This is a personal essay (I found it in an old foolscap a few years ago) from when I was in Leaving Cert. It’s not terribly original and the ending just kind of tails off pathetically but rather than fix it up I decided to leave it as I had written it at 17. It should give you a strong sense that there is a real difference between personal essays and short stories.
A Farewell to Adolescence
One of the scariest things about being in Leaving Cert. is realising that you are the oldest pupils in the school. In the first couple of days it gently hits you that the people who once intimidated you so much are all gone. Any intimidation that goes on now is probably your esteemed self complaining (loudly) in the presence of first years about how cheeky and wild they are. At this stage you usually find yourself commenting on the fact that your own year were NEVER that rude and boisterous, and you begin to despair for the youth of today. Where, oh where, did they ever go wrong?
It is about now you realise that you’re beginning to grow up. Talking about the ‘youth of today’ sets off alarm bells in your head because you’ve started to distance yourself from this section of society. You no longer include yourself in the category of ‘teenager’ or ‘adolescent’. Technically, you’ll be a teenager until the end of your nineteenth year, but being as mature and responsible as you are, you handily disregard this fact!
After the first couple of days in Leaving Cert, it not-so-gently whacks you full-in-the-face that other people have also started to regard you as a young adult. Teachers, parents, and adults in general expect you to think and act more responsibly, as befits your new position in society. THAT’s when you discover the role of young adult has as many drawbacks as advantages.
The first problem encountered is that of choosing a career! Of course, you’d always realised that EVENTUALLY you’d have to decide what to do with the rest of your life. But never in your wildest dreams or worst nightmares did you imagine just how difficult it would really be. The careers teacher bombards you with information about points, open days, college prospectus’, CAO-CAS forms, subject choices, apprentices and requirements. It vaguely registers somewhere in the back of your mind that you’ve heard all this before (perhaps in last years careers class???) but you weren’t really listening (at the time) because it was just kind of boring and irrelevant. Right now it’s about as far away from irrelevant as it can possibly be, and your head is in a whirl. Oh, to be back in first year when everything was simple and all anyone seemed to talk about was how wild and cheeky you were!
Added to this burden of deciding what to do with the rest of your life, is the workload of the average Leaving Certificate pupil. You seem to spend at least three hours every night doing homework alone. Wondering when you’ll get around to revising fourth year work is useless – you simply DON’T HAVE THE TIME! Every teacher seems to have some comment to make about how little work you’ve done, and how much you’ve left to cover. Being fulfilled, happy individuals, however, you don’t despair and it never even enters your head how hopeless everything is…
The last (and in my opinion the worst) part of saying farewell to adolescence is that of being responsible for your own destiny. Every teacher and parent in the country seems to adopt the policy of constantly telling you that how you do in the Leaving Certificate Examinations in June is entirely up to you! Teachers remind you daily that they’re not afraid of work and they’re doing the best they can for you. If you don’t pull up your socks and get down to work there’s nothing they can do about it. Their most commonly used phrase abound this time is “I can’t do the work for you!” You almost begin to believe the unspoken, follow-on-statement “I would if I could but I can’t”. Thus the weight of the world merrily thuds down onto your shoulders and this ‘growing-up’ process, this ‘farewell to adolescence’ seems less and less attractive every minute.
All is not doom and gloom however, and whilst the negative side of growing up is alive and well, there is also another, more desirable side blossoming satisfactorily, if you look at the other side of the coin. You begin to notice the extent to which your family life changes. Apart from a few sensitive areas, you’re pretty much a free agent. Your parents no longer freak out if you leave the house for more than half an hour. You don’t ask them any more if you can go out, they ask you if you are! It’s not childish teenage disco’s you’re going to either – it’s pubs and nightclubs. For the lucky minority who are already 18, it’s not even illegal! The smoker who started smoking in national school suddenly realises that he’s no longer breaking the law. You can even legally have sex!
A whole new world of possibility opens out before you, and somehow, life doesn’t seem so bleak anymore. You don’t get asked what age you are going into the cinema! Your mother doesn’t wait until you’ve gone to bed to watch the video she’s hired out – unless of course it’s an “adult” movie of the coloured kind that you don’t really want to watch anyway. And definitely not with your parents! Another advantage is the summer job which provides money, but more importantly, independence. I personally HATE having to ask my parents for money, and if I do, I have to tell them what it’s for. When you’ve got your own money, you can do what you like with it and are answerable to no-one.
All in all, growing up has both advantages and disadvantages. The process is both rewarding and painful, joyous and sad. Luckily this transition must only be experienced once in every lifetime because being “stuck in the middle” is quite an awkward confusing time. Overall my ‘farewell to adolescence’ will be a thankful one. I’ll be saying my goodbyes happily enough!
There are many reasons why a writer would write in a certain style, whether to evoke fear when writing a horror novel (Stephen King) or to stir up feelings of love and affection (Mills and Boon). The same is the case for the Reading Section of Paper 1:
- Describingsomething – an experience or a place in an autobiography
- Making a casefor or against – in a debate
- Entertainingthe reader – a comic article
- Informingthe reader – about something
Questions on Paper 1 are usually centred on What the writer is saying, How it is said (style), Why it is said and How you respond.
It is important to note that styles can also overlap, e.g. when a writer wants to debate in a comical way.
The style of description is all about bringing images to mind. Consider this extract from John Grisham’s ‘The Street Lawyer’:
The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn’t see him at first. I smelled him though – the pungent odour of smoke and cheap wine and life on the street without soap. We were alone as we moved upward, and when I finally glanced over I saw the boots, black and dirty and much too large. A frayed and tattered trench coat fell to his knees. Under it, layers of foul clothing bunched around his midsection, so that he appeared stocky, almost fat. But it wasn’t from being well fed; in the wintertime in DC, the street people wear everything they own, or so it seems.
He was black and aging – his beard and hair were half-grey and hadn’t been washed or cut in years. He looked straight ahead through thick sunglasses, thoroughly ignoring me, and making me wonder for a second, why, exactly, I was inspecting him.
Notice how John Grisham gives you so many clear details that you can visualise the character he is describing. He starts with his feet and recounts him to his eyes and hair.
Grisham describes the man using most of the five senses; we get an idea of how he looked, smelled, we can hear him walking onto the elevator and ‘ignoring’ the speaker, we can also imagine the feel of his ‘frayed and tattered trench coat’. Look also at the adjectives used: ‘pungent/dirty/black/foul/stocky/fat/aging’.
Similes and Metaphors
Writers use these to aid them in their descriptions. Look at Charles Dickens account of Coketown:
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but, as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.
Can you see how the comparisons with a ‘painted face of a savage’ and ‘serpents of smoke’ help to describe the pollution of the town and the strange atmosphere?
Repetition is used to emphasise the dull, boring life of the town – ‘it was a town’.
Appeal to the Senses
Another descriptive technique is to appeal to the senses. William Trevor’s account of his home town Skibbereen does just that:
My world at that time was not extensive. There was memory, as far back as it would go, and the modest reality of Skibbereen, which afterwards became memory also. A mile and a half it was, the journey to school, past Driscoll’s sweetshop and Murphy’s Medical Hall, and Power’s drapery, where you could buy oilcloth as well as dresses. Pots of geraniums nestled among chops and ribs in butchers’ windows. A sunburnt poster advertised the arrival of Duffy’s Circus a year ago. Horses trudged slowly, carts laden with a single churn for the creamery. On fair-days, farmers stood stoically by their animals, hoping for the best; there was a smell of whiskey and sawdust and stout.
Details of sights and smells help to make the town more vivid. A slow-moving town is suggested by words such as ‘nestled’ and ‘trudged’. The author then makes the town more real for the reader by the mention of real names, ‘Driscoll’s’.
Debating/Arguing/Making a Case
Persuasion is important in this style. You are writing to an audience to try and make them think the way you think – imagine a salesman trying to sell you a vacuum that you do not need! This style of writing can sometimes be called ‘discursive’.
The trend towards co-education has gathered pace this century as women have fought for equal rights and opportunities. The vast majority of schools in England are now mixed and it has long been thought correct to say that co-education is right for everyone.
But what about the fact that, in our academic league-tables for schools, the greater number of schools at the top are single-sex schools? Is there, after all, something to be said for teaching teenage boys and girls separately? I believe there is. Scientific studies are gradually revealing different ways of learning, some more suited to one gender than the other. Boys in mixed classes frequently take more of the teacher’s time and attention. Some teenagers have difficulty being assertive in mixed company. Certain subjects are too often seen as male or female preserves, and peer pressure hinders free choice of those subjects most suitable for different individuals.
Concentration can lapse because of the desire to show off in front of the opposite sex. The different rates at which boys and girls achieve maturity can lead to problems in working harmoniously together.
You may notice that the writer mentions the opposite point of view – that mixed schools are right for everyone – first. She does not ignore it. This is effective, as it suggests a reasonable, balanced attitude to the topic.
The small word ‘but’ introduces her own opposing opinion. A rhetorical question (the answer to the question is implied in the question itself) is used to great effect: ‘if single-sex schools perform better, might it be that they are better?’
She states her case clearly. In answer to the question ‘Is there, after all, something to be said for teaching teenage boys and girls separately?’, she says, ‘I believe that there is.’
She supports her argument with several pieces of evidence.
Even though you probably know what humour is from ‘Class-Clowns’ – there are certain techniques that humorous writers use.
When we arrived, my grandmother would scuttle off to pull something fresh-baked out of the oven. This was always something unusual. My grandmother was the only person I ever knew – possibly the only person who ever lived – who actually made things from the recipes on the backs of food packets. These dishes always had names like ‘Rice Krispies n Banana Chunks Upside-Down Cake’ or ‘Del Monte Lima Bean an Pretzels Party Snacks’. Generally they consisted of suspiciously large amounts of the manufacturer’s own products, usually in combinations you wouldn’t think of except perhaps in an especially severe famine. The one thing to be said for these dishes was that they were novel. When my grandmother offered you a steaming slab of cake or wedge of pie it might contain almost anything – Niblets sweet corn, chocolate chips, Spam, diced carrots, peanut butter.
Exaggeration is use by the author throughout – ‘possibly the only person who ever lived / her cakes could contain almost anything’. This technique gives the reader a funny oversized view of life.
The ridiculous and unexpected is employed (much like stand-up comics) – look at the phrase ‘scuttle off’, usually associated with small insects. And even look at the absurd names of the cakes that she made.
Comic misunderstanding is another technique that is used by Humorous Writers, think of any TV comedy (Friends or Father Ted) – a lot of the humour arises from some sort of a misunderstanding.
The following is an extract informing readers about Levi jeans:
When Strauss ran out of canvas, he wrote to his two brothers to send more. He received instead a tough, brown cotton cloth made in Nimes, France called serge de Nimes and swiftly shortened to ‘denim’ (the word ‘jeans’ derives from ‘Genes’, the French word for Genoa, where a similar cloth was produced). Almost from the first, Strauss had his cloth dyed the distinctive indigo that gave blue jeans their name, but it was not until the 1870s that he added the copper rivets which have long since become a company trademark.
Notice how you are informed of a number of facts about Levi Strauss (origin, colour, etc). But also notice that the facts are not just flung on the page, rather they are in a narrative form (like telling a story).
By moving chronologically (in order of events), the information is clearly presented.