Does anyone else remember the Worzel Gummage books? It’s years since I’d given him a thought. Then this week, I swopped back to reading short stories, and that was such a shift in perspectives that I was reminded of Barbara Euphan Todd’s scarecrow, Worzel Gummage, and the various heads that he would chose between when faced with a change in situation.
A long, long time ago, oh dearly beloved, (to mix an author tribute) I owned one of the Gummage books. It may, even now be resting up in the eaves of the house, waiting to have the cobwebs dusted from it. Although that adventure belongs to a different day.
What I remember, distinctly, is that it was one of those read, then read again and again and again books. Which now I come to think of it, makes it an apt parallel for the short story. Because it’s not enough to read them once either. The best ones, I hope you agree, need a second, more thoughtful return, after a break. Perhaps, even a third or fourth after that.
Why? Well, some, like Wurzel’s stories, because they’re just fun, and make me laugh out loud in crowded places, and I know I’ll feel good when I read them again. Others though, it’s because they haunt me. They give me a glimpse of a life or situation, no more, just enough to intrigue, and then they stop. What did I see? Why did it touch me? The story doesn’t end, it stays with me for hours, even days.
When I’m trying to write short, I need to think short. The best way I’ve found to do that is to read short.
To keep in mode with my scarecrow theme, I’ve lately to be found pottering in the garden, getting grubby enough to satisfy even Wurzel. I wear my tattiest clothes and can usually be found crawling backwards out from under a shrub, grasping handfuls of pesky nettles, and cogitating on things literarily short.
It’s something that has to be done, if I’m not to be over-whelmed. The joy of weeding is that it demands only physical exertion, and so I’m free, perchance, to dream.
I mull over stories. And the wonderful thing is, the more I read, the more ideas I have of my own. Did she really say that? Why? What might have happened if…and, that reminds me…
So, you’ll maybe have gathered that this little essay is by way of a justification, should anyone spot me, with sticks in my hair, and wearing the strangest of ancient and baggy ensembles. I’m not heading for a fancy dress, I’m not even using the garden as a displacement activity, I am, in fact, creating.
Honestly. If there are corners of the garden beginning to look a little tidy, that’s only a welcome bonus.