Monday, 3 December 2012

Mr Angry goes to the Library

I've used Luton's Central Library once or twice in the past, and come away feeling frustrated each time. This week I decided to pop in again, to see whether they had anything that would help me research my novel. I was braced for the worst, but thought to myself how bad can it be?

When I arrived, I got into the lift and pressed the appropriate button. Nothing happened. I pressed the button again, and again nothing happened. An elderly gentleman approached the lift, at which point the doors tried to slide shut. I gave the door sensor a thump, to save the newcomer a squishing, then returned to the business of piloting the lift. After a couple more button presses, the doors closed properly, and the floor gave a lurch. A few seconds later, the doors opened, and we stepped out... into the foyer. We scrambled back into the lift, playing Indiana Jones with the doors, and tried again. Eventually we reached the first floor. As I disembarked, I glanced behind me to see the doors closing with the elderly gentleman still inside. There was a silent pleading in his eyes as they met mine. But I was already too far away to save him, so I just gave him the kind of smile you give a relative on their deathbed. I don't know what became of the elderly gentleman. Perhaps he's still riding the library elevator, wearily trying different combinations of buttons, and suspicious of the doors' intentions if they happen to open occasionally.

And so I arrived at the adult library. It's a big, open space - 500 square-metres at a guess. The floor where I stood holds a computer area, the fiction section, and whatever they call the library equivalent of a nurses' station. It's not a checking-out desk (that's all done by machines on the ground floor) but more a kind of display case of what I shall indulgently call librarians. Steps lead up to a mezzanine, where the non-fiction section is. Make a note of that, in case you're ever in Luton and find yourself in need of a non-fiction book. You need to make a note for two reasons. The first reason is that I've already told you far more about its location than any sign that's visible as you enter the space from the direction of the stairwell and lifts. It's true: There is no sign to indicate where fiction and non-fiction books may be found. The second reason is that Waterstones closed their Luton branch a while back, leaving a parting "F*** you!" in the window, saying "We hope to see our loyal customers in our nearest alternative branch (Hemel Hemstead)." Tossers.

But I was one step ahead of the malevolent force responsible for making sure visiting Luton Central Library is as unproductive and time-consuming as possible, because I already knew where the non-fiction books are hidden. I can't remember whether I originally found out by wandering about searching, by getting fed up and asking a member of staff, or by following a sign which someone later saw fit to remove.

The other key piece of insider info I can give you is the location of the "card index" - or, more properly, its modern, microprocessor-controlled descendant. There's a computer on a small table, just to the left of the mezzanine steps. Don't be discouraged by the fact that the screen is off - that's just someone's idea of a joke (or a screensaver. If you must have a screensaver, why not have one that indicates the machine is in working order and powered-up?)

So, I approached the computer and gave its greasy mouse a wiggle.

I won't give a detailed account of using the library's computer catalogue.  For one thing, the episode has been repressed by whichever part of my mind Freud claimed takes care of self-preservation, so I don't recall much. For another thing, I'm aware that my lust for user-friendly interfaces with computers puts me in a minority in these times of Bigger, Better, Faster, More, when whether a system can do something is considered important, but how much hair one must tear out accomplishing it is not.

I'll just skip straight to the part where I was climbing the mezzanine steps clutching a piece of paper with a Dewey number written on it.

And here is where the problems began. Yes, you did read that right. Up till then there had been only minor irritations. You see, once you reach the mezzanine, you're on your own, me old mucker! You have, understandably, arrived armed with a Dewey number. You cast your eyes over the shelves, to see which general area your number might be found in. Problem: They do not mark the shelves with the Dewey numbers. Not even a little bit*.


This is just the tip (albeit a bloody annoying and time-consuming tip) of the iceberg. Because, if you happen to be looking for a 900+ Dewey number, like I was, you have to do this close-up check all the way around the room before you get the creeping suspicion that you're on a wild goose chase. (On that particular day the task was made more interesting by the fact that there was Men At Work barrier halfway round. This didn't prevent access to any shelves, but did mean that I had to retrace my steps to the stairs and approach from the opposite direction.)

I actually went round twice, to be sure - to work up enough crossness for when I asked a staff member WTF was going on. I traipsed back down the steps, approached the exhibition of "librarians", waited while three of them finished contemplating a fourth's navel, then asked "If I have a Dewey number, how can I tell where to start looking for the book?"
"What's the number?" the chap asked brightly.
"Ohhh no!" I waggled a finger at him. "No clues! I want to learn how to navigate here. How to find the next number on my list, should I still have the will to live by the time I get that far."

He seemed disappointed that I wished to break the endless stream of confused visitors needing his assistance on a book-by-book basis, but eventually waved an arm at the mezzanine, saying "Well, the numbers start in that corner and go around the room in that direction [clockwise, from above, which we weren't of course]."
I was a bit sceptical, and he seemed to sense it, adding "But you can't get past that bit there, because we have a visiting team of Obscurifators in that section. They Tipp-Ex out the Dewey numbers, ensuring me a job for life."
Actually, he didn't say that. I think it was more along the lines of carpet-fitting.

So I took my scepticism and reascended the steps, and made my way to the shelves at the opposite end from the starting-point the librarian had indicated. I peered at a book. Then I peered at another one. Sighing, I went to the other side of the shelf and did some more peering. Out of desperation, I sank to my knees and had a good peer at the books on the bottom shelf.

Two minutes later I was back downstairs, saying through clenched teeth, "The numbers only go up to 899!"
My new friend gave a smile of the sort that makes you want to grab someone by the ears and drive their face onto your knee.
"That's because the 900's are down here, next to the Westerns."
I blinked.
"Not enough room up there" he offered. To his credit, I think he sensed he was courting physical danger at this point.
Resigned to an afternoon in a library made of poo and staffed by arseholes, I decided that chumminess was my only option.
"I'll bet you get fed up with having to explain that to daft customers all day long." I smiled, trying not to look like Hannibal Lecter. "I'll bet you wish your managers would put up some signs explaining all this. Or, God forbid, label the shelves with the one piece of information your catalogue gives."
But it was like trying to explain Heaven to a bear. Not only does their cockamamie setup ensure the staff are never short of depressed people to keep waiting, the sheer joy of explaining it all twenty or thirty times a day was evidently high on this man's list of reasons to go to work every morning, rather than, say, sticking his toothbrush up his nose and doing that brain-liquidising trick the embalmers used to do on dead pharaohs.

The ironic thing (or one of the ironic things, for there were many that day) was that when I eventually found the shelf containing books about Victorian England, I discovered one of the best on the subject I've yet seen.

Needless to say, I made my escape quickly and ordered it from Amazon.

Luton Central Library. Even the photo from their website sucks.
In real life the building has a flat facade! WTF!

* They do occasionally mark them - in letters too small to read from the other side of the room - with subject headings. But, assuming most visitors haven't committed the Dewey system to memory, where's the help in seeing a sign saying "Computers" if you're looking for one that says "Gardening"? While I'm digressing, let me give a brief mention to Luton Central Library's fiction section. Last time he secured day release from whichever institution he rents a rubber room in, the library manager decided that sorting fiction books by author surname is for wimps. So he created a largely arbitrary set  of categories, then set his minions loose deciding which books belong in which category. So, if you're looking for a book which doesn't very clearly fall within one genre and one genre alone, you should expect to try several of these categories before locating it. And here's the thing: Each category is, in itself, sorted by author surname. Needless to say, the categories are arranged in a completely random order, just to add spice to proceedings. HMV used to carry on like this. Just sayin'. ) 

Friday, 10 August 2012

A363 end-of-course feedback (Or, "Mr Angry Goes to Town")

Today I took advantage of the opportunity to give feedback on A363, using an online questionnaire. Highlights from my responses are below. Apologies for typos, etc. I was "typing angry", lol.

  • [33] The guidance in the Assignment Booklet seemed to have been written to test us more than guide us. The advice for TMA 03 referenced at least two other sources of advice, one of which used terms not sufficiently explained - least of all in the main course book. I spent an entire day simply collating the scattered bits of advice and fragmented TMA requirements, and trying to draw a single coherent assignment from it. It was hard work, but I did it in the end. I firmly believe that it was this, plus a ruthlessly tactical approach to my choice of discussion material, which earned me a score higher than most of those I talked to. Seems a bit wrong to me.

  • [39] Three of the six TMAs were returned to us significantly later than the expected two-week deadline. In the case of TMA 06, this directly and adversely affected my own EMA performance (and that of MANY of my peers) because we were supposed to use TMA 06 tutor feedback to guide us. We plan to write to the appropriate PVC about this.

  • [49] The only significant benefit I had from this course was peer support. That aside, I could have taken the course fee, spent half of it on a short holiday, spent half the remainder on booze, then spent half of what was left on creative writing books from Amazon, and been in a better position to develop my skills. I'd have beer money too. (In fact, I have said this many times to peers and to prospective enrolees. I have even created a "List" on Amazon which I refer potential A363 victims to.) The inadequacy of this course was quite staggering.

  • [Forgot to record question number - was to do with what I'd like to have seen I think.] More nitty-gritty creative writing technique, and less airy-fairy useless stuff. If you must try to take it to a higher plane, refer more to Campbell's mythic structure and material of similar repute.

  • [60] The module has failed to contribute to the achievement of my overall study goals.  Although I tried to link A363 and A215 to the E25 Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing a long time ago, I have not been awarded that diploma. Apparently the OU has decided not to issue this diploma any more. It would be irritating enough to do the exact same work as my predecessors and not be awarded the same diploma, but some of my own A363 cohort HAVE been awarded the diploma this past week! When I checked my qualification planner I found that A215 has been removed. The official statement of progress states that the (only) reason I do not have the diploma is lack of points. The official statement does not mention the award being defunct. Be assured that well over 100 other students are currently discussing this issue on Facebook and we all expect the OU to do the right thing. This is just the latest in a series of spectacular screw-ups, starting with absentee tutors, and including inexcusably and disastrously late returns of TMAs. I feel a letter to the national press coming on.

  • Sadly, the threatened letters to a Pro Vice-Chancellor and national newspaper were never written. Once again, the OU got away with very shoddy service because of what I call TFFT Syndrome. Students are so relieved to see the back of a course that their resolve to make a fuss about its quality wanes. We should have complained, but didn't. Shame on us. 

    Sunday, 1 July 2012

    Read all about it

    Some of my fellow students enjoyed The Open University's course in "Advanced creative writing", but, if the posts in the dedicated Facebook group were anything to go by, many were disappointed. In fact, a significant minority felt short-changed by a course which simply didn't do what it said on the tin.

    I'm somewhere in the middle, but only because it's the average between two extreme positions. I loved the mutual support thing with my fellow students, and my tutor was fun (if slow at marking) but I despise the course book and those responsible for it. More than once I've ended up angrily claiming that one could spend the course fee on a nice little holiday and use the change buying thirteen books from Amazon which would outshine A363's Big Blue Book.  When challenged to put my URL where my mouth was, I'd often already moved on to another whinge in another thread, so here it is... click here: My recommended reading list.

    I'll write detailed reviews of some of the most important books on that page in due course, but for now, here's a very quick mention for my top three:

    • The Writer's Journey - absolutely indispensable. If you aren't familiar with the concepts in this book, you risk severely handicapping yourself from the start. 
    • Getting into Character - promises "secrets from method acting that can be used by writers" and it delivers. In spades. 
    • The Nuts and Bolts of Writing - To be honest, there are many books of this sort, but I have a soft spot for the much-missed Michael Legat, as it was one of his very accessible books that first made me realise (a) I might not have been born a literary giant and (b) there might be something I could do about it.

    If you only read three creative writing books in your life,
    you could choose far worse ones than these.

    After seeing it mentioned in various corners of the Internet, I took a chance on Creative Writing for Advanced College Classes by George Williams. Published in 1954, it needs allowances made for some old-fashioned (and entirely incidental) attitudes. But it's solid gold. Its first half in particular is packed with tips of the goodness-I've-been-writing-like-a-turd variety. Sadly, the going rate on Amazon is about thirty quid, but - if you can afford it - it's an excellent follow-up read to the Legat book mentioned above.

    Saturday, 5 May 2012

    A363 TMA 06 part 2: Commentary

    Why a commentary, but no creative writing? Because I'm continuing the story I developed over TMA 04, TMA 06, and the EMA as my first novel, and I'm being secretive about it! :-)
    When I look back at this commentary it seems horribly stilted. The trouble was that I had so much to say and only 500 words in which to say it, so it ended up reading like notes on the back of a fag packet.

    Please note that certain details have been removed for reasons of professional coyness :-)

    I renamed the main characters for increased authenticity. Pronunciation of [protagonist's name] could be a problem for readers, and the word is not pretty, so I may abandon it, though [it] has traditional resonance which would be great for the character to learn about from his mentor.The story is set in [a real location] rather than a fictional [one] because I relished the prospect of researching[1] real locations and letting characters loose in them. I will, however, try to avoid offending present-day [residents].I must take care writing about people of a different time and culture. I found Shawl and Ward’s (2011) discussion of ‘unmarked state’ helpful, and have adapted their ROAARS[2] model to suit historical writing.

    Revised plan:

    • [Mysterious objects] treated as incidental at first. Their significance is revealed later.
    • Main quest is finding [protagonist's] kinfolk (alive).
    • [Protagonist's] call to action is realisation that he isn’t a proper member of the  [...] household. (He alone is punished for something both boys did.)
    • [Sidekick's] call is, he rationalises, necessity of supervising [Protagonist]. I will show it to be more about guilt (which blossoms into loyalty.)
    • Boys discover awful truth – [...] in a desolate valley.
    • [Person] responsible for [that location] tries to stop the boys. His actions are less malevolent than they believe, but lead to their tragic deaths anyway, thus preserving the secret and leaving intact the history we know.

    Feedback for my proposal suggested establishing the relationship between the two leads early. I have attempted this with an opening scene in which [Sidekick's] callous and condescending attitude to [Protagonist] contrasts with the latter’s naïve acceptance of this. I was advised to include an inciting incident in Chapter 1, but may not do so until Chapter 3. I’m unsure whether the shortness of my chapters mitigates this! I plan to follow the advice to include a shock before the end of the EMA. This will be the moment the boys realise, through violent turn of events, the ‘friendly’ person is trying to thwart them.

    Finally, I was advised to consider the usefulness of foreshadowing. I have opened with a flash-forward to the end of the boys’ adventure. This is intended to arouse the reader’s curiosity about how the boys came to that pass, and to cast a fatalistic shadow over the story. However, I mean to give the reader such an exciting story that the flash-forward slips his mind until the final page, where he suddenly finds himself with the [pursuers] at the [showdown location], a helpless witness to the boys’ final moments.

    [Word count: 516, of which 116 are Revised Plan.]

    Shawl, N. and Ward, C. (2011) Writing the Other, Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press.

    [1] I have researched communications, timekeeping, and weather, but have yet to cover clothing/uniforms, eating habits, and occupations.
    [2] ‘Race, Orientation (sexual), Age, Ability, Religion, Sex’. Because my orientation is the same as my characters’, I was able to replace ‘Orientation’ with ‘Era’. (Yeah, I know...)

    Sunday, 15 April 2012

    A363 TMA 05

    A363 TMA 05

    Tutor-Marked Assignment
    • Task 1: Write a 1500-word piece of fiction or life writing, or 2-7 poems totalling 80-100 lines.
    • Task 2: Write a 750-word "commentary" about the process, reflecting on form, structure, and style.
    • Due date: 15 March 2012
    • Mark: About 86% overall. Actual mark is temporarily unavailable on a dead hard drive!

    I have no idea why the line spacing changes part of the way through the commentary after being pasted into Blogger! :-/

     Option 1 – prose. Genre: Fiction

    Title: The Three Prisoners

    This story has been removed because it has now been published in the anthology Here's One I Made Earlier, available from Amazon here.


    The Three Prisoners is an extension of a true story described by a magistrate as ‘one of the most extraordinary cases that have ever been brought into a Court of Justice.’  In preparing to write it, one of the most important processes was the selective omission of details which, though arrestingly dramatic in reality, were so fantastic that they would probably have destroyed the reader’s suspension of disbelief. An additional benefit of making these omissions was that the fraudster’s crimes were not so extreme that they eclipsed the story I wanted to tell: That of three of his victims still feeling irrationally beholden to him.
    Beyond the date of his conviction, the fraudster’s life is not well documented but I was not free to do as I pleased. For example, a German lady could not meet a German man from a British prison in 1917. (They would both be interned.) I therefore took a liberty with the dates, choosing December 1918 to keep the change as small as possible. This change had direct consequences for the narrative I had already written (e.g., the crowd in the Sawyer’s Arms had to find something other than the war to talk about.)
     My choice of form was no choice at all: I learned from A215 that the skill and time required for creating poetry are both far in excess of what I can supply.
    My choices regarding structure and style were dictated by what I hope was logic. Firstly, since the story is intensely concerned with the perverted relationships between characters, I was keen to keep settings in the background. For this reason I deliberately avoided applying film technique to fiction, as described by Anderson (2009), to evoke settings. I did, however, mimic cinematic ‘cuts’ (Anderson, 2009) when transitioning the narrative viewpoints. I did this by establishing visual anchors (e.g., Anna’s red face, Joseph’s grin, etc) ahead of the cut and then referencing that anchor after the cut (and from the next viewpoint character’s perspective.)
    Wanting a surprise ending I had to walk the tightrope between dropping in enough clues to make things fair and giving so much away that the effect was lost. My original synopsis had the travellers having a conversation into which I could insert exposition and backstories. However, I found I could not sustain this for seven or eight pages, even by ignoring my pet hate of supposedly ‘real’ people delivering narrative prose in dialogue. Therefore, I reluctantly chose to split the viewpoint between the travellers, knowing that, like flashbacks, defies the conventions of the short story form. Although my approach has an arguably positive aspect – in that ‘[unlike a movie] it probes the inner workings of the mind’ (Anderson, 2009) I am aware that it forces the story to rely rather too heavily upon the ‘telling’ of backstory which would, ideally, have been revealed better by ‘showing’.
    As I already knew how I would go about ‘splicing the strands’ (Neale, 20091) in my final scene, the only structural issues still to be addressed were the order in which I would present those strands and how long each would be. My chief concern was maintaining the illusion that they were going to meet three different people, so I decided to separate the women’s sections by placing Joseph’s between them. I hoped to reduce the risk of the reader inferring that both women had married the same man. In order to play down the bigamy somewhat, I called the fraudster a ‘scoundrel’ in the section I heading, reserving the word ‘bigamist’ for section III. The strand lengths were influenced by my desire to avoid boring the reader. I reasoned that by the time the reader reached the third strand, the unfolding pattern would be evident, so I endeavoured to make each of the second and third strands shorter than its predecessor.
    I found myself acting ‘as an impersonator, mimicking the various voices’ (Neale, 20092) in the story by adjusting the language according to which viewpoint character I was writing for, while trying not to get too bogged down in dialect.
    My last conscious style choice was made very late in the writing process: I decided to switch tenses, using the present tense to describe the viewpoint characters in the trains. I did this to reduce the danger of their past-tense reminiscences (flashbacks, in essence) being confusing to the reader. I also switched to the present tense for the final few paragraphs of action, but for a different reason: Dramatic immediacy.

    [Word count: 750]

    Anderson, L. (2009) ‘Film technique in fiction’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black
    Neale, D. (20091) ‘Splicing the strands’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black
    Neale, D. (20092) ‘Voices in fiction’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black

    Monday, 19 March 2012

    Book Review: "Writing the Other" by Shawl and Ward

    Title: Writing the Other (A Practical Approach)
    Authors: Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
    Format: Kindle Edition
    Length: 122 pages
    Price (at time of writing): £3.82

    Available from Amazon here.

    This book is about...

    Coping with problems which can arise when writers try to create characters whose gender, sexual preference, and age differ significantly from their own.

    I bought this book because...

    I'm in my forties, but the protagonist in the novel I'm writing is 13.
    I was born in 1968; he was born in 1867.
    He's was child of tribal Africans, was born into poverty, and was adopted;  I wasn't.
    I wanted a fresh perspective on my writing, in case I was unwittingly making silly mistakes.

    What I think of it...

    Let me start by saying that this book does have some very useful pointers.

    However, it's marred by the chips on the authors' shoulders. The book would work better, irk less, and paint a more flattering picture of its writers, if they had resisted the urge to preach apparently prejudiced, arguably inaccurate, and certainly unhelpful views.

    For the modest (Kindle) price this book is worth getting because it more or less does what it says on the tin - you can just ignore the thinly disguised sermons. Once you look past the diatribes you find an extremely useful model for looking at the issue at hand. The basic approaches Shawl and Ward describe will certainly help me in my own writing.

    But if another book on this subject is published I'll snap it up as I don't feel I already have this base completely covered.

    Thursday, 5 January 2012

    A363 TMA 02

    Tutor-Marked Assignment
    • Task 1: Write an 15-minute adaptation of the story written for TMA 01 for stage, radio, or film.
    • Task 2: Write a 500-word "commentary" about the process, describing how the task was approached, what changes to the story and characters proved necessary, etc..
    • Due date: 5 January 2012
    • Mark: About 87% overall. Actual mark is temporarily unavailable on a dead hard drive, but I remember that it was 1% +/- from TMA 01 mark.
    Sharp-eyed readers will notice the last-accessed dates in the reference section are later than the TMA's due date. This is because I was granted a deadline extension.

    I've just pasted the script into this blog page and hoped for the best. The formatting seems, but apologies are offered in advance if any layout weirdness has crept in.

    1.      Script for film
    Keeping Shtum
    by Greg Withnail

    Cast list:
    Johanna: 55-year-old schoolmistress
    Young Isaac: Johanna’s son, aged 5
    Adult Isaac: Johanna’s son, aged 30
    Jacob: former student of Johanna
    Kurt: German non-commissioned officer
    Wilfred: 70-year-old ex-serviceman
    Soldier #1: 45-year-old German
    Soldier #2
    Soldier #3

    FADE IN:

    The station is crowded. A newspaper stand's sandwich board reads "MARTIN LUTHER KING ASSASSINATED."

    JOHANNA waits at barrier with WILFRED. An envelope protrudes from Wilfred's breast pocket.

    It's late.

    Wilfred squints over his glasses at the station clock. It reads half-past seven.

    Only a couple of minutes.

    What if I don’t recognise him?

    Wilfred taps the envelope in his jacket pocket. It looks worn, as if it has been opened and closed many times. He smiles patiently.

    The photograph he sent last week is recent.
    Look! Here it comes.

    Johanna looks down the track. Train approaches.

    Guard's whistle sounds. Johanna visibly jumps at the sound, and looks around.

    Easy there, my Schätzchen.

    He squeezes her hand.

    Guard's whistle gives several blasts, which continue as Johanna gazes at the approaching train. On the soundtrack, the guard’s whistle is joined by the distinctive sound of a police-style whistle. All station noise fades, but the police-style whistle continues as we...


    FADE IN:

    The street is lined with run-down and boarded-up terraced houses. Some roofs are missing. The road is strewn with rubble, clothing, and other debris. Snow falls. Police-style whistle continues.

    Johanna's hand is squeezing a smaller one. It belongs to YOUNG ISAAC. The pair is at the bottom of some basement steps, hiding from a passing military truck.

    It's gone. Come on.

    She leads Young Isaac across street at a weary half-run. They reach a closed door. Young Isaac sinks to sit on the ground when Johanna releases his hand to try the door. The door is locked.

    (under her breath)
    Oy shtup!

    She grabs Young Isaac's arm and hauls him to his feet. She moves towards the next house. Young Isaac stumbles and Johanna stops to steady him.

    Careful, my love.

    They reach a FRONT DOOR, which opens to Johanna’s push. They stumble inside and the door slams.


    Ceilings and roof are missing. Window is boarded-up on the outside. The word "PIEKARNIA" is painted back-to-front on the glass. Front Door has a large sliding bolt on the inside. A heavy snow-covered table stands in the middle of the room. A metal bread oven is set in the rear wall. Its door is closed. Beside it is a SECOND DOOR, which has a sagging lintel. It is also closed. Snow falls.

    The muted sound of a police-style whistle reaches the room intermittently throughout the scene.

    Young Isaac wanders dazedly towards the table as Johanna bolts Front Door.

    How's your knee, my love?
    Let me see.

    She crouches before Young Isaac. He stares right through her.


    She stifles a sob and suddenly hugs Young Isaac, rocking him as she says...

    My baby, my baby.

    (mumbling, his face pressed to Johanna's chest)
    Are they going to kill us Mummy?


    She gently pulls Young Isaac's face from her. Their eyes meet as he says...

      Are they going to kill us?

    Of course not, my love.
    (laughs unconvincingly)
    They've just got orders to chase us for a while. Just to scare us.


    Johanna hugs him again.

    Don't cry, my love.

    She kisses the top of his head.

    They'll soon get cold and go away.

    I'm cold.

    You can wear Mummy's coat.

    She stands and starts to unbutton her coat.

    Can we light a fire?

    They'd see the smoke. Maybe tomorrow, my love.

    She takes off her coat and places it around Young Isaac's shoulders. A single gunshot sounds from a few streets away.

    (walking to second doorway)
    Now, let's see where this leads, shall we?

    She walks to Second Door and pulls at it, but it doesn't move. She pulls harder and the lintel shifts.


    Johanna looks up in time to see lintel break away from wall. Second Door buckles and splits but remains in position. Johanna stumbles back and lintel lands where she had been standing. Pause.

    Johanna steps gingerly over fallen lintel and gives Second Door a gentle push.

    An ominous creak is followed by a slow cascade of bricks, plaster, dust, and snow.

    Johanna stumbles back and collides with Young Isaac, knocking him over. She helps him to his feet. Pause.
    When the dust clears, we see Second Door is blocked.

    Sound of running footsteps from outside. Johanna and Young Isaac turn to look at Front Door. Pause.

    Someone knocks on Front Door. Young Isaac gasps and Johanna clamps her hand over his mouth.

    Johanna and Young Isaac grip one another as the Front Door's handle turns, first one way, then the other.

    (slowly removing her hand from Young Isaac's mouth)

    Clutching Young Isaac, she backs away from Front Door without taking her eyes off it.

    Front Door is kicked from outside. Johanna and Young Isaac start again. Johanna looks around, frantically.

    Another kick makes Front Door rattle in its frame.

    (lifting Young Isaac)
    Come on.

    She carries Young Isaac to the oven and sets him down gently.

    Another kick to Front Door makes its bolt begin to break away. Sporadic kicking sounds continue till end of scene.

    Johanna pulls open the oven door, revealing the frozen corpse of a small child within. Johanna flinches.

    Close your eyes, my baby. Close your eyes.

    Face screwed up with distaste, Johanna pulls the corpse from the oven and sets it gently on the floor. She gags. Pause.

    Keep those eyes closed.
    (stoops to pick up Young Isaac)
    Time to play hide and seek.

    She gently places Young Isaac in oven. She tries to climb into the oven but it is too high. With difficulty, she drags the table over to the oven, and uses it to climb inside. As she does so, a crack appears in the wall between Second Door and oven.


    Johanna and Young Isaac are squashed together, doubled-up, knees touching faces. Bakery interior visible without.

    Johanna reaches out and manages to pull the oven door closed. The oven is plunged into darkness. Johanna and Young Isaac are barely discernible.


    Johanna's fingers release the oven door and disappear from view. Immediately, the oven door starts to swing open.

    Johanna grabs the door and pulls it closed again. This time she keeps hold of it.

    With a crash, Front Door bursts open.


    The oven's interior is dark. Johanna and Young Isaac are squashed together. Their eyes are wide. Johanna is leaning awkwardly, holding the oven door closed.

    Sound of Front Door being closed. Sound of panting. Pause.

    Sound of footsteps. Pause.

    Sound of table being dragged across floor. Pause.

    Sound of footsteps rapidly approaching.

    The oven door is flung open.


    The police-style whistles sound close. They continue till end of scene.

    Visible in the oven, Johanna clutches Young Isaac protectively, her face buried in his hair.


    She lifts her face and sees JACOB standing there. Table is now against inside of Front Door.

    (very relieved)
    Jacob Eckstein?

    Let me in!

    There's no room.

    Sound of shouting from without.


    Jacob tries to climb into the impossibly small space with Johanna and Young Isaac.

    There's no room! Don’t be stupid.

    She tries to push Jacob away with her foot. He topples backwards, holding her foot, pulling her after him. They hit the floor together. Pause, while they wait to see whether they have been heard.

    Sound of door being broken down in the house next door.

    Johanna starts to get up, but Jacob is quicker. He kicks Johanna in the ribs then stamps on her spine. She collapses face-down in the slush. Jacob grabs Young Isaac's foot and tries to pull him from the oven. Isaac wriggles free and curls up into a ball.

    Johanna staggers to her feet. She grabs Jacob's arm and pulls him away from the oven.

    Sound of Front Door handle being turned.

    Door opens an inch and is stopped by table.


    Johanna releases Jacob. He runs to Second Door and starts to claw at the rubble that blocks it.

    There is a crash from Front Door – someone outside is throwing their weight against it. The table shifts a couple of inches.

    Jacob has made a small gap and starts to wriggle though it. More cracks appear in the wall.

    Another crash at the door pushes the table another inch.

    Johanna stands in the middle of the room. She looks at Young Isaac, then at Jacob, and then at Front Door. She wrings her hands.

    The section of wall above Jacobs suddenly collapses, killing him instantly.

    KURT (O.S.)

    Another crash at the door pushes the table several more inches.

    Johanna stops wringing her hands. She runs to the oven and leans inside.


    Stay here and keep quiet.


    Sound of crash against door.

    No matter what happens. You hear?


    Johanna kisses him and closes the oven door.


    Hold this.

    Young Isaac's fingers appear at the bottom edge of the door and grasp it.

    Johanna picks her way over the heap of rubble and sits near the protruding legs of Jacob.




    Two military trucks stand at the end of the street. Distant police-style whistles sound intermittently throughout scene.

    SOLDIER #1 waits by the open Front Door. He wears spectacles and a non-regulation scarf. His hands are wrapped in rags. He wears a rifle on a sling.

    Soldier #1 shivers and hugs himself.

    Johanna enters street through Front Door, pushed by Kurt. Soldier #1 straightens.

    As Kurt takes Johanna towards the trucks, she looks back at Front Door.

    Soldier #1 follows Johanna's gaze. Johanna quickly looks away.

    Johanna and Kurt arrive at First Truck. Kurt helps Johanna climb into back, then bangs his hand against truck's side. Pause.

    The truck's engine starts. Kurt climbs into back of truck.


    A dozen prisoners sit on two fixed benches that run the length of the interior. Johanna is among them. Kurt sits near the open back of the truck.

    Truck begins to move. Johanna stares out of the open back of the truck. Suddenly, she tenses.



    Soldier #1 moves to Front Door. He pauses, then steps inside.


    Johanna stands and takes a step towards back of truck.


    Kurt seizes Johanna and shoves her back into her seat.


    Front Door is now closed. The snow has stopped. We hear  truck driving away.


    Sound of truck fades. Soldier #1 stands immobile just inside the closed Front Door. He slowly takes in the missing roof, the blocked Second Door, and the table. When he notices the frozen corpse, he grimaces and averts his eyes. Finally, he looks at the oven door.

    He hurriedly unslings his rifle and takes a step forward.

    He squints over his spectacles, peering at the bottom edge of the oven door. Tiny fingers are visible, holding the door in position.

    Soldier #1 looks down at his rifle. Pause. He puts it down, leaning it against Front Door.

    He moves forward till level with table. Pause.

    He removes his scarf, and lays it on the table.


    Front door opens and Soldier #1 emerges. His rifle is slung over his shoulder. He is not wearing his scarf.

    He looks warily up and down the street before pulling Front Door closed and moving towards Second Truck.


    FADE IN:

    First Truck is departing. Kurt, Joanna, and the other prisoners are on the pavement.

    SOLDIER #2 and SOLDIER #3 enter street from ticket hall and escort the prisoners inside.

    Kurt lights a cigarette and strolls off down the street, past a sign. The sign reads "SS-Kaserne" and points in the direction Kurt is going.

    A distant train whistle sounds.

    Second Truck pulls up.


    Several soldiers stand about near the ticket office door, looking bored. A steam locomotive and line of boxcars stand on the track. The door of the boxcar nearest the engine is open. The boxcar is pretty packed with prisoners, but obviously not as full as it could be. A trio of soldiers waits beside each of the other boxcars.

    Johanna and her fellow prisoners enter from ticket hall. Soldier #2 and Soldier #3 follow, and herd them to the open boxcar.

    As Johanna climbs into the boxcar, Soldier #1 enters from the ticket hall and joins Soldier #2 and Soldier #3.

    Guard's whistle sounds. We hear shouted orders in German.

    Soldier #1, Soldier #2, and Soldier #3 haul the boxcar's sliding door closed, then climb onto the small gantry at the rear of the car.


    The prisoners stand shoulder to shoulder. A baby cries.

    Johanna stares in the direction of the ticket hall through a gap in the boxcar door. Her eyes brim with tears.

    Train whistle sounds.

    The train lurches and the boxcar's occupants stumble, trying to keep upright. Johanna is bumped and jostled as we...


    FADE IN:

    Johanna is blinking away tears as disembarked passengers push past her.

    ADULT ISAAC is suddenly standing in front of her, holding a suitcase. He is smartly dressed, in hat and scarf. No one speaks. Pause.

    Adult Isaac drops the suitcase. He and Johanna embrace.

    My baby, my baby.

    Wilfred watches, smiling. He too has moist eyes.

    Adult Isaac releases Johanna and turns to Wilfred. The two men face each other for several seconds. Pause.

    Without breaking eye contact, Adult Isaac slowly unwinds the scarf from his neck. It is rather old and thread-bare. Reverently, he folds it, then hands it to Wilfred.

    With obvious effort, Wilfred replaces his smile with a serious expression. He accepts the scarf and bows slightly with military neatness.


    [Performance time: 14 minutes, 40 seconds]

    2.      Commentary
    The Assessment Booklet suggests that the choice of medium should be made early. (2011, p.31) While feedback from other students suggested film would be appropriate, I was convinced initially that the one-room setting was perfectly suited to stage.

    My original story had little dialogue, so I feared I might struggle to fill 15 minutes. I took heart after reading Neale's advice that "much of the action of your script should be revealed through pictures." (2009, p.116), but felt that submitting 14 minutes' worth of cinematic directions would not benefit me as a writer or invite a good mark. Knowing that padding dialogue would only damage its pace, I needed an extra dimension for the story. I reasoned that if the existing story succeeded in exciting a viewer, then he/she would probably wonder whether parent and child ever saw each other again. Once I had decided to show them being reunited, I decided to give the audience one more surprise by reintroducing the merciful German soldier, in whom some interest had been shown on a tutor group forum (Chang, 2011). I changed his name so someone who had read the original story might still enjoy the screenplay's surprises. I think this is a legitimate and even worthy technique in adaptations for screen. The decision to replace Isaac's father with his mother was necessary in order to make the long-term association with Wilfred more credible; the audience is supposed to assume they are married by 1968. (Incidentally, the new structure demanded some thought regarding dates and ages, so that the younger Wilfred would not be instantly recognisable1.)

    I added the Warsaw Station scene partly to put Johanna in a place where she could be jostled back to the future, and partly so that I could show Soldier #1 and his colleagues depart on her train and thereby suggest a custodial continuity that might make post-war association more possible.

    Having opted to position the main story as a flashback, I was forced to reconsider my chosen medium. Film now seemed the logical choice, though it meant breaking up the long scenes to avoid the pitfalls discussed by McKee (1999, p.291 cited Neale 2009, p.121) It was also a choice I was happy with, simply because I have seen many more films than stage plays.

    Sadly, choosing a familiar medium did not make my first attempt at screenwriting easy. I struggled quite a lot with the formatting and style of the script. Having heard so much advice on producing correct novel typescripts, I was slow to realise that the "rules" for scripts are less strict and universal. For example, Neale (2009, pp. 125 & 127) gives two very different example layouts for the same film script. My final draft reflects an attempt to balance various styles and incorporates the occasional technical element drawn from sources other than the course materials. (For example, the sample script by Buffini (2009), on the BBC's Writers Room website, encouraged me to use the "he" and "she" in directions.)

     [Word count: 500]

    1.      On 5 April 1968, Adult Isaac is 30, Wilfred is 70, and Johanna is 55
    On 19 February 1943, Young Isaac is 5, Wilfred is 45, and Johanna is 30.

    (References below)

    Buffini, M. (2009). Tamara Drewe [online]. Available from: [Updated 20 October 2009: Accessed 12 January 2012]

    Neale, D. (2009) ‘Writing films’, in D. Neale (ed) A Creative Writing Handbook, London: A & C Black

    Chang, D. (8 November 2011) ‘Re. Three apologies and a thank you’, forum message on TMA and EMA work-in-progress. Available from:
    [Accessed 12 January 2012]