Our current NCW Book Club is Our Place by Mark Cocker. We hope you’ll join us in reading the book and joining the conversation – find out more about all the ways that you can get involved.
Mark Cocker is one of Britain’s most celebrated authors and naturalists, and Our Place sees him get up close to a range of different British landscapes and wildlife habitats, from biodiverse bogs to conifer plantations, the flat expanse of north Norfolk coast to the peaks of Derbyshire.
Here, Meg Rumbelow-Hemsley, poet and NCW Development Manager, shares an exercise inspired by Mark Cocker’s approach to writing about nature and place. Meg invites you to use all your senses in getting up close and personal with nature. Close observation and trying out unusual points of view, taste and smell are sure to inspire some new writing. Let us know how you get on over on our Discord community. Happy writing!
Use all your senses
Your senses are your best friend when writing about nature. Whether you live in the city or out in the countryside nature is there and waiting to be explored. A great way to give depth to your nature writing or to help set the scene in your fiction is to use all your senses. To make sure you are engaging your senses when out in nature you need to practice active looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting even!
Grab your notebook and go for a short walk or wander around your garden. If you are unable to venture outside, then go sit by the window. Find a spot – maybe a small metre by metre patch of grass, a chunk of hedge, weeds growing through some pathing slabs or through cracks in a wall, spiders web in the corner of your window. Stop, take out your notebook and start engaging your senses.
Take the time to really look closely and when you think you are looking closely – look closer and closer again, zoom right in and spend time looking at a single object on your patch – make notes of what you see, what does it look like? What do you see in the cracks of the bark on the tree or in the curled palm of a brown leaf?
Touch, pick things up to help you look closer and feel the treasures in your patch, feel the crisp cold air in your lungs or the winter sun warming your face – take note.
Focus on the smells in the air, this cold time of year the smells might be more subtle – crush fresh grass or scratch the top layer off some bark of an apple tree and take note.
Listen: the robin will still be dominating our gardens in the UK this time of year, but try pressing your ear up against a tree trunk, or if you feel like it kneel down and press your ear to the earth – and take note of what nature is whispering (or maybe it is yelling?).
Taste the rain or collect nettle tips (away from where dogs or car fumes may leave their mark, and wear gloves!) and make nettle tea. Taste it, take note.
Through our senses, we can connect with the nature around us in a more detailed microscopic way to help us paint a detailed picture to our readers giving a strong sense of place.
Meg also suggests other ways to practice the close observation of nature that powers Mark Cocker’s writing. ‘There are tons of resources online through RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and more on ways to engage with nature. These are great routes into learning more and to help get us writing. Why not sign up to this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which is this week? It is a wonderful way to learn about our garden birds and use a springboard to write about these precious visitors who grace us with their presence – they are partial to some sunflower seeds and dried mealworms!’