Recently I had the pleasure of meeting artist and weaver Imogen Di Sapia in her Brighton studio. It was a lovely meeting that came about because Imogen bought some of my work and I was delivering it. In my current book Salt Lick, as food production has moved overseas, the rural economy collapses and the countryside is empty and wild. Handfuls of people leave the cities to rediscover and recreate sustainable farming. The central character Isolde is learning to make rope. I had written about a board where she hangs her experiments, scraps of twine with notes about the materials, and there, on Imogen’s studio wall, was just such a board.
People have often said when they read my first book, Twice the Speed of Dark, that they could tell I am an artist. I don’t quite know if that is because the information was there already or because of a particular way I write. Things do get described, yes, to make a picture, but that is so with all books. I wonder if it is this layer of interest in the materiality of what is being described that gives it away.
In Salt Lick, I described Isolde’s growing interest in materials, specifically those that can be used to make rope and twine, as learning a language that is spoken by touch. The feel and familiarity of how a material will behave when we subject it to various processes is one that can only be learned with the hands.
I read a commentator talking about football some years ago. They were writing about the mathematical brilliance of a free kick, the precise combination of speed, angle and spin. It is a complex mastery of form that would be lost to the master if presented as words.
Whilst writing, I have tried making ropes and twines myself. There is something deeply satisfying in learning that you can twist durability into a material, you can spring-load it with strength. I’m no physicist, but it feels like a profound connection to laws that can be felt and understood in the hand in a way that words, for so many of us, could not convey.
Here is an excerpt from Salt Lick:
By the door is a bundle of straw. She takes a few stalks, rolls and twists them. They are too brittle for a slender cord but with practice she finds the touch and pull, bunching stems to make rope. It is uneven, ungainly, but it feels strong. The smell is earthy, the warmth of summer turning to autumn. The sweet freshness of grass preserved in the drying of the sun. Soon her hands ache from imprisoning the twists that will give the rope its strength.
She ties the ends with string scraps, knots it around her waist. Later she hangs the rope, curved like a blonde bow, on a board hung on the wall of the barn. It is the thickest and longest piece yet. She writes with a stub of pencil, makes notes about the workability, where she made it, that it smells nice. She has become absorbed by these experiments. It is a pleasure that is new to her, interacting with materials, noticing details inherent to each, when a leaf or piece of bark splits, how long the strands, how pliable with handling a fibre will become. She is finding a new language that is spoken by touch.
With luck, Salt Lick will be published some time next year. You can find a paperback of my first book, Twice the Speed of Dark HERE. The ebook is available on Amazon. If you would like to be kept up to date you can sign up for my occasional news letter here.