As Yet Untitled is about more than one person. It is about every single artist and writers we collaborate with. In the final part in our series on the books and stories that inspire us poet Ella Chappell discusses her favourites:
Being tasked with naming my favourite anything is always a challenge, but to name my favourite story is in a league of its own. A plethora of novels spring to mind at first, books that came to inform my personal philosophies, my priorities, and my desires in life, often somewhat cliched options - Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, Madame Bovary, The Golden Notebook...
But a favourite story is different to a favourite novel. In studying Literature, I quickly came to discover that the idea of 'stories' as complete items - furnished with a beginning, a middle, and an end - never sat easy with me. Stories are easy to digest, they have a sure moral and a delivered emotion, they don't happen hour by hour, day by day, and that's why all my favourite novels eschew the idea of straight narrative. I remember the first time I read Catcher in the Ryeon my brother's recommendation. Nothing happens! I thought, This isn't a story! This is something else.
This, I guess, is also why poetry appealed to me from an early age. My favourite books? That's an easier question to answer. The Flower Fairies series by Cicely Mary Barker informed and dominated my imagination for at least a decade. These absolutely lovely poetry books are a classic example of book art at work. They are collections of stunning, intricate illustrations paired with short, whimsical poems, each one regarding a different Flower Fairy - The Almond Blossom Fairy, The Elder Fairy, the Sycamore Fairy - any flower or tree you can think of, Barker assigned it a cheeky imp or elf to act as its mascot and esteemed guardian. (My personal favourite? The Willow Fairy, delicately dipping her toes into water dappled by the shade of long, elegant willow leaves. You can almost hear the water lapping gently at the bank, feel the whiskery hairs of the willow leaves on your fingers...)
These books cradle a deep, warm nostalgia at their heart. They are artefacts from an England of meadows and hedgerows and banks of bluebells, a past in which my granny as a child would go out to the fields next to her house to collect dog daisies and pick blackberries. The carefully chosen lyrics, the lovingly depicted fairies with their skirts of petals and caps of discarded bud-velvet. These books taught me how to be alone in nature. They taught me to watch the inner glimmer of transparent yew berries; that if I wanted to make friends with the butterflies, the buddleja was my first port of call; how the scent of a honeysuckle is different in the evening - more potent - than in the day; that a secret kind of magic hangs under fronds of wisteria; and to be quick to nab the alpine strawberries as soon as they were ripe, before the birds - or the fairies - could get to them first.
I don't think any other books exist, as objects, that evoke for me such innocence, and gratitude for the smallest, simplest things in life. Occasionally as an adult I can access these simple, mysterious emotions again - cracking open a fresh pea pod from the garden - and I feel a shock deep in an unknown realm of myself, as I recall a whole mythology I learnt by heart and promptly forgot.
Once word had spread through my family about my interest in poetry, my sister bought me my first proper poetry collection - Ariel by Sylvia Plath. A baptism of fire for entering the world of grown-up poetry, but no better place to start for an adolescent girl with a tendency for a certain dramatic melancholy. That remains one of my favourite books too. I always loved the basic Faber & Faber poetry collections with their textured covers and carefully chosen colour palettes - a testament for simplicity in publishing and letting the words within speak for themselves. I have a growing collection of these Faber poetry books now, but Ariel will always be the one I treasure most. It reminds me not to be afraid of rawness in poetry, and that mythologies you whisper to yourself as a child never really die.