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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Writing to Ronald Blythe

Whaddya mean you’ve never heard of Ronald Blythe? Actually, I’m not surprised. He’s a writer, but no-one’s ever taken a film option on one of his books. He’s never been, to the best of my knowledge, on The Times bestseller’s list and has never appeared on Loose Women or sat (thank goodness) on Richard & Judy’s couch. He is to most people relatively invisible. You’re unlikely to see him on Twitter and you’d be disappointed if you searched for him on MyFace. In fact, despite being the author of many fine books and an intellectual heavyweight you can find his regular ‘blog’ updates in the pages of his parish magazine for which he still faithfully writes a piece each month.

He is well into his eighties now and has for the last forty or so years been writing breathtaking books about ordinary people, their history and their landscape. His most recognisable work is Akenfield but my familiarity with his work came about largely by accident. My exasperated A-level English tutor (an inspired and saintly man rejoicing in the name of A.R. Wooll) sent me and my facetious questions about Hardy’s Wessex to a section of the school library labelled - curiously, mysteriously and patronisingly - ‘Pastoral’. And it was there, amongst Adrian Bell’s Men and the Fields, Ewart Evans’ Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay and John Stewart Collis’ The Worm Forgives the Plough, that I found Akenfield.

And so I found myself in my local library at a loose end and I asked myself if it would be slightly weird if I were to write to Ronald Blythe to tell him how much I admired him and his work. Now if I’d asked that question out loud to my wife she would have immediately told me that I was, in all but criminal record, a stalker and that I should desist. But seeing as she wasn’t there, then my rational senses told me that there was nothing wrong with this plan at all. So I leafed through Who’s Who and found Dr Blythe’s address. I won’t bore you with what I said but I thanked him, told him why his work was so meaningful to me and that I’ve begun to try my hand at writing.

And he wrote back. He told me that to understand the living world around us is to understand who we are with a “…deeply personal precision.”

“I live in an ancient farmhouse…and not a day goes by without some fresh revelation of people, climate or plants. It is inexhaustible. Landscape is amazing, with its multitude of statements and variations.”

So here’s to you, Ronald Blythe! A true statesmen of the best in nature writing and social history. I’m glad I wrote and glad you wrote back. I’m glad no-one told me that it was a daft thing to do because he also said that “writers have little or no idea where their words go” and I feel better that he knows, at least from one person.