The wordsmiths who bring distant landscapes to life
Published 22/06/2016 | 02:30
While reading Paul Theroux's latest book Deep South which relates his experiences during four seasons spent wandering through the Southern States of America, I realised that I drive almost every day, along lovely country roads but frequently fail to notice the finer aspects of the landscape.
The best writers and especially those who are famed for their travel literature, have a unique ability to see things that the rest of us miss. They have the talent to describe them in great detail and all the while keep us gripped with fascinating stories about their journey and the people they encounter on the way.
This prompted me to try for myself to note and retain in my mind everything I could see while driving.
By doing this, I discovered that the countryside suddenly came to life and I clearly saw things I had not previously even noticed. Try it some time and see how your journey changes and how you begin to appreciate small details that otherwise are lost to your senses.
Imagine you are writing an article for publication and suddenly you find you are taking stock of perhaps a honeysuckle climbing up a hawthorn bough or a gap in a hedge filled with a rotting pallet, magpies pecking at some item of roadkill or maybe each one of the multitude of wild flowers, birds and insects that live among our hedgerows.
While again flicking through the pages of Theroux's book, I came on this sentence he wrote while he explored the Mississippi Delta. It is just one of many that bring the area sharply in to focus for the reader "I could sense the river from beyond the trees by the clouds of insects over the nearer bayous and swampier distances and the quality of light, which was milkier and bluer, filtered through the stands of hardwoods and willows."
Immediately I can see in my mind's eye exactly what he is describing. Rather than simply stating, as most of us would that he could "see a cloud of insects" he turns it in to something that is intensely visual and almost poetic.
Deep South is Paul Theroux's 10th travel book and unlike his earlier journeys to distant places, this time he writes on one of the most neglected parts of his homeland of America.