Dr Kathy Hopewell is a part time lecturer at Bangor University in North Wales, teaching literature, women’s studies and creative writing.
She has been writing fiction since 2006 and Swimming with Tigers, a re-imagining of the lives of the women surrealists, is her first novel. It was longlisted in the Mslexia Women’s Novel competition, 2015.
She performs spoken word and sound compositions with her partner David, as Hopewell Ink.
She started a Reading Group in 1989 which is still going.
She buys a lot of clothes from Boden.
FROM MY NOTEBOOK
Still Life with Old Shoe
This is a spoken word piece created from my own freewriting with music composed and performed by David Hopewell. The title refers to a painting by Miro.
Swimming with Tigers
This is an extract in which the main character attends the opening night of a Surrealist exhibition (based on the real exhibition at Galeries des Beaux Arts in Paris, 1938) where her own artwork is displayed.
The entrance to the gallery was hidden by a crowd of women in long, shiny dresses and men in black evening clothes. The Surrealists stood out like paupers at a feast in their crumpled day clothes and Penelope even wished for a moment for one of her coming-out gowns and some elegant sandals instead of the homely skirt and serviceable Cossack boots she was wearing. Alain was gesturing at Rolf who fought through the crowd like a strong swimmer to reach him.
After a brief discussion, Rolf turned and shouted “The Exhibition will open in ten minutes, ladies and gentlemen!”
There was a general milling about and some of the crowd moved off into the fashionable furniture shop next door, which appeared to be open.
“What’s the matter?” Penelope asked Alain, joining him when the way was clear.
“D’Argent isn’t here!”
“Who will give the opening speech?” asked Rolf.
“Will you?” asked Alain.
“Yes, I can do this,” said Rolf, swallowing hard.
“Come on then, let’s prepare” and the men went inside, leaving Penelope behind. Gabriel stood nearby, looking as nervous and out-of-place as usual.
“Shall we go in?” Penelope asked Gabriel, and was rewarded with an enormous smile. He offered her his arm and they stepped over the sill. Behind the handsome wooden doors was a large courtyard. In the centre was a black taxi cab.
Then Maurice came out of one of the buildings and placed a large crate at Gabriel’s feet.
“Gaby, you are to give out one to every visitor. There are six more boxes and that’s all” and he went back in.
Penelope and Gabriel peered into the crate. It was full of handheld Mazda flashlights. Then people began to pour in and Penelope was jostled away; Gabriel would have to fend for himself.
A few minutes later, Rolf came out into the courtyard and climbed onto an upended crate, raising his arm for silence. Everyone turned their flashlights towards him and his bony face was lit from below like some screen vampire.
“Madames et Monsieurs!” called Rolf in a slightly hoarse voice, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Second International Exhibition of Surrealism! Ladies of the night,” Rolf paused and smiled mischievously. He pointedly looked at some of the women in the crowd causing a ripple of delight, “await you inside!” Laughter. “For, my comrades,” this time he searched for the men, “the greatest enchantment is the enchantment of desire. Beneath the world of daylight is the dimension of the dream and tonight these two realms are united in an explosion of bliss! Welcome to the Erotic Surreal!” He swept his arm behind him, presenting the black taxi like a magician revealing his illusion. “Your carriage awaits!”
The silly whispers and girlish titters died down as the crowd surged forward to surround the taxi. The little beams of light darted around, picking out the strange contents of the vehicle. The driver’s head was grotesquely enlarged and had a wide-toothed, yawning jaw. There was an elegantly dressed woman in the back and it was soon apparent from the immobility of the figures that they were dummies. Then came the sound of water. The interior of the taxi was awash with its own internal weather system and the crowd pushed and craned their necks to see how it was done. After a while water started to seep out from under the taxi wetting the cobbles and soaking the soft bejewelled slippers that some of the women wore. Exclamations of dismay mixed with the murmuring and the crowd began to filter off into the open doorway beyond, where Jean stood, in the parody of a doorman, complete with top hat.
When most of them were gone, Penelope went up to the taxi and shone her light into the streaming windows. There were little frogs hopping about amongst some greenery and the woman dummy had a mess of yellow eggy liquid on her lap which shocked Penelope and called up a brief wave of nausea. Nearby, Rolf was continuing his lecture to a bemused couple, delighting in his role as scandal-monger.
“The Erotic is a sumptuous ceremony in a tunnel!” he chanted in a declamatory voice. “The Erotic is the liberation of desire from the chains of morality! The Erotic is the imagination of the child in the body of the man!”
“And what about the body of the woman?” muttered Penelope, not loud enough for Rolf to hear.
The courtyard then emptied completely and the taxi, once again benighted, loomed like a black whale with glassy eyes. The water gushed on, running into the drains. Standing by the door was D’Argent himself. He offered his arm.
“Let us go in. May I have the pleasure of escorting the creator of the Marvellous Teacup?”
“Is that what they are calling it?”
“Do you have a name for it?”
“No,” said Penelope, “I only made it this afternoon.”
“Good, because Rolf has come up with a title for the work and I think you will like it.”
As they stepped inside the building, Penelope was glad of the steadying support of D’Argent’s arm because they were plunged into total blackness. There were no lights except for a far off glow from a collection of flashlights and suppressed laughter. Penelope fumbled for her light and switched it on then scanned her surroundings like a miner entering a new cave. They were in a narrow, seemingly endless corridor and along one wall, set at more or less regular intervals were draped or decorated figures standing in stiff, doll-like poses. They were all shop mannequins.
“Here, this is Rolf’s woman!” said D’Argent, who had no light but gently clasped Penelope’s wrist and directed her torch to the blank eyes and exaggerated lashes of the first mannequin. Penelope ran the torch down the length of its body and then up again.
The dummy had a horse’s tail and was wearing ankle socks and button-bar shoes like a schoolgirl. A man’s tie was knotted around her neck and hung low between the bare breasts of the torso. On her head was a wide-brimmed hat piled with bread rolls, bird’s wings and spherical objects which might be eggs, plus a plumber’s plunger.
D’Argent’s arm slipped away and he melted into the darkness. She was alone. The figures regarded her. They were all female. What kind of nightmare was this? Penelope crept along in the darkness, afraid that they would come to life and grab her as she went past.
One dummy had a cage around the head, with glistening celluloid fish flicking in the air-drafts. There was some sort of mixture of animal fur and wooden clothes pegs around the throat forming a collar. The rest of the doll body was nude except for a sort of G-string hung with thin chains from which jewels hung. When she stooped closer to see, the jewels turned out to be mounted on small tear-shaped mirrors, and Penelope was confronted by her own wide-open eyes staring at the nullified sex of the dummy.
One mannequin appeared to be wearing a man’s jacket and Penelope went to it hoping for a change to this relentless procession of female anatomy on display. But this dummy, although untidily dressed in a man’s jacket, shirt and tie, and wearing heavy men’s shoes, was naked at the crotch. All that was added to the nub of the artificial female pudendum was the illegible signature of the artist, scrawled in ink.
Penelope thought about turning around and leaving. The parade had sickened her but the excesses of the evening had made her brain soft and muddy and she could not get a firm grasp on her rational mind. She just knew that she didn’t belong here and that it was not a good place. She felt unsafe and ashamed without knowing why, and she pulled the collars of her jacket together.
“Penelope, is that you?” It was Jean; the last person Penelope wanted to see at that moment.
Jean came bounding up and took her hand. “Here is mon amour! Let me introduce you,” and he took her to a mannequin swathed in white with a cowl on her head which was topped with dead leaves. When Penelope shone her light at the model’s face she saw that under the hood the head was closely covered in a black fabric mask with something glittering on it. The eyes were replaced by zippers, shut tight.
“Jean, I have to go home. I’m not feeling well.”
“But Penelope, you must stay to see the dance!”
“No, I…” She dropped her head in her hands and the flashlight tumbled to the floor.
“Come, come. Here, I will hold you just for a moment.”
Jean clasped her, quite tenderly, and she felt his hot breath next to her ear. She allowed herself to abandon the weight of her head against his shoulder but then Jean’s hands began to rove, stroking her sides and squeezing her breasts, and before she knew it his lips had smudged into hers and he was forcing his tongue into her mouth.
She pushed him away and made off, running towards the lights ahead where the space finally opened out into a large, low-ceilinged room mercifully full of people. In the centre was a burning brazier next to a small pool of dirty water. There was a double bed with brass railings in each corner of the room. Penelope stood still, breathing hard like a hunted animal reaching safety. She looked around desperately and located D’Argent then made her way towards him with the vague idea of seeking his protection.
There was a curious smell in the room that caught in the back of her throat. Underfoot the floor was uneven and at each step something crunched beneath her boots. Penelope tried to follow the beams of the other lights to see what it was but most lights were pointing at the ceiling. Here was the source of the acrid smell: countless dusty coal sacks, grimy and bulging. Penelope was afraid they might fall on her head but the entire roof was covered in these pendulous egg-shaped bags and there was no escape.
Gradually the chattering died down and music could be heard but it was brief and unnaturally speeded up. The distorted music was quickly replaced by unnerving laughter, going on and on in hysterical cycles and echoing around the room. D’Argent lifted his head attentively, his expression was that of a connoisseur judging the quality of the sound as if it was a fine wine.
Next was a cockerel’s crow and to Penelope’s astonishment (she had assumed it was part of the recording) a bird materialised in a flurry of feathers right next to her. Then, into a spotlight, hastily created by someone holding aloft a lamp on the end of a pole, came a wild, dark-haired woman wearing only a loose white shirt. She swooped down on the cockerel and pirouetted towards one of the beds. She leapt onto the bed and tumbled around, still holding the cockerel which squawked with fright. Then she released the bird, leaned back, and tore open her shirt to show her bloodied breasts beneath (had she scratched herself or was this the result of the cockerel’s struggles?) Then she hurled herself into the shallow pool and curled up in a ball, motionless. There was complete, stunned silence until D’Argent began the applause. The clapping and laughing went on for some time until the tension was purged from the startled but delighted spectators. This really was something to tell their friends about in the morning!
Penelope spied a door at the back and slipped through the crowd into another room. This was the room with the Cabinet of the Marvellous and she eagerly sought out the familiarity of her own homely teacup. She remembered buying it from Monoprix in the first week she arrived in Paris and her difficulties with using the unfamiliar currency. It was prominently displayed at waist height in the front of the glass case. The spoon was placed, oddly, inside the cup instead of resting on the saucer but Penelope let that pass. Then she saw the handwritten label.
“Penelope Furr: from one hand to another.”
Penelope suddenly realised that she was going to be sick.