Last weekend I was clearing out a cupboard and found two old manuscripts of mine. The first (pictured above) I wrote at about age 13, the second 15/16. No doubt if you have kept your old pieces you’ll understand that perusing them again was in equal parts pleasurable and cringeworthy.
Let’s start with cringeworthy…
There are a lot of exclamation marks. Now, I know I use plenty still when commenting on social media and do on, but I have learnt to limit them in my writing. But not by this point. And, worst of all, I even spotted a double one!!
The dialogue is often stilted. Since I brought myself up almost exclusively on Enid Blyton, there’s a certain old-fashioned formality in the speech patterns, which would have been okay had I set it in the same time period. But sadly I didn’t.
I didn’t know how to edit. I evidently went back over the story I wrote at 13 and added some little clauses and sentences to improve it. They are almost invariably worse. I’m adding unnecessary details rather than removing them. Oops.
The motivation’s are weak. How can they be otherwise? Both are mystery stories, but I had no real understanding of human nature at that point in my life. Characters act in odd ways for inadequate reasons.
And finally, and very embarrassingly… I didn’t know what double spacing meant. In the manuscript I wrote at 16 I appear to have thought double spacing was between words, not lines. Therefore each sentence looks like this. It must have taken me ages! I think I sent it out afterwards to a rather prominent writing competition. Hide me, please.
Now on to the good things. And there were a few!
Let’s start with the first story, the one I wrote at 13. It’s called The Mystery at the Forest Hotel.
It’s not at all self-conscious. I never really intended anyone but family to read this, so I’ve not second guessed or censored myself at all. The result is some surprisingly grown up sentences. I had a good vocabulary even then, I must say.
It’s funny. In a sort of angsty teenager way, but amusing for all that.
The characters are diverse. Some of them are caricatures, but that could easily be fixed.
I hadn’t any high flown ideas about descriptions. It’s short, blunt and to the point. I’m uninterested in vistas, architecture and clothing. And it’s all the better for that in my view.
Now for the one I wrote as a 15/16 year old.
This one is called Model for Murder and I have to say that the concept is good. I tell the story from the alternating perspectives of twin sisters, who see the world very differently. I could have executed it better, but it’s a pretty cool idea, don’t you think?
I seem to have grasped the idea of a circular ending. This is the first line: ‘I’m a very ordinary person.’ And this is the last one: ‘I don’t feel just “ordinary” anymore, because I share my life with someone who will always think I’m special.’ I had no idea I was using a solid literary technique here, but I was.
Summing up, to my astonishment, I feel that both these stories are eminently salvageable by the more experienced, 30 year old me, and could actually become quite good. With lots of work of course. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have you ever furbished up some old pieces?