The Soul of Place
Writers and seekers of place, there's a great new resource for us! Linda Lappin has penned a new book, called The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook, Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci. And let me tell you, this is a book full of inspiration, guidance, and a great deal of thought. It will change your writing!
Lappin's chapters include Reading the Landscape, Places Sacred and Profane, the House of the Self, Eating the Soul of Place - Food Writing, Submerged Territories - Writing and the Unconscious, and thoughts about your writing space itself.
For those who have found places that resonate deeply with us (for me, Scotland, oceans, lakes!), this book is a gift that enhances my writing - and my life. Lappin recognizes the power of place, and has given us tools to explore, think, and write about it. And if you're not a writer yet, you will be after delving into this book. Lappin is a gifted educator, one that brings a variety of tools for us to use, and ways of thinking for us to expand our worlds. She's filled this book with so much goodness that the first time I read it, I just read cover to cover - no stopping to do the writing exercises yet. It's that good, interesting, and powerful. Highly recommended.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Lappin, and ask her about her new book, inspiration, what draws people to places, flaneuring, and more. Here's what she had to say.
Please tell us about your new book, The Soul of Place...
This book originated partly as a series of notes on place-awareness for a workshop I was teaching to creative writers who were visiting Italy for the first time. The workshop was held in a marvelous medieval village near Rome where an archaic atmosphere was still very much present: in its architecture, food, crafts, and customs. It isn’t always easy for a person coming from another country to grasp basic aspects of life when arriving in a very different culture and setting, so I tried to collect and also invent a series of materials, ideas, exercises, perspectives to help students tune in to their new environment, observe it closely, and respond to it through creative writing exercises. The core of this material was the ancient concept of the genius loci, or soul of place, a sort of entity or indwelling force attached to a site and energizing it, influencing everything taking place there, including human lives.
In connection with the genius loci, the writers in the class worked with deep maps, quests, flânerie, labyrinths, myths, site-specific performance art, landscape narratives, and much more. What I discovered was that students were keen to work with these ideas in writing not only about their new surroundings and explorations in Italy, but about places important to them in their memories, dreams, and imaginations. The soul of place provided them with a link between their environment and their identity. I realized I had a found a well-spring of inspiration for creative expression: our response to physical places, to our personal geographies, to our private, layered maps of the spaces we live and dream which are densely inscribed with stories and imagery. So the book is addressed to writers of all genres, as well as to artists, photographers, and travelers who are eager to explore their environments. Naturally it is of special interest to travel and memoir writers.
Markets are a great place to seek out the soul of place
What inspired you to write this book?
A few years after I started collecting my soul of place material, I was asked to design a travel writing course, and I used the notes from my workshops to create the course and expand the material and exercises into its present form in The Soul of Place: A Creative Writing Workbook. As a writer, places excite my imagination, and most of my work somehow deals with place or deplacement: My novels The Etruscan and Signatures in Stone (winner of the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Mystery and Suspense Writing in 2014) both deal with the Etruscan area near Rome called Tuscia where myths and archaic traditions still pervade the landscape. All my other work, poetry, memoir, biographical and travel essays, draws its sustenance from place-awareness, so The Soul of Place A Creative Writing Workbook in many ways charts my own itinerary as a writer, too.
From the monster park aka the Sacred Grove of Bomarzo, setting of my novel Signatures in Stone which won the Daphne Du Maurier prize. This is a statue of Persephone. My novel uses this myth in the plot.
I dove into your book and emerged a few hours later, dazed with ideas in my head, my fingers itching to write. What draws people to places (and, also, makes people avoid other places?)
We are instinctively attracted to some places and repulsed by others. Nowadays we might say that this depends on unconscious responses, buried memories and associations – smells particularly might trigger emotional reactions to places, reminding us of things of long ago. But the ancient Romans and Etruscans thought otherwise, as did writers DH Lawrence and Lawrence Durrell, whom I discuss in my book. They believed that there was a power of attraction and even a form of consciousness operating in landscape, and that we interact with it at the subliminal level, and that it is possible to attune ourselves to it directly and even be nourished by it.
A Greek tavern on the island of Ikaria, where you can just imagine sitting down to chat with the soul of place on a windy night
Flaneuring is something I teach my students - and I think it's an important thing for writers, to take notice and watch. Much of your book is about watching - and thinking. How can writers learn to focus on this, while experiencing and before writing?
One of the ills or pitfalls perhaps of our era is that there is so little time for noticing. So much of our attention is visual – as has been the case of human beings for millennia – but now focused on screens rather than on the world. Today, for instance, there was an article in the NYTIMES about how a walk in the woods can revitalize the brain, as if this were a new discovery. It wasn’t new to the Romantic poets, or before them Basho, but maybe we just have to rediscover these old true things all over again with each generation to make them our own. Our attention is like an atrophied sense organ that we need to revive. As Alain de Botton points out in The Art of Travel, by traveling – or just finding oneself in a new environment – our attention is allowed to expand and we see things in greater clarity and detail from a new point of view. And that is another key point in my book. It contains exercises which I hope will lead to greater awareness of being in places, and of what is happening there. In some cases, writers are asked to play the flâneur – in others, the pilgrim on a quest.
Piazza on the Road! - place names celebrate the poetry of place
What are your best tips for utilizing your book in a writer's life?
I was thrilled when some writer friends of mine told me that they had taken The Soul of Place along on trips and had found it stimulating for their writing. So, yes, pack the book in your suitcase or backpack. But it can be used just sitting at your desk at home, turning your eyes on your present environment or one in memory. As with a cook book, first try the things that are easy and appealing – then if you like the taste, try some more complex recipes. Sometimes one idea will lead to another and to another and to another…getting you out of a rut and looking at things in a new way.
labyrinth on Crete
What's up next for you?
I am working on a couple of novels right now. A New Adult novel, set in Rome and Tuscia and another one dealing with Modigliani’s partner, Jeanne Hebuterne. I have just completed a memoir about house sitting in an old house in the Tuscan woods with a dowser for a neighbor. I am also working on a short ebook that I will be giving away on my website this fall, which is a continuation of some of the ideas in The Soul of Place – it will deal specifically with Writers Rooms, to which I only make brief mention in The Soul of Place, and how your writing space influences your creativity.
Country road through an olive grove
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
I will be organizing workshops on the Soul of Place in 2016 2017 in Italy and Greece (including multi genre writing on place and the soul of place on the island of Andros), so I would like to invite readers to visit my workshop website, www.pokkoli.org and sign up for the newsletter. More information about my work can be found on my personal website: www.lindalappin.net
On facebook at https://www.facebook.com/soulofplace
And on my goodreads author page, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1157178.Linda_Lappin
All photos courtesy and copyright Linda Lappin