Artsreach launched two unusual reading groups in Dorset in the autumn of 2014, aimed at exploring the wide range of literature inspired by and written about the South Dorset Ridgeway area.
Readers were invited to delve into an exciting list of authors spanning three centuries, ranging from the familiar - William Barnes and Thomas Hardy, to the modern writings of Ian McEwan and Christoper Nicholson. The groups dipped into the Powys family with writing by John Cowper, Llewelyn and Philippa, and visits works by Sylvia Townsend Warner, whilst also enjoying the beauty of Kenneth Allsop's observations and the gripping fiction of John Meade Faulkner. Lesser-known works by authors such as David Garnett were also devoured and discussed.
In the second year of the project, readers moved on to examine other works by Thomas Hardy, whilst also exploring the science fiction of Christopher Priest and works by Emma Tennant and Ian McEwan. Readers also read and discussed one of the most recent pieces of fiction with strong links to the Ridgeway, Christopher Nicholson's 'Winter'.
A series of guest speakers helped to deliver an insight into some of the more challenging writers and seveal walks within the South Dorset Ridgeway area took place, allowing readers to explore the landscape and settings of some of the writing.
Readers discussed common themes, looked at the relationship between people and the landscape, examined trends and movements in literature and discussed why it is that some authors remain in print, whilst others do not.
Readers also examined how writers have used poetry, prose and fiction (both novels and short stories) in their response to the landscape, and gained a greater understanding of the South Dorset Ridgeway's inspirational qualities.
An online blog was also set up to allow those with a keen interest in literature inspired by the South Dorset Ridgeway to follow the project online. The reading list is available to view and session notes are being shared for blog visitors to read, comment on and discuss.