My first pair of glasses are National Health issue, blue plastic, with lenses that rub the bridge of my nose.
The optician adjusts them. They smell funny.
‘Lovely,’ he says, ‘They make you look very clever. Would you like to keep them on?‘
I lay them carefully in their case and close it with a loud snap. This is the worst possible thing that could have happened to me. I can hear them already: Speccy four-eyes. Swat. Teacher’s pet. Clever is definitely not what I want to be right now.
At home, Mum insists that I walk around in my new glasses for a bit, get used to them, let Dad see.
I pull a face. The little plastic nubs hurt behind my ears.
I sneak upstairs to my room, as quietly as I can, hoping that I can shut my bedroom door and get the horrible things off my face as soon as possible.
But then, as I look out of the landing window, I’m surprised to see the chestnut tree in our garden suddenly press itself up against the glass. Each leaf has a palm and fat fingers. I gasp at the greenness.
I spend the rest of that summer’s evening wandering around the house, marvelling at the way my world has suddenly snapped into place. I can see every freckle on my sister’s cheek and the beads of water clinging to the bottom of my water glass.
The kitchen table has new crisp outlines and a network of lengthening shadows that I can trace with my finger. I realise why Mum is always complaining about dust.
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘Wow. Look at this.’
Mum starts crying. Noone had realised that I couldn’t see properly. Least of all me.
It’s as if I’m learning things all over again. Not just sunset but the stripes of light that slide like butter through the back fence and over the lawn.
Not just darkness but something the texture of cat’s fur, moving in the corner of the room.
Not just a breakfast dish of strawberries but clusters of fruit like Chinese lanterns, each seed a gleaming speck that I savour on my tongue, as if my new sight has suddenly sharpened all my senses.
What happens when we slow down and really look at things? What does the world yield up to us when we look at things as if we’re seeing them for the first time? How often do we write from a vague memory of what we think something looks like, instead of writing what we really see?
When I’m stuck with a stubborn scene, a bit of description, words that won’t quite come right, I like to pretend that I’m that girl putting on her glasses for the first time again.
It’s a cheap trick and you can try it now.
Write about your feet as if you’ve never seen them before.
Go outside and look, right now, at what it is that you really see.
Look with your hands, your tongue, your ears. Your entire body is hungry for looking.
A sky crackling, a road hissing, the grass creaking.
Rain on the window, lipstick on the rim of a glass, the singed petals of last week’s roses. There are clues everywhere.
To look and look again in this way is to fall in love with the world.
To write is to be astonished.
It’s so easy to slip back into the ordinary way of seeing. Some days, I realise that I’ve walked around for hours without ever looking up at the sky or noticing the face of the person next to me in the queue. We look at our screens or our phones. We’re busy responding to the demands of our families or our colleagues – and we just stop looking.
My four-year-old daughter is a brilliant antidote to this problem. She’s always pointing things out to me. I remember her unadulterated joy at bubbles drifting across the garden; and her fascination at the way chocolate melts in her warm palm. (Not so easy for me to marvel alongside her at that last one, actually.)
But she’s always pointing things out to me.
‘Look, Mummy,’ she says.
And I do. I stop and I look with her.
Here’s a challenge. Today, just notice the colour yellow. Everywhere you go, look for the yellow of things. Then try to describe how that particular yellow is different from another: the yellow of an egg yolk on your breakfast plate, the yellow of those roses, the yellow of that skirt, this street sign, that angle of sunlight. Let yourself revel in yellow. Or blue. Or whatever it is that you choose.
You’ll start to see it, really see it.
And your writing will certainly be better for it.
(c) Sophie Nicholls
About The Dress
Meet Ella and her mother Fabia Moreno who arrive in York, one cold January day, to set up their vintage dress shop.
The flamboyant Fabia wants to sell beautiful dresses to nice people and move on from her difficult past. Ella just wants to fit in. But not everyone is on their side.
Will Fabia overcome the prejudices she encounters? What’s the dark secret she’s hiding? And do the silk linings and concealed seams of her dresses contain real spells or is this all just ‘everyday magic’?
Among the leopard-print shoes, tea-gowns and costume jewellery in Fabia’s shop are many different stories – and the story of one particular dress.