I performed a piece with the Leeds Writers’ Circle today at Church House, as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe. Our event was billed Why and How We Write.
I write to give butterflies their freedom. I’m trying to give one its freedom right now. You’re witness here to its maiden flight. Normally, they take to the wing from the page, in private, and I’m oblivious to their fate. Not so here this afternoon. Forgive me if I appear a little anxious.
It’s hard to say where they come from, these butterflies. One will arrive out of nowhere, most often when I’m off guard, not fully attending to the world. I might catch a brief flash of colour or a glimpse of a pattern. They keep their distance in the beginning, shy and sleepy, offering me just the occasional sighting, hard to spot in the deep undergrowth of my mind. The vegetation is dense down there. I’ve never been one for tending to my weeds, perhaps because I understand that butterflies like it a little on the wild side.
They’d probably be better off where they are, left fluttering around in my head, safe from criticism, but it’s never enough for me to just sit and watch and let them be. How I wish it was. No, it’s like we share the same restlessness. But there’s a problem. These butterflies are not immediately equipped for survival in the wider world.
They’re delicate, diaphanous creatures. They need substance in order to survive away from the haven of my mind. And that means language. I have to flesh them out with words, sentence by sentence, to give them shape and form. Only the right words will allow them a life of their own.
But writing is hard. It’s often the case that the wings get broken—the wrong choice of words—or that the poor thing is too heavy—overwritten and bloated with too many words. My biggest failing. Sometimes, though, just sometimes, I can find a form of words that fits one for flight. I read back my writing and recognise that I’ve managed to transport a butterfly from one realm to another. I see it sitting on the page, undamaged.
And then I want to see it fly away. I want it to take off on a journey, to lead an existence beyond me. If one were to flourish it would make all the hard work worthwhile. That’s why I write.
If you see a butterfly struggling on the floor as you go out, please try not to step on it.