a wooden gate leading into the meadow, hooked it shut behind me and peered ahead. Thomas De Quincy raised the idea that light can prove a distraction in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater. In discussing the gallery of forgotten memories that lies within every subconscious mind’s murkiest depths, he noted ‘a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind… but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever, just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas in fact we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn’. I rustled through the overgrown track feeling the dulled brush of long grass through my trouserlegs, with the narrow River Mermaid and the meadow to my left and a stand of tall trees to my right; and then I halted. The plan was simple: draw back the veil of light and see what is revealed. Switch off the torch, switch off the iPhone, disconnect from the electronic world, reconnect with the natural world. I flicked the switch. Blackness. But in a moment as my irises dilated the blackness above glowed into navy, and from this navy emerged countless points of light: some bright white, some a soft blue, other stars in faint clouds and clusters, skeins like luminescent dust scattered across the sky. By chance I’d driven out on a night as clear and starry as I could ever recall. I breathed in the throat-cooling air and felt my agitated heartbeat slowing. I heard the slosh and trickle of the Bure, the ghost-song of breeze whistling through tree leaves, odd avian cries and screeches from the high branches. A cricket rasped. A sudden splash came as a fish broached the river’s surface. A horse brayed from the farm’s paddock. A flutter from the riverbank, then a heavier flap of wings, then silence.

Night and Dark by Ashley Ford

When you pay attention, you realise that night doesn’t fall; it rises.

It begins at the grass roots level, the green stems starting to dull and fade even while the light remains. Pavements become streams of shadows. Gravel, pebbles, lose their individuality, only the lightest still standing out, the rest a blur of shadeless shapes. Buildings are no longer sun-washed to paler hues; their true colours seep drably through. Windows, blank, cold squares while the light remained, throw out warm, too-bright glows of artifice. Only then, and only slowly, does the sky start to get in on the act; it starts with bright blue fading to steel blue, then dying to grey, a moment before its death-throes blaze forth in watercolour-wash pink and orange and yellow – slashes across the body of the dying light. This burst of brilliant blazes hushes the treetops to hues of black, silences them to shades of grey. Everything is indistinct for the next hour, as the death-stripes darken, then fade to blue-black shot through with pure white starbursts; diamonds floating in an oil-slicked sea.

Despite what people claim – some quite aggressively – the street lights here don’t pollute the natural night, the natural dark that never truly is dark, even when you ignore the low-watt artifice that people complain about, and which will, in any case, switch itself off in the darkest hours of the night, the hour or two before the dawn. Rather, the street lights serve to amplify and reinforce the night, to cast it darker than it really is.

The night sky lays like a blanket across the chasm of the heavens, wraps itself around the silhouettes of trees, the blocky presence of the B&B on the corner, cars parked in driveways, the steeple of the church that rises, grey-scale and shadowed, above the rest. The world seems wrapped in a dark, fleecy blanket, with stars playing hide-and-seek among its folds.

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