School Daze

At my-laws’ house in London on Saturday, we saw my youngest nephew. Now sixteen, he has just finished his last GCSE exams and awaits the results which are due in August. He turned up with his parents after the Mrs. and I had been dog-walking…

[Trent Park, London. Photo by me, 2018.]

Pre-brunch, standing in the kitchen, we fell into talking about how he felt his English literature results worried him the most. He had told us a few weeks ago when we were at his house that he’d had to read two works and be able to answer essays questions on them: 1) Romeo And Juliet, and 2) modern fiction which now escapes me, but which I think was either To Kill A Mockingbird or Fahrenheit 451, or something like those that are common in school English lit. I say that here because at the time when he told me I had shaken my head to him that we’d read the exact same book in my school in New York nearly four decades ago.

In other words, the more things supposedly change in education, the more at times they actually do stay much the same. I’m sure he did fine on his exam, but he insisted again he isn’t particularly good at literature, especially because he didn’t really like what he’d had to read. I replied by laughing that it’s the kiss of death for fiction when it becomes “school work.”

He recalled to me how he had read for fun, for example, C.S. Lewis (ex, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) books when younger and loved them (which I remembered now that he’d had) and that he’d since moved on to J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit; Lord of the Rings). I admitted to him that neither were my favorite authors and he knew already that I had never been really into “fantasy.” I told him of my friends at his age all loving Tolkien while I did NOT love him; I just couldn’t get into it. “Middle Earth” did nothing for me, I said; I simply had my own reading preferences and still do…

[“The Winds of War,” by Herman Wouk. Photo by me, 2018.]
[Jane Austen collection. Photo by me, 2016.]
[Pages from The Last of the Mohicans. Our back garden, Windham. Photo by me, 2017.]
[Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, by Merrill Peterson, 1970. Photo by me, 2016.]
[Letters of Rosalie to William. There is no English version. Photo by me, 2017]
[Photo by me, 2018]

I said as well that my friends and I had felt much the same way back then: if it was an English assignment, we usually groaned and weren’t keen on reading it.

Writers don’t seem to be very happy people, my wife chimed in. I agreed that often they aren’t, but while I didn’t say that’s possibly because what they write is so challenging, I did remark that now I have a far greater respect for fiction authors and for what my own uncle did. When I was in school, I said, I was far more interested in history and had little interest in most fiction – and I was especially dismissive of anything that was fantasy.

I also said I run into many writers online who are good, but I think feel deep down that they are actually not so good. That always bothers me because you can’t approach writing fiction without some measure of self-confidence – that what you are doing is yours and special in some ways, something no one else can do. When I read one of them, I pay close attention to where I think they are indeed especially good and I push myself to try to write better than that.

[Tenby, Wales. Photo by me, 2018.]

He then asked me how the new writing is going. I said I’ve really only just gotten started. He also observed that given I write based on travel and personal experiences, as in the trilogy, he felt it makes sense actually to do some things in life before trying to write fiction.

I agreed that on some levels real-life experiences are certainly helpful in crafting fiction. Our trip to Wales a few weeks ago was a case in point, I said. It got me thinking more in detail about Admiral Nelson and that he had visited Tenby in 1802… which I’ll probably use for the new novel.

I told him I always make quick notes on my iPhone when an idea pops into my head, which I suppose is much as a lot of writers once used (and still may use) paper notebooks. Yet I always also know generally where I’m headed story-wise. And research may be important, too: I said I’ve got books stored over in the States I need, including a biography of Nelson, and what I’m writing now is what I feel I can write without consulting those history books that I’ll bring back here in September.

[Passports. Back cover. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

Before my nephew and his parents showed up, I had also noticed that my in-laws (who were then out for a time) had a copy of Passports, my first book of that trilogy, sitting (sort of hidden, behind a picture frame, but still easily visible) on a chest of drawers in the entrance hall. They have no idea how to use Amazon. I suspect it had been lent/given to them by another relative.

[Excerpt from Passports. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

While having that measure of self-confidence as a writer is important of course, I also found myself – if I am completely honest – standing there considering what I know of their reading tastes and cringing a little. I wouldn’t have thought Passports would be their thing. I was sorta wishing they’d been given Conventions: The Garden At Paris instead…

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPad.]

…although, then again, uh, maybe not. 😉

Regardless, I didn’t mention (to anyone other than my Mrs.) seeing Passports, and I won’t bring it up to my mother-in-law and father-in-law unless they ask me about it. Some writers I notice bemoan being unable to get their family to read their books; but I’m the opposite. Much as my own uncle did, in my books I draw on lots of my real life as a source, so, also similar to him (because it always made him uncomfortable too), I prefer my family NOT to read my books.😂

True it would also mean bigger sales if they were read in school. Yet I would NEVER want to see any of my books in an English lit class. That would ruin it for sure!📚🤦🏻‍♂️🤷🏽‍♀️🙋🏻😂

Have a good day, wherever you may be. 🙂