Imaginarium. Emily Brontë had hers, a place of fantasy where her work gestated and grew. Four authors Jacqueline Crooks (The Ice Migration) Leone Ross (Come Let us Sing Anyway) Naomi Booth (Sealed) and Bonnie Greer (Entropy) gathered in the Reading Room of Hull Library to share thoughts and ideas surrounding the nature of their own imaginariums, and read from their respective titles.
It’s a sunshine waterfall aged 10, lying down on my tummy, playful and silly. Imaginarium as a way to gain agency as a powerless child. Imaginarium existing by way of a shamanic ritual to take oneself to another state of mind. Perhaps a dream state. Imaginarium existing at particular times, early morning or late at night: the witching hour when some of us writers write. Imaginarium existing in a contested, fought for space where creating texts are a means of survival. Also thrown in the pot the idea of trauma around writing, where the act of writing becomes a channel for catharsis.
Bonnie almost moved to tears announces,”I left my country to protect my imaginarium.” She describes scratching out imaginary worlds on torn up shopping bags. “By nurturing a sense of self you feed your imaginarium so you can look back and ask: What have I done? Who am I talking to? Who am I not talking to?”
By way of introduction to her novel Sealed, Naomi Booth describes finding out about the prevalence of contaminants in breast milk during her research for the book, including incredibly and perhaps frighteningly flame retardants and dry cleaning fluids. She reads an excerpt that extolls the power and extraordinary capacity skin has to knit back together like living fabric.
Jacqueline Crooks reads from her collected short stories in The Ice Migration about orchids and archeologists and I am imagining the fragile orchid trying to gain purchase on the hard dusty rock fragments.
On Tuesday the world went mad. The opening line of the Leone Ross short story from Come Let Us Sing Anyway. The story she reads is about the dead returning, not in a zombie type of way just a benign knock on the door and your loved one being there once more. ‘I took her to bed fresh from the grave,’ one of the more curious lines I’ve heard in a while.
Finally Bonnie Greer read from her novel Entropy. She painted a dystopian world not so far removed in time and feel to our own with 24 hour wrap around surveillance where millennials hooked on a synthetic drug called O, had become the worker bees for the previous generation. You can argue that this is already happening, as twenty-somethings with mickey mouse degrees, serve coffee and sell phone contracts to their parent’s and grandparent’s generation.
I’ve always liked the idea of a retreat, fantasised about a remote place where I could exist undisturbed to write my magnum opus, but in all honesty before long I’d be crying out for a playmate, someone with which to share the romance of the landscape that inspired me so.
If the imaginarium is the wellspring of your creativity then mine exists in the washing up bowl: I find I get most of my ideas with my hands in soapy water. I have countless paper fragments with promising opening lines scrawled and smudged, whole poems poured out on the back of an envelope just dotted about my kitchen. Leone kindly points out that maybe water is the channel to my imaginarium rather than the sink: she may well be right. I have composed many a review whilst soaking in the tub. Weirdly I can’t swim and get seasick on boats, which perhaps segues into Bonnie’s thoughts on Kurosawa and the directive to: go to what you fear, go to what you hate, if you want to be an artist.
We are hooked on the stories of the Harlem Apollo Theatre and performers being hooked off the stage after a minute, if they hadn’t chimed with the black audiences sitting as judge and jury. We could do with that hook for the open mic sessions and those who outstay their welcome. We talk more about division in art, identity politics and the 72 different categories of human. After an engaging philosophical discussion we conclude that through trust and faith, we will find our way to that in-between place, a place where our humanity is: a place where the dream world rubs up against the real world.
It’s twenty-five minutes past three in the Reading Room, and the imaginarium is open for business.