Get to know… Georgia Sweet Stabb

A bored girl has a yearning for something she cannot quite identify. She goes to school and makes up a poem about growing oranges in a hot place. She likes reading aloud. She stays in at break time and writes another story about camping, illustrates it with an orange tent.

In the teenage bit she falls out of love with words, she is too busy having a life, ingesting material for her imagination compost. Still, she entertains her classmates with stories: naughty children get lost in art galleries, a woman gets runover on her wedding day. She likes a twist.

Then comes the baggy middle bit where she does ‘normal’ things – job, partner, children, house – let’s precis all that. The yearning resurfaces. What the hell has she been doing all this time? She tries creative writing courses, classes, toe dips.

She notices a random email from someone else with a yearning. She gets on a 76 bus and goes to Wood Green and does a course with Writing Room. She meets other people there with yearnings. Interesting people, different people, people putting one word after another. And who like sharing those words and talking about those words. They talk about the meaning and use of the word orange. It does almost rhyme with Farage!

She goes on and on and throws everything else out of the window. More Writing Room courses – Poetry, Short Stories, Novellas, Prioritising Projects, Memoirs. The luxury and hygiene of Zoom. And all the while the yearning is turning into a bigger thing. An identifiable thing. A novel. It takes a looooooong time. But. With the Writing Room’s support, she keeps going. On Monday mornings she does the drop-ins and is revitalised. The Writing Room like a big sister / family / nursery / network that nudges and prods her on. Other backstories and subplots continue.

Then through the Writing Room she meets an agent! Hooray. The yearning / words / novel are reaching someone. It’s a triumph. Things go on. Edit. Edit. Edit. It is ready. It is submitted to publishers who ultimately decide whether it gets made into a sellable object. It is a cliffhanger. Now she is hanging on by her pinkies. Will she plunge to her death, or not?

Whatever happens next is largely the Writing Room’s fault. And she is deeply thankful for that. Meanwhile she will carry on with the Writing Room toe dipping, tapping, and imagining orange things.

EXTRACT FROM ‘The Peacock Box’

Zǐe. (yes) I have someone. Remember Lei, my nephew? You played together as children. We went once to the Huxinting tea house at mid-Autumn festival.’

Lillian nodded, transported to a clear day, bleached in her memory, she must have been around six years old. Pax had taken her on their daily walk, but they had gone further than the park, than the market, into Nantao – the old, walled city. Onto a bridge that twisted and turned at angles, over a lily pond onto an island with a curly-eared pavilion. Pax had greeted her sister Chen in the traditional way. Her son was with her. He’d flashed a smile at Lillian, and they’d looked through the slats of the bridge together, down into the water, trying to spot the fish that lurked beneath the great pads. They’d thrown scraps of food in, watching gleeful as large mouths broke the surface and gobbled up the morsels, whilst Pax and Chen sat and drank their tea. After they tired of that, they chased up and down the bridge, in and out of the crowds gathered to see the tea house and the gardens, until Pax and Chen chastised them and made them sit down, fed them wedges of sweet stuffed mooncake to keep them quiet. The boy had a lively air, was nimble and quick, able to balance a lump of sugar on his head, knock it into the air and catch it in his mouth. When his mother slapped at his wrists, he poked his tongue out behind her back, which both appalled and excited Lillian. He followed that with a wink and smile and skipped off. When the sun started sinking behind the trees and the adults rose to gather themselves together, Lillian had felt tired and given the boy a rueful wave. Then Pax had led her home through streets hung with red paper lanterns.

Pax started chopping greens, the tack, tack, tack of the knife on the board a familiar rhythm. Lillian watched her waddle around the kitchen on faintly bowed legs gathering spices and herbs from the shelves and pounding them with a pestle and mortar.

How did Pax and the staff find the time to do all these endless tasks? Whilst she sat idly reading in the library, drinking lapsang soochong on the terrace or reclining in the bath, Pax and her army of workers were mopping the stairs, the floors, washing the windows, dusting the shelves. And these were just the seen things, back in the kitchen, the outhouses, she had spied the real sweaty labours, the boiling vats of sheets stirred with long poles, boxes of muddy onions and vegetables scrubbed and chopped. They never ceased work. As a girl she had enjoyed helping, but it wasn’t seemly as an adult, as mistress of the house. Lillian looked down at her useless hands, milky and soft. She’d never had the patience for piano or painting, the thought of Hetty’s accomplishments, the classical music and insipid mauve watercolours filled her with a dullness. She had few useful skills, though Peng, Pax’s husband had taught her Chinese characters, which she’d been told were excellent.

Impossible things, that is what she longed for. Peter to sit through a meal without knocking over a glass, her nerves to be settled, to stop biting her nails, her figure to be fuller, her mother to be kinder, to listen to her when she talked. To have been allowed to go to university, where she may have got a first-class degree, even had a profession. For colours to be brighter, her dreams to be uninterrupted by typhoons, for Warren to have returned from the Front, alive. For Alfred to be less uptight, less cautious, to dance a tango, to love her husband without effort. She wished the world would spin in the other direction, the clouds blow off and gravity to briefly cease, so she could soar up. She longed for things to be different. To be born with power. To be able to do good in the world. To be free.