Hiraeth, and how places can inspire writing by Hywela Lyn

This is a place called Capel Curig, in Wales. What's that got to do with 'Hiraeth' I hear you ask, and what does the word mean, anyway? Well, I'll get to that in a moment.  An on-line friend and I were talking about one day returning to the land where our roots are - hers in Virginia,  mine in rural Wales. It made me think of the old song I remember from my childhood: 'We'll keep a welcome in the hillside, we'll keep a welcome in the vales, we'll kiss away each hour of 'hiraeth' when you come home again to Wales.'
We were both feeling a bit 'homesick'.  That's what Hiraeth is - it's Welsh for being homesick for Wales - but more than that - it's a deep longing, really homesickness doesn't come close to the intensity of feeling that 'hiraeth' invokes. For various reasons, shortage of affordable housing in the area where I grew up, and marriage, being two,  I now  live in a beautiful part of England, close to the Chiltern hills.  But I long for the wild mountains of my native Wales, the mountains which inspired many of my stories, and the lakes and mountain streams. I used to live near the sea.  Somehow I miss the mountains more than the sea, although I enjoyed walking or riding  along the beach, and I do love water.  I am, and always have been a country lover and would be suffocated by city living.  However I know that people who were born and brought up in the city would be just as lost if they suddenly found themselves living in the country.  I think the place where one grows up permeates one's body and soul, so there is always a part of you that remains there. 'You can take the woman out of Wales,' I tell my friends 'but you can't take Wales out of the woman.'

It's the wildness of the unspoiled areas of Wales that captivates my heart, I think, and places have inspired many a story. Sometimes I transfer whole areas to different worlds or planets, and sometimes, as in my fantasy novella Dancing With Fate, I use real places as the settings, and in this story I also draw strongly on the myths and legends of Wales, as well as a good  smattering of Greek legend. I imagine many writers, draw on the places where they grew up as backgrounds to their stories, and even if one writes fantasy or Science Fiction, you have to have something to work on, even if you do make subtle changes, and perhaps have a yellow sky or silver sand! Do you have vivid 'mind pictures' of a place close to your heart? And do you transfer those to your own writing, or are your settings purely imaginary?

Here's a short excerpt from 'Dancing With Fate'. In this, my heroine, the Greek muse Terpsichore, is bathing in a waterfall, and this particular waterfall is sited not far from where I used to live.

She shrugged. What was she thinking? She was her own goddess, wasn't she? If she wanted to bathe, she would. She certainly didn't need any charmed wine to make her decisions for her. In an instant, her Celtic clothing melted away.

She laid her lyre against a friendly tree trunk and ran beneath the curtain of water cascading over the cliff face. She stood, waist deep in the shallows of the pool and let the water rush over her. The cold crystal clear liquid invigorated her. She felt the life force of the spring flow around and through her, the molecules that composed it, the tiny life forms unseen. This was her element and she rejoiced in it.

She went deeper and swam for a while, enjoying the freedom of movement in the water, playing with the little minnows that darted here and there. At last, she stepped out onto the grass that fringed the pool and looked skyward. How long had she been bathing? Helios was already on his homeward journey, although his light still warmed the air and he had not yet painted the sky in its twilight hues.

Shaking her arms free of the silvery drops of water, the muse then squeezed the wetness from her long hair, of which she was inordinately proud. Of all her womanly attributes, she loved her hair the best. It was so fine and silky; it took hardly any time to dry. She spread her arms and let the warm air vanquish the last of the moisture from her skin. Oh, this land of Wales was fair! She raised her arm in salute to Helios, knowing he could see whatever his warmth touched.

Terpsichore twirled around on tiptoe, bending back her head and taking in the craggy mountaintops, the trees full-leafed and swaying slightly in the warm breeze. On an impulse, she began to dance. She conjured up a silky himation between her fingers and swirled it above her head as she moved to the accompaniment of her own voice. So involved was she in her dancing she failed to realize she was no longer alone.

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST


JO said…
Oh the wonderful stories that can grow from places! But I do know what you mean about that longing for one's roots when you're far away. I didn't realise how much I love Wiltshire till I was on a smelly bus in India!
Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Jo, ooh, a smelly bus in India sounds very uncomfortable - but good material for a story I would think!
Lydia Bennet said…
I spent some very significant time in west Wales, on Pen Caer, it still means a lot to me. My roots are firmly in Northumberland/Tyneside, and my locality features in my crime fiction - both my crime novels, The Rotting Spot, and forthcoming The Operator, are set in fictionalised versions of Seaton Sluice, Whitley Bay, and Tynemouth. North Easterners are also notorious for either staying or returning to our homelands, and I live now in the place I grew up though have been further afield to live and love to travel.Interesting to see you combine Greek myth with Welsh landscape, it works really well!
Kathleen Jones said…
I know that longing - I had it for the Lake District during the years I didn't live there - used to dream about it and wake up crying. I think the Portuguese call it 'saudade'?
Lovely post!
Hywela Lyn said…
Hi Lydia

Interesing that you spent time in my 'neck of the woods', glad you enjoyed it, Wales does get into ones blood doesn't it! It does seem natural to use ones 'homeland' in ones writing. I'm glad you've been able to return to yours.

Glad you think the Welsh and Greek mix works - it was great fun to write!

Hywela Lyn said…
Thanks Kathleen, glad you enjoyed the post - I hadn't heard the word 'saudade' before but I'm sure it's very similar to 'hiraeth'. Its amazing how a place can tug at our heartstrings so much, isn't it.

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