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Picturing a World

Treacle Walker

The news that at eighty-seven Alan Garner has just published another novel—Treacle Walker—is reason enough to celebrate. No surprise: it's superb. As always, Garner's prose has the compactness, rhythms, and multilayered power of poetry. His imagination is vivid and odd. And it's all rooted in the part of Cheshire where he grew up and has lived almost all his life. Another reason to celebrate: he has made a gorgeous promotional video that shows the house in which the story is set, a copse that plays a part in it, and three talismanic objects.

The first object is the jar shown here. It is very precisely described in the novel as "White, glazed and chipped. Under the rim was painted in blue: 'Poor Mans Fried', and beneath 'price 1/11/2. On the other side was: 'Prepared only by Beach & Barnicott …'" Yet until I saw the video, I didn't really visualize it properly. I imagined a much duller bottle, and I didn't understand why a boy would respond to it as "grand. Grand as owt" (p. 7). Now I do. And, yes, I would have treasured this as a child and would today if I could get my hands on one.
Which leads to a writing exercise. Choose something in your possession that resonates for you, maybe something with a deep history, an old toy, a family heirloom, or a found object that caught your fancy and won't let go. Maybe something shiny you have just purchased and still feel excited about. Finger it, turn it around, set it on a table with a two other objects to see what force fields it generates. Now, imagine it in someone else's hands. Its maker (a traditional artist two centuries ago or a factory hand in 21st C China). Someone who wants to steal it. The person who gave it to you. A jealous partner. Now put yourself in that person's skin and think about it. In your new identity, muse on what attracted your attention. What impulse does it inspire? Will you act on that impulse or resist it? What follows either way? What happens next as a result of giving in or holding out?

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