We are having mild weather here in the south of England.... yes the leaves are tumbling and there's a brisk wind, but things are still flowering and making fruit. The tomatoes are still ripening.

Reading (and writing)

I finished reading my second-in-a-row Barbara Pym: A Few Green Leaves. This is a novel published after she passed away. I enjoyed this very much and was particularly interested in how Pym depicted life in the Seventies because for some time now I have been working on a story/novel of my own also set back then. I cannot say too much about what I am writing except that somehow I have written over thirty thousand words this year and am hoping to somehow find time to continue on...

Meanwhile, I am now halfway through an Anita Brookner, her last full length novel: Strangers. This is a re-read for me, I got the book as soon as it was published. Brookner is another favourite twentieth century author. Many years ago, when I was a student of about twenty years old, I went to the Tate gallery and attended a lecture about something I completely forget what.... But I do remember this: there were two middle aged women sat in front of me discussing Brookner and her novels. Back then she had published four or five, I suppose, and had become quietly successful, winning the Booker prize for Hotel du Lac (Pym was shortlisted for the Booker but did not win, sadly). The women I was sat behind were discussing Brookner, why anyone would like her writing. They both enjoyed her books but could not explain what it was about them that they liked: perhaps the solitude, or the quiet ritualistic lives. It was strange for me then to eavesdrop on this conversation - I was a much younger woman and yet also a Brookner fan. I felt somehow much older than my years and yet..... I still find it tricky to explain to myself what it is about Brookner's books that I enjoy. In many ways, Brookner's characters are quiet failures, yet they have something more to them: a spark, a sense of being just one outsider in a world that is uneasy with difference. In some ways they are characters who are aware of being part of a narrative that doesn't fit with the norm and are quite beautifully wretched.

Picture This - aphantasia

Imagine you are walking through a dark wood at night, you see the moon appear, bright silver between tree branches..... Can you picture this in your mind's eye?

As a small child my daughter enjoyed sharing picture book stories with me. Like many parents I had a belief that my book-loving would rub off on to my child, somehow or other. She might not like the same books as me but she would surely like to read? As time went by my daughter could read and learned to read competently, reaching expected milestones in school learning etc.. but she was not a keen book lover, beyond the very early years, and did not enjoy books without pictures.

She also found some creative activities very frustrating. Being asked to visualise and then write a story about something, was baffling to her. If I said something like: do you see it in your head? Can you imagine X in your head? She would shake her head and firmly tell me she saw nothing, nothing at all 'in her head'. At about the age of eleven, she discovered Manga comic books and this kept her interested in books of some kind, but studying for her GCSEs was hard work and she did not enjoy reading, finding novels particularly hard going.

My daughter, we believe, has a condition known as aphantasia. She does not have the ability to imagine visually, to see things in her 'mind's eye'.

You would think then that this would limit a person creatively, and whilst there are obstacles my daughter is a creative person  - and is good at drawing. Our approaches to drawing are remarkably different. I work mostly from memory: I have looked at a great deal of images: paintings, photographs, experienced things over the years and so when draw I call upon this memory bank of images and from this create something of my own. I may look directly and draw from observation but a lot of the time I do not, and even if I am drawing from observation I will visualise my next step and add in previous experience etc.. When my daughter draws she uses a computer screen to be able to plot out and build an idea. Drawing on paper is too frustrating for her; computer drawing software will give a grid for guidance, a starting point. She has to be looking directly at source materials, so she will have multiple windows open on her computer screen and will sketch things out in fine detail before being able to get to what she wishes to draw. She can draw imaginatively, but only through the direct experience of looking at reference material and making many drawings herself. She enjoys digital drawing and animation very much.

It was a few years ago that my daughter (now aged twenty-one) came across information about aphantasia online and continues to research. Understanding how my daughter's mind works has led me to realise how important it is to identify a child's learning styles.  If only I had known more - that this was a thing: this thing called aphantasia. I might have known how to help her as she struggled, but now at least I can understand.


Thank you for reading - more next Saturday


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