Thursday, 2 January 2014

Creative Writing - a story inspired by Wilfred Owen's Futility

I didn't intend to blog this, but then I changed my mind as I was writing this. This isn't because I think it is amazing, but I thought people might find it useful when teaching the creative writing element of GCSE English. I am at that joyous stage of planning for a controlled conditions assessment.

I am going to use it to explore other perspectives which could be developed in their writing. Furthermore, I am going to use it to think about how to structure a story and how to build connections between sections and paragraphs. Hopefully, this will have 'legs' in the classroom and help some students to see what they can do with the story. The exam board pass on lots of examples, but, truthfully, I am never inspired by them. Hopefully, this will inspire some of my students to be a bit more creative than describing the act of killing someone.  


Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds--
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,--still warm,--too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
--O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?



Move him into the sun…


The clouds snuggle against the sun causing splinters of sunlight across the fields of mud. Pools of brown water spread chaotically across the battlefield like the debris of a large weapon. Silence. No sound can be heard. Not a bird. Not a human cry. Not a gun. Not a bomb. Not a sign of life. Not a sign of help or rescue. Amongst all this he waits. Waiting for something or anything that would make this moment change. The clouds move and paint a speckled pattern across the field. Corporal Tom Griffin lies next to a man. A man silent like the world around him, but warm with life. A life that once worked hard in the fields of England. A man who worked so hard to make something of his life. His hands created so much. Tom holds the man’s hand, searching for a pulse.

It is perfect weather for drying clothes. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky. Perfect for drying the few clothes I have. That will change, won’t it, when he comes home? On the top of the hill I feel the most isolated I have ever felt. In a way, it is refreshing, it is almost how God might see things: tiny, small and insignificant. The wind breathes through my hair and the sun licks at may face. I close my eyes and enjoy.

I stop. The guilt.

I shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts; I should be thinking of others. Not myself and how secure, safe and warm I feel.

A shaft of sunlight falls on the man. It reveals a mud encrusted face. A face that is tired, worn and hungry. The face is a shadow of its former self. There is a twitch. Corporal Griffin sees this spark of life and shakes the body hard. Silently and unsurprisingly, the face is motionless like a statue of marble. Smooth, cold, yet perfect. If there was a moment to capture a man’s life, it was now. He looks strong, solid and indestructible. The battlefield to get here is full of weak bags of bones of soldiers that once could be described as a person. They look more fragile now than they ever were in life. It is as if at the moment of death they were dropped from a large building. Everything holding them together has snapped. Like the puppet master has cut all the strings. Yet the man next to the corporal looks the opposite. There are still strings holding him up. His limbs resemble a man alive.

I pause between the hanging of each sheet on the line Its brilliant whiteness contrasts with the thoughts in my head. Red. Burgundy. Dark shades of red. Keep looking at the sheet, I tell myself. That crisp and damp sheet will wipe away the thoughts. The snippets I have heard. The things he has told me. The things he will not tell me. Men dying, on their own, with friends, with strangers, in groups and in their hundreds. White blanks the thoughts out.  

A hole.
“Come on man. Stay with me,” Tom croaks. His voice has lost its power due to the endless shouting.
A hole that has flowered on his chest. Petals of flesh circle a dark hole of blackness.
“You idiot. What happened to the bet? The one about getting shot. The first one shot or injured buys the drinks for a whole night.”
 The blackness of the centre slowly spreads down across the leaves of the man’s clothes. It is the valuable nectar that keeps life going on.
“One more week. We only had one more week of this crap and we’d be home. Me: Brighton. You: Yorkshire.”
The blackish red liquid moves slowly down. It searches for a home, realising that its current home is not suitable.
“Look – just stay with me a few more minutes. There will be a paramedic here in a minute. Come you on sod. Don’t you dare leave me in this Hell!”
The liquid pools itself on to the ground, searching for cracks. Maybe it thinks it can plant a new life.

What’s she doing there? Not often my mother makes the journey out of town. Perhaps, she needs eggs. I bet she is making one of her special cakes. Maybe, I should be baking one. Instead I am washing sheets and making the home ready, making it fresh and clean.

I walk down to her. Her face looks odd. No longer a welcoming smile. The closer I get, the more I fear, the more I hold my breath. Her face is without emotion; it’s a statue. I drop the basket and collapse on my knees.

The clouds have dispersed. The sun now blankets the field with warm heat. The man is cold. He is no longer a man; he is a body. Empty of heat. Empty of life. The body soaks up the sun’s heat to no effect. Like a stone, it absorbs but doesn’t change. Tom doesn’t cry; he can’t. he has seen too much of this to cry. He feels a different emotion. Emptiness. Emotionally cold.

Tom says: ‘Goodbye, Sam.’

My mother hugs me like a child again, squeezing the emotion from me. She squeezes the maturity and years out of me to. She makes feel like a child. She will fix things. I feel warm and I am getting warmer.

The cold starts to bite Tom. Still nothing. Nobody to save him. A shot echoes across the field of muddy pools. Tom collapses.  

Nobody will save him.

Below is a little bit of a discussion I am intending to share with students. My very own interview. Very hard-hitting.
Questions with the writer

 Why two different perspectives?

I wanted to show two clear sides to a conflict: the solider and their family or relatives. I have always loved this poem and I liked the idea of the ‘whispering’ fields of home, so I used that to create the backstory of the loved one. She waits as he fights. I also wanted to have two contrasting voices. One devoid of emotion and one reflective. I think writing about the shock of war is too obvious for this kind of writing. It would be too easy to describe a horrible event or an act of violence so that’s why I took the story after the events, like the poem. It isn’t the act of violence that is awful; it is the reactions to it. How does a fellow soldier react? How does a wife react? How does a mother-in-law react?

Also, I wanted the dying to be incredibly descriptive and atmospheric and I felt if I told it from one person’s point of view I’d be too bogged down with emotions and thoughts the character was experiencing.

Why kill Tom at the end of the story?

It was a tough thing to do, as originally I played around with the idea of Tom arriving at the farm to inform the wife of Sam’s death. But, I decided Tom had to die. I think it is sad that Tom will have nobody to care for him when he dies. He cared for Tom and yet when he dies, there is no one to hold him. No one to keep him warm.  

What inspiration did you get from the poem?

The weather was an important part of the poem for me. It is the one constant in our lives. We live and we die, but the sun keeps rising every day. I wanted to show this constant part of our lives by referencing the sun throughout.

I also liked how the poem is constantly about two things. Two soldiers. Two stanzas. Death and life. Optimism and pessimism. Therefore, I wanted the structure of the story to be about two things. So, throughout the story, it is often featuring two things.

Furthermore, I wanted to carry on the imagery of plant life and things growing. As was Sam a farmer, he was also a part of nature. As he dies, his body reacts like a plant.  Like the religious imagery in the poem, the hope of bringing life to something cold.

Why did you limit the use of names?

I wanted this to be more about the person than their identity. This isn't about one person. It is about a lot of people, so I left the finer details about the names ambiguous. We only find the soldier's name at the end. And, to be honest, it isn't that important. Likewise, I didn't include a name for the wife or the mother-in-law as there are so many of these kind of people. Naming the characters made me think that this just happened to one particular person, when, in fact, it happened to a lot of people.



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