Inspired by Lou Morgan’s post on discovering an old manuscript, I dug out a few. It wasn’t hard. I knew exactly where they were. I know some people who are happy to throw out their writing – one person who has literally burned (or deleted, in more recent years) everything he has written. Even though some of it was quite good. I am not one of these people. I keep everything. For four years I attended my university writing group twice weekly and wrote a short story for virtually every ten minute writing challenge. I have all of those. In a folder in my mum’s attic are the short stories I wrote in ‘writing hour’ in school from age six to eight. In another folder are all my handwritten early novel attempts, from back when I thought that when I was famous people would be thirsty for anecdotes about my writing habits and would say things like ‘And did you know? She handwrites everything in the first draft – and she uses a different pen every time!’. Yes.
Of course, these aren’t easily accessible. But wait, there’s more. My family were a bit ahead of the curve on getting a word processor at home. When I was six years old Dad brought one home from work, and he sat with me and we wrote down together the first story I ever thought up. I’d made it up when I was four, inspired by my father’s wonderfully inventive fairytales, such as The Blue-haired, Blonde-eyed Princess, and The Dragon Hunt, which he could make up on the spot and endlessly retell to our ever delighted ears.
I still have it. I copied all my old writing off that ancient machine when I was forced to finally part with it and take my new computer with me to university. Along with it I took everything I’d written between the ages of 10 and 16, when I first really started trying to write. There are some real gems, here.
Some people are embarrassed by their old fiction, and I guess there’s a bit of that, but I think this stuff is wonderful. It’s often hilarious. It’s almost worse when you find a bit that isn’t half bad, because it makes you cringe in the context of the rest. But I love the youthful enthusiasm. And, as others have said before me, it’s nice to see how much you have improved.
For entertainment value, here’s an extract from a story I wrote when I was about 11, I think? Accompanied by sporkage from adult me. I dedicated it to my pen pal of the time. I bet she was well thrilled.
The Legend Of
Catherine Of Gawthwate
On the date of 16th October, a cold and misty morn. Sir Richard rushed through Hucksbre forest chased by a pack of starved grey wolves. Upon reaching the east wing of the forest he was stopped by a scout troop sent by Catherine of Gawthwate, the rightful air to the thrown which was now held by Lord Colotus general of her late fathers army now she was fighting a great battle against him.
You gotta respect a cold misty morn. Not to mention the random, never mentioned again, fantasy staple of a starved pack of wolves. Rock on! Also, forests have wings now. That’s how they talked about them in ye olden times, right? And how about these names? Catherine of Gawthwate isn’t too bad, but Lord Colotus? What is he, the roman lord of colostomies?
It’s not all bad, though: check out my feisty lady fighting to reclaim what’s hers. I honestly don’t think anything in this story is worth salvaging, but I respect my eleven year old self’s spirit.
“Good knights,” he said “my horse Belinda is out of breath and at this very moment we are cha Uh…” He was forced to the ground and a sword put to his neck.
Because it’s very important that the knights know what his horse is called. I’m also not quite sure what move they used to unhorse him – the comedy yoink?
“State your name and reason to be hither”The knight growled
“Sir Richard and I wish to join the rightful force.” He panted
“Alright take him to the out post I shall consult the fair lady Catherine.”
He said “And don’t let him escape.”
Me and commas were clearly not friends at the time. ‘Sir Richard and I’ – wait, weren’t you Sir Richard? Ohhhh, I see. Clearly my dialogue did not need to be bound by the chains of oppressive grammar.
At the castle of Catherine Heckles (Catherine of Gawthwate) Sir Ganathry
burst through the door and knelt at Catherine’s side.
“My knight,” She said “What brings thy through yonder door at arrow speed?”
“Lady Catherine” He panted out “an intruder was found on the east wing of Hucksbre forest.”
“And what pray is his name?” Catherine inquired. “He claims to be of noble stature a Sir Richard though I very much dought the name is his.” He replied.
“Take him to me and I shall bear judge to his state.” She replied.
“So be it.”He said shaking his head as he went.
The names are getting better. See how I understood that you could be ‘of somewhere’ and that might not be your surname? And ‘Heckles’ – wow, you can see why she didn’t use that much. Also, I should go through more doors at arrow speed, and I should tell people about it in awkwardly cumbersome fashion when I see they’re in a hurry.
Incidentally, ‘He said shaking his head as he went’ marks a problem I still struggle with. People do not need to have an action to accompany their speech. ‘He said’ is fine.
Sir Richard was lead in on his horse, hands bound tight.
Wait? Isn’t she in some kind of hall? Why is he still on his horse? I clearly had the sense of place DOWN.
“Unbind him at once,” Catherine shouted “I apologise for there blindness I see now you are truly who you say you are.” The men did as they were told.”I declare that to show that and I speak true of all present, we are truly sorry I am to hold a great feast in your honour Sir Richard. But as for now my maid Jane will show you to your quarters.”
Alright, calm down. You’re at war, it’s OK for your scouts to be suspicious. Also, how exactly can you see that he’s OK?
“Your a very lucky man to be in our lady’s favour.” Said the maid.(She had a country exeunt.) “She’s taken fancy to thee.”
Oh, OK. I’m fairly sure all attractive men are trustworthy, too. That’s totally how it works. And ‘exeunt’? That’s totally a word. The BEST kind of word. A word that really tells you something about the way the common folk speak.
“Why? Do you really think so?” He asked.
“Yes, its not every man she takes to. They say the only man she loved ( before thee ofcourse ) were ‘er daddy.” She said as she showed him in to his room.” Now you’ll need to be down at seven bells for the feast.” She finished and left the room.
Aw, Daddy’s girl.
At 7:00 pm the feast began and there were mountains of food such as you’ve never seen before. Stuffed wild boor, turkey and chicken, venison, pork and beef. There was apples, pears, plums, strawberries and rasberrys. And there were the finest of wines spiced, red and white.
Wow, that’s, uh, some feast. And quite a punctual one for a time when I’m pretty sure clocks were at best, very rare. You can see I knew I ought to describe some kind of lavish feast, but I’d never eaten a ‘feast’ and hadn’t even encountered much of that sort in fiction. So I was just, like: meat – lots of it! And posh meat like venison! Stuffed! Everything stuffed! And wild boor – that was totally a thing, right? And, you know, lots of fruit. And wine – both kinds! And spiced! Is spiced white wine a thing? It is now! I love how there are no sauces or anything. You want beef? You got beef. You want apples? Have an apple on a plate. Yummy!
Richard said suddenly “My sun, my moon, my stars and my queen. I beg of thee two requests before we dine, the first a toast and the second for one bliss filled moment a kiss.”
He’s quite poetic, isn’t he? Clearly seen which way the wind blows and totally up for flattering his way up the status ladder.
“I grant both wishes, if you tell me to what do we toast?” She said with a laugh.
“Why?” he said “To our kiss ofcourse.” He laughed and then they kissed.
He so romantic.
The evening went Beautifully after that and there was lots of wine drinking and laughing and just every sort of merry making known to man.
Yeah, that’s all the dialogue you’re getting for the feast. Flirtation ESTABLISHED. Again: I had never been to a feast and hadn’t a clue as to what one might say at one. I also didn’t have a rich enough plot to provide any substance for their conversation. Solution? End the scene! It’s all gone ‘Beautifully’, after all.
The next morning Sir. Richard was given cloths witch had been Catherine’s fathers. and while Jane was up there she said ” You did well last night no before hath got so far in a night. It might takes them a month to embrace ‘er in a hug.”
Everyone seems to be in league with him getting it on with Catherine. This conversation is totally appropriate for a maid to have with a nobleman. And there’s nothing wrong with a female servant acting as valet for a gentleman.
“What pray do we do today?” he said and added ” Maid Jane.”
‘Maid Jane’? What? What? I’m sure she loves being called that. You so smooth, Richard. I’m clearly struggling with what would be appropriate, formal, ye olde forms of address.
“Well ‘er lady ship ‘as prepared the hounds for the ‘untin so I suppose theres tha’ and a arrows bin sharpened so theres archery ‘n all.” She said gaily stopping work for just a second. “There tha’ll do, nice clean beds for the night. Oh and don’t forget ‘er ladyships very good at archery (watch out).” She said with a giggle.
NICE exeunt, there. Totally convincing. I didn’t even need to tell the reader she had an exeunt. It’s all right there in that skillful dialogue. It’s obvious she’s speaking with an, uh, well… fantasy common (?) exeunt.
Then at 8:10 am he got up and strolled down to the stables.
Punctual as ever. I’m pretty sure this is how they organised their days in medieval times.
“Lady, queen and by far fairest. I say to thee goodmorning. How many hounds for the hunt 20, 25?” He asked her as he knelt to kiss her hand.
Is she a lady or a queen? Just what is the feudal structure in this place?
“Arise gallant knight. your answer is 30.” As she said this she mounted her horse and begged him to join her.
Who cares how many bloody hounds there are? These people are both clearly excellent conversationalists. I’d love to have them at my feasts!
“Hark I hear the hunt horn calling. Join me lady.” He said as he road forth.
“By way you call me lady doth thow mean to say that we art strangers? Why not call me by my name?” She asked.
“Catherine my lady, all I say is that your name by it’s self holds so much beauty I find it hard to say it more than once a day and there for I wish to call thee, fair maiden, lady.” As Richard said these words Catherine’s face was lit up by the romantic talk.
The charming banter is strong with this one. He’s a keeper, Catherine!
The hunt horn went again and the chaise began. The horses galloped and the hounds barked, and they were soon on to a fox.
Over all they caught eight foxes and after the hunt they returned to lunch.
Is eight foxes a reasonable number to kill in a hunt? I don’t know much about hunts, but that sounds like a lot. They must have a real problem in Gawthwate.
The meal involved passion fruit, apples, strawberries, and plums as starters, roast chicken and turkey as the main meal, and for dessert strawberries in cream. They drank spiced wines – but not to much for there was the archery still to come.
Another classic fantasy meal. Lady Catherine is clearly fond of strawberries – for starter and dessert. And spiced wines. You gotta have spiced wines or it’s not a fantasy anymore.
The target was set 20 m. away from the archer. For this Catherine insisted on using her own bow and arrow instead of the competition ones. As she let the string go you could see in her eyes, she knew exactly where it would go and as it hit the bull’s eye smack-bam in the centre only Richard stood there gapping everyone else seem to take it for granted that they would lose, and indeed they did lose that competition and the next and the next…
Close your mouth, Richard, gapping is unmanly. And Catherine’s archery competitions must be such a ball. No one else ever wins. Catherine’s just that good.
The next day there was no time for a hunt or an archery match they were in to battle!!! Richard was wounded on the arm, and the deep cut was infected. The infection put Richard in a deep fever. Catherine spend every moment she could at his side. He remained in the fever for six weeks, and then it toke anther month before he was fully recovered. (though his arm would never be as good as it had been.)
Shit! A battle!!! How inconvenient – I’m sure Lady Catherine would much rather have been hunting the plague of foxes on her lands or showing all her people how they will never be as good at archery as she is. And oh noes! Richard has been wounded! Of course, Catherine must nurse him back to health. Their love, after two days, is just that deep. But check at my realism – the wound doesn’t heal perfectly. Battles are serious buisness in Gawthwate, yo.
After this, between the fighting, there was a most romantic courtship which lasted 5 months, then they were married.
Wow, OK. Shame we didn’t get to see that courtship – it sounds dead romantic. I like that I didn’t go for the whirlwind marriage, though. Five months! I didn’t know how to write it, but it’s clear I knew they shouldn’t just conveniently fall head over heels for each other.
In case you were wondering, this is not the end of the story. There’s another 3,000 words, including the marriage ceremony, with a detailed description of the gown to rival those given for the feasts. They have kids and at the Christening the vicar predicts that the baby will defeat Lord Colotus, and via a dramatic series of events, that happens. All the Richard/Catherine stuff is thus totally relevant to resolving the central enigma.
Got any old stories you’d like to share and spork?