Walter de la Mare and ‘The Listeners’

The most outwardly apparent influence on my own novel was Walter de la Mare’s enigmatic thirty-six-line poem ‘The Listeners’, which gave me the title, as well as a template for my own book’s atmosphere of strange solitude and its key location: a dilapidated cottage among the trees being gradually subsumed by the unrelenting forces of nature and time, and in which young William Abrehart explores.

I’ve just been going through some of my images and here are a few that I think capture something of the dreamlike qualities that pervades De la Mare’s poetry and short stories.


Norfolk in ruins

Last week I spent a very enjoyable day out in West Norfolk and the Fens with my friend Clive (who took the fantastic cover photo for my novel), as we poked around various old churches and ruined buildings. One of the churches we visited (which shall remain nameless for now) was very much the inspiration for the church in ‘The Listeners’, and revisiting it for the first time in several years was quite poignant.


“I can feel the ice-white harshness that pours through the windows, like light inside a glasshouse, mesmerising me…”

The church organ was suitably gothic, but I couldn’t get a sound out of it, despite pumping the bellows in true William Abrehart style…


If I had seen this ‘Table of Kindred and Affinity’ while researching the book I would have definitely have included it somehow, as it was absolutely perfect. This photo isn’t staged either, this is exactly how it was placed.


To the side of the altar, I loved the way the light fell on this chair and lectern. I could imagine Reverend Thurtle standing there, but there was no sign of him, fortunately.


Nearby were the remains of a ruined priory. Despite gazing longingly many times at them over the years, this was the first time I have managed to have a proper close-up look, courtesy of kind permission from the owners of the house whose grounds they stand in.


After this – and the appearance of a timely ‘stormcock’ (Mistle Thrush) overhead – we headed west, deep into the Norfolk Fens, to explore two ruined churches and a ruined house. I was particularly drawn to this face, which contained so much character in its lichen and its weathering.


Tales from the Necropolis

Monument in Glasgow Necropolis

Monument in Glasgow Necropolis

Last week I visited Glasgow’s Victorian monument to death, the Necropolis. This sprawling, gothic site is located on a hill behind St Mungo’s Cathedral, giving an impressive panorama of the city.

I arrived just before dusk on a slate-skied, biting afternoon. A mixture of sleet, hail and snow began to fall as I made my way up the paths that spiral around the hillside. The light – dim to begin with – grey steadily darker as I wound higher among the monoliths and monuments of the place.

Three redpolls and a redwing flew over my head, no doubt looking for somewhere to roost, though they would have more luck down in the shelter of the mound than at its summit.

Was it spooky? Perhaps a little, but the lights of the city, multiplied at this time of year by those of Christmas, were close by. And the venerable stones themselves seemed, with their solidity, to offer something almost comforting.

The Aiken Mausoleum

The Aiken Mausoleum

I was drawn, in particular, to one classical structure – the Aiken mausoleum – with its pillars and portico, half-hidden by tangled ivy and creepers. Peering through the wrought iron gates that locked across its front I could just about read some of the words on the memorial plaques inside. More disconcertingly, in the darkness, I could also make out a rectangular hole that presumably marked the steps down to the graves themselves, though the paltry torchlight from my phone could not show any detail.

Dusk was moving on fast, the wind picking up steadily. It was time to stop walking around graveyards, and to go and get something to eat.

Dusk at the Necroplis

Dusk at the Necroplis

Glasgow Cathedral from the Necropolis

Glasgow Cathedral from the Necropolis