Red, there’s a reason why women claim it as their colour. It’s a power colour, interwoven with our right of passage into womanhood. This month I submitted a story to the Scottish Book Trust part a fairy tale and part biography inspired by my journey to doing a PhD. The Scottish Book Trust hosted the story for a while, but it is no longer available. The story was called Emma’s Little Red Coat. And I have the full short story below for you.
Little Emma’s Red Coat
Walls can be furry; at least the outer surface. The side where I found myself was ribbed and fleshy. I took one of granny’s knitting needles and pressed the tip against my finger. How did I get here? The options for a shy, self-deprecating girl, after university are simple: she puts away her cloak of dreams to find a job and somewhere to live. Naturally a biology degree led to cleaning, reception work, and pensions; where wolves eat little girls and call it profit. I used my meagre wages to travel: I hiked in Peru, worked with children in India, dove in the red sea, yet my palms itched for something more.
In stories the main character takes a while to figure out what they want. It takes a long time to worm your way out of a wolf’s stomach with only a pair of knitting needles. Trust me.
My granny was a clerk of the court. She knew the law inside out. She also liked to knit and read horror novels. The paths we chose weren’t neat little woollen knits. Granny’s wool became as red as blood. Clickety-clack, she weaves the wool into a coat to see me through winter.
I never had the chance to ask Granny about academic life because she died before I understood many things. I do not think she would be proud of the girl I was: quiet voice, long hair, crippling fear. Isn’t that what a girl is brought up to be? The good news is that I rebelled, silently, slowly. She would be proud of me now.
The “truth” of Granny’s journey, and my journey, is complex: mouthfuls of pins, flowers and feathers. Do you know the story well? Perrault lied: my granny never knitted me a cloak, she crocheted a shawl. Mr and Mr Grimm lied too: Stranger Danger? There was no hunter.
I raked myself free of the wolf’s belly without scissors or axes. I used the tools that my granny left me: curiosity, imagination and perseverance. I strove to escape the clichés of womanhood; scorned red shoes and threw porridge pots at would be suitors. I was dubbed Ice Queen by people too wrapped up in their furs to be open to “the other”. They did not see the woman who listened to the heartbeats of trees, laughed like a child, read for hours, and danced while ironing.
Have you noticed that in folk tales women’s blood is constantly spilled? Keep to the path little girl; be good, be docile; hide your face, curl your hair and avoid giving off the wrong impression. There are still plenty of wolves in the forest but it is not those wolves you have to be wary of.
I returned to university to create a story of my own making. I researched oral storytelling in schools; spoken, verbal, uttered. The social space created by stories. I am not saying the whole world is comprised of fiction, but I have certainly wove a fiction out of this journey.
The knitting needles are sticky in my hands. I will put them down. I do not need them anymore. I do not need the self-criticism and self-doubt. I must ignore those harmful words from parents, teachers, peers, which still echo in my ears. I need to have hope, I need to be nurtured and supported. To break the spell that led to the smooth and fleshy stomach of the wolf.
So let us, other, woman, man, run, run like my grandmother did towards something more satisfying. This is where our journey begins and ends.
If you would like to know more about my work some initial thoughts are published here:-
Parfitt, E.L. 2014. Storytelling as a trigger for sharing conversations. Exchanges: the Warwick Research Journal. 1(2).
Young people, learning & storytelling was published with MacMillan in 2019.