No, this is the most beautiful place on earth…
You can call me fickle, and call me biased, and maybe I’m guilty on both counts. But since coming back home to Suffolk a few years ago (at least when I’m not teaching), the beauties of wild French mountains and stately Cambridge cloisters have rather lost their lustre. Your own place, in the end, is the best.
"...a place of sand..."
Not that I’m alone in my opinion. This part of coastal Suffolk, known locally as the sandlings or sandlands, is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, comprising within a few square miles a rich variety of landscapes and habitats: rolling fields and water meadows, heathered lowland heaths; ancient forest, broad estuarial marshes, sand dunes and shingle beaches.
It feels like a timeless place, a place which change skirts by and leaves untouched. But a place of sand is also a shifting place, fragile and insolid.
In the Cambridgeshire fens, if you come in with muddy boots and muddy dogs, the boots and dogs – and the floor and furniture – stay muddy. But in the Suffolk sandlands, you come in filthy wet and it’s like magic: an hour later what seemed thick mud has disappeared, melted away to leave only a dusting of fine, soft powdery sand. (A housework dream!)
This is the setting of my short story collection, ‘Sandlands’: a country where timeframes slide one into another, where things seem certain and stable but cannot be trusted, and may be nothing but a shadow or an echo, deliquescent, a memory of themselves.
at Blaxhall Ship
on Blaxhall Common
The village at the centre of the stories is Blaxhall, my own village, and some of the landmarks are real. The pub – the Ship Inn – is solid enough, and St Peter’s Church, and the village hall, and Blaxhall Common with its woods and heath and its wealth of wildlife, and the famous Blaxhall Stone.
But around those few fixed points I have, like all purveyors of fiction, played fast and loose with the topography of the area, inventing farms and houses as the fancy takes me, renaming things and moving them about.
Real, unreal, or somewhere between… I hope, if you read my book, you’ll fall under the spell of the place as I have done.