Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Before I Could Write – Part 12

Welcome to the next instalment in the series in which I chronicle just how bad I was at writing before I was struck by The Epiphany.  Because for some reason putting up examples of bad writing seems like a really good idea.

So by this point in my pre-epiphany days, I was 17.  I now spent most of my spare time writing (rubbish) but hadn’t decided that I wanted to actually be a writer ‘when I grew up’ because I was still flirting with the desire to be an actor (see the Why I Never Became An Actor series of posts for more opportunities to laugh at my failures). 

Me aged 17 in one of my few successful writing and acting endeavours.

So, here is an awful story I wrote at 17, which The Stantz still reminds me of today as an example of ‘good writing’ I did once.  Uh... he may be disappointed if he reads it again.

The end of the Quest 

I had sat for a very long time in just one place, waiting. I had nothing to do but remember.  Remember the times when I was young.  It seemed so long ago, it was so long ago, when his lips touched me.  He had held me and I knew as well as he it was the last time.  One day it is true he will come back but not to me.  To him I am of no importance, and yet to others I am immensely important, simply because his lips had touched me.  They sought me (and still do) but I had hidden away.

As I sat there in the dark, all alone, elsewhere a great search started for me. I knew this for I could see everything even though I had no sight.  People had been looking for me for what seems forever but this was the biggest search yet.  It was sparked by one boy alone, the purest ever to be seen, to ever live.  He sparked it just by his existence and managed to cause the hardest adventure that any man had yet or since set out upon.

This search was destined to span a long time, almost two years.  It was not that I alluded them deliberately, I had no choice but to stay where I was as I could not move.  I stopped remembering, I did not forget but now my time was consumed with longing.  I longed for this boy.  I guided him with my thoughts, felt what he felt, shared his wonder.  One day my guidance drew him close so I set an unearthly peace about him as he neared, but others felt it too.  They came from all over the world to my castle on the edge of the cliffs by the sea where no one knew I hid.  The King there invited them in.  The boy and his two companions felt my peace stronger than the others and stayed at the castle, so it was to the boy and his two companions only that the King told of the rumours that I was there.  Hidden in that very castle, where even he knew not where.

Left alone, no other men so strongly tied to the search, the three explored everywhere they could in the castle and even the boy’s hope began to fail.  Then finally I found I was not alone any more or condemned to an eternity in solitude for the boy kneeled in front of me as I stood upon a table of silver.

His clothes were of finest red, his crest a red cross, his face was beautiful, he was of the fairest hair and bluest eyes.  Looking in upon his soul I saw the goodness, the kindness, the virtuousness.  Then I felt pain, but it was not his, it was mine alone.

It hurt me, being divine, to feel the nearest to his decency, a man whom many had mistaken for the most virtuous was not and never could be so, ruled by his own lust and the jealousy he felt tainting the air.  It hurt me this man should live longer than the rest when so innocent a boy must have his life savagely cut short.  It hurt me to know this boy was too decent for this Earth, he never felt pride or resentment and he strove to do good continually, yet he was fated to die, to be united with his reward as soon as possible.  Brought up in holiness, two years on his own, now it was time to return to it.

That night as he slept close by me, my love for him led me to convey what he must do.

“Take me to the city of Sarras, far away from those here who are not moral and have turned to vanity and greed so we can be amongst those who are moral.  I will guide you there.  No one will accompany us except your two companions, for only they are deemed worthy and once this is done... two of you shall die but you never need be afraid.”

I would have trembled if I could, I could not bring myself to tell him it was he who would perish.  So young and so devout, his eyes showed he would obey to the last.  The three followed my words, travelled as my bodyguards and protected me always.  We sailed and the danger and length of the journey wearied us all.  The perils they faced made me sicken in horror but at every turn, every step of the way, every hazard they had me and with this power they won through and completed what they had been born to do.

There Sir Galahad and Sir Percivale, the truest knights died and since then, until a purer soul is born, I have made sure no other human being has seen me, though new stories and quests still abound.

I, the Holy Grail.

Oh, that was bad.

So moving on from that (shudder), here are two letters I wrote from the point of views of World War I soldiers, which if still incredibly clumsy are at least better than the above.


I’ve never understood you and your writing and books.

Never saw the need in it.  Don’t have much time now.  Hate writing.

Let me tell you about war and how lucky you are to be a girl at home.

I joined this army, I was so wanting to fight for King and Country and God.  And I still do.  Still do.

Just not here.

So cold, colder than winter nights back when we was little and shared a bed with mam.  The mud is so high, I swear to Gold Almighty that I saw a man drown in it a few days ago.  It is like sitting in ice.  Real dirty, foul ice.

Some mornings I have to stand there, not moving, ready for them Fritz.  It is dull.  My helmet and gun and boots are so heavy.  But can’t take them off.  And me boots stop the mud getting me.  God, girl, pardon me language, the size of the rats.  In front are evil Fritz waiting to kill yer.  Behind death for cowards.  Underneath, death by mud.  And with us, all us so scared in this daily grind are rats.  Rats and lice, eating our food—and our dead—and us.

Rats are bigger than Little Troll, your dog!  We hate them as much as Fritz.

I don’t want to say this.  I didn’t tell mam in the letter.  But I cry.

We are all here, it is noble like.  I’m a patriot.  But I’m so scared.  I’ve seen my friends die.  At night I cry.  Are we all for it?

I’m fighting for God.  So why has he sent me to hell?

Signed, your brother —


To my dearest Elizabeth,

There is so much I want to write, I want to ask you how you are and all about those I’ve left behind, I want to tell you how much I miss you all, and dear old Blighty, then I want to tell you how I am and everyone you know but that’ll lead me on to this damned war.  Oh yes, I want to tell you all about that too but there is not much I can say without being censored.  I am an officer in this army, I have to set examples.  I must not behave like a little boy lost in London, unaware of anything else around him, only his desire to go home, like some of the young lads under me.  Only this isn’t London, and the little boys are all grown up—in body at least, and fighting for their lives with some misplaced faith in God bringing us through.

It can be hard having a different background to these children (because that’s what they are).  They don’t get hampers from a privileged family and talk eloquently about their educations.  Some of them can hardly string a sentence together.  However, that may not be their backgrounds; that could be attributed to the shells exploding in their ears every day.

I enjoy the better food than that which their rations consist of, but guilt is enough to drive a man like me insane.  I could share it with them, but then who to share it with?  There certainly isn’t enough to go round.  If all those who got hampers shared, but they do not.  I give some fish or chocolate to those who really need help.  However, it is not food they need, it is a warm bed and a mother.  I admit I keep the vegetables for myself, to keep my own health up, and sometimes the cheese.  It is mine after all.

I have been coming back to this on and off.  I cannot sit and write it all in one go.  If I am not on duty, I look after my men or sleep.  I write about things as I see or think of them, a lack of coherence.

I know you won’t wish to hear about this, but I feel I must tell you everything.  There are rats here.  An extraordinary, bloated size.  Paddling in the water of the trenches, infesting the dugouts.  Loathsome creatures, the men seem to hate them more than they hate the Germans.  They do steal our food and eat corpses of freshly slaughtered young lads.  Between them is a kind of competition to see how many rats they can kill.  Things are much worse than a lack of food and infestation of rats.  We are bombed, shells fired at us—the explosions are impossible to recreate within the mind of one who has never seen horrors such as these.  One of my men was shell shocked this afternoon.  Shell shock is an illness, many of the officers say it is an excuse for cowardice but it is not.  The men cannot fight in a condition like that and they must be helped, before they go completely mad.  Shells lead me on to gas.  There are gas attacks; we scramble for our masks to save our lives.  There is chlorine gas—kills you by asphyxiation, leaves its victims in agony for five days before it finally kills them.  But what scares me, yes actually scares a grown man, is mustard gas.  I’ve seen it happen.  A man about the same age as me was got by it.  Once they are in it, there is nothing you can do to help but pray.  I swear he was rotting.  He blistered and screamed, scratching out with his hands.  His pain must have been excruciating, he almost vomited up his lungs.  They took him away, took him a month to die.  Now that is a true horror of war.

There is so much more to say, I have barely begun but I do not want to upset you too much.  Perhaps you should rest awhile before continuing.

All those young men came here for noble cause, ready to fight and die for King and Country but then they were mercilessly cut down.  Lives loyal to their God destroyed for no reason at all, like in an irrational nightmare, the reality of battle not sinking in until the bullet, the likely fate in a split second dead all because of patriotism, all because of their innocence.

These boys are miserable and frightened.  They are wet and exposed, not just to bullets, bombs, gas, the shell shock, the desperate need of rest, the cramp, the appalling conditions and natural hardships.  I do not really care so much for officers of the army or the older men, though any one of their deaths is a tragedy.  The young men I have been telling you about all along upset me.  The ones who joined, signed up in a frenzy of eagerness when the war started.

They don’t have drinking water.  Only yesterday, I sent out a group to get rainwater from a shell hole.  Standing around for hours, I mainly sent them so they had something to occupy their minds with.  The tedium wears them down, no matter how blindly patriotic, hardy or eager they were.  Their lingering enthusiasm gradually dwindles and dies out.  Their parents are worried, now they understand the cries of ‘you don’t know what you’ve done’ they mocked at first.

These men are going to die.  Maybe for their God, maybe for no good cause at all.  Nevertheless, they will still be crawling with lice, buried in mud, mourned by a few comrades and eaten by rats.

But I’ve told you now.  Now you know.

I do not know if you will understand this, I do not know whether I will survive this war.  All over by Christmas two years ago, it was meant to be.  The whistle will come; it may be me who blows it, making hearts pound, leading to hearts stopping.  But I am wandering away again.

I know you had two beaus.  You had more than that, a beautiful young lady like you, but just two you liked.  We are from good backgrounds so marriage and money are not a related problem.  You engaged yourself to me on my request because I was going to war.  However, that does not mean Charles deserves you more than Arthur does.  He is a good man, is Arthur.  He cannot be a soldier due to his leg but he is a younger man than I and very much in love with you.  Most men struggle to express their feelings in these cherished letters so this is important.  He loves you as much as you love him back.  He will never leave your side for war, he cannot.  He would be a good husband and a good father.  I could never be a father, not after seeing so many send their boys to a certain death, how could I punish another child by bringing it into THIS world?

If and hopefully I survive all this I expect to come home to my rich father and mother and four little sisters and be set up with a wife of their choice, as with you.  Perhaps a beautiful lass who lost her brother in the war who I can sympathise with.  And I expect you, safe from the horrors of war, to be married to Arthur.  These are my wishes; my last if a bullet finds me.  Honour them like you would honour the engagement.

Charles Edwards

We will win this war; too many soldiers have their faith in a God who leads them astray.  If we win, maybe they will see the folly in it all.

Elizabeth, marry a religious man in times of peace and he will save your soul.  In time of war, he will damn it.

Well… wasn’t that fun…

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