Nothing actually happens. We are not sinister people

seed joanna walshSeed
by Joanna Walsh

I’ve been thinking lately about different forms of storytelling, particularly in computer games, and this new digital book feels like a natural extension. It’s an app, beautifully designed by Charlotte Hicks with botanical illustrations stretching vines and tendrils across the screen between chapters. You can swipe from chapter to chapter and read the story consecutively, or you can close each chapter after reading it and explore the map, opening chapters in the order of your choice.

The story is narrated by a girl in her last summer before going away to university. She lives in a small British hamlet, working at the local cattery. It’s the 1980s, complete with references to the music of Queen and Paul Simon and other luminaries I grew up with. The narrator reflects on her school and home life, on her friends and their homes, on the landscape she lives in.

“Wash your hands at the end of the cattery session.
Cinquefoil forget-me-not marsh orchid. Sorrel red clover quaking grass.
Wear the yellow rubber gloves for clearing out the litter trays. Wash your hands after.
A gunshot. The noise of the automated scarecrow.
Wear the pink rubber gloves for clearing out the food trays. Wash your hands after.
The hawthorn blossom gone, the bramble blossom gone.
Wear the orange rubber gloves for putting the new food in. Wash your hands after.
Yellow rattle.
Then the pigeons start that noise. It means heat. It strokes me. All day.”

The storytelling is loose, unstructured. Not exactly stream of consciousness, but it does genuinely read like a teenage girl, on the brink of adulthood. The countryside setting is beautifully evoked by both the words and the artwork. The experience of moving around the screen, following the coloured tendrils between pictures of wildflowers, definitely makes this feel different.

The language also manages to capture that languid feeling of teenage summers, when the days feel long and hot. And the idle imaginings of the future, in which she can see herself as the bored wife of an estate agent but can’t see herself at university, despite that being so close. She thinks a lot about sex, but mostly indirectly.

“After work, I see Rosemary and her sister. Rosemary is hot and dark. Her sister stretches her limbs, then folds them. They are long and white. We sit on the bridge. Rosemary goes under the bridge.

When I babysat the man his wife return from the dinner. His wife goes into the kitchen. The man gets my coat. At the door the man opens his mouth on mine. It is full of smoke. It is as good an initiation as any.

Nothing actually happens. We are not sinister people. Girls do not contain within themselves that which cannot be said about them. (OK, sometimes we smoke cigarettes.)”

The story burns with hints at darkness just beneath the surface. But they are just hints, and the events of the story are slight and gentle.

I enjoyed this experience and I’m intrigued to see else Editions At Play have made. On a brief technical note, this works much better on a mobile device than on a computer screen, as it really is designed for swiping. Normally I hate reading on my phone as it’s such a small screen, but I really liked this.

Published 2017 by Editions At Play.