Here's a provactive question from Eleanor Cameron, excerpted from her fine essay, "A Writer's Journey":
"I have told more than once how much place means to me in the books I have lived with year after year and read again and again, place not as backdrop or as a background to be worked up in order to get on with the action. Place, for me, must be loved and known; it gives rise to the book and its characters so that the sense of it could never come if its place meant nothing, or I had not experienced it aesthetically and emotionally.
"I was sixteen when I experienced my uprooting from [my childhood home in] Berkeley, the wrenching from my own place when I was just beginning to be aware of how much that place meant to me. Is such an uprooting, which many a writer has been subjected to in a far more traumatic way than I, good for one's art or bad?
"Possibly good," Cameron continues, "because then one writes out of loneliness and unhappiness and longing for that place and the people one has left behind in ways not possible if one lives in it. For me, at least, memory of what has been lost is a better creator of vivid place than happy satisfaction in being in it, if there is to be a cutting edge to whatever emotions are aroused in one's protagonists and to whatever influence place has over them, coloring their moods and, therefore, very often directing their actions.
"I know, of course, that there are innumerable instances disproving a notion of what seems to work for me. Think of Proust and Emily Dickinson; no need for journeyings there....Virginia Woolf, living in London, wrote Mrs. Dalloway, a superb evocation of that city. Both Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, living in their own towns in the [American] South all their lives, have written classic short stories about the South. E.B. White wrote Charlotte's Web while living right on his farm in North Brooklin, Maine, where he'd ached to be all those years in New York. Lucy Boston has lived in her cherished Norman manor house -- Green Knowe -- and gone on writing about it ever since she first bought it and had all the later excrescences torn away to reveal the ancient, original structure.
"But Virginia Woolf wrote a better novel than Mrs. Dalloway in To the Lighthouse, about a much-loved childhood summer place in Cornwall, opposite the Godrevey Lighthouse, when she was many miles and years away from the scene. Katherine Mansfield wrote her finest and most artistically truthful stories about her childhood home in New Zealand...when she was living in France, ill much of the time and unhappy.
"The whole matter is, certainly, a very personal one. Natalie Babbitt told me once that she does not write from the inside out at all, as those do to whom place means so much, but from the outside in, getting an idea and then creating place and characters to flesh it out. For her, apparently, the journey either to or away from some special, loved place does not signify in her writing as far as intensity of feeling is concerned. Louise Bogan, the poet, in a biography by Elizabeth Frank, is quoted as saying: 'The initial mystery that attends any journey is: how did the traveler reach his starting point in the first place?' "
I am defintitely a writer, like Cameron, whose work is rooted in place...though I have written in both modes: in response to the land below my feet, and out of longing for places where I am not. In this regard, I write from the inside out. And you? Where is your starting point?
The exquisite paintings and drawings here are by my friend and Chagford neighbor Virginia Lee, another artist deeply inspired by place. Please visit her beautiful website , delightful blog, and Etsy shop to see more of her work.