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October 13, 2013 / magickittenblogs

The Life of Stories: A Workshop with Marina Warner

65672_570170853003230_1260533607_nAs part of the WivWords Festival in Wivenhoe, near Colchester in Essex, I was quick enough off the mark to get one of only twelve places on the workshop The Life of Stories, hosted by Marina Warner.

The programme says: “Marina Warner will talk about the interaction between teaching, reading, and writing fiction, especially in relation to myth and fairytale.”  More specifically, the session focussed on the idea of the living story, something which changes and evolves with many facets of preexisting plots and characters, and in which objects themselves can ‘speak’.

Marina Warner, CBE FBA, is a British novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer.  She is known for her many non-fiction books relating to feminism and myth.  She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Essex.  I read From The Beast to the Blonde (on the evolution of fairytales, especially in relation to women/female characters) years ago and have been a huge fan ever since, so I was thrilled to be able to take part.

Below are, first, my notes from the opening section of the workshop, and then my (very) short fairytale-inspired piece of writing.  All feedback welcome.  I should also say that we were each asked to bring an object which held significance to us, as inspiration for a piece of writing.  I brought a gold ring with a green stone, which belonged to my grandmother.


The ‘voice’ on the page – prior to mass printing, writing was primarily for performance and printing in a book is the death mask, living voice is a ghost voice.  Atwood – ‘negotiating with the dead’. Not just ‘oral storytelling’ – flow between the voice of the storyteller and back again. Preservation of a living, evolving thing. This writing-as-speaking voice voice, the immediacy, is returning.  How can we make the page speak?

We also recognise elements of stories.  Faint resemblance – a family look – part of the ‘sea of stories’, a mirror of human imagination, currents flowing and intertwining. These intertwinings and reflections demonstrate retelling and evolution.  You don’t have to be original – use existing stories as inspiration. Don’t worry, it’s almost impossible *not* to spontaneously change it – your view, your emotions, your emphases, will create your version.  Stories have their own life and a right to change.  Like a mosaic made of tesserae already used in previous mosaics to create new patterns.

The Wicked Villainess (who becomes the wicked stepmother) – she’s associated with another archetype, the ability to change forms especially animal transformation.  Within these ‘archetypes’, there’s in fact an enormous variety of motive, ethical purpose…

How might the object you’ve brought change, and what might it say of this?  How might it have come into the possession of the wicked villainess – what would have happened to it, and how would it have been used?
e.g. Angela Carter in The Earl King – quoting the singing bone ballad where she strings a violin with his hair, which will then sing “Mother, you have murdered me”.
The White Duck – the language is very matter of fact, introducing very strange events but without appearing to be surprised.
The Whispering Muse – Sjon – retelling of argonauts, Medea… Simon Armitage – Troy

It’s not you, it’s the object. Disassociate from the events/narrator; you are receiving the narrative and thoughts from the object.


I was always most comfortable on the finger.  The warmth of living flesh through the chill circle of my body ignites me and my magic.  I languished in her jewellery box for years until she rediscovered me; I symbolised loss, demonstrating, in the absence of her grandmother, my failure to protect.  If only her grandmother had worn me at the time.

Until yesterday, my gold and green adorned her right hand – she tells people the colours are fashionable but I know she felt the power, the safety surrounding her like a blanket.  And yet, perhaps some resentment lingered, for she never took the care she should have done.  Now, I am lost and yet found, stolen, and misused.

My new mistress certainly understands the potential I hold.  Only this morning, she forced me onto her fourth finger, though it pained her and the red blood seeped where the knuckle grated.  Only at noon, she stepped off the bright quayside, into the cold dark wet of the sea, where the eels and crabs whispered at our passing.  Only this afternoon, she climbed up, out onto the sharp pebbles of the island shore, crushing stinking weed and rotting fish carcasses under the soles of her wolfskin boots.  Only this evening, she plunged her arms to the elbow into the burning fire of the mountain to retrieve what she sought.

I wished to slide from her finger, into the soapy mud of the sea floor.  I wished to drop, to lie hidden in the glinting shingle, amongst the bones and the driftwood.  I wished to melt into that fire, to flow from her hand like liquid sun.  But my power protected her, as it protects me, and I cannot be stopped.


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