I’ve just got back from a rather exciting storytelling conference. It was tangentially work-relevant, but another exciting thing was that I had my first go at Free Writing. I’ve heard of this lots of times, but never got round to trying it. Essentially, the idea is that you write for at least 20 minutes without stopping or editing. It was fun, and I wrote a story. This version is slightly edited, but not much – I found I liked the unpolished language of the original.
The girl was walking by the river when she came across a deer, a young doe walking along all by itself. The deer had a ribbon round its neck, so the girl thought, Who is this? She must belong to somebody. Maybe she is lost like me.
The deer was lost by the river but the girl was lost in her heart. She went through her routines every day but she didn’t know who she was or what she was for.
She held the ribbon and she looked past the doe to see where it had come from, and also because she was afraid to meet the doe’s eyes. The eyes of a deer could reflect her own soul and she didn’t know who she was or what she would find there, and she was scared of seeing herself through the eyes of the doe.
But perhaps the doe could help her find her way, and the girl was so sad, so sad, and now the doe looked sad too. So she summoned all her courage and she took a deep breath and she waited for as long as she could, and then she switched off her thinking brain and she looked into the eyes of the doe. And the eyes of the doe were the eyes of her story, and she saw herself as the doe could see.
And in the eyes of the doe she saw her own fear reflected back to her, and the eyes of the doe were dark, black, hollow and empty, and the girl was terrified, and she thought, Is this it? Is this all there is? There’s nothing there, and the world is nothing and I am nothing.
And then she saw a tear start to form in the eye and she thought, That is me, I am tears. She saw that the doe was crying for her, and she thought, This is what I did, because of me the doe is crying, and I am the tears of a doe. And she was afraid and sad and guilty, but she knew that she had a meaning because the doe, the precious doe was crying just for her.
And the tear dropped to the ground, and where it fell it burned its way into the ground with a splash and a sizzle, and a drift of steam rose. As she looked into the hole burned deep, deep and dark into the ground, a shoot began to grow, small and green and young and tender. And the shoot grew up and up and twined around and the plant grew stronger and taller, with green leaves and lovely flowers. One of the flowers grew big and round and yellow-white and pale, and a fruit grew in its centre. And the doe came forward to eat the fruit. As the doe ate the fruit from the plan which grew from the tears for the girl, she no longer looked sad or lost or alone or frightened, and the doe shook off the ribbon around her neck and she belonged to nobody but herself. And the doe took one last look into the girl’s eyes and her eyes were full of sorrow and joy and hope and freedom.
And then the doe turned and she ran away into the forest.
And the girl picked up the ribbon that had fallen from the doe’s neck. She dug a hole with her own hands, down to the roots of the plant, and she buried the ribbon deep, so that it could not be found. And her hand felt the dirt from the ribbon and it burned her skin, so she washed her hands in the cooling river until they were clean again. And when she turned around the plant had withered and shrivelled back into the ground, and the plant was gone and the ribbon was gone.
And the girl went on her way.
My prompt, apparently, was a frontispiece from a 1917 publication of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, by Arthur Rackham: "She took off her golden garter and put it round the roe-buck's neck". I didn't know that at the time, and I find it interesting that that is almost the opposite of what happens in my story.