Five Questions for... Amanda Thomson

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Amanda Thomson is the author of A Scots Dictionary of Nature, a collection of nature-related Scots words from 19th and early 20th century sources and a beautiful representation of the relationship between the Scottish people and their landscape. She teaches at Glasgow School of Art and in her art and writing she explores themes of place, home, nature and migration.

Amanda has just signed a book deal and is currently working on a collection of hybrid essays about landscapes and a video and writing project about an alder tree. She’ll be the artist in residence at Small Halls Festival this November, and travelling to Southern Africa with other nine writers as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival initiative Outriders Africa

What does home mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about and actually writing about home a lot over the summer. For me, it can go from the micro, and being with my partner, to the house that we live in, or the place where it is. It’s about a feeling of missing a place and longing to be there, and that deep exhale of relief once you reach it. It’s not something that any of us can take for granted at all, so there’s a thankfulness to know I have a place I call home, when there are so many in the world who don’t.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

Abernethy Forest, where I did my PhD and is now a place I call home; the North West Highlands. I am smitten with Scotland and the Highlands and Islands. 

What is beyond your front door? 

I have a field which hasn’t been grazed by sheep or cattle for a couple of months. It’s been full of white and red clover, germander speedwell and all kinds of grasses, occasional deer and hares, and the aforementioned alder. The farmer has just cut it and bailed hay, and the swallows and house martins are swooping by just now on their way south. 

What place would you most like to visit?

I love living in Scotland and would happily spend all my time here. I always love going to the islands – North Uist in particular for the birds, and Shetland, and I am not long back from Sutherland in the North West. Now, and unexpectedly, I am very excited to be going to spend time in Southern Africa.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now? 

Reading, I’m jumping between books: Kathleen Jamie’s Surfacing and Sadiya Hartson’s Lose Your Mother. Looking at the Collin’s Book of British Insects to figure out what kinds of moths I’ve been seeing.

Watching – This summer there have been red deer and hares in the field, swallows and house martins on the wires and just now the sun is coming and going and the trees are flouncing in the wind. The rain’s coming over from the West.

Listening to – this summer I have been listening to Braebach’s Frenzy of the Meeting a lot, also Duncan Chisholm’s music; Kinnaris Quintet’s amazing Free One, and Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie’s Symbiosis II is the perfect album for the drive between Glasgow and the North – A lot of Scottish folk music.

Amanda's Website
Twitter
Instagram


Five Questions for... Jessica J. Lee

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Two years ago we reviewed Turning, her memoir about swimming in the lakes around Berlin. This autumn Jessica J. Lee is back with the autobiographical Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan. She is an environmental historian, writing tutor, nature writer and editor of The Willowherb Review, an online platform for nature writing by writers of colour. Jessica writes with the precision of a botanist but without the pretence that nature writing has no singularity, discarding the old cliché haunting the genre: that we all experience the environment in the same way, that diversity doesn’t matter and doesn’t exist. 

 What does home mean to you?

Multiplicity. It’s taken me a really long time to realise that home didn’t have to be singular, that I didn’t need to pick one place to call home. Both my parents are immigrants, and I’ve been an immigrant myself: instead of seeing that as a kind of “dislocation”, I’ve made a conscious choice to see that as productive, as a way of saying I belong to many places. I was born in London, Ontario, which people seem to find confusing because I lived in London, England for so long. Halifax (in Nova Scotia). Toronto. Berlin. Taipei. 

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I wrote my PhD dissertation about Hampstead Heath, which I lived next to through my early twenties. There was a beautiful lime tree that I used to hang out under, reading, resting, dreaming, crying: it bore witness to a lot of my most transformative moments in young adulthood. The tree came down in a storm in 2012, but the spot where it stood still draws me in. I have its leaf tattooed on my arm. 

 So I’d say there, but also: the bay at my family’s cottage in Canada, the cafe window in Berlin where I usually sit and write, the Taiwanese breakfast shop in Taipei where I get cold soy milk and hot shaobing youtiao. 

What is beyond your front door?

My street has one of the most beautiful views in Berlin, I think: it’s abnormally long and tree-lined and lovely. To the left, you’ll find more children and ice cream shops and wine bars and pet stores than necessary, and to the right you’ll find a busy road with a tram that races back and forth over the old Berlin Wall border all day. There’s a spicy hand-pulled noodle shop not far away, which is probably the best thing within walking distance. 

 What place would you most like to visit?

This is an impossible choice! There are so many countries I’ve yet to visit—Japan, Norway, New Zealand—but if I can be really specific, I’ll say Jiaming Lake in the Central Mountains of Taiwan. It’s a teardrop of a lake at the top of the mountains, famous for being a shallow, glassy mirror of the sky. People used to say it was formed by a meteor strike, but it was actually formed by glacial movement. But it’s a nightmare to hike to because of permits, the logistics of getting to the trailhead, the three-day trek, etc. I’ve twice had journeys to the Jiaming cancelled, so it’s become something of an obsession for me to one day actually make it there. 

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I have the bad habit of reading many books at once. Currently, Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall and Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo during the day, and Ben Aaronovitch’s The October Man as bedtime reading. I watch too much television—it’s one of the only ways I can switch off at home—so I’m currently finishing with Jane the Virgin. And for music, I’ve returned to Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet on repeat. 

Jessica on Twitter
Website
The Willowherb Review


Five Questions for... Vanessa Berry

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Interview by Sara Bellini:

We love zines, maps, psychogeography and archives, which is why we really wanted to speak to Vanessa Berry. She started making zines in the 1990s and is the creator of the long-running Disposable Camera, the last issue of which was published a few days ago. Besides making zines Vanessa writes a psychogeography blog Mirror Sydney, exploring “the marginal places and details of the city of Sydney” and in 2017 she also published a collection of essays and hand-drawn maps with the omonimous title.

Vanessa’s work is equally autobiographical and historical, exploring her personal relationship with place and memory as well as the stories that belong to a specific place. In the case of Australia where the pre-colonial memory of the island has been highly disregarded, Vanessa always writes “with acknowledgement of the Aboriginal lands”, reminding us that we should always be respectful of spaces that we share with others and that many others before us have respectfully preserved.

Vanessa’s newest project is a book of essays on place, memory and relationships with animals and the 20th anniversary issue of her other zine I am a Camera.

What does home mean to you?

My connection to the physical environment is strong and deeply-felt and always has been. I attribute this to being a quiet and introspective person, an observer who has always felt a kinship with the environment around me - its objects, creatures, details, changes, daily rhythms - as much as with other people. I do a lot of work at home, in a small and cluttered room amid piles of books and papers, and this is probably where I feel most at home. Although writing is also a kind of home for me, if you see me with a notebook open and I'm writing in it, know that this is when I feel most connected with the world. Perhaps that's what home means to me: feeling connected to where I am, wherever that be.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

My mental map of Sydney is made up of many such places I feel a special connection to. Generally they fall under the categories of anomalies, places of respite and places of solace. In the latter category there's a particular headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean that I go to at times of significance or difficulty. The city's eastern edge is a long stretch of coastline, scalloped into bays and beaches between sandstone cliffs. The approach to this particular headland is a stretch of parkland which rises up to a rocky outcrop. I sit on the grass and watch the magpies which patrol it. A group of them live here, and whenever I am there I see them moving across the lawn, heads cocked, listening for insects under the soil. One time, when I was sitting on the rocks, they assembled in front of me and all started singing, which felt like a gift from them and from this place, which never fails to make my spirit feel lighter.

What is beyond your front door?

Having lived in the same house for almost a decade, this scene is now permanently established in my mind's eye and I could describe it to the utmost detail, however I will keep it brief: a low brick fence with a crooked front gate made of wrought iron shaped into hearts and curls. Beyond this, lining the street, is a row of native fig trees. Directly across from the house is an olive-green metal box a few metres long which I like to imagine holds the street's secrets, but is actually an electricity substation. At the corner of the yard is a hibiscus tree which is often in flower. People like to pick them as they walk past and I don't have the heart to tell them that once you do, the flowers close up very quickly.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I am writing this answer on a plane which is flying over a scene below where the land meets the sea in an outline of bays and rivers, and the sun has dispersed to an orange glow on the horizon. I'm listening to the new Gwenno album, Le Kov. Tucked into the seat pocket in front of me is How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee and an issue of Elementum. My watching, for now, is all out the oval frame of the plane window, thinking about the ocean below, the atmosphere above, and how it feels to be suspended in between.

Vanessa Berry's blog
Instagram
Twitter

Five Questions for... Cosmo Sheldrake

Interview by Sara Bellini:

The first time I saw Cosmo Sheldrake performing I could detect an intriguing mix of musical influences and yet he sounded like nothing I had heard before. This singer-songwriter / composer / multi-instrumentalist from London makes music combining field recordings of endangered animals and his own vocal improvisations. Luckily he has the nice habit of telling his listeners the stories behind his songs, accompanied by music samples of the various musicians in his wildlife orchestra…  “and on the bass, the long-eared owl” or “this is what a healthy coral reef sounds like”.

Cosmo Sheldrake grew up in a creative environment between music and nature, has a background in anthropology and a body of work that includes composing music for Beckett’s plays and the soundtrack of the Netflix series Moving Art. His first solo record The much much how how and I was released in 2018, following the EP Pelicans We and the single The Moss. His current work about endangered bird species brought him to a collaboration with Extinction Rebellion last month in London, where he played a song made entirely of recordings of endangered British birds, streamed live on smartphones and portable speakers. At the beginning of May he released Owl Song and Dawn Chorus.

Cosmo Sheldrake is “really interested in capturing a sense of place in music” and in particular in making “ecological music, music that emerges from a particular place or ecosystem”, which made him a great choice for an Elsewhere interview. Here’s how he replied to our Five Questions…

What does home mean to you?

Hard to answer that concisely as it’s a big question. But I grew up in a house that I still spend a lot of time in and make music in. So, I have been lucky to put down roots in that place and have a real connection with it. So the simplest answer would probably be the place I grew up.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I have a special connection with lots of places. But one that pops to mind is an island in British Columbia that I have gone to more or less every year since I was born. Feels like a second home. It very much feels like I have done a lot of my growing up there.

What is beyond your front door?

Well I live in Seven Sisters (North London), so a reasonably busy road. But outside the front door of my studio and the house I grew up in is Hampstead Heath. It’s the closest you can get to not being in London while being in London, a thousand acres of fairly wild land. Another place I have a very special connection to.

What place would you most like to visit?

Ooooh, so many! Just to pick the first one that popped into my mind, Colombia.  

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now? 

Right now, I have about six or seven books on the go. I am reading a book called Imagining Extinction by Ursula K. Heise. It’s about how people have responded to ideas around extinction, a sort of anthropology of extinction.

Another one in the pile is Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, by Gaston Bachelard. He is hard to really pigeonhole but I guess he is a kind of philosopher of poetry and much more. Another one I am racing through at the moment is a book called The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf. Which is a brilliant book about Alexander von Humboldt, who was an absolutely extraordinary man. A total visionary, the book is about how the idea of nature that we more or less take for granted is largely to do with his work and discoveries. He was in a sense one of the first ecologists (in a modern scientific sense).

I am also reading a book called Getting Started in Radio Astronomy, which I guess is fairly self-explanatory. I want to build my own antennae and start recording sounds of space.  Have a few more I am chewing through also. I find it impossible to read one book at once. One more that I am not reading at the moment but is a great book on the nature of place is a book called Wisdom Sits in Places: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache by Keith Basso.

***

Find out more about Cosmo Sheldrake via his website and on twitter.

Sara Bellini is the online editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. She lives in Berlin, the place she calls home at the moment.

Five Questions for... Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

Photo: Wendover Woods, courtesy of Will Burns

We are extremely pleased to welcome the poet Will Burns to Elsewhere: A Journal of Place for the next in our series of “Five Questions” interviewers with writers, artists, practitioners and indeed anyone for whom place is central to their work, whatever that may be. You might have spotted Will on these virtual pages recently as we reviewed the new album Chalk Hill Blue that he made with Hannah Peel, a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of poetry and music rooted in the landscapes of Buckinghamshire where Will lives.

Named as one of the Faber & Faber New Poets for 2014 and the poet-in-residence at the wonderful Caught by the River, Will’s poetry evokes a strong sense of place and was praised by The Guardian for its “quiet intelligence and subtle ways of seeing”, a description that we can only wholeheartedly endorse. A regular live performer, Will has read at festivals around the UK including Port Eliot, Green Man and Glastonbury and you can catch him at a number of festivals this summer as he tours Chalk Hill Blue with Hannah Peel.

On with the interview...

What does home mean to you?

Like most people I suspect, ‘home’ is a bit of a complicated word for me. It definitely applies to Wendover, the village in Bucks where I live now and lived from the age of about ten until I left home. And even after I left I’ve always come back. Sometimes only for a few months or so, and sometimes out of necessity - but I suppose the point is it’s always there, which is a function of home I think. I have to say London too. I was born there, and  I’ve lived there, in various spots, almost as many years as Wendover, all told. But London’s such a big thing isn’t it? The little areas you get to know might feel like home for the period you know them, but change is so fast there that you leave and a year or so later it feels entirely alien.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I’m going to say the Rough Trade shop on Talbot Rd. My Dad was one of the owners of the Rough Trade shops until about three years ago, and I grew up seeing him in that shop as a child. Then I ended up working there in my twenties. I was there a few days ago and I hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and I realised just how burned into my consciousness and imagination the place is. Some of the posters, the counter, the architecture, the smells of the place. What a strange contradiction a record shop is - it changes completely every week when a new batch of releases goes up on the walls, in the racks in the windows, and yet at the same time it’s not changed for thirty years.

What is beyond your front door?

The main high street in Wendover. Although that section is actually part of the Ridgeway, so you’re on an ancient path the moment you put a boot out the door. It’s a classic market town high street with an abundance of charity shops. We’ve resisted chains for the most part though, so it retains a sense of itself. Take the road left out of the door and up the hill and you follow the Ridgeway onto the scarp. Ten minutes and you’ve got views across the whole vale. Nobody talks about the Chilterns really but they are a very beautiful place.

What place would you most like to visit?

I’d love to go to Iceland sometime. I’ve always loved the Sagas and the history of Northern Europe. But India as well. My grandfather was born there and it was him who inculcated my love of wildlife, partly through his stories of India. It has sort of remained as an unscratched itch ever since.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

A new album by my all time favourite band came out today, so I’ll be with that non-stop for the foreseeable future. That’s Union by Son Volt. My capacity for listening to them is pretty much infinite. And I’ve not really been able to stop reading One Lark, One Horse by Michael Hofmann since it came out. I’m one of these obsessive types I think who re-reads and listens to things once I’ve fallen for them.

***
Will Burns website
Twitter

Music and place: Kitty Macfarlane's Namer of Clouds

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Review and Interview by Paul Scraton:

I first heard the music of Kitty Macfarlane on her EP ‘Tide & Time’ a couple of years ago and was immediately struck by both the beauty of her voice and the spirit of place to be found within the lyrics. ‘Wrecking Days’ was the standout song, with its stories of beachcombers stalking the shore, and it was great to hear it again in a new arrangement on Macfarlane’s debut album ‘Namer of Clouds’, which is released by Navigator Records this week.

All the tracks on ‘Namer of Clouds’ speak to our relationship with landscape, place and the environment, whether it is Macfarlane’s native Somerset on ‘Man, Friendship’ or the story of the last of the Sardinian sea silk seamstresses on ‘Sea Silk’. This is an album of haunting, lyrical music that asks the listener to consider her place in the world, the beauty to be found there and the consequences of our negligence or disinterest. On ‘Wrecking Days,’ Macfarlane describes what is left behind by the tide, and if there is poetry in the image of cuttlefish bones, there is certainly a warning in what else can be found on the beach, from the discarded fishing tackle to the plastic bottle tops, resting among the seaweed and stones.

This is thoughtful songwriting, whether in the original compositions or new arrangements of traditional folk ballads. The album closes with an artistic collaboration across the ages: on Inversnaid Macfarlane reworks a 150 year-old poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins about the importance of preserving the wilderness for future generations, a task that is as important now as it ever was.

You can hear ‘Man, Friendship’ and see the official music video below, and we are extremely grateful to Kitty Macfarlane for answering some of our questions about the album, her songwriting in general, and the importance of place in her work:

From the moment I heard Wrecking Days on the Tide & Time EP, it seemed clear to me that there is a distinct sense of place in your songwriting. What role do you feel place has in your work, and which places most influenced the songs on the new album?

'Place' isn't just a geographical location. It's bound up in the stories that span hundreds of years, the changing face of a landscape over time (and our part in that), the traditions that tie people to the land, and the inexplicable way certain corners of the world can make you feel. At school we are taught geography, history, art, chemistry... as if they are separate things. For me, songwriting pulls it all together. My album couldn't help but be a bit of a tribute to Somerset, where I am from – the scenery creeps into my songs almost by accident, along with the stories of the people and creatures that live there. That said, there is also a song set on a small Mediterranean island off Sardinia, and another which is a song-setting of a poem by Manley Hopkins about a Scottish stream. I wanted it to be an album of songs loosely bound by mankind's relationship with the land.

Of all the places you have written about or the landscapes that have otherwise inspired your work, which is your favourite?

Again and again my songs return to the beautiful and ancient Somerset Levels. They are a large low-lying wetland area of peat and clay with an eerie timeless quality - perhaps something to do with their yearly renewal by ruthless flooding. The Levels hold stories of ancient people preserved in the peat; of wandering Neolithic people on their wooden trackways; of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, conquering the Danes against all odds from his hiding place on the isle of Athelney; of the disastrous floods of 1607 where thousands of people perished; of the basket-makers and thatchers, the elver fishermen and cider producers. Man, Friendship deals with our steadily changing climate, the cruel floods across Sedgemoor and what is left for humanity to cling to when all else is washed away.

In February this year I went down to Shapwick Heath nature reserve on the Levels to watch the starling murmurations at dusk. I was surprised to find hundreds of other people with the same idea, and there we all stood, wrapped up in coats and scarves, while a hundred thousand winged bodies swelled above us, bound by some magnetic tether, a pulsing leviathan in the sky. I wrote Starling Song about this uncanny phenomenon, but it was more than just a spectacle for me - it felt like a moment of immense connection with humanity.

Glass Eel is a on the surface a song about the eels that have historically filled Somerset's waterways. Their colossal, near 4000 mile migration from the Sargasso Sea to Europe is one of science's great mysteries, and there are many parts of their enigmatic life cycle that we still don't understand. The song is about the constant motion of the Earth and everything on it – how we are all compelled by the same centrifuge that drives the eel. But the European Eel is now critically endangered, due to a loss of intertidal and wetland habitats, overfishing, and man-made obstacles to their mammoth journey. I think the plight of the lowly eel is strangely metaphorical for the problems our own species faces – our fragmentation of the land with motorways, dams and weirs is like the international fissures wrought on a global scale, our gluttony and overfishing relates to our wider exploitation of the environment, and the eel's journey recalls our own questions of rights to land, migration, and belonging.

Do you find yourself most inspired by places you know well, or have travels - on tour for instance, or otherwise - given you new places to write about?

There's a definite appeal to writing about places that are familiar, as they become entwined with so many unaccountable emotions and memories. But there is inspiration everywhere and it's exciting to think of how open-ended songwriting can be. For one of the songs on the album, Sea Silk, I travelled to Sant'Antioco, a small island off Sardinia to meet and interview an elderly Italian lady who is one of the last remaining people to create 'sea silk' in the authentic and traditional way. Sea silk is a very fine thread spun from the filaments or 'byssus' of giant endangered clams that live in the Mediterranean. It has extraordinary qualities which turn it from a dull brown to a brilliant gold in sunlight. The art of spinning sea silk has been practised for centuries, and is passed down through generations of women in Sant'Antioco – traditionally, it cannot be sold for profit, but must only be given away. It crops up throughout history here and there – Nefertiti's bracelets, King Solomon's robes, even perhaps Jason's golden fleece... but is shrouded in mystery. Chiara Vigo is a remarkable woman who has devoted her life to this art form, and it was incredibly special to hear her talk about how she learnt it from her grandmother as a girl.

To me it spoke of the historical relationship between women and textiles and the land, and the important roles women throughout the world have quietly performed in the background that are rarely acknowledged by the history books. I love knitting, and part of that is the feeling of connection with generations of women before me. I don't actually speak Italian, and Chiara doesn't speak English, which made for an interesting interview (luckily I brought a friend who could translate!) but when we showed each other our own knitted creations, it felt like we shared a common tongue. A recording of Chiara's rich italian speaking voice opens the song, along with part of a soft chanting folk song that she sang to us, that coincidentally happened to be in the right key... it all felt spookily preordained!

In the album notes it says that "the album is augmented by all kinds of 'found' sound." Can you tell us a bit more about this, and how you think this helps route your songs in the places you are writing about?

I really wanted the album to feature little pieces of the places that inspired the songs. We borrowed a portable mic and took field recordings in various locations – the chaotic waterfowl recorded at dawn from a hide on the Avalon Marshes set behind Starling Song (I saw my first Bittern while recording this!)the babbling brook with its restful birdsong to accompany Inversnaid, the crash of Sardinian waves behind Sea SilkMorgan's Pantry is a traditional song about the malicious 'Morgans' that live in the Bristol Channel, that allegedly come to the shore at the foot of a hidden waterfall on the North Coast. We set out to track down this waterfall, only accessible at low tide, from an Ordnance Survey map, and recorded the rush of water falling onto the rocks, which then formed part of the song's soundscape. Using found sound seemed to pay tribute to the people and places in the songs, and made the process feel like a sort of collaboration between myself and the wild.

What are your upcoming plans? Tour dates you'd like to tell us about... oh, and when will you be coming to play in Berlin?

I'm just about to set off on a big UK tour! It starts on the 4th October in the Lake District, then I'm off all over the country for 23 gigs in all. The two biggies though are my album launch shows in Bristol (10th November) and London Kings Cross (13th) – these will be really special evenings where I'll be playing with a full band with lots of treats and surprises... Unfortunately no European gigs yet, but I'd love to come and play in Berlin one day!

The Namer of Clouds by Kitty Macfarlane is released on 21 September 2018 by Navigator Records.

Five Questions for... Mitch Karunaratne

Image: Mitch Karunaratne

Image: Mitch Karunaratne

For our series of interviews with contributors and friends of Elsewhere, we caught up with documentary landscape photographer Mitch Karunaratne. Mitch's wonderful photo essay 'The Land of Maybe' from the Faroe Islands appeared in Elsewhere No.05, the most recent edition of the journal and available via our online shop here.

What does home mean to you?

Home grounds me, keeps me energised and focused. It’s my memory box.

Where is your favourite place?

I’ve always been drawn to water. I was born on a small island in the Thames Estuary and the connection to water flows through my soul. Whether it’s the canal running through the Olympic Park or the view of Tilbury Dock from the roof of Thurrock Nature Park – all my favourite places are in liquid form!

What is beyond your front door?

Ted. He’s lived on the street for over 60 years, moved in as a newlywed, raised his family and now looks after the street. Rising at 5am, he delivers the papers, takes in everyone’s parcels and packages, feeds the cats and looks out for us all.

What place would you most like to visit?

At the moment, I’m feeling the drawn of lands close to home. I’d love to look down from the peaks of Snowdon or Ben Nevis – but would definitely struggle going up!

What are you reading right now?

The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy - This book crept up on me really slowly. McCarthy writes well about the personal and the political - in ways that leave room for the reader to insert themselves. But as it developed I became more and more quietly drawn into understanding that I too, like the author, and I'm sure most human beings, had some very memorable moments orchestrated by nature and wonder, it felt good to give those moments a vocabulary.

Mitch is a founding member of the Map6 Collective, exploring the relationship between people and place.

Five Questions for... Alice Maddicott

IMAGE: Alice Maddicott

IMAGE: Alice Maddicott

We return to our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal. Today we have five questions for Alice Maddicott, whose essay 'Farewell, for you are changing' about Tbilisi in Georgia appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find out more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

Home for me will always be Somerset, though I think we have many potential homes - cities and countries that just click with us, where such strong memories are formed that they become part of our construction of identity and place in the world. Home is also imagination for me - imaginary versions of real places - strong dreams cities that are recognisable yet so different... Challenging yet comforting.

Where is your favourite place?

I have a couple - one is definitely the depths of the woods on the Wiltshire Somerset border where I live - I can walk for miles without leaving the trees and you never see a soul. There's nowhere like it atmosphere wise... The other is the old side streets of Tbilisi I write about in my piece - the crumbling glazed carved wooden balconies - the whole city feels like family to me.

What is beyond your front door?

A moated castle! Village shop and square, a feral hen... Then forests, then high downs, towns scattered around. But I have always wished it could change like in Mr Benn - through the door to another land. Whimsy perhaps, but I think it's good to hold on to these ways of thinking about place.

What place would you most like to visit?

I've always had a fixation with Mongolia, but have never been. The fjordlands of New Zealand too, really appeal. In general I'm a far South or North person rather than tropical - the wilds of Norway... Lakes of Finland... Kizhi Island... Forests, mountains and water, or cold desert...

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

The poetry of Chika Sagawa - amazing Japanese modernist for the first half of the 20th century. Re reading Ann Bridge too - I love how her novels read like travel writing, based on the places she got to know as a diplomat's wife. Music wise I'm back to my long term love of Dirty Three's "Whatever you love you are" album. I also collect old found photos and recently been getting fascinated by really old portraits of people with their pets - strangely moving...

Visit Alice’s website here

Five Questions for... Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

IMAGE: Brendan Walsh

For the next of our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal we have five questions for Brendan Walsh, whose poem 'Playing War’ appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

I've realized that home, for me, can only be determined in retrospect. Home is a memory. I can look back at times/places and say, "yes, that felt like home," but in the moment I'm not sure it can be pinned down succinctly. Oftentimes we equate "home" with "comfort," but why can't comfort exist without home? The more comfortable one becomes in the absence of a defined location, the greater comfort one can find in every single place.

Two years ago I would have said that home is wherever I am with people who accept/love me, but it isn't that easy. I have been with wonderful people in places that were definitely not my home. Before I had the ability to travel freely, this question was much simpler to answer.

Where is your favourite place?

My favorite place is Laos. I lived in Vientiane for one year, and I'm currently back visiting for a month. I won't say that there is one place within Laos that I prefer--I am simply enamored with the feeling of being here. In my life I've never encountered a collective society that is more welcoming, humble, kind-hearted, relaxed, and hilarious. The landscape is calm and brutal in the same blink. Mornings are hazy, slow, and warm.

What is beyond your front door?

Palm trees, geckos, coffee, mangoes fallen to the sidewalk, beaches, hopefully sun.

What place would you most like to visit?

Right now it's a tie between Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.

What are you reading/listening to/looking at right now?

I'm reading Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer, Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coatesand Become What You Are by Alan Watts, listening to thousands of motorbikes tear through Vientiane's Lane Xang Avenue, and looking at three women congregated around a cart weighed down with coconuts. 

Five Questions for... Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

Image: Louise Slocombe

We return to our semi-regular series of short interviews with contributors to Elsewhere and other friends of the journal. Today we have five questions for Louise Slocombe, whose essay 'Quarantine' on the Point Nepean quarantine station in Melbourne, appeared in Elsewhere No.05. You can find our more about Elsewhere No.05 and order your copy here.

What does home mean to you?

That’s always a difficult question for an immigrant. I love living in New Zealand and it was very easy to settle when I moved here from Britain ten years ago, but I find that the feeling of having uprooted myself has grown stronger over the years. So home has to be more than one place for me – it is both where I live now, but also the places and people that I reconnect with when I visit Britain.

What is your favourite place?

Wellington in New Zealand, where I live, has an ideal balance (for me anyway) between being big enough to have a happening cultural life but small enough to escape from without having to get into a car. At the same time, it is in a completely ridiculous location for a city – on a major faultline, built over rugged hills and steep valleys, and subject to crazy winds. It’s the sort of place you only live in because you want to, but these things all give it a vibe that I really like, not to mention the great views from every hilltop.  

What is beyond your front door?

Lots of native birds – I live on the edge of the city, close to a wildlife sanctuary that has been amazingly successful in bringing native birds back to the city. Watching them gives me a huge amount of pleasure. If I venture further afield I can get down to the city and the harbour, or I can head off into the bush and wander for as long as I feel like wandering.

What place would you most like to visit?

I would really love to visit the subantarctic islands, which have amazing flora and fauna, and I also like the idea of how remote and wild they are. Needless to say, they are not easy or cheap to get to, but that all adds to the attraction.

What are you reading right now?

At the moment, I’m reading about the psychology of memory. There is some really beautiful writing about memory – it seems to be a subject that invites the use of metaphors.