John Leonard an audience of one.

About Projects Now Archive

Writing History, part two

(this is continued from part one posted yesterday)

During German detention, I managed to get a different form of punishment from the other students. As my German teacher and I had already agreed that asking me to revise for German coursework and lesson content was a fruitless exercise, she let me do something else. She had agreed with my English teacher that I could write stories.

This was a substantial help to my coursework. I was never all that able to focus on coursework or the work I needed to do when I was off the school premises, but trapped in a one hour detention session with nowhere else to go does wonders to focus the mind. A crucial part of my final English exam was to submit twelve pieces of written work and my English teacher had agreed with my German teacher that she would accept stories I had written during my German detention.

Right there, I had an instant and almost unlimited source of coursework. Limited only by the number of detentions I had, which was substantial as I wouldn’t be able to leave the lessons until the last few months of school (my attendance at that point was an utter waste of time, so I got to go home or practice in other teaching sessions).

So, to get to my point, I wrote stories. I let my fourteen year old imagination run wild, took up a paper and pen (this was 1984 and computers were yet to arrive in any reasonable quantity pretty much anywhere at this point), and wrote. Looking back, some of my stories were complete ripoffs of other published fiction, usually re-imagined to place me at the heart as the hero or let me detach myself from the story altogether and present another viewpoint.

I wrote third person, first person, science fiction, general everyday life and countless other stories. I never wrote about real life or mentioned what happened outside of school. Everything I wrote flowed from my imagination and flew onto the page, unchecked for quality, spelling or even legibility.

My teachers loved it. The German teacher got something to read - although I would hesitate to suggest she got anything other than mild interest in the fantastical ravings of a fourteen year old boy - and my English teacher read and approved every piece of literature I wrote before adding it to the pile of content I could submit as English coursework. I had a lot; so much so that I could pick and choose my best work well ahead of schedule. Despite my boredom and laziness, I was one of the few that year that didn’t have to write anything at all at the last minute.

I got an A.

I fully credit those two members of staff for spurring me on and taking advantage of the odd set of circumstances to bring out the best in me. They lit the light in me that I use today to guide me through the difficult parts of writing; I’m no novel writer but I can bash out 500 words a day without having to think about it too much, and I owe it all to them.

Tomorrow I’ll either pick another topic entirely, or indulge myself in a little more history. The best advice is to write about something you know, and I do find I am an authority on myself.