Author interview: Deirdre Huston, Day Walks on the High Weald
- Wednesday 22 August 2018
Views from the High Weald landscape trail. Photo: Deirdre Huston.
Following the publication of Deirdre Huston's new guidebook, Day Walks on the High Weald, we caught up with her to talk about walking, writing and exploring her local landscapes.
This guide is made up of some of your favourite walks on the High Weald, which would you say is the most interesting route you've chosen?
It’s hard to choose but the walk around Battle is very interesting. I have visited the Abbey as a child and, later, with my own family but I’d never explored the surrounding, and rather atmospheric, valley and hills. Walking through the landscape is a marvellous way to make connections between time and place, and to consider the relationship between what endures over time and what changes, and to search for gaps between legend and fact. I like coming across locations which have inspired literature, whether it’s little known or renowned, too. I also treasure walks which include precious and unique habitats and nature reserves such as the ‘Rocks, Railway and Heath’ walk.
How long did the book take to write?
The book took just over a year including research, writing, route-testing, photography and editing. I enjoy focusing intensely on a project as it’s fascinating to see lots of different strands evolve and draw together.
Is walking something you have always loved to do, or has it only recently become a hobby?
I have always loved walking and being in the natural environment. When I was a child, we used to enjoy family walks and I continued this with my own children. They’re almost all grown up now and it was lovely to have them join me in researching a good few of the walks for this guide. A day walk is very satisfying, especially if you can stop at a good pub or take a picnic to enjoy in a tranquil spot but, every day, I get outdoors with my dog, even if it’s only to stretch our legs after a day’s writing.
Back in 2010 you published Jake, Zee-Bee and the Crystal Quest, would you say you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
All my writing is based on research. The elements of non-fiction which I particularly enjoy are exploring new places and being outdoors, the photography and hearing how people have enjoyed trails from my books.
My fiction writing has evolved over the years and now focuses on bringing historic stories to life. I am currently rewriting my eighteenth-century murder mystery set on the South Downs and it’s very satisfying drawing the narrative together. I often find locations I’ve explored for non-fiction inspire fictional settings, and this story now starts in a village based on Mayfield.
A way in which my fiction writing has informed my non-fiction is that I use more primary sources now for historic research and I hope to create more of my own original insights into Sussex.
What ignited your passion for the outdoors?
I grew up in Crawley, a sixties new town. We were fortunate enough to play out in Hawth Woods and Tilgate Forest, on the fringes of the High Weald, and nothing beats that feeling of being outdoors. I had an early interest in wildlife and still feel I have so much to learn. Photography too was an early passion and I like nothing better than becoming completely immersed in capturing an image of the natural landscape. I’ve enjoyed a mixture of outdoor sports over the years like dinghy sailing, skiing and cycling but walking is something which I believe will always be a part of my life.
What does walking mean to you?
Walking offers me both solitude and company, the chance to relax and get fit, to see new things and relish familiar favourites, to switch off and to think. Walking is very adaptable to our moods and needs, which is probably why it’s such a great way to reduce our stress levels.
I have become involved in helping to set up the High Weald Walking Festival and I hope this will encourage more people to get out and enjoy walking in the High Weald. You can join me for a short Creative Writing Wander on Saturday 15 September or a sample walk from Day Walks on the High Weald on Saturday 22 September. Further details at http://www.deirdrehuston.co.uk/pages/events.php
Do you feel that writing this book has made you appreciate the High Weald far more than if you hadn’t written it?
Absolutely. I’ve lived close to the High Weald all my life but exploring these twenty trails across its length and breadth has given me fresh insights and understanding into how its landscape has evolved and into the lives of its inhabitants, past and present.
In completing some of the walks in the book, I imagine you find out a lot about Sussex’s history. What do you feel is the most intriguing thing you might see or discover?
I’m very excited about my next project which is based on a true crime in the nineteenth-century High Weald – the location of which I unknowingly walked past while out walking, and which, for now, is top secret! I am however sharing plenty of glimpses into the past in the guidebook, such as where to see the ruins of the home of a once prosperous iron age family and walk through the site of a battle between a local militia and smugglers.
Has the High Weald countryside changed a lot over the years since you have been there?
Yes, like everywhere there can be new development and I had to alter one route to avoid a new housing estate. I have been very struck by how wild pockets of the High Weald can be and what an unspoilt and fascinating area it is to explore. It feels much less densely populated than Mid-Sussex where I live.
Have you any ideas as to what you might write next?