Sunday, 6 June 2010

Cop-out blog number two

I owe what will no doubt be the best bits of this blog to various pupils at unidentified schools and to whomever collected the examples I’ll be giving. I don’t know any of their names but I’d like to acknowledge their genius from the start. They’re all actual images used by the pupils in their essays. Most of all, they’re delicious examples of the wonderful effects of even the simplest words.

Critics like to categorise literature and identify movements and schools such as Symbolism, Romanticism, Dadaism and so on, so I’ve grouped them artificially in a pretence that they’re classifiable. It also allows me to pretend that I’m actually writing a blog that makes some sense (whereas I know I’m not). So I’m suggesting that the first three belong to the school of Balzac and Zola, the Realists.

• His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a tumble dryer.
• The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
• Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left York at 6:36 p.m. travelling at 55 mph, the other from Peterborough at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

You see? Factual, undeniable truths. And the next three, drawing their similes from the natural world are just as undeniably Naturalists.

• He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
• She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
• The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a lamppost.

Then come some budding social commentators, again with similes, this time anchoring their work in the gritty sociology of kitchen sink truths.

• It was a working class tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with their power tools.
• The plan was simple, like my brother Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

And finally, three writers who are clearly placing themselves in the tradition of the great Raymond Chandler.

• She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
• McMurphy fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a paper bag filled with vegetable soup.
• It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

This is just a selection – I don’t think my imagination would ever be able to match them, so back to work.


  1. I regularly staple my tongue to the wall by accident. Gave me a good laugh. Cheers Bill

  2. These are priceless, Bill. I'm printing them out for future reference. The students' talent is unbelievable. I never got such gems when I was teaching writing.What fun!

  3. Superb, absolutely superb. I SO needed a laugh and I did literally wipe the tears away. Hard to pick a favourite but I think it has to go to the "The plan was simple, like my brother Phil. But, unlike Phil, this plan just might work." This is (possibly unintentional??) humour at its best.

    Also adore the 'vegetable soup' simile... it shows an admirable level of creative thinking. Yes, you couldn't actually *use* this, but wow what a fabulous apt image.

  4. I've laughed all the way through.

    Outstanding. And makes me want to give up right now. These kids are brilliant! It's difficult to pick a favourite but the trains, plus times, produced a real, honest to god, out loud laugh.

  5. Very good...:) so you write things like that down? you must have such a collection...

  6. It is hard to choose one better than the stapled tongue but I liked the description of the throaty laugh. More...more.

  7. I'm glad this had the desired effect. It's also taught me a lot which makes blogging easier - nick someone else's material. In fact, someone who has collected lots of these things is Professor Anders Henriksson. You can check him out at
    Just one random gem from that page is 'The Prussian Army would surprise young men by grabbing them in unfair places.' If you can, get hold of a copy of his 'Life Reeked with joy' which is an essay he concocted using only material gathered from students' essays. If you can't find it, let me know and I'll email a copy to you. I'd love to reproduce it here but that would be plagiarism.

  8. I've seen some of these before, used as examples of how not to write. I always thought that was very unfair because the imagery in almost all of them is so strong. The resulting emotions might not be what you expect - but then that's half the magic.

    'Phil' sounds like a creation of a younger, funnier Raymond Chandler!

  9. Couldn't agree more, Fiona. I think these are inspired creations - even if inadvertent. If I could produce this sort of thing, I'd sell millions of books.