‘The Universal Story’ by Ali Smith

There was a viral tweet a while back about how people visualise things (or don’t). There was the command of ‘imagine an apple’ followed by a sliding scale from shiny red apple at ‘category 1’,  fading in colour and clarity through to a blank ‘category 5’ for those who don’t ‘see’ anything in their head that way (aphantasia). It led to some interesting chats about how different writers (and readers) see the images written on a page. For my part it was a head-scratcher. My apple was not only bright and clear but spinning: stop-motion chomps being bitten out of it to the core, then back again, bullet-time pivots, relocations of apple on tree/in bowl/on grass/in hand. The same when creating story structure and scene and time: zooming in, out, around, trying different permutations like a sort of textual Transformer in a tizz.

But it’s okay. I can always re-read this story from the great Ali Smith, with all its “no”, “wait”, “hang on” refocusing and re-establishing of its gaze, and I’ll feel very at home indeed.

In The Whole Story and other stories, Penguin 2003

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