Pantomime Time: N M Browne

From BBC archive Churchill Theatre's Cinderella.
When I was a child my grandmother would take me to the  panto in Cardiff each Christmas. I would squirm with embarrassment at the audience participation, but I adored the transformation  scenes when the lights would change to flood the stage with magic; a pumpkin became a coach, a servant girl  a princess, and the beast  the handsome prince. I’ll be honest Panto is not a great preparation for life - don’t get me started on frog kissing, or on lying around on a bed of thorns waiting to be rescued -  but it fed my imagination as a writer.
 Everyone knows that writing is all about transformation. Words on a page transform into story, the story transforms into a book and the humble scribe, by dint of performing a set of obscure magical tasks, is, with publication, transformed into a real writer just as surely as Pinoccio becomes a real boy.
Once I accepted the logic of this, as I accepted that a bit of slap, glitter and the glamour of a shimmery dress made a maid a princess. You will be relieved to discover that I’ve grown up a bit since and I know that real life isn’t like that. 
As a teacher I read a lot of unpublished and published writers and though they all fit somewhere along the continuum from  truly dreadful to mind-blowingly amazing, the unpublished are not all clustered at one end and the published, squished at the other. As you all know, you can pay good money for utter tosh and cannot find the good stuff on the bookshop shelves at any price. Selling a book to a conventional publisher is no longer the moment when the magic is unleashed, when the wannabe is bathed in metamorphic light and turned into the real thing. Many self published writers who have missed out on the fairy godpublisher’s blessing are as real as you can get and others, some even  dancing in the limelight, are still waiting for the magic to take hold. 
Sadly I’ve come to realise that there is no single magic moment, one flashy transformation scene full of glitter and explosions and applause. It is like all real life transformations, slow, faltering and a little bit painful and often achieved in secret with no one but the cat ( who probably can’t read) to notice. It takes practise, has many slow starts and even reversals. I think it happens, often almost by accident, when suddenly your words on the page pop and sizzle and sparkle with metamorphic power. That’s when you’ve done it, even if you’re still in rags and the spotlight is focused on another stage. 

I can see why I loved the Panto: the transformations were so much simpler. 


Mari Biella said…
This rings a bell, Nicky - I was addicted to all those magical transformations when I was a child. In real life, as you say, transformations usually take a long time, are faltering and ambiguous, and might take place well away from an audience. They're no less important for that, perhaps...

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