By Jacqueline Grima
Manchester Writing School welcomed author and journalist Rob Cowen to talk about his new book Common Ground. The event also celebrated the launch of Manchester Metropolitan University’s (Manchester Met) new MA in Place Writing.
Manchester Met Senior Lecturer in English Dr David Cooper, who hosted the event, spoke to Humanity Hallows about his reasons for focusing on Place Writing. David said, “Firstly, we want to celebrate the three-day creative and critical Place Writing short course that is currently being delivered at the Manchester Writing School. The course brings together lecturers in English literature, creative writing and human geography to encourage students to think about ‘place’ in their own writing.”
He added, “Also, we are here to celebrate the launch of the new Manchester Met MA in Place Writing which will run for the first time in September 2016.”
The event was opened by Reader and Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School Jean Sprackland, who talked about the new MA. She said, “This is the first time we have had a route which is prose non-fiction. It is a leap into the unknown for us.”
Next, David introduced guest speaker Rob Cowen, saying, “Rob really thinks about the relationship between writing and place in exploratory and experimental ways.”
Rob began by reading a passage from his book Common Ground, which told how the gift of an Ordinance Survey map led him to begin exploring his environment. After moving from London to Harrogate ahead of his wife, who was still working in the capital, Rob’s sense of displacement drew him to what he called the ‘edge-lands’ of his town, overgrown areas of disused and neglected land with which he immediately identified. He said, “That land spoke to me in a way because it too was caught between states and I felt an immediate alignment with it. It was somewhere I could go, the nearest place I could flee to.”
It was when he was unexpectedly made redundant during the recession, however, that Rob was most impacted by his relationship with the outdoors, his time studying nature giving him a new perspective on life. Reading from his book again, he told the audience about his experience of seeing a fox on the day he lost his job, the fox’s movements leading him to explore the edge-lands more deeply. He said, “The more I followed this fox, the more I was going beyond the human layers of the place.” As well, as the fox, he has also since come into contact with a host of other wildlife such as tawny owls and even a roe deer.
Rob then went on to talk about how, due to the consumerist lifestyle that we live, many of us have become oblivious to our natural surroundings. He said, “We forget the oddness, the otherness, the riches that lie all around us. When we do spend time outdoors, we march through it.”
He finished with another reading from his book, which told of the difficult birth of his son Thomas. After the birth, Rob headed straight for the edge-lands to reflect upon and attempt to make sense of his feelings about becoming a father for the first time. He said, “Having a baby understandably adds an animal fear to your life.”
Common Ground is published by Windmill Books and is available from Amazon and other retailers.
For more information about the Manchester Met MA in Place Writing, the new MFA in Creative Writing and the variety of short courses offered, visit the Manchester Writing School website.