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Curlews and Cows: an Evening with Patrick Laurie – 20th October 2022

An autumnal chill in the air didn’t stop a sizeable turnout at Ayr Writers for the visit of nature writer, farmer, and conservationist Patrick Laurie.

Patrick’s book ‘Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape’ was published in 2021 and became a Times bestseller, being shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year Awards. His writing explores the links between people, cattle, and wild birds such as the curlew in Southwest Scotland.

Patrick was an engaging speaker and began by giving us an insight into his writing routine. Apart from the 0530am start (shudder) which allows him to get some writing done before seeing to the cows, Patrick spoke about having to train himself to see detail, and this process being so ingrained in him that he found himself almost ‘overwhelmed’ by these details in ordinary surroundings. He gave us the example of having noticed the song of Redwings as he was walking to the Mercure – something which evaded the attention of this blogger (although in my defence I was having trouble finding a parking spot).

So adept was Patrick at seeing beauty in the apparently-mundane that he has managed to write entire blog posts about things such as finding a particularly good stick whilst out with his cattle – something for us to bear in mind next time we complain about a lack of inspiration when we try to write!

We also explored the concept of voice in writing. Patrick told us that, although apparently losing his Scottish accent after living in England for several years, his Scots Language professor at university could still tell which part of Scotland he was from, simply from the cadence of his speech. It was a reminder of the imprint that locality has upon our language and writing – a literary fingerprint.

These fingerprints are important. We had a fascinating discussion around the evolution of the Scots language. Although maintained and used in Ayrshire and in wider Scotland, Patrick used the examples of the breadth of language around activities, such as working a heavy horse, which are being lost. These words remain of value but are ‘shadows of words’ rather than being functional.

The main theme from the evening was of writers always being from somewhere, and of this geographical identity influencing everything we produce. A local voice, viewpoint, or vernacular are things that tie our writing to us – particularly important given the underrepresentation of lowlands Scotland in literary circles and prizes.

Patrick was a fantastic speaker and reminded us to keep our eyes open for beauty and writing material in the seemingly mundane. His blog can be found here.


Matt Richardson

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