Seven sensible steps to success as a writer
Step 4 (continued): Heraldic Beasts
The promptings of the cultural landscape can not only offer clues to the psychology of characters, but also provide the writer with external metaphors to help clarify their inner lives. They were certainly there with my Eddison research trip.
When Walter married in 1911 he leased the home farm on the Mottisfont Abbey estate in Hampshire. It was a good-sized property of some 400 acres, with a substantial brick farmhouse, outbuildings and local labour. It had become run down, but with the assistance of one of his Yorkshire uncles he was getting it back into reasonable shape.
It must sometimes have seemed to Water that he could approach that status of gentleman farmer, to which his father had aspired again and his uncles long enjoyed. Yet within two years he was making plans to come to Australia. Why?
Standing at the entrance of Home Farm one wet afternoon, I could immediately sense why. Directly opposite were the imposing gates of the great Abbey where lived the lord of the manor.
A gatehouse, iron railings, and four stone pillars – the central two of which were topped by a pair of carved heraldic beasts holding an escutcheon and a very clear, unwritten sign to Keep Out.
Of course Eddison wanted to take his family away! Every time he went out his front door he’d see the heraldic beasts staring down at him – and he’d know that, whatever he did, he’d always be the tenant.
There was no chance in England of getting the acres he desired. For they were owned already by the lords of the manor – as they had been for centuries.
Here in the landscape much was made clear that had been obscure to me in my Canberra study. The guardians of the gateposts weren’t mentioned in the books. I’d probably have missed them by relying on Google Earth. Only by tramping the soil myself and looking out on the landscape that my subjects also saw, could I really begin to enter their minds and absorb their understanding.
And the image of those heraldic beasts recurred time and again throughout the writing of For Love of Country. They carried many meanings.
Next: Step 5: The discipline of writing
Photos show the heraldic beasts on their gateposts at Mottisfont Abbey