I was in RTÉ yesterday evening recording the following piece for Arena. The idea came from an article I noticed in a newsletter from the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland.
Funny, where the old inspiration comes from.
Here’s a link to Arena if anyone fancies a listen or scroll down for a read…
There is an iron giant in the south of England. Girders for limbs, shoulders made of rotating sheave wheels, drawn beams and a hefty spinning fan at his gut. Thick chords loop from joints, pulled and pivoted by puppeteers in orange jumpsuits, smoke billowing about their feet. This brute was made to mark the tenth anniversary of world heritage status being given to the mining region of Cornwall and Devon, an obvious link being the helmet that sits on the giant’s head, metallic and curved, circular lamp at the front.
It’s fitting to have such an inventive piece of apparatus represent that mining community, an enterprise that altered the landscape of the world through pioneering techniques and the fueling of an industrial revolution. And on seeing an image of this giant I could easily imagine the metal beast prowling the nearby fields at night, feeding on barbed wire fences and old rusting tractors, just like the character in Ted Hughes’ book, The Iron Man.
Hughes was from a mining town himself. And inspiration from the scarred countryside of his youth is evident throughout the book. It’s certainly not uncommon for writers to use their environment as a tool to add depth or drama to a piece. Not only can it build emotion or atmosphere but it might also be a way for a writer to better understand their surrounds and their place within it. In the early part of Hughes’ story this iron figure is practically lost to the hard terrain. So perhaps something can be read in the fact that it is always the life in his eyes which stands him apart, the headlamps in a tall treetop, the two green lights at the top of the cliff, the changing colour as he sinks beneath the sea.
It may even be the footprint of a past experience that attracts writers to different aspects of their environment, or the sense of possibility that these surrounds carry. That could explain why some are drawn toward the old and some the modern, to the wild or the tame or the manicured. When a doomed building is being demolished in phases it is often possible to see beyond the usual façade, to the layout and décor and hints of the personality of previous occupiers. There are tales in these exposed rooms, just as there are stories beneath the rocks and among the trees, in the new and the dying and the dead. And underground too, where the brave miners burrow deep into the earth, their tunnels supported by wood and steel, that could so easily seem like the limbs of some strange mechanical beast, if happened upon in the dark of night, when nobody else is around.