Wednesday 19 April 2023

Anna Vaught, "These Envoys of Beauty"


Anna Vaught is an English teacher, mentor and author of several books, including 2020’s novel Saving Lucia and short fiction collection, Famished. Her shorter and multi-genre works are widely published in journals, magazines and anthologies. She is currently a columnist for Mslexia and has written regularly for The Bookseller, including as a columnist. Anna’s second short fiction collection, Ravished, was published by Reflex Press in 2022, and 2023 will see five books: memoir, These Envoys of Beauty (Reflex Press), new novel The Zebra and Lord Jones, plus The Alchemy, Anna’s first book about writing (both Renard Press, UK and Commonwealth). Saving Lucia will be published in Italian by Milan’s 8tto Edizioni as Bang Bang Mussolini. Anna is a guest university lecturer, tutor for Jericho Writers, volunteer with young people and has recently established the new Curae prize for writer-carers, with industry-wide support, and the editor of Curae: An Anthology from the Inaugural Prize (Renard Press). She works alongside chronic illness, is a passionate campaigner for mental health provision, including in the publishing industry, and she is represented by Kate Johnson of Wolf Literary, NYC. Anna has just finished a collection of essays and is working on a new novel, while two of her books are on US submission. Her website is here

About These Envoys of Beauty: A Memoir

In These Envoys of Beauty, Anna Vaught explores her relationship with the natural world, how it fed and feeds her imagination, and how it gave her hope of something different beyond the world she experienced as a child and young person. She writes about how she oriented herself to the natural world and lived within it while growing up in a rural home; about wishing trees, talking streams, and her early knowledge of plants, animals, and botanical names; about her passionate relationship, even when very young, with foraging and what was edible, how things smelled, licking the rain from leaves, drinking, growing, and cooking.

Over twelve essays, Vaught uses her relationship with the natural world to explore themes of loneliness, depression, and complex and sustained trauma within the family home, issues that shaped her early life and continue to have a far-reaching impact decades later. The text is both a detailed natural history and a complex mental health chronicle, with an exploration of intergenerational trauma; it is both personal history and a scholarly work. These Envoys of Beauty is frank in its treatment of difficult issues but offers many hopeful suggestions and ideas. 

You can read more about These Envoys of Beauty on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the memoir. 

From These Envoys of Beauty, by Anna Vaught

‘On Depression: Flood and Mud’ 

If ever I felt desperate as a child and teenager, I would run and run and go to one of the two weirs close to our house and hear the rushing anger of the water, the gorgeous curve of it and the pound. I was comforted and grounded by the sense of danger. That done, I would wade into the river Frome from one of the little mud beaches I loved so much, hopping through the holes the cows had made when coming down to drink. I would feel the slap of water weeds around my calves, then thighs too, and sometimes I would press myself against the bank, pushing my arms hard back behind me, grabbing on roots, too deep, not steady, but enthralled by the water and its rapid movement. 

On it went. It didn’t see me or care for me and that it could kill me without even knowing was a comfort: it made sense of how very tiny I was, and that, for some reason, made me feel safe. The roar of the weir was at my back, supernatural, and its volume made my anxiety and my cry small too. 

I would go home, wet, calmer, and slope to my room, or sometimes curl into a ball in my den in the creepers. I remember being in year nine in secondary school and feeling a sense of separation and my oddity. I was certain that no other fourteen-year-old in school curled themselves into a ball in a creeper den and wished themselves away. I was certain that no one else would have understood the weirdo pressed into the riverbank. What you do not know until you grow up a bit more is that the world is full of weirdos like you: water lovers, chuggers in the mud, wailers in the fields where the cows have been. That is an encouraging thought ...

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