Sunday, 30 October 2011

Rise of the Matchstick Men

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the next poem in my sequence, based upon my stories and their reception at school.  I’ve read back through my schoolbooks and stories, taken notes and jotted down my teacher’s comments – and relived the frisson of creation caught up in these tales.  I remember different moments about each one, but they all bring back an early sense of Me as a Writer.  My plan is to incorporate something about each story/teacher comment/my response into the next poem...and along the way I unearthed Rebecca’s Matchstick Men – an example which could form an entire poem itself.

In Year Eight English, we had to write and create a book for a primary school child – a school trip brought us face to face with our assigned pupil, and we had to find out enough information to write a story just for them.  Inspiration struck and I took that literally – I made the real Rebecca a named character, and went on to make the kind of book that I (and perhaps not the real Rebecca, after all) would’ve liked to be given.  Rebecca’s Matchstick Men was, as my teacher wrote, a labour of love – but it was also a slap in the face too.  Twice.

Relive it with me: there I am, 12 years old and not very good at drawing, having to actually MAKE a book to give to someone else.  That you’re only as strong as your weakest link was a lesson long learned for me, so I turned my problem into the solution.  Story-wise, I was sorted: I already knew that I was writing about Rebecca spying on one of her drawings coming to life and the adventure it would have...but to make it easier on myself, I decided to use matchstick men and a cartoon-ish cat, whose doodle I’d been perfecting for years, as characters.  Simples!

So out came the posh plain paper, crisply folded, nestled inside clean white cardboard covers (no Blue Peter cereal boxes for me – this was a BOOK, don’cha know!).  The ruler was wielded, faint pencil lines keeping my (slowly and neatly) handwritten text straight.  Homework was never more conscientiously or lovingly done than this – I spent ages drawing each page, rubbing out and starting over again when the desk or the easel or the wastepaper basket the matchstick men fell into didn’t look quite right.  I used bubble writing for the title on the cover (why were we so obsessed with bubble writing at school?!), and even wrote a blurb and a dedication.

Now, I don’t remember handing it in late but somehow I missed the boat anyway – my teacher fell over himself to tell me how good my book was...but he’d already given a story written by another student to his publisher friend. 


I could’ve been, but wasn’t, published.  Ouch. 

Being published was all I had ever wanted (and still is), and no matter how good my book was, someone else achieved that validation instead.  I don’t remember who this student was, whether they liked writing and longed to be published as much as me – so if I sound like a bad loser (which I probably am!), please accept my apologies, particularly if someone out there knows who this student was! 

Now, mature and reasonable Adult Me knows that: a) the other book could have been just as good, or probably better than mine; b) it could all have just been a matter of timing (premature marking, Mr Teacher?!); c) that the ‘publisher’ may not have been one of credibility or envy (or might just have been!); and d) that not being published then didn’t mean that my writing wasn’t good enough – or that I will never, ever get published.

But the slap still smarts.

My cheek is warming up, so let’s have the second s-l-a-p:

The real Rebecca didn’t like it.  Or at least, that was my perception.  Interpretation, probably.  And most likely an unfair one.  I remember her being rather indifferent when I gave it to her, almost blasé and unimpressed – but then she did ask why didn’t her book have flaps in it like someone else’s (I don’t rip off Spot the dog), so it may just have not been to her taste.  But to me, already tender and prickly, it was as if she didn’t appreciate my effort or love my story – and that feeling undermined my sense of self, which is a shame.  And sad.  Let’s be adult-fair, the real Rebecca may have thought it was ok but that it didn’t quite match her own (perhaps unbridled) expectations; and she may even have grown to like the story – it’d be lovely to think that she came to love and cherish it, but who knows?  This the eternal dichotomy of the writer and the reader – and it was my first taste, so who can blame me if it stung?

I am painting an unfair picture of the reception of Rebecca’s Matchstick Men – my teacher loved it, raved about it in his comments and awarded me an Effort Award, upon which the headmaster added ‘Thank you for this outstanding piece of work.’  My dad was well proud of me too (though he always is, bless him) – and the older and wiser Me is gutted that I didn’t feel success, achievement and satisfaction... I’d like to recreate the book.  Just for myself, you understand – I don’t think it’d be a story that would sell (kids today can probably plug their brains into an app that draws for them, rather than paint at the kitchen table), and I’ve not read enough picture books/books for younger readers to know if it would even fit in the market.  But Rebecca’s Matchstick Men is a watershed for me, a moment of triumph in my early writerly ambitions tempered by disappointment of a critical readership – and I’d like my own copy.  Of course, it needs some work (12 year old Me had dealt with the set-up and exposition excellently, but woefully underplayed the points of tension and resolution), and I’ll have to refine my matchstick-sketching skills...but it’s worth it, just for my own bookshelf.

So, pass me the pencil, please.  Now, matchstick men I can handle, but how did that cat-doodle go...?!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Tribute

I’ve been absent from blog-world* because my dog died a week ago today :0(    And I don’t do emoticons in formal work, so you know I’m truly sad and lost.  Her name was Kye and she was a collie cross with a lurcher-cross-Alsatian – which makes her sound like a bit like a chimera, but she wasn't - she was lush: collie-sized and collie-eared, with a soft but wavy coat like a lurcher, and the muzzle and bark of an Alsatian.  She was 12 years old and had suffered a series of strokes in the last 6 months – and the final one was at 6 a.m. last Sunday.

Anyone who has a pet knows how they fill your home with their presence and personality – and anyone who has lost a pet knows how empty and less home is without them.  I shan’t bang on about how upset my dad, his girlfriend and I are (because it's self-explanatory to any animal lover) – instead I’d like to celebrate Kye with a tribute.      

Kye – the softest woofer in the west

You were russet red like a fox when we first saw you, nosing against the fence at the RSPCA, begging to come home with us.  Little did we know your coat would darken so much as the years passed – or that you’d still be begging us to come home, yapping like crazy each time we went out!  But without you, Kye, I’d still be terrorised by the sight of a dog [and yes, it really was that bad] – your loving, placid and docile ways melted any hesitation I had, burning away any remaining fear like the sun over morning mist.  Your amber eyes longed for constant attention, and you were never happier than when being smoothed or fussed or talked to...except in your younger days, when your ball or bone was a constant playmate, and you’d get so excited that a volcanic tremor would pass through your body as you shook yourself, excitement like lava uncontained.

We nicknamed you Miss Barker, for you were rather vocal...but then, so am I, so we were a right family pack!  And just like Dad, you were fair-weather: hated the rain (though when wet, your fur would go all cute and crinkly, as if I’d crimped it - lush!), and didn’t like going out in the cold and dark.  We all love a good treat, and your favourite was a bit of yoghurt, the creamier the better; like a canine Winnie-the-Poo, you'd snuffle your snout right down the the bottom of the pot, licking it clean.  You always made us laugh when you did this; and we'd marvel at how, when eating normal, boring dog-food, you'd sniff each biscuit out from the other and eat them one by one, as if saving the best till last.

Our cats loved you too – Cleo would curl up in the chair with you, no matter how much room there wasn’t; and Gizmo would hunch up, all big black eyes and mischief, waiting to pounce on you as you came trotting in from the back garden.  You and Giz missed Cleo when she passed, and now Giz misses you too.  We all do.

I thank you, Kye, for your love, devotion and quirks – there will never be another dog like you.  Enjoy playing with Cleo up there in the big blue endless sky – I’ll see you there someday.  Love you always.

*Hopefully, normal blog-service will resume shortly  – as you can understand, I’ve lost my way with writing recently, what with the laryngitis-debacle and now losing my dog; but it’s 3 weeks till my Paris trip and thus the research-beginning of Novel Number I must get myself together!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

I'm Very Behind...

With most things at the moment, to be fair.  But I finally have a voice...and it’s hung around for a few days, so things are back to normal in Deb-world – yea!

So, me being behind.  I’ve always been a late starter (was born 2 days late as I was busy having a lie-in...which I still love doing!) and I don’t mind this – but I know I’m really behind in the loving-the-vampire stakes (no pun intended – honest).  No, I’m not talking Twilight – I got about three-quarters into the book but I found the writing facile and the story predictable, and watching the films...well, let’s just say that, for me, Robert Pattinson looks too drippy to be dishy, let alone believable (cue reader’s argumentative screams!).  No, I’m talking...The Vampire Diaries.

I know it’s about to come back for its third series and therefore I’m late in the game to jump on the bandwagon (is that enough clichés for the teenage genre, do you think?!), but I’m halfway through the first series on DVD (courtesy of Sarah – thank you, and remember to ask Mother for the second season, won’t you – mwah!) and LOVING IT.

Of course the boys are hot and the girls are sassy, everyone looks amazing in what they’re wearing, and no teenager gets ID’d in a bar...but it’s the quality of the writing that’s got me.  Intrigue galore with plenty of hooks, even more twists making you question quite what is the truth, and strong, flawed yet likeable characters (plus the girls kick butt, and I’m a feisty chick of the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer generation, don’t cha know!)  By coincidence, I’ve also started watching the almost-as-good The Secret Circle, which is about teenage witches...and is also based on books written by L J Smith, the same author who wrote The Vampire Diaries novels.  Maybe I should read them...  But what if it distorts or disappoints my enjoyment of the TV series?  Hmm...

Talking of books disappointing the films...  Who hasn’t seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula and (even if they didn’t like it) been impressed – and maybe a little scared – by the lavish Gothic Horror of it...and then read Bram Stoker’s book and been let down???  Or was that just me?  I shan’t spoil it for those who haven’t yet read it or slate it for those who love it, especially as I can hear a vampire’s seductive whisper luring me back to the TV...  Besides, I have to thank Bram Stoker, for without him there would be no Dracula and therefore no TV vampires as we know and love them...!