We got our assignments back this week, and I was up one point, to 80, which is OK, I suppose. I submitted a revision of what I posted up here, and to be honest, I generally agreed with his comments, and I knew I wasn’t totally happy with what I had written. This writing lark is tough! Still, I did get 19/20 for my commentary and he said it was “first class”. Find it slightly ironic that I’m doing OK at the factual, academic elements, but less well at the creative bits. Still. confirms my career choice suppose. Anyway, I thought you might find it useful to see my commentary.
The starting idea for my story came from a discussion with a writer friend about the whole sub-genre of English fiction that uses the starting point of a nostalgic look back at events one hot childhood summer – LP Hartley’s The Go-Between and Ian McEwan’s Atonement being examples. I then came up with a tagline to set me thinking: “This is a story about fun, and sun, and being young.” I wanted to root the narrative in a particular summer of which I have strong memories, 1976. I felt this would provide a certain narrative context, as well as implicitly giving clues about the narrator. Having decided on a specific date, there needed to be contextual hints, but no anachronisms, so I spent some time researching via internet what sports cars would have been around at the time, what were the popular TV programmes, and whether “toe-rag” was a word that might have been used then. [TJN1] An article in the Guardian by Martin Wainwright recalled the infestation of ladybirds and aphids that summer, which I used to provide some specific detail that wasn’t just generic to warm summers.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to tell the story from a boy’s perspective, but that set itself once I started writing. Although told as an adult, I tried to capture the 11-year-old him in the style of writing when talking about the day’s events.
I used techniques from the workbook such as establishing the dramatic present as 1976 with flashes forward in time to the protagonist as an older man,talking about his parents’ marital problems, and subsequently being transported back to that scene in the barn by his sense of smell.
It was a deliberate feature to keep dialogue to a very minimum – only those phrases that would have stuck in the narrator’s mind. Memories are not usually composed of verbatim discussions, so I felt this added to the sense of nostalgia and recollection.
My usual working method is to write a long-hand version, then do a first edit while typing it up, read it aloud and then do further editing, including checking word count. The reading aloud highlights any issues with repetitive phrases or unattractive clashes of words and syllables. For instance, an early draft had the line: “Gran was in the kitchen when I got in, making dinner”. This seemed to over-use the “in” sound. Though there can be a place for such repetition, this was not it.[TJN2]
The introduction is long, but important in terms of creating the sense of nostalgia, and also the “halcyon days” atmosphere in which the story is set.
I wanted to write a piece that would evoke memories for the reader of his own hot childhood summers, 1976 in particular if he was there. I set out to capture a nostalgic, happy tone to match the tale of one child’s fondly remembered day that was so important to his future.
 Hartley, LP ((2004) ), The Go-Between, Penguin Classics
 McEwen, Ian (2001) Atonement, Jonathan Cape
 Wainwright M. (2006) ‘The great drought’, Guardian, 17 May