I've been in e mail conversation with Tracy Chevalier this last week about all sorts of things... our Girl With a Pearl Earring discussions on here, how Tracy and I had somehow missed each other at Port Eliot Festival on several occasions but would hope to meet there next year, about what I now hear is the fabulously quiet and peaceful Vermeer exhibition in Cambridge, and also about Why Willows Weep, the book of short stories that Tracy has just edited with Simon Prosser for The Woodland Trust.
Tracy then very kindly sent me a copy of Why Willows Weep (along with, in the interests of transparency, a copy of Girl With a Pearl Earring and Remarkable Creatures, having asked me first of course and to which I replied 'oh very yes please' inordinately fast.)
You may recall our wonderful afternoon with William Fiennes in the dovegreyreader tent at Port Eliot, when amongst other things William read us his own contribution to this Woodland Trust collection..Why the Ash Has Black Buds...
'The trees have always had some idea of what happens to them when they die. In forests they saw their neighbours toppled by wind or age and rot into the earth, and their roots sent up descriptions of peat and coal in vast beds and seams...'
When the rumour reached the trees that some may be pulped into paper, and that paper could make books and how much more interesting that might be than becoming a boring old rafter and so the ash tree dreams...and I won't spoil the ending but it's beautiful, and we were very moved as we listened on that hot July afternoon.
A real galaxy of writers have come together to support this book and every copy sold will enable the planting of five trees..
Richard Mabey on 'Why Nothing Grows Under the Beech Tree (or Does It?)
'Don't believe what they say about the word becoming flesh. The word became wood...'
Tracy Chevalier's own contribution, Why Birches Have Silver Bark... a really 21st century twist on an old fairy tale of love and rendezvous.
Salley Vickers writes the title story Why Willows Weep, and I remember Salley telling the audience at a literary event that her name, spelt with that carefully placed 'e' meant willow, and perhaps that explained her affinity for Sylvia Townsend Warner's book Lolly Willowes which Salley recommended as a favourite and I rushed out and bought.
Other writers in this wonderfully generous volume include Joanne Harris, Phillipa Gregory, Maggie O'Farrell, Amanda Craig, Philip Hensher, Kate Mosse, James Robertson, Rachel Billington, Maria McCann, Terence Blacker, Catherine O'Flynn, Tahmima Anam, Ali Smith, Blake Morrison and Susan Elderkin all contributing to a legacy of wonderful grown-up fables about trees.
I didn't have to walk far to find the real thing either...
If you like tress you'll love these, the book is a treasure and available from The Woodland Trust here, and perhaps this quote from an interview with Jill Butler from the charity says it all...
"You can't create ancient trees you can only let them grow, and we need the new trees in the ground that will become the ancients of the future,"
and here's an out-take...
'I know where the holly berries are but I'll need some help.... can you just climb up there ...no...hold the book nearer the berries... no don't be daft, I've got to be able to see the title.....can you move your thumb...'