This month I have four short videos of writers reading their own work for you to enjoy.
All were filmed at a free poetry and music festival in Bangor, North Wales, earlier this year. This annual festival is called “Curiad Bangor” or, in English, “Bangor Pulse” which is a great, inclusive, name covering anything with a beat, whether in words or music.
As part of this year’s festival, I organised a night of poetry and prose performances and it happened to feature some writers who subscribe to the weekly freewriting prompts I send out for free to anyone who signs up on this website.
Three of the performers read work that had been sparked originally by one of my freewriting prompts and although of course the work is theirs and theirs alone, it was such an honour to be credited with inspiring them to write it.
I hope their pieces will show how freewriting from a prompt can form the basis of finished work, after judicious editing. Perhaps they will inspire you to sign up and have a go too.
First up is a lovely, sinuous piece of writing about jazz by Nigel Stone.
In classes on the short story or novel, an old standby of mine is to invite students to write about the strangest person they’ve ever met. Elaine Hughes produced this absolutely hilarious and yet very affectionate piece about a real eccentric with the title “The most peculiar person I ever met”. It brought the house down!
Last but not least, here’s Anna Powell. She reads two poems. I’m not sure which prompt formed the start of the first poem (“Spiders”) but the second poem, about her hearing problems, was from a prompt that she had to adapt to her own use and I like to think that it was the practice of freewriting that gave her the freedom and courage to do it. Not only has this produced an excellent poem, it also gives us much more of Anna herself and I felt priviledged to be invited into her inner world.
To round off the show, here is myself and partner David performing a Hopewell Ink piece. So far, all of Hopewell Ink’s words have arrived in a freewrite of mine. It often takes a while for the finished version to emerge but I hope that the freshness of freewriting (those “first thoughts”) remains. This is a seasonal piece that celebrates autumn but in a less-than-conventional way.
To sign up for a free weekly writing prompt, please put your e-mail address in the box at the top left of the page. More details here. Thanks!
My students say yes, it certainly does!
Most creative writing courses will have an element of rough, initial drafts done either in the classroom or as part of the process of producing work for assessment. The course I have just finished teaching, however, put the practice of doing intense, short bursts of unplanned writing (a technique known as freewriting) at its very core.
In every class I included at least two freewriting sessions and advised my students to do a ten-minute freewrite every day if at all possible.
The students did not share these freewritten pieces of writing with each other but used them as the raw material for on-the-spot short passages to share, or as the starting point for the completed pieces of work that they read out in the final session.
Sometimes I would give prompts, and sometimes we would generate prompts by creating, and then picking out at random, folded-over slips with short phrases on them.
There was a lot of laughter and the work that resulted was fresh, original and surprising. In fact, when I asked the participants to reflect on the experience at the end, the commonest reaction was their surprise at what they had produced.
Here are some of the written comments that the students made at the end of the course, quoted with their permission, on how freewriting worked for them.
The Element of Surprise
The first three students quoted all talk about the pleasure of surprising themselves:
“It’s a way to give yourself permission to write with almost no expectation of any particular result, so that there is surprising joy to be found in what results. It’s like opening a door to a creative area of the mind and just letting words flood out. I have surprised myself at what has come out both in terms of subject and content. I have discovered a narrative voice and am excited to allow it future ‘ramblings’ as I find I am pleased in a writerly way with what comes out. Who knew?”
“Freewriting has got me writing, and with regular freewriting I am developing my ‘writing muscle’. The no-stopping rule does seem to improve my thinking and I’ve been surprised at some of the ideas that have emerged from the process. Using freewritten pieces to work up into finished pieces was much more enjoyable and effective, I felt, than working in any other way.”
“The freewriting exercises have allowed me this freedom to just write — computers so get in the way of the process. Freewriting really surprised me: I am a writer! OK, so never a professional but someone who enjoys words, just as I did as a child. I can see that there is still so much that I want to tap into and to use my unconscious and dreams to inform further art work.”
Silencing the Inner Critic
As you see from that last quote, some of my students were practicing visual artists and they noticed that freewriting was having good effects on this area of their creativity too.
One of the benefits of freewriting is to silence or circumvent the negativity that so often bedevils the inexperienced (and, indeed, experienced) writer, and several students reported that this was indeed a genuine and valuable result of freewriting:
“I found the process of freewriting a great opportunity to just let go. It allows the mind the opportunity to gush out thoughts and importantly to ignore the ‘critical mind’ which can interfere with both writing and art work.”
“Freewriting does indeed get you going! As someone who used to be paralysed by the blank page I could not now do without it. Freewriting has put ‘life’ in my writing, particularly in character description. I seriously doubt that I could have accessed this with my conscious thinking mind.”
“Freewriting has definitely been great for getting me writing. I’ve often been crippled by not knowing where to start, or what to write about. But with freewriting there’s no choice or decision. You just write. And yes, it turns out that you do feel more like a writer when you’re actually writing rather than just thinking about writing. I found that the interaction, or balance, between giving the mind freedom to roam while actually having to get those thoughts down on paper was a really useful exercise in being open to new ideas.”
“Freewriting has loosened up my mind. I’ve gained a lot of pleasure and fulfilment from realising I could produce creative words and express a whole range of feelings and thought without the need to keep ‘stepping back’ in critical reflection, indeed self censorship, during the actual first draft. Although I can draw on crafting after the first go, I’m now able to ‘let rip’ without the need for over-thinking which had been blocking my expression.”
Finding Your Voice
One of the key, mysterious, qualities of good writing is “voice”, and freewriting seems to be a good way to ‘find your voice’, as this student discovered:
Freewriting lets you ‘speak on paper’. I mostly hate my carefully-constructed writing: it ends up not sounding like me, which is often disappointing because in my head I am clever and hilarious. Freewriting is, I think, helping me sound more like the me I know I am.”
In short, enjoyment and confidence were the overall results of the course and I couldn’t have been more pleased to read these comments:
“Freewriting has been helpful in kick-starting imaginative writing. I have enjoyed finding out where my weird imagination might take me.”
“I’ve found freewriting frees the mind and makes me feel like a writer. It takes away the fear of the blank page, and procrastination. It gives me confidence.”
Try It Yourself!
If you’d like to try freewriting with me, The Freewriter’s Companion, there are two options:
- Sign up for my free, weekly, freewriting prompts which arrive by e-mail at 9 a.m. every Friday morning. Each one is designed to spark a ten-minute freewriting session which you can do at your leisure during the week.
- If you live in North Wales, you might like to come along to my next course which starts at the end of February 2020. There are lots more details here.
Every Friday morning since the beginning of January I have been sending ten-minute freewriting exercises to my subscribers completely free of charge.
Each one contains a new freewriting prompt plus some advice about how to go about using it (see some examples here).
The prompts are specifically designed to work with the basic unit of freewriting: an unplanned, spontaneous burst of continuous writing that lasts no longer than ten minutes. (If you have never come across the technique of freewriting, have a look at my guide How to Freewrite.)
Some exercises flex important writing muscles by asking you to look, listen or remember, and describe fully. Some give the imagination a workout: in one prompt I asked my subscribers to choose a fictitious character or an author and to meet them for a drink.
Other exercises throw a curve ball. For instance, the prompt “What is my pen doing?” was designed to make the actual act of writing strange and, in the dissociation between writer and what is written I hoped that a creative space would be opened up. One of my subscriber’s pens did some very strange things and here is what came out:
Only one prompt so far has been at all solemn, namely the one in which I asked people to describe a loved one. It was tinged with sadness because I suggested they would be glad to have these recollections in the future if the loved one was no longer around. (This was my experience and you can read about it here.)
I do think there is benefit to be gained from going psychologically deep in a freewrite. For me, the prompt “What do you want?” provided strength and clarification recently, as I am preparing to leave an employer after 30 years. But overall, these prompts are designed to be playful, liberating and fun.
It’s my experience that going straight after good writing or writing ideas with a serious attitude and the heavy weaponry of plans and outlines, or techniques and rules, is pretty much bound to result in dead writing (the weaponry kills it!). These exercises are more like jolly excursions with no particular destination. But, as you trundle along enjoying the trip, there will be bright butterflies of inspiration to be caught from out of the corner of the eye. Then, afterwards, when you read back your freewriting you can see if any of those butterflies were rare and potentially worth further study.
The pressure is off! You are writing for yourself and no one needs to read what you’ve written, or certainly not until it has been edited (sharing your raw freewriting is not usually a good idea, unless it’s as seredipitous as the example above). Freewriting’s standards are by definition low, and I supply the instructions so you don’t have to think up something to write about (obedience is very relaxing sometimes!). Also, it’s just ten minutes out of your week.
Thinking about how best to use the time we have can be such a heavy prospect: what if we make the wrong choice and end up wasting all those hours on a project that will fail? But with freewriting the investment is so low that it’s a risk that’s easy to live with.
We have (according to my calculations) 6,720 waking minutes in a week (if we sleep for 8 hours a night). Just 10 of these minutes out of every 6,720 could give you the skills, habit and material to start writing. In fact, if you write for just ten minutes regularly, you ARE a writer (because , as Peter Elbow says in Everyone Can Write, a writer is a person who writes).
Even if you can’t immediately see the benefit of freewriting, I think it helps to learn to waste time, and I don’t mean the sort of time-wasting that involves TV and junk food! The creative process is all about not knowing what, if anything, you will end up with. In this profit-obsessed and product-driven world, creative time-wasting is a radical act (and surprisingly hard to justify). All writers, including professionals, would be well-advised to revert sometimes to the child-like activity of making things up just to see what happens.
Learning to let go of things you have written is another benefit of the ten-minute freewriting sessions. The instruction to keep writing no matter what, teaches your hand and heart to write fearlessly, and it is only by actually writing that writing gets done. Unfortunately, many people freeze up when they try to write. But if you are used to writing for a short length of time and, more often than not, throwing the whole lot away afterwards, then you won’t scare yourself into stopping. Instead you can keep going, knowing that it’s OK to produce rubbish. Getting though that barrier of having to be “good” frequently means you can find the inspiration on the other side of fear.
My Friday freewriting exercises are not just for writers, although I occasionally note how writers could take them forward in a specific way. Freewriting is a powerful tool for self-development too, and I believe that the actual act of writing is, in itself, self-creating and self-medicating. It will tell you who you are and what really matters to you. Equally, for society as a whole, creative writing is a way to increase human dignity and to assert the worth of the individual. And it’s fun!
Please sign up (by putting your e-mail address in the box at the top, on the right) and give it a go. The freewriting prompts will arrive at 9 a.m. every Friday morning.
The e-mails go directly from me to your inbox and I have nothing to sell, so you can rest assured that I won’t annoy you with marketing (neither will I share your e-mail with anyone else). The Friday e-mails will continue right through this year (barring disasters) and will remain free for now. In the future I might think about a small fee, so grab them for nothing while you can and see if you can turn yourself into a writer in just ten minutes a week.
To get you going, here is the prompt from yesterday. Why not try it right now?
Freewriting Exercise # 23
Here’s another of those prompts that you can repeat as many times as you want to during the ten minutes until you take off, rather like a horse running up to the same fence many times and then finally clearing it.
Freewrite for ten minutes on: “I want to write about…”
If you are aiming at fiction, you might hit upon a great plot or a character for a story, novel or play, or surprise yourself by discovering a theme that you didn’t realise was compelling for you. On the other hand, if you need to digest your own experiences, keep dipping your hand into the reservoirs of memory and you will find what needs to be written about.
Always try to be specific. If you discover that you want to write about politics, for instance, make sure you narrow it down, and if you find you want to write about your childhood then go straight into the details: clothes, houses, food, toys.
The best way to approach this prompt is with a light-hearted attitude so if you want to write about crazy stuff, just go with it. The material that is right for you is likely to be hidden somewhere in the playful writing that freewriting allows you to do.
Kathy Hopewell, The Freewriter’s Companion.
Copyright © 2019 The Freewriter’s Companion, All rights reserved.
I’m excited to say that my post
is up at WRITE TO DONE, a great website that really does have “unmissable articles about writing”!
I’d like to thank Laura, the editor, for having me as a guest blogger, and to welcome Write to Done readers to my website.
And don’t forget to sign up to receive a free prompt every Friday to begin your freewriting journey. The box is on every page, at the top right hand side. I’ll send you a short prompt direct to your inbox every week to kick-start a ten-minute freewriting session.
I am a huge fan of Austin Kleon. His advice to artists is to “show your work” or, in other words, to share the creative process in order to invite input, garner interest and de-mystify the labour involved.
In this spirit I thought I would share some writing with you which is still in development. It’s destined as a new piece for my spoken word band Hopewell Ink and although I’m fairly happy with the words as I’ve written them, collaboration with my musical partner could lead to changes. For instance, it’s not unknown for me to redraft after, or even during, the sessions in which he devises the sounds or music to go with the words: it’s a two-way street where his sounds make me re-think my words at the same time as my words are suggesting sounds to him. We rarely disagree…
The new piece is called “Gentle Men”. Rather amazingly, it originated in an idea I had over 13 years ago and is listed in a notebook as a “genre-indeterminate idea” meaning I didn’t know if it might turn into a poem, story or even, I suppose, a novel. Hopewell Ink was a long way in the future then.
The direct source was a song by John Martyn called “Don’t You Go” a hauntingly beautiful lament about the perennial sacrifice of young men by warmongers, and the words are an appeal to resist the call to arms. (You can read the lyrics here.) Loving John Martyn’s music as I did (and do), I was moved by the song and made these (freeewritten) notes:
This languished in my notebook until 2013 when I exhorted myself to have “another go”:
In the second note, I’m focusing on the young male singers themselves, after seeing this video on Youtube of Tim Buckely singing “Song to the Siren”. Again, however, the “germ” didn’t grow into anything.
But the last few years of the #MeToo movement have put ideas about masculinity into new contexts.
Feminists such as myself have spent years analysing and protesting against the ways that society sets out what should be rewarded in women (e.g. attractiveness, docility, selflessness). There has never been a shortage of descriptions of the ideal woman by men (in art, advertising, or government policy, for instance), but women rarely spell out what they want men to be like. Culturally, the image of the superhero is maybe the closest to a shared male ideal, but that isn’t much practical help to anyone.
Some men, such as Robert Webb (see a clip from an interview here), have been trying to de- and re-construct the idea of masculinity and I think women should join in the debate. Female views should in theory be welcomed because some men nowadays seem to be genuinely confused over issues of consent, and basic good manners.
It’s all made me want to identify and explain clearly what I think is admirable in men, so I went back to my notebook entries and finally wrote something based on those old fragments. Nervous about sharing my views on masculinity in public, I tried it out first on the men in my life…and they liked it!
Here it is, then: “Gentle Men” which will be coming to a Hopewell Ink gig or CD soon, in some form or other! Let me know if you like it, or have some suggestions for improvement.
I’d also be interested to hear your views on masculinity today, whatever your gender: what, for you, is a gentle man? Or do you have a different ideal of masculinity altogether? Do you agree with Robert Webb that masculinity has no meaning or relevance in modern society?
Finally, why not make these questions the basis of a freewrite using the prompt “what is a gentle man?” or “which men have I admired and why?” Choose one and write without stopping for 10 minutes, putting down exactly what you find in your head without editing or censorship. Alternatively you could try freewriting on the more direct question “what is a good man?” in order to blast through your defences and give you a truthful result. Who knows, it might even lead on to a story or a poem. Good luck!
UPDATE: we released the album LURID on January 13th 2019 and “Gentle Men” is the last track.
You can listen for free, or pay to download it, here.
Instead of a post this month, here’s the link to the Radio 3 programme Exposure featuring my band Hopewell Ink at Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda, North Wales, broadcast last Thursday.
We are on first, and there’s also a short interview in which I explain how these spoken word and music pieces started off as freewriting exercises. Hope you enjoy it!
If you would like to buy our CD, which is called The Cure for Silence, please go to the Hopewell Ink page here
Since 2013 I’ve been part of a band called Hopewell Ink and we’ve performed in local venues around North Wales. Hopewell Ink consists of spoken word, and various instruments including drums, harmonium, and slide guitar. The words are written and performed by me, and the electronic or acoustic music and sounds are created and performed by my partner, David Hopewell.
On Wednesday March 14th BBC Radio 3 are hosting a gig at Neuadd Ogwen in Bethesda and Hopewell Ink will be performing at 8 p.m., followed by two other bands. Link to Neuadd Ogwen The gig will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Thursday March 29th at 11 p.m. on “Exposure” which is a monthly programme that showcases music from different parts of the country.
We perform pieces that range from descriptive landscape poems (such as “Curled Slug and Scaffolding”) to cheerful, almost danceable numbers (like “Hard Heart”). Some tackle big topics such as what heaven might be like (if it existed), while others are less grand: one is about an annoying, unidentifiable noise. There are soundscapes of the natural environment and word-portraits of cities, people and daydreams. We even try to tune in to the whispered words of dead spirits.
There’s a CD in production called “The Cure for Silence” (named after the title track) and we’re hoping that copies will be available on the night, and as downloads at https://hopewellink.bandcamp.com/album/the-cure-for-silence.
I compose all the words for Hopewell Ink and every piece I’ve worked on has started out as freewriting. It will have been a ten-minute freewrite on a random topic, perhaps, or something I’ve written when away from home in response to a new place. I then take the kernel or even a whole passage of freewritten material and develop it, by addition or subtraction, into a finished shape. Usually what I produce has a beginning, middle and end, but sometimes it will bear the trace of the associational nature of freewriting and work more like a series of loosely-connected images, which is how Still Life with Old Shoe ended up. You can listen to that track here
It’s Sunday lunchtime and we’re sitting in the kitchen. David’s just made some soup. He’s wearing a Captain Beefheart T-shirt and is finishing off the dregs of a bottle of brandy. He seems somewhat reluctant at first to answer my questions, so I start with the easy ones:
Me: How would you describe Hopewell Ink?
Him: Spoken songs? Or maybe art music. Sound art, perhaps.
Me: Would you say it was experimental?
Him: Not exactly experimental. Unusual. It’s unusual because it has spoken word with specifically composed musical backing. Not many people do this. The late Jayne Cortez, who performed with Ornette Coleman was one. [here’s a link to Cortez performing with her son]
Me: What would you say is the usual format, then, for spoken-word and music performance?
Him: Rap. But rap is street music and we’re coming from a different context, which I suppose is poetry on the page. Rap is the route most people go down, like Kate Tempest. It’s aggressive, in-your-face, and we’re more contemplative.
Me: You come from an environmental sound recording background. How does that connect to what you do with Hopewell Ink?
Him: Well, if you remember [I didn’t!] the first incarnation of Hopewell Ink was in one of my long pieces of environmental recordings called Surfaces [here’s the link ]
In Surfaces I used hydrophones, contact mics on fences and Aeolian instruments [instruments played by the wind]. You added some spoken words but they were just one element and added after the other parts were put together, whereas now the words are the focus. Back then, when I was doing the original recordings at The Spinneys [a bird reserve near Bangor] or by the river [in the Ogwen valley], you were freewriting at the same time, in the same place.
Me: How important is the environmental sound aspect in Hopewell Ink?
Him: Not very. But we do have it on one track: Newborough. We might use it again in the future but it would be a different balance between the spoken and field recordings because the focus is on the words now. And we have shorter pieces.
Me: Would you say what Hopewell Ink does is “difficult” or “inaccessible”?
Him: No. Generally people like listening to it and find it interesting, and moving. It’s very accessible. Some spoken word is very formulaic and stylised but I think Hopewell Ink is more accessible because there’s more going on. The aim is to add additional elements to the spoken word format and give it more depth.
Me: Can you sing along/dance/take drugs/have sex to Hopewell Ink?
Him: Sing? No. Dance? Occasionally. Take drugs? I’ve heard it’s happened. Have sex? Well, the one about the dead people might put you off.
Me: Is it any good to put on in the background, at a party, maybe, or while working?
Him: Terrible idea. You wouldn’t want it on at a party, unless you want it to sound like there’s more people there. And it’s definitely not background music. It invites active listening.
Me: What’s that?
Him: Active, or deep listening as Pauline Oliveros calls it, is where you consciously bring attention to something rather than a more passive approach where you already know what you are going to hear (like Abba’s Greatest Hits).
Me: Improvisation is one of your other musical interests. Do you improvise as part of the process for Hopewell Ink?
Him: All the music and sounds for Hopewell Ink are improvised at the composition stage and some elements are improvised on stage. I have a basic structure but I never play exactly the same thing twice. I do use some loops, though. They are either recorded in advance or during the performance, then I set them to run as a backing.
Me: People might be interested to know if the words or the music come first.
Him: Words more often come first but not always. I had the concept for Electronic Voice Phenomenon [a piece about the spiritualist idea of being able to hear the voices of dead people in electronic white noise] and you produced the words. Most often I’ve had a musical idea and you’ve offered a piece of freewriting to fit it, then we’ve worked on it together.
Me: What’s the best and worst thing that’s happened during a Hopewell Ink gig?
Him: Best: when we got Electronic Voice Phenomenon to work properly and everyone was surprised, and a bit spooked, to find the room filling up with whispering voices. Worst: major technological breakdowns almost every other time we’ve tried to perform Electronic Voice Phenomenon.
Me: Like the time the echo wouldn’t work and the loop had a recording of us arguing on it that we couldn’t switch off?
Him: Yes, that one.
Me: Where do you see Hopewell Ink going next?
Him: I’m guessing you mean artistically. We seem to be producing simpler things. Shorter, and snappier, like “Ticking” rather than the older stuff like “Still Life with Old Shoe” that’s longer and more complicated. But it all depends what inspiration strikes next. It might be a concept album! One of my favourite pieces of music recently was “Sleep” by Max Richter and that lasts eight hours.
Me: Hmm. We’ll see. Finally, what’s your rider for our gig on 14th March?
Him: It’d better be another bottle of brandy, I’ve finished this one!
This month’s post is a fairy story I wrote some years ago (all rights reserved, folks!).
I hope it will amuse everyone and appeal to writers especially. See if you can identify the different writing gurus, they are all connected with freewriting. If you spot any resemblance to TV personalities or shows of the past, these are entirely co-incidental.
The Makeover by Kathy Hopewell
Once upon a time, a woman called Charlotte sent in her video tape. On the film were pictures of her dressed as normal. She wore Peter Pan collars, ugly brown glasses, and the most hideous beige skirt with a fallen hem, but secretly she had always wanted to be a novelist.
— Help me! she wailed, like a desolate child.
In the studio, the style guru is on the sofa watching Charlotte’s video. She beams with anticipation as it comes to an end and swivels round to face the camera.
— Well, we thought we could help, she says, and we picked Charlotte out of two hundred hopefuls to come in and give herself up to us, body and soul. We started by showing her exactly what she’s been doing wrong all these years.
Cut to Charlotte herself, looking sheepish in her baggy grey underwear. She steps into the magic room of mirrors to confront her misshapen and bulky outline.
She is prodded and spun on her heel.
— It’s such a waste! The style guru shakes her head. You’re simply not making the most of yourself. And she puts an arm around her pale, wobbly waist.
This unexpected kindness brings out Charlotte’s tears.
Then it’s time to show her some new looks on shop dummies.
The first model is an American poet living in an adobe house in New Mexico. The style guru explains that the way the skirt flows over the body, skimming the hips and giving the impression of slenderness, is achieved by completely letting go of the internal censor and writing whatever comes into your head without stopping for ten minutes.
— But do you really think I could get away with this? asks Charlotte.
— Yes! Yes! she shrieks, Just try it! Try it and see!
The second model has confessed in the past to hiding under a baggy alcohol addiction but now gets up every morning to three clean sheets, which she covers with her hopes and fears. After that, she knows exactly what to put on for the day. You can see the clarity and sense of direction in the strong lines of her suit.
— But I don’t have a lot of time in the morning, says Charlotte.
— Oh for goodness sake, do stop being so negative! scolds the style guru.
Charlotte looks doubtful.
— You always wanted to be a writer, didn’t you? Ever since you were a child?
— Yes, says Charlotte, Yes, I did.
— So what stopped you?
— Well, the truth is I didn’t think I could ever show my legs.
— That’s so common! We hear it all the time! But Charlotte, what’s the worst that can happen? Are you afraid that someone will think you are too old, or too slutty? Well you’re not and you’ll just have to trust us on this. Do you trust us?
— OK, she says.
— Well done, Charlotte! You won’t regret it. Now, off to the shops!
The next day Charlotte clutches her pen, hoping she can afford what she wants. The choice is amazing! There are brightly-coloured chick-lit books, elegant and exclusive poetry collections and row upon row of horror novels. She desperately tries to remember what she’s looking for, but her mind goes blank. She is saved by the shrill descant of the style guru approaching.
— No, Charlotte, not the black! Didn’t we say ‘no black’? You have to give up this ‘do or die’ attitude, it’s too dark for you. Look, before you try for a whole outfit, you need to get the underlying approach right. Did you know that two out of three women are wearing the wrong underlying attitude? And it shows in the way that they hold themselves. Once you get that right, everything will look better on you.
They go to an exclusive boutique. The walls are lined with shelves of frothy lace and shiny satin, and when Charlotte pulls one out, it is the most intricate and beautifully-designed quotation she has ever read. By chance, she has picked up her exact cup size. She reads: I shall not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.
— Charlotte! It’s just right for you, and William Blake is the best. It’s always worth risking that extra bit more.
— Try it on!
So she does, and it fits perfectly.
— You can come here whenever you want, there’s lots more pieces you’ll like. You must try a Chekov some day.
— But what about the owner? Charlotte feels a bit strange just helping herself.
— A genius! So sad to lose her. She had the best eye in the business, and she even developed her own lines.
The style guru pulls out a drawer labelled Idleness and inside is something that will cure the drooping that you get when you feel guilty about doing nothing. It is cleverly designed so that the rounded shape of the imagination is restored, and the lace is very forgiving.
— And look, she goes on, here’s one of her really racy black numbers. She holds up the quotation in front of Charlotte’s entranced face: Be careless, reckless! Be a lion! Be a pirate! Write any old way.
— Oh, I want that one too! cries Charlotte.
After this, finding the right things is easy. Charlotte moves instinctively towards the muted greens of Virginia Woolf and prefers double-layered constructions, always in the well-tailored limited omniscient: she’s too heavy around the hips for the first person, apparently.
Finally the day arrives when Charlotte must reveal her new self. She is sent to the hairdresser for the finishing touches. John is quite severe and he won’t allow her to wear her long style any more. He proposes to cut, dramatically.
— Well, all right, I’ve come this far, says Charlotte, looking for the last time at her haphazard, plentiful curls and embellishments.
He smoothes and snips and divides her scruffy tangles. He brushes a last ink-black lock into the sleek shape of a comma. Now, the strong lines of her cheekbones come out and it’s as if her real personality has emerged for the first time.
At last Charlotte stands in front of the covered mirror. She feels a sort of fizz in her fingers.
— Ready? asks the woman, fidgeting with anticipation.
Charlotte shuts her eyes and thinks the word ‘eagle’, then nods. Off comes the cloth. Her knuckles prickle, and feathers start to appear, wetly snapping out from her hands and elbows. Her back feels tight and uncomfortable; something is trying to grow, very quickly, from her shoulder-blades. At last she begins to beat her large, new wings. The style guru is speechless, which has never happened before. With a deafening sound like falling rubble, Charlotte flies to the open window and away into the sky.
A few weeks later the style guru is on the sofa once again, armed with the remote control.
— So let’s see how Charlotte got on, after her transformation. Has she kept to our rules or is she wearing those awful slippers again?
She shoots her remote at the screen like a gunslinger and Charlotte appears, resplendent in gorgeous caramel and vanilla plumage.
— Wonderful! See how she’s mixing and matching and creating her own look! Then the woman leans in close to the screen. Hold on a minute, what’s that? I think it’s an egg! Well, she’s done magnificently to lay that all by herself.
The egg is small but robust. Charlotte has had to sit on it, to keep it warm, pretty much all of the time, even when she’d rather have been watching television. Suddenly, a crack appears and a corner pokes out.
— My goodness! It’s a paperback! exclaims the woman.
It takes quite a while to ease it out of the rigid shell, but soon the pages are dry and Charlotte beams with maternal joy. She cradles the young book.
— I just can’t believe it! she says, See how bright and glossy it is! And it’s all mine!