Dirty Laundry #6: Writing Process

The final version I’ve just posted up on Dirty Laundry feels a bit lacking in texture- if we’re editing at the end of DL, then I know I’d want to get another layer of sensuality into this story, with smells and tastes. Partly that’s because the photos themselves weren’t as rich in colour as some of the other sets, which I think then allows for that to be expanded in the writing.

I mainly worked from my iphone with the photos, so all along I actually thought that the chalk was cigarettes. I see the writing starting by itself, then mixing with the first couple of pictures, then the writing stops and the final photo in the tryptch tells the end of the story. In my head that is that she disappears, leaving the hat and the shoes behind as the only trace of her presence. Rather like a magician’s trick where the cloth is whisked away to reveal that the rabbit/lovely assistant/dove has gone.

Having read Samantha’s post on the photo process, I find it really fascinating that I found this in the photos- the idea of disappearing through a door and into a another world – without seeing any of the photos which had the chalk door in them. I felt there was a sense of quiet desperation on the model’s face, and the kneeling image facing a wall made me think of executions. There was something a little East-Berlin cabaret about the moustache (incidentally Samantha- Movember link! Was that intentional at all?) and the hat. Plus since I thought the chalk was cigarettes, there’s that ‘stand up against the wall and have a last smoke before you’re shot’ idea that plays in.

I liked how I felt the writing and the photos worked together to tell a story in this set (well, I’ve only just posted the story. I’ll be interested to see if Samantha finds they work like that… ditto other readers). We’re now halfway through a set of what we’ve provisionally agreed will be 12 tryptch/text combos. If the relationship between the story and the text do provoke the reaction I’m hoping for, then I think perhaps this is the model I think this phase of our collaboration should be working towards.

As you’ll see from the photos, the story was written cold, without notes. The bulk of it went down in the first iteration. I’m really enjoying handwriting first drafts at the moment rather than typing. I’ve also finally got my page-labelling system cracked (so OCD…) for my multiple-use moleskines.

see photographs and stories at cargocollective.com/dirtylaundry


It was all Albrecht’s idea. ‘Free publicity, Donna.’ His eyes narrowed as he blew across the cup of milkless tea.

‘I’d be happy to do it,’ Sasha chimed in. ‘But it just makes so much more sense if it’s you.’

Donna had nodded without thinking, wanting to seem on the same page as the rest of the group. She only meant to indicate yes, it makes more sense.

‘I knew it.’ Albrecht’s hand clamped heavily across her shoulder. ‘I knew you were brave.’ Donna tried not to look too pleased. ‘One of us.’ She stopped herself from nodding again.
The concrete stairway down to the dressing rooms was cold enough to make her wish she’d worn a bra. The scars of old posters gave the walls a mottled appearance and half-ripped words and smiles caught in her mind.

The hat was not a perfect fit. In the end she’d pinned her hair – when had it gotten so long? – into a bun, then rammed the stiff, black trilby as far over her crown as it would go. The tight band crushing round her skull kept her focussed, she told herself.

‘The look is what’s important.’ She said it out loud. ‘I don’t need to be comfortable to make a statement.’

‘Yeah,’ Sasha chewed her gum and stared at the wall behind Donna’s left shoulder. ‘Just what I was thinking.’ She hitched her shoulder strap up, turned back to the shared mirror, forced her cheeks up into a smile, and began to apply more blusher. ‘Are you nervous?’

‘Albrecht said there was nothing to worry about.’ Donna held her hand out behind her and one of the sequined girls from the chorus – Julie? Janet? – passed her a tube of eyelash glue. The fake mustache lay limp on the ledge in front of her.

‘You don’t actually have to do it.’ Sasha didn’t meet her eye in the mirror. ‘He wouldn’t give your part away if you, you know, changed your mind.’

‘What do you mean?’ The glue was cold on her upper lip. She touched the strip of dark horse-hair into place. ‘I want to do what’s best for the show.’

‘Yeah. We all do.’ Sasha paused and momentarily locked opaque eyes with Donna’s reflection. She brushed loose powder off her knees and stood up. One of the chorus girls – what were their real names? – began fussing with the tassels on her dress, tugging at the material stretched over Sasha’s hips to make them hang in order. ‘But we can’t actually perform the show if –’

Out of the shadows, Albrecht stepped forward. He began to clap. His hands were heavy, slow; glinting with rings. ‘Beautiful, Sasha. Simply beautiful. They’re ready to soundcheck with you upstairs.’

Her mouth a thin, red bite, Sasha disappeared from the room, her dress whispering. The chorus girls melted after her like golden butterflies.

‘Do you believe in magic, Donna?’

Albrecht might not have heard a thing, Donna reminded herself. He leant over her and brushed down the false mustache with one finger, pressing it into place. Without thinking, Donna raised her arm up and reached behind her, watching in the mirror as her hand – moving by itself while she watched from outside the dream – began to smooth his mustache in a matching gesture.

She’d never dared touch Albrecht before; always stood as still as possible when his hand pushed down on her shoulder or slapped her arm in greeting. He’d tied her hair back once – halfway through a rehearsal – yanking on her ponytail to emphasise his points on how she was moving wrong – too soft, too slow, too fawning.

Her fingers brushed his lips; they parted. She hooked her finger in his mouth and felt his tongue move against it, hot and wet. His own finger slipped from the false mustache down to the side of her neck and she found herself arching back and dropping her head to one side as he bent down – her finger still between his lips, her arm tugging awkwardly against the tailoring of the suit jacket – and she shut her eyes to hide from their reflections, feeling rather than seeing his face buried in her neck and his fingers tugging at the buttons on her shirt.

Albrecht stepped awkwardly from foot to foot at her rebuckled his belt. When he reached inside his jacket, Donna stared down at her hands and thought this is it, it’s really happening, but he only brought out a packet of cigarettes and she smiled at her own stupidity of course not down here, in the dark, with nobody watching and in her confusion she took the packet from him. Rather than admit she didn’t smoke, she stood up and put them in the deep pockets of the suit trousers, then walked past him and up the stairs.

Sasha and Jackie and Podragh and Liam and Helena and all the glistening chorus girls stopped midscene as she walked out from the wings and to the front of the stage, then crouched down and slipped herself out of the footlights into the auditorium. She could hear the dull slap of her hard-soled shoes against the worn carpet tiles and feel the blister begin the rub, like an echo.

In the foyer, Donna stopped and leant against a Corinthian pillar and unlaced the shoes. The rest of the cast appeared around her, like a nervous cloud.

‘Where’s Albrecht?’ Sasha’s voice cut through the silence and Donna found herself looking up into the crowd of expectant faces, the question repeating in undertones like a kaleidoscope.

‘You’re a size five?’ Donna pointed at one of the chorus girls, who shook her glittering face and stepped backwards out of reach. ‘You? You?’

Sasha pushed her way to the front and stood there, hands on hips, tassels like a shimmering curtain of hair. ‘You want shoes?’ She kicked hers off and Donna found herself crawling to reach them. The fresh bruises on her knees made her wince and Sasha snorted. Shod incongruously in nude, peep-toed heels, Donna screwed her face up while one of the chorus girls began to dust her down. The odd spell broke and they were a company again.

The chatter spread out and the figures around Donna appeared to unhunch and once against she felt that she was the least of them. Her hand flew up to touch the false mustache but Sasha – still standing in front of her, barefoot and clearly furious about something – slapped it away.

‘For goodness sake, Donna, don’t fiddle.’ Then one of the shining chorus girls was there with a can of hairspray. Donna barely had time to shut her eyes before the fly-aways framing her face were stuck back under the rim of the stiff, black trilby and then someone was pushing her forward by the small of her back and she was stumbling over the heels – a little too tight –  and outside into the grey sunlight and the fresh air and it seemed that the others were buzzing like flies rather than talking and she couldn’t quite catch her breath.

‘I said, did you agree where it is going to happen? Donna, will you pay attention for once. This is important.’ Sasha was pale, even paler than the crescent slice of moon hanging in the blue sky behind her, hours too early for sunset. There was a thin breeze stirring her hair and Donna wanted to reach out and tuck it behind her ears for her before Albrecht could complain that she looked unprofessional. When Donna tried to lift her arm it felt clamped. She looked down in surprise and found that her legs, too, were too heavy to move.

‘How long have we been walking for?’ Perhaps they’d gone through the night and into the cold, next day – the light around them could easily be the colourless stance post-dawn; there was a slender quality to the air that made it all so unreal. It must be, Donna thought, because I am tired. Perhaps they’d walked solidly for two days. A month. A year. In a final gesture against the crushing feeling that she should just lie down and go to sleep, Donna raised her head – heavier than marble – and found that they were at the end of the street, barely thirty metres away from the theatre’s entrance. She opened her mouth – when did her lips grow so solid and so thick? –  and tried again. ‘Did we go all the way round the world once, or was it twice?’

The slap hurt; one of Albrecht’s rings caught against her lower lip and she ran her tongue across her teeth to check if they’d chipped. She tasted blood.

‘Snap out of it, Donna. You’re not a child,’ someone laughed. ‘Sasha, did you call the numbers I gave you?’

‘They want to know where to be.’

‘Here will do.’ Albrecht spread his arms out and pivoted slowly on his heel. ‘We’re ready.’
The grit of the tarmac bit through Donna’s suit trousers. ‘Should I be blindfolded?’ Nobody replied. She stared ahead at the wall don’t turn round. She put her hand up to the mustache – so hot, so itchy – but when it started to peel away she remembered where she was and what she was doing and in an attempt to cover it up – had Albrecht noticed? – she clutched her hands in to her chest and hit the corner of something solid.

When she opened the cigarette packet her hands began to tremble and they spilled out and the image of a white, chalk outline flashed in her head and the nausea hit her like a wave of memory. She wanted to turn around and say no, but she’d promised that the one thing she wouldn’t do was to turn around.