From the desk of James Sneathe was runner-up in the first ever creative writing competition held by the Department of Continuing Education at Oxford University. The theme was Creative Writing Classes and my starting point was to wonder what the worst thing a student could do. My prize was a £50 voucher to spend on more courses!
From the desk of James Sneathe
High Poot House, High Poot-On-Chester, IB 2RT
Mr B. Thompson, MA.
Head of Creative Writing,
Dept of Literary Fulfilment,
University of Polchester,
Polchester, PC1 4YY.
After everything that’s happened, I feel the very least I owe you is a full explanation. You’ll have had my formal letter of apology via the Dean’s office, of course. It was written by the lawyers and scarcely offers much insight into what took place. With all hopes of meeting you in person finally dashed by my ban, ‘in perpetuity’, no less, from the university, its premises and personnel, I am writing to you, and perhaps that’s appropriate.
Whilst I take full responsibility for my conduct, please believe that my motivation was only ever to win your approval for my work. I was tremendously struck by what you said about the importance of impact, surprise and theatre in the opening of a story. And more so by your remarks about the competition we novelists (and would-be novelists!!) face from today’s ‘multi-media, multi-channel world’.
But I confess, when it came to it, I was stumped. I spent the first three days inventing reasons not to write and the following three in bed with a high temperature. So it was already late on the eve of your class when I finally felt able to gather my thoughts and put pen to paper. (Or, more properly in this day and age, fingertips to computer keyboard.)
‘Dazzle me,’ you said. But all my ‘bright’ ideas seemed dull. I had nothing, no spark, let alone a flame. Doubt snuffed out every glimmering idea. Then, quite suddenly, it came to me: laughter, my old friend in adversity! (I am rather known for my sense of humour, as you may have gathered from my contributions in class.) I thought, if nothing else, I’ll raise my flagging spirits on one of the many jocular cyber websites out there.
When I saw the gag on Wikilarfs it seemed like the answer.
It had everything. All the elements you asked for and more. Granted it was an unorthodox approach, but, as you have often said, the best stories exist between the lines, rather than on them. Furthermore, you did not stipulate the homework must be written. I checked.
I am sure you are very angry about what happened. Disciplinary procedures are never pleasant. But I know you to be a man of integrity which means you will not have allowed emotion to cloud your critical faculties. I am, therefore, convinced you’ll admit the title of my work did surprise you, thus fulfilling at least one of the criteria. Hurrah for me.
It was rather daring and original, wasn’t it? I flatter myself that you’ll never before have received an assignment headed: ‘Just what you always wanted, a man with a very large cock!’
What incalculably bad luck that your computer failed to downlift the accompanying photomontage because of its formation. I experienced a flush of pure, icy horror, when I realised what must have happened. I do absolutely see that the title on its own appears odd, if not downright disturbing. Once again, I am sorry.
If only you’d been able to see the picture. Things would have been so different. Any concerns about obscenity, or homophobia, would have been instantly dispelled. Who, really, could be offended by the sight of a man with a large bird? (I’m taking it as read that we’re all grown-up enough, and yet not too deathly adult, to find a little double-entendre more than a small bit funny.)
If all that weren’t bad enough, it was still worse luck for us both, that the word ‘cock’ tripped the university’s obscenity sensors (how do they cope on the agriculture courses?) and the whole lot was automatically emailed to the boys in blue. I’ll never understand how the detectives ended up back on Wikilarfs, where elements from the less pleasant nooks of the cyber system had replaced the original, charming and hilarious picture, with something more obvious.
Ah, well. It makes a great story anyway. In retrospect, I mean. Now the embarrassment of having to explain the whole sorry affair to the university authorities is over. And now your position is safe, despite the best efforts of Polchester’s very own friends of Dorothy.
I still don’t understand why my intention counted for so little with their kangaroo court, sorry, executive committee. How could they say that the humour (do they even know what the word means?) ‘was peculiar to a homophobic context’ because it oughtn’t to be funny that some men enjoy ‘relations’ with other men who are well-endowed? Women are always harping on about ‘size’ and no one pillories them, do they?
As for accusing you of fostering ‘a hegemonic ethos and environment in which students felt relaxed about submitting homophobic material’!? What’s wrong with students feeling relaxed? (How fortunate that so many of your students who are that way inclined spoke up so forcefully on your behalf. Probably the fact that you’re not married and have no children helped ‘confound the enemy’.)
To close, I hope that this letter has given you a more complete understanding of the mindset which informed my behaviour and that, now all’s told, you won’t remember me too unkindly. I’d like to think that you have accepted my apologies with no hard feelings.
For my part, I’m very sorry I won’t have the benefit of your wisdom any longer, but I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that, nothing daunted, I intend to continue nurturing my talent and pursuing my dream of publication. As you have often said, ‘Writing is carrying on writing.’ So, I’m researching courses elsewhere.
James ‘Jimbo’ Sneathe, Esq.,
PS I trust you had hard copies of your novel and the other files. Plod surely takes first prize for that particular technological snafu. One for the Police Complaints Authority, perhaps?
PPS I’ve given up trying to send this as an email, there appears to be some kind of bar to communications your end.