How do you generate ideas for creative writing? How do you, after deciding upon the theme, develop a story?
My creative spark in Following the River is Neil Gunn’s book Highland River, but the way in which I will respond to it is only emerging to me slowly. What really stands out for me in the novel is the way the main character Kenn explores the landscape of Dunbeath Water, the landscape that frames and framed his childhood experiences. A walk along Dunbeath Water is certainly something I aspire to, but my walk will be very different from that of Kenn’s as I lack the intimate connection with that landscape. My experience of the strath will be that of a stranger.
I thus need another strategy to explore the idea of walking along a river - I need to find a river that I know well. The landscape around my home is infused by rivers. To the south, the river Dee carves its way east towards the North Sea. Contributing to this river are many burns, among which Culter Burn, an important spawning ground for salmon. The papermill that used to dominate life in Culter up to the 1970s has, however, dammed this burn a mile upstream. Last autumn, a fish ladder was installed just behind my house and the first salmon have explored their way up north along Leuchar Burn and their way up west along Gormack Burn. Interestingly, both of these burns find their source on the foothills of Hill of Fare.
To emulate Kenn’s experience of walking to the source of a river with which he is intimately acquainted, I have decided to walk Gormack Burn from its junction with the river Dee to its source on Hill of Fare. Though I have often encountered this burn on my many walks, I have actually never followed its course as such. By taking pictures and making sound recordings, and by writing poems, my experience of following the course of the river is intensified and my awareness of the river is lifted from something I take for granted to something I’m highly aware of.
Earlier this week I did my first walk along Gormack Burn. The poems this walk generated capture observations, atmospheres, thoughts. I expect the walk along the entire course of the burn to take around six days, and to generate a series of poems. Among these poems I hope to find the spark that will ignite the storyline for my script.
Copyright text, poem and image Petra Vergunst