Katy Ewing (University of Glasgow): ‘Writing about Corncockle’


My own recent experience with deep time was in a return to a place from my past in order to
write a place-based piece of prose. The place was linked to vivid memories from my childhood: a
‘tip’ or dump attached to an amazing old sandstone quarry a few miles from where we lived in
rural South West Scotland, which my parents (poor artists) used to visit specifically to seek out
useful things to salvage in the early 1980s. Three elements were important to my personal
mythology about this place: the frightening tip where the rubbish of others might contain treasure
for us, the amazing spectacle of the quarry itself, out of which sandstone had been obtained to
build important buildings nationally and internationally, and the story my parents had told me
that the footprints of dinosaurs had been uncovered far down below during quarrying. The
juxtaposition of the discarded material goods of the late twentieth century – the smells and the
threat and danger of the tip – with this slice through the earth into the very distant past was both
thrilling and disturbing. As I investigated the story behind the quarry, I discovered that this place
had been tied to the story of a fascinating early 19th century local landowning natural historian
who had reprinted classic natural history texts to make them more accessible to ordinary people
and whose study of the quarry’s fossil footprints had been instrumental in a massive shift in
contemporary scientific understandings. The personal linking of my own past with that of this
important – but unknown to me – historical figure, and of the earth itself began a trajectory in my
own research and writing, exploring new interdisciplinary ways of seeing, experiencing and
representing place, which I continue to explore. Katy Ewing is a writer and artist living in rural Southwest Scotland. 





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