In 1988 – which seems like eons ago now – I signed up for a writing course with The Writers Bureau. At that time I was hoping to pack up teaching soon and concentrate on writing a novel. Well, that didn’t happen, and the writing course went right out the window, but I managed to do the first assignment before school started again in September. Recently, I found the second part of the returned, marked paper. I’ve no idea what happened to parts 1 and 2, but this piece was in yet another old folder. Some of the tutor’s comments were really positive, but a couple, right at the beginning, brought me up short. And I’ve NEVER forgotten her words since! Lol
(I’ll share these at the end with my attempt at photos of her comments.)
The assignment was to write a descriptive passage of a place you know or have visited. There should be lots of people and the place should have a real ‘atmosphere’. The examples given were a football match (yuk!) or other such event, or a crowded shopping centre. So, as we lived in Newark at that time, Newark Market on a Saturday it was. And the assignment was typed using a really antiquated typewriter I’d had for years. We had no fancy computer then, or even a word processor. Well here’s the piece:
To Market, to Market…
To visit the historic town of Newark-on-Trent and not experience the delights of its Market Square would, indeed, be a pity. It is the focal point of shopping in the town, the hubbub of life. Young and old from surrounding villages mingle with townsfolk in search of bargains on the many colourful stalls. Others choose merely to browse, absorbed in the sense of history around them.
The Square is encompassed by four high walls of buildings, interrupted by medieval alleyways and narrow streets, designated traffic free on market days. Glimpses of architectural styles, dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, urge the sensitive mind to create visions of dashing Cavaliers and solemn-faced Roundheads, of stagecoaches at the coaching inns, or Victorian ladies in their crinolines. The imposing spire of the thirteenth-century church dominates the view on the northern side of the Square. Its clock, with golden hands and face, strikes each hour, a reminder of ever-passing time and twentieth century reality.
The hot August air hangs still and humid; spicy aromas of hot-dogs and fried onions drift from the kiosk on the edge of the Square. Hungry teenagers queue to savour these delights. Crowds of shoppers are jostled along between the stalls with canopies of bright red, white. and yellow. A harassed young mother struggles over the cobbles with her pushchair, laden with plastic carrier bags bulging with shopping. The red-faced infant cries incessantly.
Numerous clothing stalls display a variety of items; the latest ‘Turtle’ motif on socks and sweatshirts attracts many young shoppers. Posters proclaiming ‘Summer Clearance’ and ‘Everything Must Go!’ indicate that summer is nearing its end. Surf Crazy t-shirts won’t sell in the long, cold days of winter.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables are in abundance. Crisp apples and mellow pears, golden plums and purple damsons are arrayed with a selection of vegetables labelled ‘All Local Produce’. More exotic spiky pineapples, pump water melons and juicy oranges and grapes complete the display.
‘Get yer onions for yer barbies’, yells a burly, sun-tanned man with golden chains hanging down his hairy chest.
The flower stalls, too, present an arrangement of summer blooms, the heady scent of pink carnations catching the attention of many a customer. Feathery white gups are interspersed with freesias of blue, chrysanthemums, russet or gold, and lilies of flaming orange or sombre white.
As the church clock strikes four, stallholders begin to pack away. Into the cases co the multi-coloured beach towels and tablecloths of Nottingham lace. The ornate, brown teapot disappears from view, a vacuum cleaner called Henry is returned to his box and customers take their ‘homemade’ pies home for tea.
At last the stalls stand empty, a carpet of litter on the cobbles all that remains to be swept away by the cleaners. Tomorrow is Sunday, when the Square will sleep, only the church bells disturbing the silence. And the gold-faced clock will tick on…
The first thing I saw when I opened the paper was the tutor’s green comments. This is what greeted me right at the beginning: ‘Don’t underline titles’ and ‘First lines are never indented’. Oh dear…
I can honestly say I’ve NEVER indented first lines since – and I always notice when other people do. Nor have I ever underlined titles. It’s funny because in schools, all titles in exercise books or on file paper were ALWAYS underlined. It was also taught that first paragraphs, as any other paragraphs, were indented.
One thing Mrs. Tutor didn’t mention was my appalling ellipsis after the title. I’m surprised she didn’t write ‘NEVER use more than three dots in an ellipsis’ – but she didn’t remark. Perhaps she’d have dealt with that on another occasion, so not to demoralise me further.
Well, after that abysmal start (and typing to make anyone cringe), it got better and I had some very positive remarks like ‘evocative style‘ and ‘lovely description‘. She even left this nice green comment at the end:
The scene I described in my assignment was of late August, 1988. I’m sure you wouldn’t have missed the reference to very ’80s clothing (Turtle motifs).
Today, Newark Market Square looks little different to how I described it in 1988, except that the market is nowhere near as popular or busy as it was years ago. Supermarkets and hypermarkets have made it easy for working people to do all their shopping in one go. From several busy days a week, Newark is now only busy on a Saturday. It’s sad to see, and we keep up our weekly visits there, simply because we love the whole feel of market shopping – and the produce is always fresh.
Another big difference is that the bumpy, uneven cobbles are gone. They were seen as a hazard to old folk, wheelchair users, mothers with pushchairs and so on. They were really old and it’s a shame to see things of historical value destroyed but, I suppose, safety was uppermost on the Council’s mind. In the photos below (from late last September) some of the old cobbles can be seen around the edges of the market and in roads leading off the Square. The walls of historic buildings encompassing the Square look just the same.
The last difference is in the actual stalls. Back in 1988 the stalls stayed up all the time, so traders only had to unload their produce. Now, on non-market days, the Square is empty.The canopies, too, were formerly a variety of colours and patterns. Now, for some reason, they’re all red and white striped.
I wrote a post about Newark Market Place last October (here ) and our son who has his butcher’s shop there. I put lots of photos in it of the Market Square and surrounding streets.
As for writing courses, they’re obviously very good for beginner writers. I never did get round to doing one…