“The first bird surprised me while I was resting my eyes – a jackdaw level with my driver’s seat window. Just inches from me, and held fast in the strong wind of that day as I have never seen a bird before or since. Engraved in memory: black leather legs, rictal bristles on the beak, an aluminium eye, and every wing-feather filigreed by the Beacon’s white light so I could feel the hooks and barbules holding each one together, a chain mail.”
An essay about the origins of a single wordless book of rooks, and the first year of its decade-long journey to reach 100 collaborators. Inviting responses on ‘grief or hope as the things with feathers’, Birds of Firle is an experiment in slow art and communal/cumulative creativity, initiated by Tanya Shadrick, founder of The Selkie Press.
Three Views of a Chalkstone by Tanya Shadrick, Jo Sweeting & Louisa Thomsen Brits (Little Toller/The Clearing, January 2020)
A found erratic boulder on a high point of the Sussex Downs becomes a touchstone for three women. Chance and skill and intent triangulate to form art: they decide to make something of this – to choose words for place from the Sussex dialect and return here to carve them. An essay in three parts & three voices for Little Toller’s online journal which publishes the best in new short- and long-form place and nature writing.
Story spinner number 17 for this monthly initiative from Wild Women Press, following on from artist Jackie Morris who contributed the December thread.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard (Oh Comely Issue 49, June 2019)
The midsummer issue celebrates women who harness the elements. Review of Annie Dillard’s 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
“Unlike most narratives of the writer in the world, none of this is about Dillard’s personal journey. Her vision is bigger, more demanding: of her – and us.”
Flaneuse: Women Who Walk the City by Lauren Elkin (Oh Comely, December 2018)
The midwinter issue of Oh Comely celebrates getting lost, being found, hiding, seeking, and discovering surprising things about life/self in solitude. An essay for the Tales of the Unexpected section about an epiphany, and a review of Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse.
“I took myself for a candlelit dinner on London’s South Bank this year on becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts – an award earned by writing a mile in public. The only diner, I was enjoying my strange position between a packed bar and the crowds below. I couldn’t do that, my waitress said, offering to move me further in. Eat alone. I never go anywhere by myself. None of my friends do either. I wish I’d had Elkin’s emboldening book to hand on.”
‘Courting’ (Finalist in Brighton Prize, November 2018)
The annual Brighton Prize is open to international entries and exists to find inventive new writing. With its roots in Rattle Tales, a performance group, there is an emphasis on stories that work as well on the stage as the page. Runner-up for Flash Fiction.
“He says something about first kissing his wife, two decades ago, the gulf of it – the distance between two people who haven’t touched yet but will – so she (not his wife, but the woman with him) wonders if this is it finally. She is to be tested, and found wanting.”
The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) is a worldwide collective of swimmers that share the joy, adventure and experience of swimming under an open sky. Essay on the extraordinary story behind the creation of the late Lynne Roper’s Wild Woman Swimming, ahead of its launch at Dartington on the eve of the annual OSS Dart10k – an event which brings 1600 swimmers to Totnes, which Lynne supported for years.
Books That Bring Change: The Diary of Anais Nin (Oh Comely, Issue 42, April 2018)
“Then I found Nin. As ill-fit to her time and place as I felt in mine, and small as I was large; foreign-sounding. Married young to a banker who provided love and money but who could not hope to meet her huge appetite for sex, secrecy, writing, role play. I began to keep notebooks after her example. Expanded my life, albeit in secret still.”
One of ten nature writers invited to write for The Guardian’s Christmas walks feature. A circular walk of the Bloomsbury Group’s Sussex landscape, setting out from and returning to Firle village.
The Unexpected Fisher/#LetsFish (Film for Canal and River Trust/Smoke Creatives, July 2017)
Narrator and subject of this short film by the Canal and River Trust to support their new Let’s Fish initiative. The piece pays tribute to the men & women in all our communities who give their time freely to help others learn this skill.
‘A Lost Sheep’ (Oh Comely Magazine, June 2017)
For the Touch issue, a fairytale of desire and disgust set in the deep Devon countryside.
The Slow Time of Accidents (Spread the Word Life Writing Prize, May 2017)
Received a special mention in the inaugural year of this prize, established to celebrate and develop life writing in the UK, for a long-form account of the time between a sudden near-death and days after return from coma.
Putting Down Roots (Rake’s Progress, Volume #4, April 2017)
Rake’s Progress offers a contemporary look at the world outside – gardens, plants, flowers, people. Tanya wrote for Volume 4 on the idea of belonging through effort. The essay is accompanied by an original drawing – ‘Wounded Chestnut’ – by the sculptor David Nash.
The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) is a worldwide collective of swimmers that share the joy, adventure and experience of swimming under an open sky. Tany was invited to write about the first year of Wild Patience: a long-distance writing endeavour and the depths it sounded in the lives of others.
“What a moving, subtle, lucid essay this was to read” Robert Macfarlane
A short story on the power of beautiful routine for The Simple Things magazine.
“This lovely story spoke so well of my own family…I was brought up in a household that always repaired things…This is a keep forever story.”
“Comforting deep wisdom from this inspiring woman.”
“‘To fall in love with what happens, afterwards.’ This is a great piece of writing.”
Laps of Longhand (Oh Comely, Issue 32, Aug 2016)
This 6-page feature looks at the deep Eastern influences at work in Tanya’s Wild Patience mile of longhand (with images by project photographer Steve Creffield). The closing line of the essay was used on the spine: Here is a pen, I say, and paper. Use them. Write me how it feels.
‘The Weather House’ (Unpsychologies, Issue 3, June 2016)
The Weather House, and accompanying illustration, appeared in the June 2016 Childhood issue of Unpsychology Magazine.
Unpsychology Magazine is a journal dedicated to wild mind, neurodiversity, stewardship and soul-making.
True Tales from the Old Hill (Frogmore Press, Dec 2015)
A collection of ‘exceptional new life-writing…which reveals the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives, in our family histories, in our minds and bodies, in our souls. In other words, stories that sound like fiction.’ This account of a birth, death and near-death – The End Is No End – was the opening tale.
Response to an act of vandalism: A tale of stewardship.
The French psychogeographer Annie Ernaux writes that “It is other people – anonymous figures glimpsed… – who…reveal our true selves through the interest, the anger or the shame they send rippling through us”. On that principle, Tanya made a selection of recurrent themes overheard in talk during three years she spent out of work and out of doors in daytime.
A photo-essay for this ‘Mappening’ organised by Adam Whitehall from the University of Sussex – a timed drift, in the psychogeographic manner, around Lewes on a morning in April 2015. Participants set off from a single start point and moved alone through town, making note of sights, sounds and sensations along the way.