I went back to England recently to help my Mum prepare to move house. My job was to empty the attic, with the help of my sister and my partner Gavin we emptied 30 years worth of stuff. I was amazed to find what my Mum had been harbouring in her attic. All my school work, art books and even my written work from Brighton University. Some of it was a joy to look at and the rest was just a reminder of how I struggled with writing at school. In one exercise book it said ‘this is awful’. I doubt a teacher would get away with making this comment today.
My experience of English class was either being told I was rubbish or being told I was a really good creative writer. It all depended on the teacher. I remember in one school year being moved from a bottom set to a top set. My poems were great, my stories were fun to read, but my essay structure was lacking. A degree, a Master’s and a PGCE later means my essay structure now stands up.
With only a suitcase with me on that trip, I knew I had to throw away a lot of what I found in the attic. So I did. I chucked the lot. Good riddance to old struggles and hello new found love of writing.
I admit, I did keep one thing. A poem that I had written, which inspired my degree show at Brighton University. At the time, I was really interested in the idea of forbidden performances. I researched how in Poland, before the Iron Curtain came down, people would go to each other’s house posing as dinner guests. When really they were there for a secret performance. These were usually plays that had been banned. The performances would happen in front rooms, behind closed curtains. No stage, no theatre lights, no large set, minimal props and just good old fashioned story-telling. This to me was amazing and I started out to create my own secret performance.
I sourced an old arch on Brighton seafront, which smelt of fish and damp. No-one would suspect a performance in there. The owner removed all the fish nets, so I could run rehearsals and eventually perform there. Today, those arches are filled with kitsch shops and cafes. I doubt I would be able to find such a secret venue in Brighton now.
I invited the audience by giving them strict instructions to meet their guide at a certain place. Their guide would have a red rose and a newspaper for identification purposes. The audience were then led to the seafront, where they found a message in bottle buried in the stony beach. The message told them they would need a password to get into the performance. Guided to the arch they banged on the door. “I hear you sell the freshest fish” the audience would say. If they didn’t, the door simply closed refusing their admittance.
Inside were benches by the walls for the audience to sit on. Four girls wondered the space, whispering their innermost thoughts as the audience found their seats. I projected onto the girls bodies’ maps of their past, lit them with torches and had them sew their dreams onto a blanket. Sound a bit strange? Darling! It was performance art and a site specific installation! And I loved it. Here is the poem that was also sewn onto the blanket.
Somewhere inside of me is a fishing net catching my emotions before they surface above the water. Always such a calm that occasionally ripples, compared to the volcanic structure beneath that boils and breaths a dangerous heat. Rocks walk over dead objects and music plays to cover exposed holes that may erupt at any moment. The sound never surfaces as bright coloured fish cast webs blocking the inside out, but like spirits of another seep through and live there too.
Here is a picture of the original. It looks a bit like the swirl of a finger print.
A.J. York is a middle grade and children's writer. Author of Delilah Dusticle, Eliza Bluebell and A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story. A.J York has a Swedish and British background and currently lives in Gothenburg, Sweden.