Review: Nell Leyshon at Wells Festival of Literature
SOMERSET is a county that is indelibly stamped across Nell Leyshon’s work.
The landscape, the geology, the rich history and heritage, even the smells and sounds can be found in her plays and novels.
But it is the people: their lives, their personalities, their stories and the rhythms of their voices that continually inspires her work.
Born in Glastonbury in 1961, Nell soaked up the myths and legends in her childhood. With fondness she described how a ladder over her friend’s back wall would take the youngsters into the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and into the imaginative world of King Arthur.
After moving at the age of 11 to Compton Dundon, Nell soon immersed herself into a different world: the hard-working agricultural community of mid-Somerset.
Like a spy she would inveigle herself into these neighbouring farms and families, learning about life and human nature through the hardships, even prejudices, that she witnessed.
These experiences, the voices that she heard, the stories she learned soaked so deep within her, that even decades later driving past a house or a farm can evoke a tale that one knows will one day live again through her work.
The audience at the Wells Festival of Literature – some already fans of this work, others new to Nell – were delighted as she recounted some of the anecdotes, which she brings to life in her plays and novels.
So atmospheric were her readings, delivered from the pulpit of St Andrew’s Church as the sun streamed through the windows and lit her like a spotlight, that it felt we too were on the Somerset Levels, standing in an orchard and watching life unfold.
It is a cliché but one could hear a pin drop, so enthralled were her audience. Too soon, the spell was broken and the audience filed out into the sunshine, back into the very county that flavours her work.
Vron Acreman, of Ashcott, was a friend of Nell Leyshon at Crispin School, Street, and both were in the same English class. “It’s amazing to think, actually, that we were both sat in the same class – and I used to be good at English – but Nell was soaking it all up, really soaking it up, and could be so inspired by it all.”
Vicky Taylor of Bruton, was prompted to attend the Lit Fest after reading The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon. Her talk, she said, was enthralling. “She really brought the book to life, so much so that I’ve got to revisit it. Although I only read it about three months ago, I’ve bought a copy today to read again.”
Gloria Bianco of Wells, is attending several of the Wells Lit Fest talks. “I was inspired by the Somerset voices to attend this one, the images it evoked,” she said.