By Richard Selby
How does a book fare on its journey from first idea to its final version? Well here’s the story behind a book: The Marsh. It is a volume of three of my poems illustrated by Nigel Davison in a private press edition, beautifully printed and produced.
The beginning was one afternoon, five years ago, I forget exactly what I was doing, it would be good to say I was writing but probably not. The phone rang. Ominous. Cold Caller? No!
It was a call from Nigel Davison who explained that he had bought a copy of my then current book The Fifth Quarter, Awen, 2008. He liked the book and went on to explain that he was an illustrator and designer who had illustrated and produced a book of song lyrics by a Kentish singer called Bob Kenward. Was I interested in collaborating on a book with him? Well yes, I certainly was. He would send me a copy of The Singing Line, which duly arrived. A beautifully produced volume with wonderfully evocative prints. The journey had started.
We began to exchange emails with ideas from me, some poems I was already working on and some new ones for a possible collection based on Kent’s Pilgrims’ Way and though these struck a chord it was three long poems based on historical events on Romney Marsh that became the centre of attention.
I already had a draft of one poem for consideration, ‘Turning’, a poem focusing on the performance of Mystery Plays that took place in New Romney every year during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Romney had a seven play cycle, performed by local guilds and by groups from other small towns and parishes. The plays were performed at Crockley Green, behind Romney High Street. Nigel liked the invocation of atmosphere “The bleakness of the marsh seems to blow through these words” We were up and running.
The other two poems were completed in draft form and soon initial images were sent to me for ‘Beach’ – Nigel had chosen to illustrate just one voice from the poem – it is a multiple themed poem with different narrative lines running through it: from the present, the recent past and from the sixteenth century. The striking images of a group of actors travelling across the marsh over four hundred years ago perfectly set a scene that I was hoping to convey in the poem. The modern sections of the poem echo against this.
Interestingly, at this stage, Nigel had an exhibition in Tenterden, Kent of his recent woodcuts and linocuts and with Judith, my wife, we were able to arrange a couple of nights in Kent in order to attend the private view in the gallery.
An initial draft of the book was completed in 2014 and then the work on production began.
Nigel Davison continued the detailed work on the layout, on further illustrations, on the exact format, the cover; all aspects meticulously developed. Meanwhile arrangements were being made to print the book in Perpetua on Letterpress. I received images and a video of a Letterpress setting the type for printing. The signature printings began to arrive, a couple of pages at a time, ready for final reading and editing. All this was a part time undertaking by Nigel, fitted in around his career as a graphic designer.
Then a couple of photos arrived by email: a view of multiple copies of the book held in a book press and a photo of the book in its newly printed jacket.
The finished article!
A little more information on the book.
My family has had connections with Romney Marsh – The Marsh, since the 1930s and I spent many holidays in the 1950s and 1960s in my grandparents’ house and then my parents’ house when they moved down there from North Kent in 1969. It was a regular holiday destination for our family. I would buy any book containing references to The Marsh and have since accumulated a sizeable collection of relevant books.
The three poems in The Marsh are all based on historical incidents. ‘Lookers’ concerns the death of two shepherds, or lookers as they were known, in a particularly harsh winter in 1790. ‘Turning’, as stated earlier, harks back to when the town of New Romney was frequently host to small companies who performed Mystery Plays at significant times of the year. These were the forerunners of touring companies of players from Shakespeare’s times and it is documented that Shakespeare did tour and perform in this part of Kent. One of these companies make a fleeting appearance in the third piece ‘Beach’, which covers several time zones, focusing on the recent past and the years of the Second World War.
It’s been an intriguing journey and on 11th November there will be a launch event in St James Wine Vaults in Bath. Next spring we hope to hold an event on Romney Marsh, possibly in one of the small churches that are a distinctive feature of The Marsh.
There are themes that link the book and my earlier collection ‘The Fifth Quarter’ which contains prose, poetry and stories about The Marsh.
‘The Fifth Quarter’ Spirit of Place Volume 2. Awen Publications. Find out more about that book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/the_fifth_quarter.html