Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A writer's dream

14 Jan 2007-01-15

It is hard to imagine a more bizarre situation than the one I encountered when I entered a hall in which a writers’ forum was taking place, in some indeterminant place in London.
Since I had not even been invited to this symposium my presence was to say the least a mystery, even to myself. There were quiet a number of people in the hall and it seemed as I wandered around that everyone was free to choose a booth occupied by writer of their liking and engage the author in conversation.
As I rounded a corner with the intention of going to the booth where a well known writer was seated, I saw seated in a dimly lit corner an elderly woman; perhaps around 70 years old. She seemed to be knitting. Curiosity got the better of me and I walked over to her, stopping just a few paces away.
She looked up at me with a faint smile and said: “Why don’t you sit down and watch me work?” I didn’t know what to say. This, after all, was a symposium for discussing the technique of writing novels, not for knitting needles!
Out of sheer curiosity I stepped closer to the woman and fixed my eyes on her knitting. It transpired as I looked, that the patterns she was making on the material on which she was knitting, were actually words. Yes! She was knitting words and images into the fabric which accepted them with the eagerness of a newly hatched chick accepting a worm from the beak of mother bird. And as I looked closer still, I noticed a perfectly shaped head of a cow and two chickens emerging amidst the letters where she was weaving speedily across the fabric she used as a canvas.
“What on earth are you doing?” I exclaimed, totally taken aback by what I was seeing.
“Writing a novel of course,” the old lady said, hardly looking up from her work.
“But…” I started.
“But what?”
“You are knitting words and images together…?”
“Isn’t that what writing is all about, Brian?” she asked.
I was astounded. How on earth did this old woman know my name? I was certain I had never met her before.
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
She smiled. Her needles clicked on and I saw a perfectly formed sentence which I could read take shape. What a delightful phrase it was!
“Why do you act as if this is the first time you have seen this type of writing?” she asked all of a sudden.
“But it is!” I cried out. “I have never seen anything like this. You are actually writing a story by knitting words alongside images. That is quiet astonishing!”
“Writing is about relating words to images,” she said calmly. “Words in any type of writing only have meaning because of the imagery they throw in our minds when we read. It is the association between words and images that gives meaning to writing.”
“Of course! And that is how one should write!” I cried out.
“That’s right,” the lady said. “Before you write anything down, ask yourself whether the word you are choosing carries enough power to attach itself to an image in the reader’s mind which closely describes what you want to state.”
“That is simple but very effective,” I exclaimed. I was now glad that none of the people passing saw any reason to give the old lady a second glance, even though her knitted story was growing right before my eyes. I could hardly imagine a more complex yet astonishingly simple form of story telling.
Suddenly, she paused from her knitting. “You see this image of a chicken?” she asked pointing.
“Yes,” I replied looking at the well formed picture of a chicken her needles had drawn. Straw and grains littered the ground around the chicken and it seemed to me as I stared at it that it was picking at the grains with its beak.
“It is alive!” I said.
“Of course it is alive. Everything on the canvas is alive. Touch it,” the old lady said. I leant forward and touched the chicken on its back. Startled, it flapped its wings and landed a couple of stitches away.
“Is this some sort of magic?” I asked stepping back. One or two people looked at me and it seemed from their expressions that they were wandering what on earth I was doing standing next to a dishevelled old lady with knitting needles.

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