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This site is a place for musings, thoughts, and other random pieces of creativity. The links on the left will take you to the different sections - wander at will. I hope you enjoy what you see.

LATEST UPDATE (14/07/07): I've restructured the site into more sub-compartments - one for each of the links on the left. If you have anything bookmarked the link will be broken, but the page will still be there. I've also added a couple of post-At World's End PotC stories, on the Tortuga page.

If you are looking for Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat (and lots of other novels) then you are in the wrong place and should go to http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk.

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Eight hundred words

Liveliness and originality. Those two words stared up at me, blinking happily in my eyes. And continued to stare at me, whilst my brain ran wild with ideas and thoughts, jumbled together in my head.

But none of them seemed very original. Arriving in the middle of a term filled with essays, the request to write eight hundred words on a subject of my choice seemed alternately wildly appealing and horrendously difficult. Where was I to find the time, between swimming galas and rowing regattas, translations and lectures, Christmas dinners and seasonal shopping? I bounced ideas off friends and relatives.

How about interviewing one of the porters? I suggested over dinner one night.

You could do, my flatmates returned, helpfully.

Or I could write about state school entrants to Oxbridge, I thought aloud. And then read the very same sort of article in a student paper two days later. People have been there and done that far too often. So I put the article aside for a while and tried to finish my extended essay, on the basis that without it and therefore without my degree, job applications would be a bit pointless. Then I went home for Christmas, where a night out with my friend Julie, freshly returned from five months building things for Mayan Indians in Belize, suggested another option.

Could I write about your expedition? I asked, shouting over music in one of Yorks new trendy bars.

Yeah, why not? she yelled back. Yet we sat next to each other on the train up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay and I failed to ask her a single thing, except for why on earth she didnt do anything when she realised there was a maggot living in her arm. She said it kept popping its head out and finally she persuaded the nurse to remove it; but there was no way I wanted to write eight hundred words on maggots. I detest the things, all wriggly and slimy. So I changed my mind again, and wondered if I should do something on upcoming internet sites. I might have been able to make that lively, but original well, no.

I flew to Denmark with the swimming team and my escort that I found on https://uk.eros.com/ for our annual, lets get fit after Christmas training camp, and then I did write something. So frustrated were we all after a week of being forced to strip off and scrub down with sponges before every single training session, I found myself considering the merits of Danish hygiene against those unidentified floating objects that have made their home in British swimming pools. Somehow hygiene became a lengthy discourse on sports funding in the UK and swimming in particular, with a sidetrack into piscines in France and why they cant build decent fifty-metre pools in Blighty. However, after plodding up and down the lovely, cool, clear waters of the Danish pool for twenty hours in that week, polishing and typing up that article seemed much less enticing. All I wanted was to escape from swimming for a bit. And besides, I reasoned, most of the articles Ive ever written have been about swimming. I should try something different.

So back I came to Oxford, and stared at the instructions once again. I walked past the interesting porters and custodians at college: Bill, the Jamaican who always greets me at the start of a new term with a grin and, Your mothers been feedin you well, then? Youre looking more beautiful than ever! and sends people away with wise words of Caribbean advice, invaluable in the stressful environment of the dreaming spires, Stay cool! Ron, awarded an MBE in the Birthday Honours List in 2000 for services to college, a sweet little man who always has a kind word indeed, all the porters who asked after me when I fell off my bike last term I could have written many times eight hundred words on them all.

But, I didnt. I cast away the renewed idea of writing about Oxford from the perspective of a Northern comprehensive pupil, given the news that state school applications and admissions are now higher than ever. I re-read my swimming pool piece, crumpled it into a ball and threw it in the bin. I rejected calling Julie and grilling her on Central America, and I decided to keep the internet for idle surfing. Instead, I wrote an article on writing an article, in the hope it was both original and lively. Maybe it isnt. After all, whether a piece is exciting and interesting depends on what your personal tastes are, and everyones tastes differ. The main thing, though, is that I enjoyed writing it; and what more can you ask for from eight hundred words?

© Joanne Harris 2002