Writer Mimi Thebo talks us through a recent stroll along the Harbourside to Bristol Cathedral for her latest book launch... 

Image - Hotwells in the morning by Jim Cossey 

I’m in Bristol on a misty morning, on my way to the great Bristol Cathedral, where I am to hold a story event with my book Dreaming the Bear. I’ve just been nominated for the Carnegie medal and I’m too excited to work at home, so I’m checking out the Chapter House in advance of my event. I’ve been told it’s one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the whole of Europe. 

On my way, I find myself near the Harbourside. It’s still the heart of Bristol, even though these days we’re much more likely to be arriving for a cinema or gallery visit than departing on a sea voyage. I glance to see what’s on at the Watershed, but heroically resist going into an early showing or stopping for a mid-morning coffee there or at one of the other local cafés. Falafel King are just opening up hatches on their Middle Eastern takeaway van and I smile, remembering when my daughter insisted every visit to Bristol included a stop there and a play in the fountains. 

Image - Mimi Thebo 

The mist is thicker by the water and the busy weekday bustle seems hushed and still. The shapes of the boats are doubled. The sounds they make seem to travel much better than footsteps or traffic. 

Heavy mist always seems to make a kind of doorway into the past. Idling past the water, I think about all the many ships and boats that have brought their cargoes into Bristol Harbour. Misery came on the slave ships, but other boats brought joy: wine was the chief commodity of Bristol’s early history. Averys Wine Merchants, up the hill from the beautiful Bristol Hippodrome theatre, began trading in the 1700s. They still have a tunnel leading from their cellars down to the waterfront. Walking it once, I imagined all the hands and backs, all the sweat and cunning that got the barrels from the continent to the shop.    

Image - Averys Wine Merchants

Averys always have a wine or two open for tasting, but I pass the path up to their doors. Twenty minutes before, I had passed St Nicholas’ Market, close enough to smell the bread and cookies from the artisan baker’s stall. I am doing well at resisting temptation today, I think.  

A bus for the University of the West of England rumbles past. They awarded my doctorate. I’ll wear their red and silver gown for the rest of my life to formal academic events. I have special silver satin shoes to match.

The bus has reminded me of the shoes and now I remember that I bought them here, on Park Street, at one of the trendy boutiques.  Again, I’m tempted – this time to have a look around a shop or two on the steep hill that leads up to the University of Bristol and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. This is why I’m not a café writer. I get distracted when I’m out and about. I write in a little shed, lined with metal to protect against wifi and mobile signals. I have a boring view of a vegetable plot and a fence.

Once again, I resist temptation and turn to walk past the library, where I sometimes hold writers’ surgeries with the Royal Literary Fund, and into the Cathedral. I have a quick talk to the shop staff who will be selling my book at the event and am delighted to see they’ve got a stack on their counter. It’s a beautiful little shop with jewellery and gifts as well as books and I am only saved from serious distraction when a volunteer arrives to take me to the Chapter House. 

Image - Bristol Cathedral 

Although most of the Cathedral was built in the 1850s, some of the elements are from a far older abbey. The square Chapter House is one of the oldest of these. Its stone walls have intricate patterns, carved by hand and I feel the past very near again. I sit in an alcove where generations of monks sat, just off the covered walkway of the old cloister. I realise that the monks, too, knew the benefit of shutting themselves off in order to minimise temptations and concentrate and I feel very much at home in the ancient room. I listen to my voice echo, hear bells ringing the quarter hour. Again I feel that the past is present.  

It’s going to be a wonderful place to work with stories. I will put my life-sized cardboard bears there and there, I think, and the little snowy forest that I carry about with me will go on a great armed chair. A member of staff arrives and unlocks a hidden door to the garden. I notice that the mist has burned away and that it’s turning into a beautiful, sunny afternoon. 

That’s when I stop resisting temptation. I close my notebook with a snap and follow him into the beautiful garden, where late roses still bloom. I’ll have a cup of tea, I decide, and switch on my phone again. I put my hand on a stone wall, already warming from the sun and think of all the people who helped to build the Cathedral, to build Bristol. And then, like they did, I go back to work, so that I, too, can leave something beautiful behind me.

About the author: Mimi Thebo is an American author who lives in the West Country and writes for children and teens. She has just published Dreaming the Bear, about a young girl called Darcy who lives in the wintry wilderness of Yellowstone National Park where she comes face to face with a grizzly bear. Find out more about this and her other books here: www.mimithebo.net.

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