Listen to this. It may look like your child, but it may be a changeling. It might suddenly speak to you with a man’s voice. You may come in from the kitchen to find it smoking a fag.

A stepmother is a changeling.

Unravelled cop. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014
Unravelled cop. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014

I am the changeling. The difficulties. My sister does not know I am an only child. I challenged stepmother by being. Awkward attempts to make a connection sustained us through twenty years, but we loved and hated in equal measure.

There is a rock formation on the moors near Leeds called the Cow and Calf. Huge dark forms press on that soil, rearing out of earth. Forms which perhaps have bones reaching down into hot layers, down below.

Tangle.  Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014
Tangle. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014

When stepmother first arrived, my sister and I still had plaits. She was not much older than us. We all went on outings to such places. There was a river where we cooled our feet. When father left, he didn’t go far, but he didn’t come back. Well, he was still there. What of father? Hard to say.

I needed father when things went wrong. I was a slow learner.

Stepmother, mother, father, sister. And other shadows. Is our story real?

The solicitor’s letter. The onset of my relationship. The “silence” accusation. The quality of fear. The handing over of power (on both sides). My pregnancy. She had no children. She wanted to watch me changing a nappy, “Because I’ve never seen it done.”

Stepmothers are in fairy tales. How can you prick your finger on a spindle? There is no sharp part. I have a mother. One is enough. Tangle. She was more like another sister I can’t describe, foisted on me.


Spindle turk. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014
Spindle turk. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014
Spin. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014
Spin. Digital photograph. Frances Earnshaw. 2014



About Frances Earnshaw

Frances Earnshaw graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1985 with a Master of Arts degree.

She had a solo show at Gallery 286, Earls Court, London in November 2012. She has shown work at The Freud Museum, London, The V&A Museum of Childhood, London and at the Museum of Folk and Fai…Read more

4 Responses to “Changeling”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    The spinning together of ideas is so clever. I love your descriptions about your step mother, watching you changing a nappy. Your words to me evoke the images of film.

  2. Frances Earnshaw

    I used to make films, at art college. I would have liked to see myself as a filmmaker. Fancied myself as writing lyrics for a band, in another life, too!

  3. Helen Sargeant

    I can see you as a filmmaker and as writing lyrics for a band in this life. I would love to collaborate with you to make some films. I used to make films too. If you would be interested, we could do something once the baby is born. x

  4. Frances Earnshaw

    I would so love to do that, Helen! I bought a digital viewer some time ago, wanting to make little short films to be viewed in a gallery, along with other work. You can plug some headphones into it.

    I was trying to make a film with a dancer last year, too. She kept skittering away, though. It is a project I was working on called “At 20” looking at myself back then, when I was … so different to now. Echoes of another life again. It is a mystery how we can be all our selves, but we are!


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