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The Burning Ground
Indigo Dreams Publishing
198 x 129 mm
£8.95 plus P&P
ORDER HERE for dispatch by IDP
Roselle Angwin is a Cornish author, poet, painter and environmentalist whose work has won a number of awards.
Under the Fire in the Head banner she leads an international holistic creative writing programme ranging from the ecobardic ‘Ground of Being’ outdoor workshops, through intensive poetry, to novel-writing based on the psychology of myth.
Roselle’s first novel, Imago, was also published by IDP, followed by a new poetry collection, All the Missing Names of Love. A prose poem collection, Bardo, also appeared in 2012 from Shearsman books. Roselle’s long Dartmoor poem, River Suite, originally published in 1998, appeared in a limited edition in spring 2013, accompanied by stunning water photography from Vikky Minette.
As a poet, she frequently collaborates with artists, musicians, dancers and sculptors, often on the land. Her poetry has been displayed on buses and cathedral websites, has appeared in numerous anthologies, been etched into glass, hung from trees, printed on T-shirts, carved into stone, metal and wood, painted, sung, composed to, choreographed, danced, performed — and eaten by sheep.
THE BURNING GROUND
Take two brothers. One secret.
One woman, two lovers.
Add in two deaths, and the trauma of foot and mouth on a small Dartmoor hill farm.
Under such pressure other older secrets emerge, with devastating consequences.
I was living in the west Dartmoor area when foot and mouth struck again in 2001.
The Westcountry was badly hit, and I witnessed more of it than I would have wished to.
Some of my friends were affected – as of course were their animals, sometimes fatally. I shan’t ever forget seeing the fields of Devon hosting white-coated figures, and gradually emptying of cattle and sheep to the accompaniment of smoke from the cull pyres on the horizons.
Two farming people gave me quite a lot of time with updates and explanations: John H and Peter C, you know who you are. Thank you.
Any mistakes are, of course, entirely my own, and apart from the details of the general unfolding of the crisis (for instance the injunctions on cattle and sheep movements, and the real incident of Phoenix the calf surviving, and filmed apparently walking out of the ashes) the characters and situations in this book are imaginary and fictitious.
EXTRACT FROM THE BURNING GROUND
My desk overlooks the home meadow, then the orchard, and the boulder-strewn shoulders of Wolf Tor. Some days you could imagine stepping off the craggy peak of the tor and climbing into a vast blue silence, flipping and rolling with the jackdaws and buzzards.
Today, though, is more typical – the breeze is picking up. Cloud shadows scud across the hills. Below me bantams scratch and peck in the yard; beyond them jeans and shirts start to dance on the line strung between apple trees. People coming new to the place see it as cosy, with the poultry and orchard. Idyllic, even.
I’ve been staring out of the window for twenty or thirty minutes, I guess: time to write. I put down the little sea-pebble I’ve been rolling in my palm, and put my fingers to the computer keyboard once again.
I’m nearly forty. I’m living a life that bears no resemblance, barely even a passing one, to the life I thought I was going to live fifteen years ago, except in the fact that I still write, and that I still live – or rather, live again – in the only place where I have always wanted to live, on Dartmoor: those 365 square miles of relative wilderness: granite tors, galloping amber peaty rivers, hawks, bones, ponies, bog-cotton, the ghosts of Stone Age hunters, Bronze Age agriculturalists, mediaeval farmers, rabbitmen and tinners. I can’t imagine ever tiring of this place; its spaciousness, its skies, its changing faces under sun and cloud and storm and ice; the green and gold and lilac-blue of bracken, gorse, bluebell in spring; the vetches, milkworts, bilberries of summer; the amethyst tracts of heather; the bracken-rust, the black rocks and the waterfalls of winter cascading down the hillsides like tossed wild white hair...
Looking across all these years, I’m trying to picture what I would have been doing at the point where the boys’ – the men’s – lives would have been changed forever. That night. I didn’t know them then, though I had glimpsed Guy and had met Bob, their father, and, briefly, Trudy their mother.
15th February 1987. That’s the date on the newspaper clipping Trudy keeps tucked into the back of the old silver photo frame on the mantelpiece. Once, Guy told me, it had a photo of both boys, not yet in their teens, leaning against the tractor wheel; but by the time I got to know the family in any real sense Eliot’s name was no longer mentioned, and the frame contained a picture of Bob, Guy and Trudy at Guy’s graduation.
I guess that February I’d have been in my early twenties. Eliot too. If it were a weekday, I’d have been working. If a weekend probably Mark would have come down from Norwich, where he was reading for his PhD.
Where this bit of the story starts, I was working as a reporter on a provincial newspaper. Much of my work, increasingly, was features, and I was becoming aware of a consuming interest in investigative journalism.
I love mysteries and I love mosaics; and, unlike a historian, for example, my passion is not so much for fitting things together to make a logical picture but more to do with allowing disparate things (people, events, and the relationship between them) to cohere into wholeness. It’s a bit like being an archaeologist, or maybe a mythologian: trying to find a way of reading meaning into patterns laid down in the past.
So think of this story as a mosaic.
My first meeting with the Delaney family was the previous summer. I’d completed my degree course – English and Mediaeval Studies – which I followed with a short but intensive basic course at the London School of Journalism. (I’d always wanted to write, and thought this might be a way to start.) I’d then come back down to Devon while I took a year out before travelling. I say a year out – but actually it was a really demanding year: I was working as a junior hack, as I say, on a local paper, I was doing some weekends exercising Thoroughbreds in a training yard, and one evening a week I was driving to Exeter to study for my TEFL qualification so that I could teach English abroad.
That winter was hellish, down here anyway. Interminable rain – fairly normal for the Westcountry – punctuated by the kinds of storming blizzards that left many of the moorland villages, ours amongst them, snowbound and isolated for days at a time. I remember they were feeding the ponies and cattle out on the moor by helicopter drop; a lot of animals were lost.
The roads were bad. I had come off the tarmac on ice one February night near Haytor, driving back from trying, unsuccessfully, to get home after my evening class, though why I’d gone that way and not via Moretonhampstead I don’t now know; I guess I thought picking up an A road with a dual carriageway was a good idea. I know the moors well; have lived on them all my life, but I was scared, that night, in the dark and the snow. I stayed over at the pub, stumbling soaked and shivering the half mile with Bean, the old collie, and our joint night vision for company.
Same night? Can’t tell you, now; spooky thought.