Then vs Now: Revisiting Please Mind the Gap

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Then vs Now: Revisiting Old Work

So this last week I’ve been stressed out of mind by a car that only works when it wants to and an essay argument that even I’m not convinced by. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to look back at how far I’ve come. Back to the very first creative writing piece I submitted for my undergraduate course.

To those of you who took the course with me…that’s right. It’s the return of Please Mind the Gap.

The prompt we were given for our first piece of assessed work was “Generations”. Looking back, I realise that the intention was probably to let us have as much wiggle room as possible to write something we wanted to write, but all I could think about was the old people versus young people dynamic.

At the time, I was also fixated on the idea that I was going to write crime fiction of some form, so I had to find a way to lever in some deduction, some logic, some action. This resulted in a story about a young guy (Henry) stopping an old lady from throwing herself in front of a train…bridging the generation gap, I guess?

Now, unfortunately, I can’t find the feedback sheet for this (and believe me, after re-reading it, I tried), but I think I got 67 (a 2:1 in Britain) and I have no idea how it did so well. But anyhow, what follows is a list of my favourite lines and why they’re terrible. Forgive me for my sins.

Please Mind the Gap: A review by its baffled writer.

“He had his family of course, but family is a bubble of childhood recollections and the moment it comes into contact with the real world, it pops.”

This metaphor is rather famous amongst my writing friends as one of the worst things I’ve ever written. At the time, I refused to accept this. However, it should be noted that its original form was far worse, as it included the words “rainbow vapour”. I can only assume that I was trying to make Henry sound like a 3-year-old, high on sugar.

“The city had been a bit of a culture shock. More like a culture thunderstorm, if Henry was to be completely honest with himself. He wasn’t often. Henry liked to pretend that nothing was ever wrong in the world. It was his way. And he was set in his way. Or so he had thought.”

I’m going to give myself a little pat on the back for the culture shock, culture thunderstorm comparison. I think that’s not far off a nice bit of playful emphasis right there. But then past Emma had to go ahead and ruin it, didn’t she? What follows sounds like I’m in the middle of brainstorming who Henry actually is, only I accidentally did it in the middle of the narrative. It’s okay to have a character flipflop…but let’s not flipflop for 6 consecutive sentences.

“Her patent shoes glinted in the icy sunlight. The reflection slipped like a tear from the surface as she shifted her weight from foot to foot.”

WHY ARE HER SHOES CRYING? This is part of the description used to introduce my little old lady to the scene. Now obviously, what I was trying to say is, “this lady is sad”, but what I have actually done, with some ridiculous use of personification is say “her shoes are sad.” Why, Emma, just why?

“Everything was fine, he told himself. Everything was warm milk, and fresh blackberries and smooth, like the perfect surface of an eggshell.
“But eggshell’s are fragile,” his mother had once whispered softly in his ear, “So be careful you don’t drop it.””

Apparently, Henry’s mother is Yoda…or Obi Wan…and her seemingly irrelevant words of wisdom echo in Henry’s ears when he most needs to hear them. And let’s not go near why Henry, a university student from 2011, has a list of favourite things that sound like they were taken straight out of The Sound of Music.

No quote here. But just know that this story included a whole paragraph of heart-breaking baby chicken death…

…That I then turned into an extended metaphor. And I have no idea why. But I can only think that maybe my lecturer thought this was sophisticated and not just a horrifying use of flashback.

“Henry’s rucksack flew out to one-side and was dragged into the riptide of the speeding train. The bag of books ricocheted off a window and launched itself through the crowd, into the timetables at the back of the station.”

Where is physics? And, okay, I later suggest that Henry’s shoulders are both dislocated…but even then I’m still confused about how this bag gets ripped from his back? So I guess…where is biology, as well?

“‘That boy!’ They all thought, ‘That boy just pushed her right over! So rude! These artsy-fartsy students with their flat caps and sharp creased trousers. I hope he didn’t break her hip.’”

Apparently the people on this platform are part of some kind of hive mind. And I can’t decide whether to use single or double quotation marks, or how to format dialogue/thought. Also, the only way to describe Henry is to use the objects that I have already highlighted in the narrative. I’m sorry, Henry. You are your fashion choices.

“No-one noticed Henry’s disappearance.”

I call bull****, past Emma. A whole crowd of people just observed him shove a lady over and noticed enough detail to accurately describe his attire to the police. Somebody saw him fall down the side of the train!

“Henry had slipped down the gap. That gap between the train and the platform where all the debris of the rail is thrown. “

These people all think Henry is trash, and they should feel bad. Did I mention? DID I SAY IT LOUD ENOUGH WITH MY IMAGERY?

“The peak of his cap was turned upwards, allowing a few dark curls and a thin trail of red yolk to tease their way across his forehead.”

There’s the tail end of that chicken death metaphor, “red yolk”. ~Sigh~ Couldn’t have just called blood, blood, could you? Also, his bag got torn from his shoulders somehow…but that hat, that hat is fixed to his head with cement.

“The younger woman stared on open mouthed, dead of language.”

I bet you’re thinking there’s not much wrong with this sentence, except maybe for that flowery end. Well then, let me inform you that I’d never mentioned a young woman in this story before…so I have no idea why I’ve used the article “the”.

“People readied themselves to mourn an incidental.”

See, past Emma thinks she’s being real clever with that there use of “incidental”…but what I’ve actually done is make current me question whether or not I know the actual definition of incidental, and then try to figure out whether past Emma is trying to cram all the meanings onto it in a “look at me, I’m so poetic”. I’m dark and mysterious and broody. You can’t judge my ART!

In Conclusion

Uh, well, just so everyone knows, Henry survived this ordeal (again, WHERE IS BIOLOGY?). The final line is him getting a rude awakening as his shoulders pop back into their sockets, so I guess getting hit by a train and having apparent head trauma doesn’t mean much. It’s that bubble he lives in. When it pops the force from the train just dissipates into thin air. Possible? Right?

I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me. I know I’ve spent the past hour or so cackling at my own mistakes. It’s good to go back. It makes me feel so much better about the present. If you fancy reading something decent, check out Moth Rain if you haven’t already. See you next week!

P.S. In case you were wondering about the picture…we found a Tin Tin figurine in first year and put him on the lectern like this during a lecture. The lecturer said nothing. I collected Tin Tin after the session and he currently resides down the back of my bedside table.

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Review: Every Day

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Every Day by David Levithan

WARNING SPOILERS

Every Day left me in two minds. It definitely has it’s good qualities; as a commentary on sexuality and gender, it’s an outstanding piece of young adult literature. However, as an example of science fiction, it made me want to weep, and not for joy.

The narrator of the novel, A, is an entity who jumps from body to body, regardless of gender. As such A is not gender neutral, or gender fluid, but just a person, who doesn’t really understand what the fuss is all about;

“I had yet to learn that when it came to gender, I was both and neither.”every day

“In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love for a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious.”

For me, this was so incredibly relatable. While I’m fully aware of being a female of the human species, I have never really understood phrases like “You think like a man” or “That’s not lady like.” I have often felt that you could pick my consciousness out of my body, park me in another, and I would still remain the same person. Seeing Levithan approach this subject, in a way that makes it accessible to readers who cannot identify in this way, was amazing.

However, by the end of the novel, that sense of awe had worn off. I found myself infuriated by the poor use of the science every dayfiction elements in this story, particularly in regards to character utilization.

From the beginning, Every Day sets itself up as a romance novel. You know the novel’s plot will rotate largely around A and Rhiannon, but alongside is the sci-fi sub-plot: who is A? Is A one of a kind? Is there a way for A to stay in one body? And through Nathan, A discovers answers to these questions. Vague, vague answers, that A decides to run away from. Just ups and leaves Rhiannon, this girl he loves. Don’t even get me started on the I-have-to-go-but-this-guy-who’s-currently-hosting-my-consciousness-will-make-a-great-boyfriend scene. To Patrick Ness, who calls Every Day, ” a wholly original premise racing along with a generous heart towards a perfect ending,” I say, “You, sir, are a heinous liar.”

As A runs away from the priest, Levithan seems to launch himself in the opposite direction to any kinevery dayd of satisfactory ending. He abandon’s the priest character, not even deigning to let us read the e-mails that A and the priest exchange. Here I am, thinking perhaps he could learn from the priest how to stay in the body of a comatose kid, thereby gaining a family and a happy life with Rhiannon, but no, no.

The ending was so insanely frustrating, that if I hadn’t been reading a friend’s copy, I would have actually thrown the thing across the room.

In conclusion, do I love the concept and characterisation? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it’s worth a read? Certainly. Do I recommend finishing the book when you’re along, purely to protect those you love from flying objects? Oh definitely. Definitely, yes.

Review: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

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The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I was introduced to the character of Dirk Gently as a fresher with a serious Sherlock hangover, and only BBC iPlayer to keep me company. I fell in love with the BBC’s adaptation, partly because of my not-so-secret crush on Stephen Managhan, but also due to Gently’s infectious attitude towards life. Over the summer, I managed to read the first novel in this short series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I was so taken with Adams’s bizarre writing style, that most of my creative writing projects for the next athe long dark tea-time of the soulcademic year were dedicated to replicating that sound; the unequivocal, deadpan satirist, with a unequalled sense of humour. In particular, it sparked the creation of a certain giraffe scene that became semi-infamous amongst my course-mates.

Over a year later, I finally found time to read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and I am pleased to announce, it was well worth the wait.

While the book is technically a sequel, reading the original is not at all necessary. All you need to know is that Dirk Gently is a man who takes the interconnectedness of all things deadly seriously, to the point where he has given up conventionalthe long dark tea-time of the soul methods of navigation, and instead follows cars and people that look like they know where they’re going. No, I’m not joking. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul sees Gently investigating the death of a client, leading him down the back streets of London, past an old people’s home and straight into the great hall of Valhalla. Oh, did I forget to mention Thor, Odin, and a fella named “Toe Rag” all have a major role to play in the novel’s events? Woops.

This is definitely a novel for those of you who love the Marvel movies, or just have a passion for Norse mythology. While Toe the long dark tea-time of the soulRag lacks the sex appeal of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, he makes up for it in his hilarious attempts at tormenting Thor. Thor himself is rather adorably unable to think and talk at the same time, and is prone to outbursts, which have a habit of transforming lamps into kittens and so forth. For the fanfiction writer’s amongst you, it will certainly provide some headcanon fodder.

In the middle of all this absurdity, it one of the best written female characters I’ve read in a while; Kate Schechtor. Unlike the usual floosies of your common noir, Kate is a curious, level-headed, the long dark tea-time of the souldriven woman, who has as much trouble comprehending bath salts, oils and bombs as I do. She is not your common dame, she is brave enough and smart enough to make her own path through the story, and is all about the practicalities, “Kate sighed. “Will I need a coat in Asgard?“. For a detective novel from the 1980’s, she’s a real treat, and you’ve got to love Adams for that.

My only complaint was the lack of MacDuff, the previous book’s secondary protagonist, and Gently’s onscreen sidekick. This is purely because, MacDuff acts as a Watson the long dark tea-time of the soulfigure, giving background information on Gently’s character from their university days together. For this reason, I personally recommend reading the first book, simply to get a fuller sense of Gently’s character, although the order in which you read them is up to you.

The Dirk Gently novels are certainly some of my favourites. As a student, they were a breath of fresh air in a pile of dense literature. As a graduate, they provide a wonderfully warm gulp of humour to fill the hours I spend in coffee shops. But most importantly, as a writer, I recognise that they are something entirely different, and that is what makes Adams one of my literary heroes.

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Finally, for those of you who find yourself hooked, there are further chapters available in The Salmon of Doubt, the third, but rather unfortunately incomplete, novel in the series. RIP Adams, you beautiful man, you.

Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

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The Hunger Games Trilogy

WARNING: SPOILERS, AHOY!

You’re going to have to bare with me on this one. I mahoosively underestimated how much I wanted to write, and I’ve actually lent my copies to someone, so I’m working from memory and quotes of the internet.

Let’s start with the basics; I have never seen a better use of present tense narration, which I think comes partly from Collins’s wonderful grip on characterisation, but also the sheer necessity for it. How uninteresting these books would have been if we the hunger games trilogyknew whether or not Katniss had survived the Games from her use of past tense. Then of course we’ve got this wonderful concept of a teenager, dealing with such an adult world. She is sexualised, objectified, and then thrown into a pit of snakes, over and over, until she becomes catatonic. The contrast is heart-wrenching. Impeccable.

I swallowed the first book whole. I began at 10.30 one Sunday morning, and put it down, completed at 1 am, Monday. Panem is masterfully built, with love seeping in unnoticed; memories of history lessons and previous Hunger Games, songs, and bizarre the hunger games trilogycreatures crafted for purpose. The Capitol, the fashion, the food, were described with precision detail. In fact my mouth still waters at the mental image of that beef stew. And that narration kept my mind right there, with Katniss, as she felt every loss and every win. Of course, the novel’s not perfect. I was smacked in the face by a error two pages in, when puts on her boots before her jeans. And I did wonder why, in a survival situation, no-one mentions having to go to the bathroom. Not even a line saying that the Capitol slipped them something to stop them from having to go (because no-one wants to watch that on TV, blah, blah, blah). This is just me being picky though. Let’s face it, I was mesmirised for 14 and a half hours. Even when I got up to shower, or eat, I was still thinking about it.

This captivation continued into the second novel, in which I promptly fell for Finnick (who here wasn’t?/won’t be?). Just the image of him rising from the water with a trident in his hand (fans self with copies of Heat Wave, Pillow Talk and P.S. I Love You.) the hunger games trilogyThe second novel in a trilogy often fall flat, but while Catching Fire starts slow, it reveals itself to be the most surprising of the three books in terms of plot. Not only this but Collins manages to give a soul to each and every character who enters the Quarter Quell Games, something she mercifully skipped in the first book. It has the effect of making every inevitable death twice as painful.

For me, it was Mockingjay that struggled to hold my attention. This was possibly due to the uneasy, claustrophobic feel of District 13, the distinct lack of Peeta, or even the unsatisfactory climax (I was irritated by the result, considering the incredible death toll. But then, when has the climax of a dystopian novel ever had a satisfactory feel?) It was the resolution that made the final book for me, in particular the epilogue, which I have to give a round of applause for. Stylistically speaking,the hunger games trilogy Collins does something remarkable in only a couple of pages. She ages Katniss’s voice, to the point where it took me a moment to realise it was still her talking; “They play in the meadow. The dancing girl with the dark hair, and blue eyes. The boy with blond curls and grey eyes, struggling to keep up with her on his chubby toddler legs.” For the first time in three books, Katniss is not thinking about herself at the start of a chapter, and she continues like this. She no longer puts her own welfare before the welfare of others. Yet it’s still her voice; matter-of-fact, with just a touch of tenderness.

It is rare that I manage to motivate myself through an entire series of novels, but Collins has created something truly stunning. Sure it has its faults, but then so does Harry Potter (which I didn’t finish by the way). The Hunger Games Trilogy is something truly special, and I’m so glad I didn’t ruin it for myself by watching the films first. Now I’m off to bathe myself in Jennifer Lawrence. Go forth, and READ.

Also Happy St. David’s Day!!!!