What does it mean to be a Writer in the Forest?

The woodland walk up Butser Hill, Hampshire

The woodland walk up Butser Hill, Hampshire

A couple of months ago, I was awarded a brilliant new writing residency with Forestry England to celebrate their centenary celebrations, and I’m so excited! Today, I wanted to share a little more about what that means, what I’ll be doing, and how the residency will work.

The original brief for the residency was focused on the Forestry England centenary - 100 years of forestry, looking back through history but also forward to the future of our forests, our countryside and the planet as a whole. With this in mind, I pitched a long-form narrative poem (I’ll share more on this soon), which plays on the idea of nostalgia and our relationship with nature. I’ll be illustrating the poem with William-Morris-style panel paintings to capture the essence of our rural heritage, but the power of the piece will (hopefully) inspire its readers to realise that we are nature, and in protecting it we are protecting ourselves.

After I sent in my proposal form, I was invited to an interview in Bristol with five other shortlisted candidates (I found out that over 1,000 people applied, which is mad!), and after a lovely conversation with the panel, I heard back a few days later with the brilliant news that I was one of two centenary writers-in-residence. Thanks, guys!

Since finding out the news, I’ve been liaising with the Forestry England team about the rest of the year, putting together a collection of forests to explore and people to meet that will allow me to immerse myself in our nation’s forests and produce a selection of creative work. I’ve requested to be taken out of the south (because I never leave!), so I’m hoping to travel up through England and end up somewhere I’ve never been. As soon as my route is confirmed I will share the details here on this blog, which I’ve started as a way to document the project and share any interesting snippets with you.

As well as the places and people I’ll meet directly through Forestry England, I’ll be finding my own inspiration in the usual woodlands I walk and ride in every day. One of my favourite places to wander is the Ashford Hangers nature reserve outside Petersfield, and where I live on the Hampshire/Sussex border is bursting with incredible woodland.

I’m hoping to do most of my research in late spring and early summer, as I’m getting married in August and I’ll probably have enough to worry about… I’ll be updating this blog with field notes, illustrations, literary inspiration and any other thoughts that pop into my head during the project, so if you’d like to keep up to date, you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter here.

I’m so lucky to have been given this opportunity to delve into our nation’s woodlands and share their stories with the wider world. Forests are my favourite habitat to explore, and I know I’m going to discover so many amazing places, species, people and ideas. Thank you for keeping updated with my work (it means so much!) and I can’t wait to share more with you soon. In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying that first lime-green splash of spring! I heard both my first cuckoo and swift this week - a sign of great things to come.