Writers’ Workshop

La Maison Verte, South of France

After three or so days the evenings fall into a predictable pattern. Lounging in a circle, variously fitted into alarmingly shaped furniture, the soberest among us exhort the rest to delineate our favourites: favourite character in fiction, favourite film version of a book – so it goes on. By now we are struggling.

“How about your favourite orgasm in fiction?” The challenge is taken up. Foreheads furled in taut concentration, breathing stertorous in anticipation, not a word is said.

The windows of the balcony are wide open. The still night edges into the room. A voice is heard from below:

“Oh, fuck!”

Clearly planning for tomorrow morning’s work is not going too well. We are too focused to be distracted.

I am panicking. In my head I scan the insubstantial canon of literature that I can recall. Just to find one ecstatic moment, one involuntary shudder that I can disgorge. But it defeats me. Did Noddy ever have an orgasm? Disabling anxiety grips me as I fail to remember. Perhaps that is what that bell is all about.

“Come on, Mrs Tubby, ring my bell.” Now I remember that he was always getting people to ring his bell – male, female, animal – it didn’t seem to matter.

Fortunately when all the others have expostulated their orgasms they are too limpid and post-ecstatic to ask for mine. I escape to bed.

The following day the dawn comes up – as the dawn tends to most days. I come down to breakfast but there are three poets fighting over the Rice Crispies so I grab a cup of coffee and flee.

Work starts. If they had been in trouble the night before it doesn’t show.

“What we want you to do this morning” – a pause – “is to write an account of an orgasm, any orgasm” and here the tone becomes more emphatic, the pace more measured, “but in a voice which is in a different gender from your own.” She sits back with a big smile on her face.

Have they been eavesdropping? It is an extraordinary coincidence. Or perhaps it is the convergence of minds dedicated to a single cause, unconsciously merged on to a single path.

I know now. I should have realized it before, all those years ago when I first made his acquaintance. Little Noddy is a hermaphrodite. That is the key point which pulls together all the divergent narratives, all the subtexts, the existential angst (actually that was Big-Ears). Now I can write with a clear, gender-free voice. God bless you, Enid Blyton.

And so it is, in such small ways, that the cause of love, freedom and English Literature moves on by an inch or two.

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