We’ve had a slow start to the fourth Harry book, The Goblet of Fire, and I must admit that my own enthusiasm was dwindling. The first short chapter was exciting — an old man eavesdropping on the evil Lord Voldemort, and the puzzle about whether or not it was all Harry’s dream — but then the story moved into pages and pages of Quidditch, the sport Harry excels at at Hogwarts, played on flying broomsticks. It was the Quidditch World Cup, and Ireland and Bulgaria were pitted against each other, and witches and wizards from all over the world had gathered to watch the match. I’ve never been much of a sports fan, and the Quidditch passages in all of the Harry books have been a bit too long for my liking … but this one is SO long that I was actually prompted to ask N, more than once, “Do you think we could just skip the Quidditch stuff and get ourselves to Hogwarts?”
Of course she was horrified. No skipping! So on we read. And on. And on.
We even took this weighty tome with us on the subway, heading out to meet N’s dad at his workplace, since he’d invited us to join him for Wednesday fish and chips. And it was during our fishy excursion that I thought to myself, It really is true. Stories can come from anywhere. We had placed our order and were sipping our drinks, taking in the surroundings, and I commented that the owners had gone to some lengths to make the place suit its menu. I pointed out the blue seats and the blue walls, and the blue sign complete with water droplets, and N pointed to some paintings on the wall, of oceans and fishing boats. There seemed to be no end of splashy detail, and we were already giggling about that when a new customer stepped right into our line of vision, just the way an actor steps on to a stage, and he was clad in a voluminous pair of shorts with fish dancing all over them. It was as if we had conjured him ourselves — he was some sort of fishy muse, bubbling up from the depths of our imaginations.
Sometimes when you giggle you just can’t stop.
N’s dad was waggling his eyebrows at me, sending the message that we mustn’t teach our daughter to snicker at strangers, but it really was an uncanny moment. And he looked like a nice man, too — 65 or so, out with his wife for lunch, she in her bright green top. “Like a lily pad!” said N. And it was as if they’d appeared before us as fully formed characters who lunched on fish and chips every Wednesday, in specially chosen attire.
Later that afternoon we wrote Wellington and Wellma Dougle’s Wensdays to commemorate them. The story opens with Wellma snoozing on her bed, a curving line of ZZZZZZZ drifting up from her smiling mouth.
It was 7:00 in the morning. Wellington Dougle wock up feeling verry happy. So he wock up Wellma. It was time to leave for fish and chips every Wensday at Splashafishchip on the Lakeshore.
In the background, you can see their his-and-hers closets, and N has coloured the green lily pad shirt and the blue fish shorts, leaving everything else colourless so that these two items jump out.
Wellington’s enthusiasm for Splashafishchip is so great, he forgets he’s wearing his slippers, and as they enter the establishment, Wellma notices and calls out to him, “WellingTON! Look at your FEET!” Ah well, no matter. They order their food, gobble it, and then Wellington declares that he is “STUFFED with fish and chips! I guess we’ll be on our way home, Wellma.” And off they go.
One of the things I admire most about N’s writing, and her drawings too, is how it just rolls out of her. She doesn’t stop to analyze the how or why of conveying a story in images or words, she just does it. But I know that stage is coming, and I remember arriving at it myself, and how it never really lets you go. I was in Grade 3, brimming with the urge to write stories, and then realizing how hard it could be to move the characters through all the twists and turns from beginning to end. To lift their arms and legs, and make their mouths open so the right words come out. I especially recall the frustration of knowing — no, I think feeling — just what the story should be, and not being able to transfer that feeling to paper. Storytelling had gone from being a simple once-upon-a-time venture to a vast open world with endless things to pick from. How could you ever piece any of it together? I often still have that feeling of being overwhelmed, or lost inside my own idea, or blocked about how something can happen when it doesn’t seem possible (as in my last book, when the daughter is able to see into, and from, her parents’ perspectives). And when I stumble that way, I think of N, and the freedom she gives herself to tell every story.
“Bed time,” says Wellma on the last page of Wellington and Wellma Dougle’s Wensdays. “Wee can’t wait until next Wensday.” The day has contained nothing more than the wish to eat, the eating, and the happiness of having eaten, but the story is neatly framed, ending with ZZZZZZZ whooshing from both of them, two pairs of bare feet sticking out of the sheets at the bed’s bottom.
And speaking of ZZZZZZZ, I’m pleased to say the Quidditch match is over, and Harry has us riveted once again.