The Point of Despair
In every ambitious project, there is a point of despair. A point where you think 'what the actual bloody hell am I doing?' A point where you're tempted to give up and just watch telly instead. But that point is good for you, and you should actively pursue it.
For me, the point of despair was brought on by 64 sheets of photocopies from 1950s women's magazines. The pages were spread out across the carpet in my spare room, and I was poring over adverts for Kellogg's Rice Krispies and articles on this season's most desirable new dress (the season was Spring 1952, and the dress was peacock silk with a tulle underskirt). After several hours of using a tiny pair of scissors to cut out even tinier words with absolutely no end in sight, I couldn't take it any more. I lay down in the middle of the cut-outs and stared at the ceiling.
The cut-outs, let me reassure you, were not for a ransom note. They were for the Glasgow Women's Library 21st Birthday project. To mark their wonderful work over the past two decades, GWL commissioned 21 of Scotland's foremost women artists and 21 women writers to create new works inspired by items in their library, archive and museum artifact collections. I was excited to take part, particularly as I'd written stories for GWL before – for a podcast with Louise Welsh. I prepared to write a short story, much like the other dozens of stories I've written.
But then I saw the cover of Lung Leg's album 'Maid to Minx', featuring a badass lady wrestler in a skull-and-crossbones cape, and I remembered Graham Rawle's book Woman's World, a novel made entirely from cut-out words. Why write a regular short story, I thought, when I could use this chance to do something a bit different? I decided to 'write' a story about a female prizefighter from cut-out words: somewhere between fiction and visual art.
I spent a joyful few days immersed in GWL's archives, photocopying pages from various 1950s artifacts: women's fashion magazines, girls' annuals and traditional Scottish recipe books. Next I cut out many, many words, got bored halfway through organising them into categories, and jumped right into trying to make a story.
After a few days of this I found my point of despair, lying down among those 64 sheets of paper.
My girlfriend found me among the photocopies and told me, essentially, to get a bloody grip on myself (everybody needs someone in their life who will tell them such things). So I did. As soon as I started sticking the words down it all came together, and I was finished the next day. The final product was four sheets of A4, made entirely of 1950s magazines, telling the story of a female fighter. And I'm really, really proud of it.
So yes, it was difficult, and if I'd just written a short story then I probably wouldn't have had a moment of despair. But breaking through that block felt amazing, and it showed me that as long as I keep working, it will all work out in the end. I'm not saying I'll break out my glue-sticks for everything I write, but I'll definitely get out of my comfort zone more often.
I'll be performing my story with poet Vicki Feaver and novelist Laura Marney on Thursday the 14th of June, 5.30pm, at the Glasgow Women's Library – hope to see you there.
Photo: Claire Quigley