Ilkley Literature Festival logoLast evening our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe was ‘performing’ in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ with the title Every leaf tells a story. I had intended to read my first attempt at a ‘fairy tale’, inspired by one of the two delightful daughters of one of our members. We each were allotted 4 minutes. When I offered to stand down having ‘done the fringe’ last year, to give newer members a bit longer, that wasn’t accepted. So when my fairy tale turned out too long I thought I’d read part of it. I could not get that short enough while retaining the sense so I did, as John Cleese famously said in Monty Python, “something completely different” – a short presentation about tanka. What I did is below, followed by the full fairy story. For the second fairy tale, already written, inspired by the younger of the two sisters (who took second place in the club’s ‘Young Writer Competition’ last year), you’ll have to wait till sometime in December.

My three-and-a-half minute ‘fringe’ presentation

I sometimes write haiku; last year I read some in our fringe presentation. Less often I write tanka. Both are short Japanese poems. Tanka: tan – short; ka – poem, or song. Tanka are rather like sonnets in that both have a strict structure and in each the first part might suggest a dilemma, the second proposing a resolution. Autumn – nature – is an ideal subject for all three forms. Love is another.

In the sonnet it is the ninth line which signals this change of mood. In the tanka, the English version of which has five lines of five, seven, five, seven, seven voice sounds, or syllables, 31 in all. Ideally the first three lines should stand alone, as should the final three lines. So in the tanka it is the third line which is the pivotal line.

I had a dilemma this evening: our club membership has grown so much over the past year that each participant has only four minutes. My autumn fairy story, one of two fairy tales, inspired by one of two young ladies, sisters, in the audience this evening, is too long for today. That’s the dilemma. Solution, present a tanka and publish my first fairy story on my blog tomorrow where the first young lady can read it as she cannot hear it this evening as I originally intended.

The second story, inspired by her younger sister, I intend to read at our Christmas presentation in Ilkley Library.

Here’s the tanka prompted by my dilemma:


autumn tale written
too long for this fringe reading
fairies won’t be timed
so settle for a tanka
blog sleeps   waiting for Mia

Here’s another written specifically for this evening’s theme:


colours leached from sky
clouds grumble grey   tinted rain
caught by leaves and fruit
apples flushed red invite bites
delight swaps from eyes to tongues

 

A haiku is like the first three lines of a tanka, just 17 syllables. But you have to squeeze the same rules into just three lines. Here’s an autumn one I wrote when I noticed the leaves were firmly on the trees when they were all down at the same time last year:


autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries


Fairy tale – When Dreams and Leaves Dance. Title proposed by Linna, Nelle and Helmi in Latvia

Sitting before the open door on a warm autumn day, Mia carefully traced the outlines of the three fallen leaves she had collected, flushed with the russets and yellows of early autumn.

Removing the leaves from her drawing paper, she began carefully to draw the tracery of veins, thinking of the colours in her paintbox and how she might mix them to match the beautiful colours in the leaves, some dramatic, some subtle. One leaf, with strange curly edges, was a medley of green, yellow and russet; another, rather fat with a pointed tip, was bright yellow; the third, much slimmer, was still green and white from summer though the green was flushed with yellow.

A sudden draught of wind seemed to lift the leaves but, as the draught stilled, they remained upright and two of them began slowly to pirouette, the broad bases of the stems straining down till they resembled the foot of a ballet dancer ‘en pointe’. The third leaf settled with his broad stem base firmly on the table.

Mia watched entranced as the leaves began to dance together before the curly edged one took a mighty leap to the floor, seemed to beckon to the two on the table at which they floated down like feathers to join him. Seeming to acquire two legs in place of the single stem, the three leaves ran to the open door. As they reached it they turned and, curling their pointed ends repeatedly, were clearly urging Mia to join them. She climbed down from her chair and took a couple of paces towards the door. As she moved forward the leaves appeared to grow, the curly edged one becoming quite a bit taller than her, the slim one a little shorter and the more rotund one about the same height.

Mia looked back towards her chair and realised the leaves had not grown; she had become tiny. Trembling with fright, she was ready to run back into the house and even more frightened when the fatter one appeared to speak: “Don’t be frightened; you will grow again when you go back.”

But you’re trembling as much as me,” Mia protested.

Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m always doing it when there’s a little breeze. By the way, my name’s Aspen, though some people call me Quaking Aspen because I’m often trembling. Let me introduce you to my friends; the beautiful slim one is Willow and that mighty fellow is called Oak.”

Come on,” urged Aspen. “There are many more of us who’d love to meet you.”

Pulled by Aspen on one side, Willow on the other, Mia stopped as she saw a carpet of hundreds of leaves with scores of different colours. It was here she had picked up the three leaves she had been drawing earlier. But now there were even more colours, all shades of yellow, brown, red and green.

As she watched a little breeze stirred the leaves and soon they were all upright and pirouetting just like her new found friends had done on the table.

Come on, come on, come and join us,” several of them called.

I don’t think I can do that, pirouetting like that,” Mia answered.

Of course you can,” said Oak as he wrapped himself around her and began to spin her. Faster and faster she span till, lifting one foot off the ground and lifting the other till she was on her toes, she was surprised to realise she could pirouette just like the leaves. She was spun from Oak to one of the other leaves, then another, then another, until she was quite out of breath. “Oh, that was fun,” she gasped as she sat down among the dancing leaves, who one by one sat down too.

Let’s have a story,” called one. “Yes, yes,” many answered. “Who will start?” asked one with a different shape to Mia’s new friends, with five points like half a star.

She’s a really good story teller, her name’s Maple,” said Aspen to Mia, “but everyone can tell a story. There’s usually a big argument about whose story is best.”

Mia stood up. “Look, I’d love to hear your stories but I must go back or I’ll be missed and my mum will panic. Can I come another day to listen to your stories?”

Oh please do,” the sitting leaves chorused.

You’re right,” said Aspen, you will be missed and that will never do. Come on, lets go. Oak and Willow will come back with us and no-one will know unless you tell them about us. But they won’t believe you, so that’s alright.”

But first we want to give you something to remember us by, something which will help you with your art,“ said Aspen. “Look, it’s on the ground right in front of you. It’s for you but you must keep it a secret. Even if you tell about us you must never mention what our gift can do.”

Looking down Mia saw a tiny acorn, like no acorn she had seen before. It sparkled with dozens of ever changing colours.

Go on, pick it up. It’s for you. It will always tell you how to make the colour you want but remember, you must never tell anyone it can do that. If you do, it will lose its power and become an ordinary acorn.”

Now, let’s go back. Put us on the table, climb back on your chair and nobody will know you’ve been out.”

Joining ‘hands’ the four friends danced back to the door and as they went inside sure enough, Mia grew to her former size and climbed up onto her chair as the three leaves appeared on the table and lay down just as they had been before they began to dance.

Mia, Mia wake up. You’ll fall off that chair and hurt yourself.” Mum’s voice was a little worried. “Wow, I’m not surprised you’re so tired. Those paintings of the leaves you collected are really beautiful. I don’t know how you managed to make all those colours.”

The leaves took me to the woods and showed me how they get their autumn colours. They are called Oak, Aspen and Willow. And they can dance.”

Come on, you’ve been dreaming. Did you learn the names of the leaves at school or did you look for them on internet?”

No, they told me their names. They are so clever; you know, every leaf tells a story.”

Oh well, if you say so. But your painting is really beautiful. Now, come into the kitchen, it’s teatime. You’ve been dreaming for sure.”

Mia climbed down from the chair, taking a last glance at the three beautifully coloured drawings. Had she been dreaming? Opening her hand, the tiny acorn sparkled at her …

… and she smiled.

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I haven’t yet got a title for this story. Can anyone suggest an enticing one?

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