Anyone who has ever walked around Doreen Moody’s gardens at Wheatfield outside Limavady can’t fail but to be captivated by their splendour and beauty and, her grandson, David Lewis is no exception.
For the director of Culture Northern Ireland, whose mother is from Limavady, the gardens are brimming with history and memories of his childhood.
“When I came to stay as a young boy, I got jobs to do like salting daisies, for which I earned a penny a time, and carefully trimming a chamomile lawn,” recalls Lewis, who has been visiting the family farm on Seacoast Road all his life,” he said.
“The house has an amazing garden, created by my grandmother. With Binevenagh ever present in the distance, the river Roe down the lane, and Benone a few miles away, I’ve always loved the area. Which is why I moved to Limavady with my wife Alice a year ago,” he said.
Lewis is passionate about the past and “the layers of history which are all around us but which we often don’t notice,” he said, so it is only natural the fabulous gardens he now tends inspired his next literary project.
“I’ve wanted to tell the story of a garden for ages,” he says. “When the visitor sees a garden they see nice plants and flowers, but the gardener sees a whole other dimension, including the people who’ve been involved in the creation of the garden and hundreds of different incidents and memories. So while the novel is fiction it is also a biography of my grandmother’s real garden, full of practical tips and gardening lore, as well as some local Limavady history.”
Lewis has been lucky to enjoy support from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, most recently with a place on their ACES career development programme.
“The award has helped to raise my profile, with a number of readings, and allowed me the time and space to work on a new novel. I would encourage all artists in the borough who feel it’s time to take the next step in their career to check out the latest funding opportunities at http://www.artscouncil-ni.org.”
Asked what advice he has for would be writers, reluctantly, he said: “Concentrate on making your work the best it can possibly be. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Don’t be afraid to send stuff out. Ignore rejections, but do take on board sensible feedback. Read in public, get to know and learn from other writers, and ask for money, on the basis that if you don’t ask you definitely won’t get.”
Lewis is participating in upcoming events to celebrate Limavady’s links with the famous American writer, John Steinbeck.
”Steinbeck was a fantastic writer. His book East of Eden, which references his maternal grandfather Samuel Hamilton who came from Ballykelly, gives me goose bumps. Limavady needs to make the most of outward-looking tourism opportunities like this. We can’t just rely on the Londonderry Air to bring people to the town!,” he said.
Lewis urged residents throughout the borough to support the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre at every opportunity.
“I love the variety of the programme,” he said. “I’ve watched a couple of plays and films there but equally I’ve enjoyed talks on local wildlife and history. The recent children’s programme was also excellent. If it’s not already, I hope the centre becomes a major focal point for the town.”
David Lewis has also created an occasional blog for the project at http://www.fightingthetide.org