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!
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.