James Kelly is a writer and translator with a strong interest in landscape and time. His work explores interactions between different timescales, from the human to the geological and how they manifest in landscapes, and is informed by what we can learn from the cosmovisions of other peoples in our relationships with the land. He is currently working on a book on the landscapes and peoples of Chile, drawing on experiences from five years living in the country.
He has published two books: ‘Scenes from the Chilean Andes’ (2013, writing as Kenneth Araya) and ‘Earthwriting’ (2021), a collection of images and poems inspired by the geology of the province of Teruel. His writing has also appeared in journals such as ‘Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment’, ‘Landscapes: The Journal of the International Centre for Landscape and Language’, ‘Earthlines’, ‘you are here: the journal of creative geography’ and ‘Earth Island Journal’.
During his time at Faberllull, James will be working to complete the first of three parts of his book on the landscapes of Chile. The book will narrate three fictional journeys at different latitudes in the Chilean Andes, with the first focusing on the Araucaria araucana forests unique to the Southern Cone of South America. It will follow the course of the Biobío River upstream into the Andes to the landscapes of the Pehuenche people, whose name is derived from the Mapuche word for the Araucaria araucana (pehuen), inviting reflection on our own position as humans in the natural world.
In November 2021, I spent a week at the Faberllull residency in Olot, a small town in the Catalan Pyrenees with a population of 35,000, nestled in a landscape of volcanoes and forests, around 100 kilometres to the north of Barcelona. The destination suited me: at some point, I had tired of big cities, preferring instead places where I could still feel the link with the surrounding landscape. It was a week that provided a precious window of opportunity to escape from the interruptions of a freelance career whose projects and demands all too often encroach on the time I am able to set aside for writing. The residency was a chance to find a space to focus exclusively on my project on the landscapes of Chile, to draw a line in the sand by finishing one chapter of a book and starting to think ahead to the next.
Yet while the week proved productive in terms of the work I had planned, during my time at Faberllull I found much more than the concentrated solitude I had been looking for. There was Olot itself, a warm and welcoming place, with its distinctively Catalan personality. I would come to miss the town when the week was over and I descended from the mountains back into the anonymity and indifference of the big-city streets of Barcelona. I would find myself recalling, already with a certain fondness, Olot’s openness into the surrounding landscapes of La Garrotxa; the views from the window of my room and from the tops of the volcanoes that defined the topography of the town; the smell of wood smoke lingering in the air; the black igneous rocks that had worked their way into the walls of the city’s architecture. And, of course, there were the other residents with whom I shared that week: eleven of us in total, a mix of writers and visual artists of different nationalities. There were the presentations and sharing of each other’s work; the chance to learn about our respective backgrounds and to momentarily glimpse the world as others see it. There was the conviviality of our conversations over dinners that stretched late into the evenings, lubricated by a generous supply of the local wine.
The week passed quickly – too quickly – and towards the end, I found myself once again reflecting on the importance of travel: not the act of ticking off destinations on a list or – worse still – “doing” them, but the sort of travel marked by a genuine curiosity and openness to new encounters, to experiences whose significance we may only fully come to realise long after the event. It was a reminder of how important it is for us – as writers, as artists, as translators – to go out into the wideness of the world, to seek out these sorts of encounters, to keep the spirit of openness and cosmopolitanism, which feels increasingly under siege, alive.