I know it’s just more evidence that I never really grew up, but I’m still a compulsive collector of conkers. I just love the shiny, smooth palm-press of them, in all their nutty, polished glory. Our neighbours have a big horse chestnut tree that hangs right over our shared drive, so every time I leave the house in the autumn, I slip another one into my jacket pocket and rattle them like riches.
I also like to pick up a few that have fallen still in their cases: I display them on our season table at home and watch them gradually burst their spiny jackets, always marvelling at the way each one splits into segments.
The unparalleled poet Gerard Manley Hopkins saw in the horse chestnut leaf a basis for an entire theory of beauty. I can’t pretend to be anywhere near so inspired, but as a writer, I learn from the horse chestnut that I ought to grow my ideas like conkers.
To begin with, on the tree, they are protected from the outside world in that green flail-like armour. Any squirrel thinking it could get a head start on harvest can forget it. Even when they’re ready to leave the tree and do some growing of their own, they’re still mostly protected from the fall. But once they hit the ground, it’s time to leave their snug nests and start wondering how to become a tree.
In the same way, I find that an idea given away too soon in excitement often doesn’t get the chance to grow into anything. Sometimes it gets diluted by too many other opinions early on, or it might be that a mere shrug from someone who doesn’t quite understand the vision I’m trying to explain makes me lose my nerve and discard it. Instead, I have to hang on to seeds of ideas, wrapping them snugly in notebooks and journals, waiting for them to take shape.
But equally important is the unwrapping, the letting go and sharing of the work when it’s ready to start putting down roots. That’s when the encouragement and advice of a few valued friends can really add clarity and direction.
I like to think that God treats us in a similar way. Plenty of us have things inside that are still wrapped in spikes, too painful to explore. But as we grow, even those things can find their way out into the world and be offered as treasure, as fruit, as seed that can grow something strong and beautiful.
Amy Robinson is ACW's publicity officer. She is a performance storyteller and ventriloquist, and the children’s worker in her benefice. She has written three books about puppetry and storytelling, published by Kevin Mayhew, and provides scripts and materials for GenR8, a Cambridgeshire charity running Christian assemblies and events in schools. She co-founded the storytelling company Snail Tales, with which she still writes and performs. In her spare time, she writes poetry and makes attempts at novels. She lives in a rectory in Suffolk with the rector, two children, two guinea pigs and too many puppets to count.