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Monday, 26 September 2011

Familiar Ground

Or, Why There Will Be a Relevant Blog Post in a Day Or Two...
     It is almost eleven at night. I'm staring at this paragraph (embryonic blog post) which refuses to reshape itself without me physically pressing keys and I think this is ridiculously churlish of the text. Enter fourteen-year-old. She drops onto the settee with an exhale that implies she was being held upright by pneumatic design.
     "Right," I say, adopting my parent voice. "Finished your homework?"
     "I still have ...English," she says. This language is clearly an imposition too far.
     "So...what do you have to do for English?" I ask. I check the screen to see if the words have done something extraordinary while I wasn't watching, but no.
     "You won't believe this," she says. "I have to write a paragraph, a character description, in the style of John Steinbeck."
Familiar Ground K Howell 2011 Pastel on Paper 14 cm x 21 cm
     "So?" I say. "Write a character description in the style of John Steinbeck. You read the book." I consider rewriting my paragraph in the style of John Steinbeck, just to see what would happen. No, I'd sacrifice word count. Word count is dropping as it is.
     "But why should I? I don't like his style." She says.
     I see that she is not going to budge easily. I think back. What would I have done? I'd have written a paragraph describing a character who bemoaned the futility of such exercises.
     "You don't have to like it," I say. "It's an exercise. You just have to show that you understand his use of language, his sentence construction, his word choices - "
     "But I don't like his sentences! His vocabulary is boring!"
     "It's evocative," I say. I delete the adverb that somehow escaped my attention previously. Word count plummets again. Damn.
     "I don't want to write like that," she says.
     "You don't have to write like that for the rest of your life," I tell her. "Just for one flipping paragraph. Make it fun. If you don't like the style, mock it a little. Show you understand it. You can write however you want for the rest of your life." Yes, you can spend an hour staring at something, knowing how you want it to sound, and struggling to knock it into shape. That's fun, that is.
     "I like RICH language. I like INTERESTING sentences!"
     "So when you're finished your Steinbeck paragraph, write another one the way you want to write it." I say."It's a PARAGRAPH! How hard can it be?"
     "I don't FEEL like writing my own stuff right now," she says. "I'm tired."
     Really? I close the document, and determine to grow up before tomorrow comes. Renewed respect for John Steinbeck, who wrote many fine paragraphs.


  1. 'Familiar ground'- what a great set of colours and mood, excellent. My son is getting to grips with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.... welcome to my world....

  2. I keep threatening said daughter with Apocalypse Now, in preparation for Conrad. She has so far declined.