This year, I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute to the Hull Freedom Festival, which is quite possibly one of the most excellent things that can happen to any writer with connections to the city. I was asked to write a short story to accompany a series of sculptures placed around the Festival, to the prompt “Knowledge Is Freedom”, and to facilitate a Creative Writing workshop for local people to create their own work to the same prompt. The work we created would then be displayed at Hull Central Library, and visitors would be invited to add their own contributions.
That’s me, trying to describe in words this astoundingly cool piece of sculpture:
My story was called “The Girl Who Grew Books From Her Head”. And there she is! In the flesh! And growing from her head are the poems and short stories we all created in the workshops.
Look at her wild, beautiful, bookish hair:
This is me standing with her and trying not to drip water all over her (it was pouring with rain that day and we’d walked right round the Festival before finding her).
I added a little thank-you on the day to the creator of The Girl:
A massive, massive thank you to everyone who took part in the workshops – it was a privilege to create work alongside you. If you’d like to read some of the brilliant poems and micro-fictions that were written in the workshops, take a look at the Freedom Festival twitter feed or drop by Hull’s Central Library where they’re on display in the Girl’s hair.
I’ve also had a few requests from people wanting to read my short story, so here it is.
The Girl Who Grew Books From Her Head
Once there was a girl who grew books from her head like hair. Whenever she thought of a question, a book would grow with the answer. Her parents, frightened she would never find a husband, sold their daughter to a man with sharp white teeth and a long wolfskin coat.
The man locked the girl in a tower with no door and no windows. He surrounded her with quicksilver mirrors and cut the books from her scalp and burned them, crowning her with a lustrous golden wig, and whispered to her, See how lovely you are when you’re not thinking.
Each midnight, the girl stole silver scissors from beneath his pillow, cut free a book and hid it behind the mirrors. She grew books about physics and engineering, architecture, demolition, and wild tales of escape, until the man woke to find the mirrors replaced with books that together spelled FREEDOM.
The man pursued her to an ocean, but she plucked a sailing manual from her scalp and sailed over. He followed her to the mountains, but she plucked another book and climbed. She came to a beautiful city with wide streets and green gardens, and knew she had found home.
When the city’s leaders heard what the girl could do, they said, This girl is precious and should be locked away! But the girl laughed, and replied, Knowledge must be no-one’s prisoner. So she planted her feet and became a tree, and passers-by picked books like fruit from her branches.