Emotion, Thought and Word Meet Paintings

by Andy Miller, 22 September 2023

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words”

— Robert Frost

Our book, Way to the West, began life in late October 2020 when we managed to grab a week’s holiday in a remote National Trust cottage just outside St Just in the far west of Cornwall. We returned exactly one year later. Like everybody else – or just about everybody else – we had stayed at home through that first year of the Coronavirus pandemic, living on Zoom and actually ‘seeing’ very few other people as the country was subjected to various lockdown arrangements. Although allowed to travel during those Octobers, on both occasions very few public spaces were open and access to those that were was governed by elaborate, controlled procedures. We had, essentially, transported the isolated nature of our home life to this new and beautiful setting.

So, what were the origins of our joint book? What gave us the impetus to attempt a collaboration of paintings and poetry? Why at that time and why this particular subject?

Whenever we holiday, even on very short one- or two-days breaks, Vally brings her art materials and creates wonderful watercolour paintings. In my case, I have been writing and publishing, one way and another, for fun or in a professional capacity, all my life. I usually keep at least a diary record of such times. Reflecting now on what we did together, I think that the idea of trying to create a joint book evolved at some time after our first visit. At a later stage, we began to look more critically at each other’s work, to discuss it and make suggestions, and even to map a loose structure that a book might follow.

But, looking at the quotation from Robert Frost, it occurs to me that there were probably two different sets of emotions originally at work for me before and on our first visit.

One group was related to what we had been going through as a country – the pandemic, obviously, but also the turmoil over national identity and character. From the very western tip of the country, from a region with its own very distinctive history, character and culture, it was also hard not to look back and reflect upon the heart and nature of England itself.

But I also had strong feelings of a more personal and idiosyncratic nature. I had first rock climbed on the Cornish sea cliffs in the mid-1960s and was experiencing powerful memories of being young, cocky, full of life and with close friends sharing those intensely adventurous times. Friends who are no longer with us – but who were crowding close again as ghosts along that familiar shoreline.

With that jumble of strong feelings looking to express themselves, the final catalyst to the actual writing, and doing so in poetry, was watching Vally slowly recreate those landscapes back at the desk in our cottage. I find her silent concentration mesmerising and the slow emergence of scenes and views that I too have witnessed, sometimes only minutes earlier, powerfully moving. It is as if this recreation and interpretation pull at ill-formed thoughts that are somewhere inside my body, pull them out into the world in the shape of rough words and ill-formed phrases.

This process feels intensely physical and is matched by watching the paint and the composition evolve in its distinctive and, to me, mysterious manner. Writing then follows its own procedures – words, their selection and their combination, rhythm, emphasis and silence. Rejection, revision, re-writing. Round and round.

An emotional jumble first finds its thoughts and then its music, its poetry, to the steady accompaniment of brush strokes, ink and wash.

Creating the book together was a writing first for me – and a marvellous one at that.


Andy Christopher Miller and Vally Miller

Paperback • Large format: Crown Quarto (246mm x 189mm)


ISBN: 9781804470329