Back in April, Number Seven Dulverton launched a creative writing competition called ‘The Swallows Return’. It was lovely to learn last week that the two winners are both well known to us – Michelle Werrett, who writes features for the magazine about landscapes and the environment, and Fiona Johnson, who runs the West Somerset Garden.
The competition was a creative partnership between Christopher and Davina Jelley who run Number Seven and the renowned, award-winning artist and author Jackie Morris for whom Number Seven is her principal UK outlet. The prizes were two beautiful drawings of swallows painted by Jackie.
Entrants were asked to write around a question inspired by The House Without Windows. This lyrical book, which was originally published in 1927, was written by Barbara Newhall Follett at the tender age of 12 and was republished in 2019, with illustrations by Jackie. It is an extraordinary paean to the transcendent beauty of the natural world, and the human capacity to connect with it. What better publication to inspire a creative writing competition launched near the beginning of lockdown – a time when we were all getting as much nature into our veins as possible and, perhaps more acutely than ever, anticipating summer and all that it brings, including the return of swallows – hence the title of the competition.
The question posed was:
And who hasn’t, at some point in their lives,
wished to walk away,
from all the familiar?
Would you walk
to the meadow,
to seek a quiet sanctuary, a new beginning?
Davina and Chris were blown away by the responses and the shortlist was judged blind by Jackie. Davina writes: “Thank you to everyone who entered. We received over 50 submissions, many by post, even ‘by hand’ through our letterbox and others pinged in from across Europe, Canada and Australia. It was a delight to read your words and ‘escape’ with each of you in turn.
“Christopher and I read them aloud to one another, each one at least twice and then selected a dozen that shone out to forward on to Jackie. It was not an easy task, as each entry was naturally so individual. When we initially planned the competition, we had no idea that not just the UK but practically the entire world was adapting to the restrictions imposed by ‘lockdown’ and the pandemic – everyone was dreaming about where they longed to be or learning to wander within the confines of their home.
“We requested submissions by post and encouraged participants to step away from their computers, retreating with pen, paper and paint. Those who were unable to visit their local post office sent words by e-mail but they were typed with consideration, fonts were experimented with and photographs were attached.
“I met Jackie virtually – me from my sofa at home and she at her studio desk in Pembrokeshire. We were able to share our thoughts, drink tea and select who to send the inked swallows to. You may watch and listen here…
Number Seven Dulverton: The Swallows Return with Jackie Morris
So, two swallows have now landed in their new homes… with Fiona Johnson and Michelle Werrett. I hope that you enjoy reading their words and the landscape they visualise. Is it a familiar path? Where would you choose to walk?
I stare at the frozen earth, stark, depthless, hardened clods, seemingly lifeless
I survey the ground, softened, crumbling and toss the seed, dry tiny pieces of life. They teeter on the particles and then tumble into the abyss. Many tears follow their course and anchor them.
I observe small promises, hints, shoots and slender buds. Tentative hopes emerging, trembling but these to nurture.
I see a riot, a chaos of colour life is skittering around my feet, dancing before my eyes and I plunge right in. It’s good, next year will better.
My meadow, My Restoration.
I would walk where the woods are wild, where the wind in the tops whispers wishes to me. I should not follow the tracks of man but wander where other hearts roam free. I would cross the bank by the badger-worn run, skip over the stream where otters slide, follow the slots of the stag trodden path – the paw-padded, hoof-cut ways; far from the human world, away from work and worry, to the company of trees.
Where primroses light the gloom and birdsong promises of better days to come, echoing canopy holds woodnotes like precious treasure cupped in twiggy hands; a brightening of robin, elegance of blackbird, rapture of warblers and soft soothing pigeon. Finding peace in the sun-lanced green shade where I might linger the afternoon, threading the wildwood ways, to sit on moss cushioned log, lie in crunchy drifts or bounce on a branch in the breeze, here to pluck words from the wordless wild – they might be words like these.
Both winners were rather thrilled when they discovered they had been chosen.
Fiona said: “Thank you so much, I am so overwhelmed and excited that I danced a jig whilst uttering Cor! Having never entered a writing competition I am really surprised.” And Michelle celebrated by going outside to enjoy nature: “Oh, thank you, thank you, so much!!! How truly wonderful! Off for a celebratory walk!”
Davina concludes: “Thank you to Christopher Jelley for persevering and pushing the boundaries of our tech capabilities! And, of course, to Jackie Morris for her time and generosity. Xx”
Number Seven is currently open three days a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday and we wish them lots of luck over the summer!
Copyright of the winning submissions remains with the respective author, please do not print or share without prior permission and quote source, Number Seven Dulverton.