What stopped me writing…

…in school.

On a writing forum I frequent, there was a discussion about geographical accuracy, and if readers picked up on errors.

I went to great lengths to get the geography correct along with the timing of the trip. A complete section had to be rewritten to accommodate a short drive that was originally an overnight drive.

I could see the comments about traveling 100 miles in eight hours. We had them stop to rest and refresh instead.

It reminded me of this, from my youth:

About 25 years ago, as a piece of GCSE school coursework, I wrote a story based on a similarly long drive.

I wanted it to be overnight, and long enough for the characters to learn something about themselves. Unfortunately, this discounted the UK as it wasn’t big enough, city-to-city, for the story length.

Having watching too many episodes of California-based soaps, and also having consulted an atlas, I decided to base it in America. And was highly criticised for it not being realistic enough with US slang, etc. I really didn’t know enough about the locations, what junctions were called, how to write American dialogue.

I think I received my worst English mark ever for that story.

It was a painful lesson to learn, as I was the year swot at the time and everyone took the piss out of me getting a C+/C. I had always, always, received As in English until that point; English had always been my favourite topic when I was younger, I’d often placed in school competitions and won a prize in a county-wide contest. My enthusiasm for writing and reading seemed to die from that point. I still read voraciously, but seldom classic works. I fell behind in my coursework. I didn’t really enjoy the subject any more. Coupled with post-mortems of many classic works for English Lit, which I rarely could agree with but had to parrot the conclusions of, English became a subject I could barely tolerate.

The US-driving story was the last time, until I started writing again five years ago, that I had produced something fictional that I enjoyed, or could even recall.  I’ve no idea what I wrote for the rest of my coursework, I have feeling it wasn’t up to much, and I finally gained a B at GCSE English, with a C in English Lit.

With the failure of that story, I look back and realise it was also the teacher himself who took a lot of the joy of writing out of English for me. Mr F was the ‘trendy’ sort – relatively young, easygoing with a snazzy ‘tache and dress sense. He was popular with everyone.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really ‘get’ him; I always got on better with the more traditional type of teacher. A combination of Mr F and the course also managed to kill my enjoyment of Thomas Hardy novels (amongst others) and any poetry. One time, after I had heard part of Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ and I wanted to know who wrote it. I quoted him the final lines:

‘I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.’

He didn’t know (HOW? He was an English teacher, FFS!) and was so utterly disparaging, he totally put me off.

I hate regret or blaming others for my misfortunes, but I wonder now how different my life would have been had I been assigned the more-traditional Mr C. Had I scored better in English, I probably would have studied different A-levels, done a totally different degree at uni, maybe begun writing even earlier…

Wow. Please excuse the trip down memory lane.

And I’ve realised that there was something else I wrote that I enjoyed:

About 3-4 years later, and following the death of my grandma, I had an A-level General Studies exam. It was essentially all multiple choice, apart from the English section, which was a short story based on a true event. I wrote about the funeral, about the grandma I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and didn’t particularly like, about how I hadn’t cried until I saw my granddad stood at the front of the church, shaking and alone. It remains to this day, the most enjoyable and cathartic exam I’ve ever had. I always wanted a copy of the story, but was unable to obtain one, though I still remember the last line, ‘Finally, I cried.’

My former English teacher would have hated it.

For that, however, I received an A.