Week three study diary – Advanced Creative Writing
Having looked at genre in week one and conflict and contract in week two, week three focused on research and revision: rewriting and editing, to maximise effect. I looked at example of writing to see how effective use of period details, including slang, could fix a piece firmly in place and time. I learned how to access the British Library Catalogue online, Mass-Observation Archive and Smithsonian reports.
Most of my writing time was concentrated on the first (and second) drafts of my assignment, which I am not allowed to share until after it has been submitted and graded. I did, however, write a scene based on a research exercise. I sifted through over twenty pages of information about the work of a rat-catcher and discarded most of it, focusing on the appearance of the rat-catcher, the fact that they hired children to help, the rat pits, and that when a lot of rats are in a sack they huddle together and are very unlikely to bite. The piece I wrote is a scene from a potentially longer piece rather than a complete story.
The man was unmistakable. Beyond his gaudy costume of red and green and beneath the towering top hat that almost doubled his small stature, anyone could guess correctly Jack’s profession. His hard eyes, full of cunning, resembled those of the animals he hunted. His pock-marked face bore the scars of battle, some healed and others fresh and angry red and yellow. The tools of his trade travelled with him as he scurried along cobbled streets: his lamp, unlit, his tethered terrier, a large sack and metal cage. Few liked him. Most recoiled from his appearance and an instinctual belief that he valued animal above human life. Yet demand for his services was high and the fees he charged paid for his brightly dyed wool uniform and more besides.
He had the pretensions of a showman with nothing to show. But I felt I knew him better than most and respected him in spite of his eccentricities. He worked in dark places and to those of us kids brave enough to join him, hold a lamp over a living carpet of vermin while he worked, he always had a sixpence in his palm. More courage was needed to reach out towards those ruined hands, nails torn to the quick, than to follow him under floorboards. He never short-changed a helpful boy and he never beat us. He was the only man to have taken me out of the fog-filled city to air that smelled sweet and cleansed the lungs rather than filling them with coke.
I remembered one day last September. The fields had been shorn and Jack had his dogs and his ferrets. We caught hundreds that day in a long net. With a wicked glint he dared me to put my hand in the writhing sack. I didn’t get a single bite but went home a shilling richer, warmed by the respect I saw in his weathered face.
‘You’ll make a great rat catcher one day,’ he told me. ‘No chimneys for you, boy.’
It was the highest praise I’d ever received.
So, when I saw him in the street, I walked faster to catch up with him, in case he had work for me.
He darted around a corner, towards a tannery. I wasn’t afraid of much, but the brutes I saw licking their lips and eyeing Jack eagerly made me pause. The largest of the group leaned over as Jack opened his bag, nodding appreciatively, hungry almost.
I heard the terrified squeaks as the jute jolted in Jack’s hands. I knew what was inside. I had put my hand in last summer, amongst the moving brown fur, and they hadn’t hurt me. They hadn’t even made a sound. Now they sensed death was near, here in this muggy alleyway, under the gaze of a man who bristled with violence.
An unseen dog growled and Jack’s terrier pulled on his rope. I wondered whether Jack knew what he was doing.