Just Write: Week 3, 3rd Feb – Part 2

Much of week 3 in the writing class was taken up in listening back to everyone’s homework from week 2 – I wasn’t the only one that had taken the random poem trigger and run with it. My piece is the previous post – here.

I learned a lot through this exercise and ended up somewhere wholly unexpected. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima is a subject that has long fascinated and horrified me in equal measure; I’m currently reading Paul Ham’s non fiction book “Hiroshima Nagasaki” and am a long time admirer of Stephen Walker’s “Shockwave” and John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” (an extraordinary book). It’s not a subject I had ever anticipated writing about.

On day one I had an image and that was it. I had an idea of seeing one of the infamous bomb shadows reflected in water, and the idea of that water then being disturbed and the image disappearing. Some kind of play on the idea of permanence and transience I guess although I have post rationalised that: it came purely as an image. The first section deals with that image although looking at it now I would probably rewrite it as it doesn’t quite do what I set out to try and conjure. In that first paragraph I also needed someone to be looking at the image and that’s where Katsu came from – literally just someone to be looking at this stage.

Whilst working out what to call Katsu I started poking around at the meaning of Japanese names; Katsu broadly translates as “victory” in so much as my limited research reveals and I liked the bitter irony in calling him this. Having called him something it became apparent to me that he must be there for a reason and so began a snapshot account of his life as a bomb orphan – told backwards effectively – and his mother’s life just before the explosion, told forwards.

Towards the end of the week it became apparent – to me at least – that the structure of the task was potentially going to constrain this story. I think I’ve stumbled on something that would support a much larger narrative. I ended up finishing it to reach some kind of closure (Neil Gaiman’s advice ringing in my ears: “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished”) and to have a complete story.

However, there are big chunks of the story missing – Katsu growing up in the countryside away from the city (with hinted at abuse), Katsu surviving in the orphanage under American occupied Japan, and then there’s a massive bit missing about how and why he ends up in the States and why (other than seeking some form of closure with his mother) he comes back. There’s also a lot that could be fleshed out in Yuri’s story.

That said I was reasonably pleased with what is there. I’m least happy with the college scene and it possibly suffers as I tried to crowbar the poem (the original story trigger) back in. I’m not sure that the later hint that the man that raised Katus pre-orphanage referred to his mother as a ghost is strong enough to explain his reaction in the class. I was trying to get across that he obviously had an unhappy time of it in the States at that point – I don’t know but my supposition was that Japanese immigrants might still be viewed with suspicion post World War 2.

The orphanage scene was more successful I think although walks a fine line in exposition and I was pretty happy with the scenes of Yuri and her co-workers on the way to the factory. Still not satisfied with the end (there was going to be an alternate one which really wasn’t very cheerful) but there are a couple of phrases I would keep. The Cousins character is real. Norman Cousins established a “moral adoption” program in the States in the 50s for survivors of the bomb and he did visit Ninoshima. Someone I will be reading more about.

The other major learning for me – which I sort of knew but had never experienced in quite this way before – was that writing and editing aren’t the same thing. Not the same thing and best not done together. In fact, the latter really gets in the way of the former. I didn’t help matters by trying to do research at the same time as well. Again, it’s a different thing. Switching off that internal editor whilst writing (and returning to edit later) will be a hard discipline for me to nail I think.

So, all in all, a qualified success I think. Would be interested to know what you think oh loyal readership ? Both of you.

The only other exercise in the class used a set of true, but ridiculous, 999 calls to the Fire Service as our writing trigger. We came up with ideas in groups then individually picked one and bashed something out on it in five minutes – and it really was five minutes. So here’s mine. In stark contrast to atomic bombs and orphans and displacement it’s a knockabout, throwaway kids story I guess:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Why do I always have to be the quick one ? Jumping. Bounding around. Probably running myself to exhaustion. Why can’t I be the dog ? Look at him: lazy. Gets to lie around there whilst I jump over him. As if I’m going to jump over some dog anyway. Probably bite me. They’re not very bright. We’re the smart ones – infamous for our cunning – so why am I the one doing all that needless leaping and bounding and jumping ? Being quick ?

“999 Which service do you require ?”

“Fire Service please. You must come. There’s a fox in my garden with ever such an odd look on its face…”

That last line, of course, was, apparently, a genuine call. You will have to believe me on this but in a brilliant bit of irony it just took me several attempts to type “the quick brown fox…” despite usually being relatively nimble on the keys…

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