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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The kind of review every writer wants - especially when your day's in pieces

Glorious sunshine, barely a cloud in the sky... and my day's in pieces. I was all psyched up for a trip to Sedgefield races. It's off: frozen course and a covering of snow. Worse still, this first day of the Cheltenham meeting - the biggest in the racing calendar - is under threat. There's a 10.30 inspection after overnight frost - and we're all on tenterhooks. I've been looking forward to this week all year.

Still, no day can be entirely bad when you get a review such as this, from award-winning romantic novelist Valerie Wood ( Let me come clean: I know Val. I met her way back in the mid-1980s when we both attended a writing workshop at Hull's Spring Street Theatre. Our tutor was Daphne Glazer. Val was one of the quiet ones. She wrote romantic fiction. Then one week she announced that she'd completed The Hungry Tide, her novel about a young girl growing up on the east coast of Yorkshire in the early 18th century. She planned to submit it for the first Catherine Cookson Award. She won. The book was published in 1993, and I read it as I cycled my way across the Great Plains the following year. It helped take my mind off the hardships of a 630-mile ride in 97-degree heat. So what did this author of EIGHTEEN romantic novels think of my non-romantic non-fiction?

"Alan Wilkinson has the masterly ability to turn a heap of rocks or stones, a thunder cloud or sea of grass into a written work of art with a few descriptive, evocative words. In The Red House on The Niobrara, he tells of his six-month sojourn into the American West following in the footsteps of an early 20th century writer Mari Sandoz whose work he has long admired. This is not his first foray into the USA and the country, I feel, is almost his spiritual home; and yet, in true English fashion, he makes the isolated Red House his. He clears it of bugs and mosquitoes, digs a garden and plants vegetables, bakes bread, makes tea and at sundown stands in his doorway with a beer in his hand. He is home.

Although he is alone, he doesn't appear to be lonely as he walks by the meandering river where the cedar trees grow, tramps the hills and plains of Sandhills, Nebraska, noting the plants, the grasses, wild life and the songbirds, taking photographs which appear in this journal, and becoming friends with the locals, the ranching community, who invite him into their lives to watch and take part in cattle branding and turkey hunting. The only things he dislikes are the snakes, particularly the 'rattlers,' the mice that share his food, and the mosquitoes. For the rest, the weather, rain, snow, and sun in equal measure, the open skies, the 6000 acres of land that are his to explore, fulfil his hunger to know this part of Nebraska and specifically Mari Sandoz who awakened his interest many years before, and in finding her, he found himself.

An excellent, evocative read for those of us armchair enthusiasts of the outdoors lacking in Wilkinson's thirst for adventure. "


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