I owe you an apology, Mr. Burnett.
In fact, I owe you two apologies.
Do you remember when we had the open day for A Levels, and you bumped into me leaving the chemistry room? You said: “you’re not considering English?” I should have said, “I wasn’t, but you know what? I should do.” Chemistry A Level sucked. I hated it. I hated it so much, in fact, that I barely scrapped an E grade… and then took an English A Level. Then I took a degree in English. Now I write fiction and read slush. There’s pretty much no other way you could have been more right.
However, this first is a qualified apology. See, if I hadn’t wasted two years of my life with chemistry I would have left for university at eighteen, not nineteen, and I wouldn’t have met Allegra. Enduring two years of Mr. Roe’s chemistry was worth it to meet her.
Now, the second one is about your lessons. I’m sorry that I thought I was somehow ‘too good’ for English Language. Like sentence structure and grammar was something that didn’t apply to me. Good gods, am I sorry for that!
A writer can not navigate grammar by instinct alone. Well, this writer can’t.
I’m not taking all the blame. I mean, I’m sure you agree that there’s something deeply wrong with a system that awards a Bachelor’s degree in English to a man who can’t find the subject of a sentence. However, you gave me the chance to understand the basics of how the English language worked, and I threw it back in your face.
I have a very basic guide to English grammar. It has more pictures than words. In a few years, maybe I’ll be able to tackle what I should have learned at fifteen, when you were teaching me.
See, you need to know the rules before you can break them. Would I pick up a guitar and expect to be able to wail like Paul Kossof? No. I’d need to practice scales and fingerings and progressions. I’d need to know why G-C-D is a pleasing chord progression. I’d need to know how to find the key of a song. So why did I think I could pick up a pen and inspire like Dylan Thomas? *shakes head* The arrogance of youth.
I’m slowly getting a grip. For example:
The cat sat on the mat.
The cat is the subject. The verb–the doing word–is ‘sat’. The sentence is active, because the cat is agent–the subject is initiating the verb.
The cat was sitting on the mat.
The cat is still the subject and ‘sat’ is still the verb. However, the sentence is passive because the cat is not initiating any action. She’s just sitting there.
I have a long road ahead of me, don’t I? Still, the sooner I start walking it, the sooner I reach the end of it.
I also owe you thanks, while we’re both here. For the creative writing part of my English coursework, I wrote an ‘inspired by real events’ version of my first day at school. Do you remember? You lavished praise on it. It was the first time I thought, ‘you know… I could make a go of this writing thing’.
P.S. If I had the chance, I’d put every adult who taught me at Heatheridge, Ravenscote and Tomlinscote–between the ages of four and eighteen–against a wall and I’d shoot them. All apart from you. I don’t know if that’s any consolation, but there it is.