26 Orphans, listen in

As we approach the launch of 26 Orphans, writers have been busy recording their sestudes ready to be exhibited in the Foundling Museum. Emily Bromfield reflects on what it means to listen in.

Image representing Din Djarin from Star Wars, The Mandalorian – one of the subjects of the project.

Writers are told, almost as soon as they put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) to read their work aloud. It’s sometimes the best way to hear where sentences, couplets or dialogue don’t quite land and sound clunky to the ear. It is also a delight when something written decides to sing and skip along with a rhythm that, at first, isn’t always clear on the page. Reading a piece of text is such a different experience to speaking it; and speaking it is such a different experience to listening, really listening. That’s what I’ve been doing as a 26 Orphans Editor these past few weeks. Reading and then listening to recordings of sestudes that have all breathed new life into favourite characters from much-loved stories.

From Lyra Belacqua to Hetty Feather, The Artful Dodger to Moominpapa, this project has reintroduced and introduced me to some brave and spirited, intrepid and tenacious fictional individuals. The writing is, as ever, pretty extraordinary. But the real magic has been hearing all the voices, the accents, the different tonal shifts across each sestude as our 26 writers have thought about how they want to read their sestudes out loud – which words to emphasise and savour, where to slow down, linger and pause, where to really give urgency and fly through an idea to help it aurally soar. In fact, I believe this is one of very few 26 projects where the writing has been written mainly to be listened to as well as read.

There’s been such a joy in anticipating how a sestude will sound after reading it. I’ve loved working with the writers of Boba Fett from Star Wars, Paddington, the new one from William Golding’s The Inheritors, Fevvers from Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and The Fossil Sisters from Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes. All of the exchange was by email, so to then hear the writers’ voices was so exciting as it meant I could experience how they all intended their characters to be truly received. In the case of the new one, it was the voice of a 10-year-old granddaughter! And for Paddington, incredibly, the voice of the brilliant actress Noma Dumezweni. It’s almost like, as a collection of 26, they could be a new Jackanory (remember that?), or CBeebies bedtime stories.

Don’t forget to join us at the Foundling Museum if you can on Saturday 22nd October. In fact you could make a day of it. There’s a 26 creative writing workshop in the morning run by our very own John Simmons and Neil Baker; and readings in the afternoon from many of the 26 Orphans sestude writers. If you can’t make it, the exhibition runs from 14th – 23rd October so pop along another time. The Museum is placing QR codes around the gallery spaces so you can listen to the sestudes as you walk around. I, for one, will be doing this – I can’t wait to hear them amongst the museum displays. What a magical conversation.  

– Emily Bromfield

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