University Writer in Residence Clare Best gains praise for "The Papermaker".
09 Apr 2015
Author Clare Best, one of the two Writers in Residence at the University of Brighton College of Arts and Humanities 2014-15, was one of three finalists shortlisted for the 2015 Mslexia Memoir Prize for her “Brilliant and moving memoir“ The Papermaker. Novelist Andrew O'Hagan described her memoir as “A tapestry of time – brightly coloured, beautifully orchestrated, emotionally pure.”
Mslexia is a magazine commited to helping women writers progress and succeed, through its quarterly magazine, writer’s diary and annual writing competitions. Clare's book was selected from a longlist of 80 authors and a field of 1,000 entries.
In the past, she has worked as a bookbinder, a bookseller, an editor and a creative writing teacher and is now a prize-winning poet and the author of three poetry publications Treasure Ground (2009), Breastless (2011) and Excisions (2011), which was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize in 2012.
Below, Clare Best gives us two exclusive pre-publication excerpts from the memoir, The Papermaker. [Excerpts are styled for web and not type-set]
(An excerpt from The Papermaker )
I was always fascinated by words. Bath. Cup. Bed. Doll. Words were magic: I said a word and that thing appeared. Sometimes saying the words made things come back when they had gone away. Light. Mummy. At night, when I had only the words, there was comfort in mouthing them, miming them.
There were other kinds of words too of course. Don’t. Bad. Naughty. These words brought feelings to the surface, made me frown or cry. My mother recorded in my scrapbook that I vehemently protested my virtue at an early age. Me not naughty, you got to love me, I would say, over and over again.
I had a lot of feelings and they came bursting out with my words. If I was sitting in my high chair and banged my fist down hard and shouted MORE, I could feel just how much I wanted something. But the grownups would Ssssshhhhh me or look the other way. Gradually, I learned not to give voice to some feelings, but to keep them to myself.
A few key words seemed to have several effects at once, or made things happen fast. The word, Sick, for instance. That word always made someone come running, and I was caught up, lifted to a basin or lavatory bowl and held over it, swimming through air. I brought up the contents of my stomach in a heave and flood of sourness into the clean space. My ears popped and buzzed. My mouth burned. I was rinsed with water, my clothes were sometimes changed, and finally I was put back in the high chair. Sick often came after Milk, which was a word I didn’t like at all.
When I was older, perhaps four or five, I began to know the power of words to make extraordinary things happen. It was like painting into those magic books with printed outlines of pictures. You dipped the brush in water and the colours appeared by themselves when you wetted the shapes on the paper. I could colour life by speaking what was welling up. I told my mother, I love you, and she would take me in her arms and hold me so close that I could breathe in the soap and perfume on her skin.
I tried saying things to my father too, but only my bits of the picture were coloured. I remember thinking that he must be keeping a big store of words and colours tucked deep inside, like a rainbow that had never been seen.
(An excerpt from The Papermaker)
I remember the day my father brought home a barrel of butter from Denmark. I was seven. A cool afternoon in Sussex, our first spring at the new house, and my mother led all four children out onto the lawn.
We sat in a circle, the five of us; she wore a grey and pink dress and she spooned butter into our mouths. We shared the wooden spoon and the pale creamy butter, unsalted. She spooned until the barrel was empty and we were full.
I can’t remember more. Each time I play the footage in my head it is the same, but – no, not the same. Each time a little more stretched, distorted, the green perhaps a shade or two faded from the green the grass was last time. Might the memory snap eventually like my father’s ciné films on the projector? Is this why I want to preserve it, not think of it too often?
And yet I do want to. This memory brings news of the child me. It is her memory.
I see that the grass is green, I hear my mother’s laugh. I sense my three brothers. I cannot picture them, but I know their mouths open and close in turn around the wooden spoon, as mine does. It is a tight circle.
I see the black metallic hoops around the outside of the barrel. I taste the sweet clammy butter rough on my tongue.
The scene ends, each time, when the little barrel is emptied. I peer in as my mother tips it towards me, to show me. There is only the dark oily wood.
I need to recall this scene just to know that it happened, just to know that on a certain day in perhaps April 1963, we sat together in a circle and my mother fed us butter, concentrated milk, a precious melting Danish gold.
I can still see the spoon dip into the barrel, come up with another scoop of warm, soft primrose light, greasy now in the sun as it comes towards my mouth. My mother smiling over us.
This I am homesick for: the beginning, the butter, the spoon, the cool air. The faithful, solemn taking of turns until all the butter is gone.