Where would the Forest of Dean’s literary heritage be without its female authors? Imagine the Forest without the writing of Winifred Foley, Joyce Latham or Maggie Clutterbuck – to name just a few. Women writers are woven into the fabric of Forest literary culture, and have been since the beginning.
In the nineteenth century, it was the poems of Catherine Drew, detailing the unique history, economy, politics and personality of the Forest at the start of the 1840s. Later that century would come Ada M Trotter, S M Crawley-Boevey, Flora Klickmann. Like their male counterparts, Forest literature’s women writers vary in their economic circumstances as much as they do in the genres they write and the stories they tell. Crawley-Boevey, at Flaxley-Abbey was a member of the local landed gentry. Her Dene Forest Sketches span the centuries and the classes. Winfred Foley has had and continues to have a major impact as a chronicler of the sometimes-cruel circumstances of working-class life in the first half of the twentieth century – in particular the lot of women. Her stories and autobiography are rooted in and of the Forest, but too she tells of her life and the lives of women beyond the Forest, in particular in London. And Forest literature’s women have an international reach too. Ada M Trotter, daughter of a local mine owner left the Forest as a young woman for Canada and later America. A successful journalist she travelled back and forth across the Atlantic well into her eighties. Whilst in America she wrote her two novels set in the Forest, full of description of the Forest landscape, the people, and a level of fascinating specialist detail about mining. The topics of her journalism spanned the globe. And today the Forest’s female authors from Maggie Clutterbuck to Sarah Franklin – and many more – continue to build a body of Forest literature that is unmistakably of this distinctive and well-loved place, the Forest of Dean, and that continues to reach out beyond the Severn and Wye connecting to places, characters and stories from around the world. Happy International Women’s Day.
It's World Book Day and if you happen to be snowed in (as some of us could be over the nest few days here in the Forest) what could be better than settling down with a good book? Whatever your taste there's probably a book set in the Forest, about the Forest, or written by a Forest of Dean author that will be just right for you. Books can take us inside other people's heads, let us experience the past or possible future, take us on an adventure, make us think, make us feel. And they can spin tall tales to keep us entertained, drawing us around the fire.
Once upon a time....on one such snowy day, a log time ago, a group of travellers were trapped in The Speech House (lucky them!). The snow really set, and they were there for a week.
"The snow fell faster than ever, and we had to give up all thoughts of setting forward journey"
So the travellers - a doctor, a clergyman, the grey-coated man, the commercial man, and a lawyer - end up pass the time by each telling story each evening after dinner:
"We sat once more round the blazing log-fire of the old Court-Room, our minds in genial contentment with ourselves, the snow, and the whole wide world around us"
The stories tumble out each evening, The Drunkard's Vow, The Suicide's Wakening, The Voice from the Tomb, The Lost Letter-Bag, and The Blue Lady of Minsterley. These tall tales take them beyond the walls of The Speech House, beyond the wintery scene to a village in Spring, an old country house, an Autumn hill side. Until finally, on their last night, it's the turn of the Landlord. And when he comes to his spooky tale, his is set in the very place itself: The Ghost of the Speech House!
"As I was shaking and sweating with fright, something fetches me a spikish dig in the back"
By the end of the week the snow has melted, and somewhat regretfully, the travellers are on their way taking with them fond memories of their week in, "the dear, the romantic old Speech-House.
This fascinating and entertaining old book, written by Dr. Charles F Grindrod of Malvern, and published in 1886, is just one of the fabulous range of books that make up our rich Forest of Dean literary heritage. Whether its tall tales written in the 19th century, poems from the present day, or dystopian novels set in a future-Forest, there's a Forest book for you this (snowy) World Book Day.
Check out our growing book list here for suggestions - and once you've read one let us know what you think and we'll share your thoughts here. Happy World Book Day!