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If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie

Article by writingie © 10 March 2016 Sharon Blackie .
Posted in the Magazine ( · Memoir · Non-Fiction ).

If Women Rose Rooted wasn’t the book I intended to write. In fact, I never intended to write another book at all. My first novel, The Long Delirious Burning Blue, had been well received back in 2008, but after that I couldn’t seem to find the time to be inspired. I was too busy running EarthLines Magazine, the new publication my husband and I had created for writing about nature, place and the environment. And I was busy being a crofter, too, on the beautiful, remote far-west coast of the storm-bound Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Most days, it seemed that a field full of new black lambs, or a feisty Kerry milk cow, or a burgeoning polytunnel needed me more than I needed to write.

But then we decided to move away from our croft on Lewis, and come to Ireland. Much as I’ve always felt that Ireland was my home place – leaving Lewis was an enormous wrench. I had known every inch of that stormy headland where we lived. It had become impossible to stay there, but I couldn’t bear to leave.

That kind of intense emotional upheaval will fertilise a creative wasteland, for sure, and so I suggested to my husband (also a writer) that we should create a new blog to map our experience of migration. I particularly wanted to do this because I had become very preoccupied with the notion of belonging to place. Everyone around me seemed so impossibly alienated – from the places they lived, from the natural world, from their communities – and yet I had so easily, in the alien and extreme world of the Outer Hebrides, created that sense of belonging in myself, and a deep feeling of rootedness in place. Could I do it again, in the hills of Donegal? And could I show other people how?

And so ‘Riverwitch’ was born, the blog title coming from the name I gave to the river which runs at the bottom of our garden in the foothills of the Seven Sisters mountains. We wrote about the places we were leaving in Lewis, and we wrote about the process of finding new place-anchors here in Donegal. One Sunday afternoon, I wrote a short piece about Mealista Beach, a memorable sweep of sand where we had been that morning, saying our goodbyes. I put a link to the post on Twitter, and the lovely folk at the nature writing website ‘Caught By the River’ re-tweeted. Half an hour later I received an email from Kirsty McLachlan, an agent at DGA in London. She had been reading Riverwitch. Had I ever, she asked, thought of writing a book about place and belonging?

sharon blackieI hadn’t, but then of course I did. Sometimes, all it takes to make the final break through that creative block is someone taking an interest in what you have to say. So I worked up a proposal for a book entitled The Place of Belonging. The narrative backbone of the book would be my own wanderings: the various attempts I had made to settle in a place, from Ireland to America to Scotland and back full circle again to Ireland; and then there would be interviews with others, each of whom had something very different to say about the process of learning to belong to place.

The responses from publishers were all very positive – but no-one took it on. And then Kirsty sent the book to September Publishing, which had just been launched by Hannah MacDonald, the former head of the Collins list at Harper-Collins. Hannah liked the idea for the book, but thought it wasn’t quite there yet. So we arranged a phone call, and talked about the kind of book on place and belonging that Hannah thought might work. It would become much more international, much more multi-cultural – and I could see the beauty of it, but it wasn’t the kind of book I wanted to write.

I began to explain to Hannah that my real passion was for our native places, here in the British Isles and Ireland. That I was only interested in writing about these wild Celtic fringes that I’d inhabited or longed for all my life. I told her about my work with mythology and place, and the ways that stories could teach us. And as Hannah joined in, talking about standing on the Atlantic coast of Portugal and thinking about the times she had stood on similar beaches in Wales or Scotland, musing about how those places seemed connected, somehow – the idea for If Women Rose Rooted took firm hold in my mind. I would write a completely different book: a book which brought together both of my passions: place, and story. A book about Celticity, to explore the ways in which our native mythologies show us in relationship with the land, belonging to our places, profoundly connected to the natural world. I would aim the book at women, because I strongly believe that in a world which is on the brink of environmental and social crisis, and which remains deeply patriarchal, women’s ways of being are more necessary than ever. Celtic mythology portrays women as guardians and protectors of the land. What if we could become that again?

I wrote If Women Rose Rooted in nine months, all 130,000 words of it. I wanted September to have the book, because Hannah had participated in its conception, and understood what I was trying to achieve. In a nonfiction book which is so intensely personal, that matters. It is a strange creature, not easily categorised: part memoir, part travelogue, part mythology. Who knows what the world will make of it. But I do know this: the best books we will ever write are those which spring from our passions: from the ideas – or people, or places – we can’t let go of. From the stories we need to tell – the ones which will not, in the end, be refused.

(c) Sharon Blackie

About If Women Rose Rooted

Aged 30, Sharon Blackie found herself weeping in the car park of the multinational corporation where she worked, wondering if this was what a nervous breakdown felt like. With a PhD in Psychology, she ought to have known. Somewhere along the line, she realised, she had lost herself. And so began a long, winding journey back to authenticity, rootedness in place, and belonging. In this extraordinary book of myth, memoir and modern-day mentors, Blackie faces the wasteland of Western culture, the repression of women, and the devastation of our planet. She boldly names the challenge: to reimagine women’s place in the world, and to rise up, firmly rooted in our own native landscapes and the powerful stories and wisdom which spring from them. If Women Rose Rooted offers a haunting heroine’s journey for every woman who finds power, inspiration and solace in the natural world. www.sharonblackie.net

‘If women remember that once upon a time we sang with the tongues of seals and flew with the wings of swans, that we forged our own paths through the dark forest while creating a community of its many inhabitants, then we will rise up rooted, like trees. And if we rise up rooted, like trees … well then, women might indeed save not only ourselves, but the world.’

If Women Rose Rooted is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!

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