No – this isn’t a piece about a superhero with the power of saving the world using their incredibly strong perfume puffs or the ability to knock out evil villains with the terrible blast of their disgusting wind. Neither is it a note on personal hygiene in which I suggest that if your armpits are a bit whiffy you might want to get a stronger deodorant or if your feet are cheesy perhaps wash them a bit more often. I’m sure you smell fresh as a daisy and that’s delightful although bad smells can be useful if you want to write comedy.
I remember a Russ Abbot song (ask your parents or grandparents) that I thought was the funniest thing ever when I was younger:
‘Smelly feet they’re like good friends to him they never make a fuss.
He gets a space to himself in the Scout Hall and a seat to himself on the bus.
Smelly feet you know he’s coming ‘cos’ he’s not like other guys.
He can whistle while he’s humming and his feet could win a prize.’
Ahem… there’s no accounting for sense of humour and it was a long time ago!
This is more a piece about smell and what it means to us.
So this is an interactive blog if you want it to be.
Pick up the nearest thing to you. Go on! Do it! Close your eyes and smell it. What does it smell of? Does it bring back any memories or give rise to any emotions? Does it make you feel happy and content or make you want to run a million miles? What does it say to you? Hello there – I whiff?!
Unfortunately this didn’t work for me on my first go. I picked up my much beloved dandelion clock paperweight and even when I’d practically shoved it up my nostril (I have very large nostrils) I still couldn’t make out any amazing scent from it.
The next thing I went for was my slipper. Yes. I know this was a stupid idea and believe me when you get your nose stuck into one of these bad boys it takes any humour that you ever saw in Russ Abbot songs away – which is undoubtedly a good thing.
Third time lucky I hope. *Gasping for breath and resisting the urge to pretend I have a bunch of roses to hand*
Here it is. Dougal from The Magic Roundabout in money box form and FINALLY a smell that brings back a memory. Christmas in the year 1910 – I’m joking but it was a LONG time ago – and my parents gave me a doll called a ‘Bubble Yum Baby’ who wore jeans and blew bubblegum bubbles. Her hair smelled of… well it smelled of Dougal money box. But what is that smell and why does it send me time-travelling back to the first occasion my olfactory senses encountered it? What is it that so easily connects me with a memory?
I don’t know! Sorry if you were expecting some amazing scientific answer to this but I’m a writer not a scientist and I’m not going to get all Hippocampus and Cranial Nerve with you. I’m thinking of emotions and how individual we are and how we can use this in our writing.
So as an experiment and with apologies if you’ve already smelt your own slipper, pick one scent and write down all the things it reminds you of.
I’m going to go with the smell of salt.
Salt – It brings to me, home. My cottage by the sea. My trips to islands and daily walks on the beach. The warmth when I nuzzle my nose into my dog’s fur because he takes a short dip in a rock pool every day. Fog filled mornings and star clear nights. The taste of the sea on my lips. Salt clogging up the zip on my jacket, staining my shoes, leaving clouds on my drying clothes. Frost sparkles on the beach in winter. Wooded walks with the delphinium blue of the sea glittering beyond. Fox footprints on the beach at dawn. Boat trips and sea spray and the shivering colours of Carmarthen bay. The shush of the Sound as it creeps towards the land and the fizzle as it leaves again. Chips. *Walks away from laptop to put chips in oven*
You see how much the power of one smell can bring? That took me about a minute to think of all those associations. It’s little wonder that pretty much all my writing contains the sea. ‘Elen’s Island’ – pretty obvious sea connection. ‘Seaglass’ – a YA I wrote recently is set by the sea which you might have guessed from its title. Even ‘Gaslight’ – another YA I wrote recently which takes place in Victorian Cardiff uses the docks as a setting. I am sea obsessed now I come to think about it.
So what smell can you use to think of lots of memories and ideas for your own writing?
And once you’ve done that why not try to imagine what things might smell like if you’ve never had the opportunity to smell them? How would you describe the scent of a cluster of stars? The aroma of adventure lacing the air? The pong of a Dragon’s breath? The reek at the bottom of a well? The perfume of a crow’s feather as it falls from a sunlit blue sky?
Challenge yourself. Push yourself to use your imagination. Stand in the garden and close your eyes to smell the world. Of course you don’t have to make all this effort because smells are everywhere and they are collecting memories for you all the time but it might be a way into writing something interesting if you fancy it?
Of course smells aren’t always good things and if anyone ever makes me go within a hundred yards of boiling tar ever again I will be sick all over them and as for the stink of burning chips… the stink of burning…. ARGH!!!!