I’ve know Mervyn for many years, ever since I met him at a Southend Poetry Group Meeting but the last time I’d met him was in 2014 when Alan Hockett and I interviewed him for the #essexmeme project. Back then he lived right next to the River Stour, with a view of the water from most of the windows in his Sudbury accommodation, but now he lives slightly further north in Lavenham, so we went to visit him for a chat about the river and how it has influenced his writing.
Mervyn was on much better form than previously and seemed very settled and happy in his new digs. After making us a cup of tea and marvelling at his tractor braces we explained about the project and how we’d been meeting people along the river. He’s spent much of his 71 years by the Stour and other rivers in East Anglia as a keen angler and regaled many a story of the fish he’d caught in places on the water. Even as a boy, whilst living in Basildon, he’d go on fishing trips with his father to the Stour and other places around the county, including Holehaven Creek, the Maplin Sands and the pier at Southend.
He’s caught a lot of fish in his time, including just one turbot, and many of them on cold icy days in the depths of winter. His knowledge of good fishing spots, and the people and clubs that manage them is rich and varied, even if the defining factor of a particular trip was a couple of tiddlers. When we visited Foxearth Meadows earlier in the years we were near a large fishery but neither of us saw the large henronry in the trees above that Mervyn spoke of, the tall lanky birds apparently look rather incongruous balancing high in the branches. The conversation often veered off course and took to more philosophical and scientific territory, themes that permeate much of his poetry and prose.
Mervyn runs the Littoral Press which has published many books by other authors as well as himself, and he has been a keen performer on the Essex poetry scene for a long time and one of the feature poets at this years Essex Poetry Festival. He revealed that he’d also written a book about the Stour, as yet unpublished, and showed us some of the photographs he’d used in it. Writers block is frightening and to combat this he just keeps writing, any time of day or night, whenever the ideas come to him, working through it. Notes books are everywhere, in the every room of the house, the car, by the bed. Writing is written and only later are the good bits kept and rest got rid of.
His poetic manner, quick wit and sense of humour add a thoughtful depth to the conversation whilst never being far from a laugh or a smile. He likened fishing to a zen practice, waiting, focusing intently on the float as the rest of the world faded away, leaving time to think and process ideas. It helps him to clear his head and let words come in. As well as writers such as RS Thomas, Edward Thomas, Ronald Blythe, Richard Mabey, Ted Hughes and Walt Whitman, nature and spirituality are a big inspiration to much of his work and he’d rather be immersed in nature to write it than be indoors. He’s well aware that farming is very industrialised ‘It’s a green factory out there’ but this helps him tune in to the wildlife around him. As well as seeing many birds, deer and badgers near his home he regularly drives to favourite spots in Suffolk and Essex by the river to observe, think and write. He’s seen otters, which have been known to eat just the brain and liver of large carp caught from a well stocked 'carp puddle', much to the annoyance of fishing society members. The Thames and Stour estuaries were also places he’s visited many times, often to dig for lugworm to use as bait. Mervyn called them the 'powerhouses of evolution', where sea creatures would have first hauled themselves out of the mud to become land dwellers. He informed us that the coast is slightly warmer than inland regions and that he loves icy weather...there are several snowy scenes in paintings around his front room to attest to that.
All in all, we found Mervyn to be a warm, friendly and generous person with a wealth of knowledge and rich personal experiences. He has a real way with words and definitely speaks like a writer. If you get the chance to hear one of his talks, poetry performances or many books we'd recommend it.