Trees: an inspiration to writers

John Simmons explains how our 26 Trees project was born, updates us on the project so far, and shares what’s next. 

Earlier this year, when the trees were mostly leafless, I had a meeting with the Woodland Trust in Grantham. I was interested to explore whether we could create a writing project in partnership with Woodland Trust.

This was spurred originally by my growing interest in trees as a result of writing a novel The Good Messenger set in woods. But I was conscious that my tree knowledge was shallow, and that many others felt the same. I had the feeling that most writers feel a connection with trees – there is something in the natural cycle that informs, often subconsciously, the rhythms and structures of writing.

The idea of a project linked to the Tree Charter struck a chord in that first conversation, particularly the principle “Celebrate the power of trees to inspire”. We agreed the basis of the project ’26 Trees’ in which 26 volunteer writers would be paired with a native British tree from a list supplied by Woodland Trust – and asked to write about that tree. We invited our members to take part.

There was a rush to join in – far more than 26 writers. So, rather than disappoint too many, we decided that we would create two groups, each with 26 writers. The first ‘core’ group would be paired with a native British tree species, the second ‘explore’ group would choose their own tree. As many of the ‘explore’ group were based outside the UK this meant we would include trees from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. “Trees cross cultural boundaries” as the Tree Charter toolkit puts it.

Each writer was asked to produce two pieces of writing. First a short 62-word ‘sestude’ – a poetic form that 26 had invented for previous projects (’26 in reflection’). Choose your tree from wandering in woods, find out more about it, write about the feelings inspired by that tree in exactly 62 words. Then write a piece of prose, in no more than 400 words, that answers the question about your tree ‘What’s a tree when it’s not a tree?’ because trees are valuable in so many different ways, ecologically, socially, commercially, culturally.

The writers have now completed their work and 26 Trees will be posted on the 26 Website from early November. The trees – ash or yew, kauri or red gum, or many others – have been an inspiration for our two groups of writers. The writers will plant saplings of their trees on Tree Charter Day at the end of November.

You can soon read the work online and we hope it will inspire you to go into woods to get closer to trees. We are also bringing out a book of the 52 sestudes that will be available to buy online, and we’d be delighted if other writers filled any gaps in our verbal woodland by writing their own sestudes about trees of their choice.

– John Simmons Photo by Daniel Seßler on Unsplash

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