I think I must have been about nine or ten years old when I wrote my first major work: The Adventures of Dr. Tab and Bruce. I still have it. It is an illustrated, adventure story about two cats (Dr. Tab and… Bruce) on an exciting (unspecified) quest.
I started this story at Gran’s house one holiday and wrote quite a lot. Of course the plan was to write a full length book (even at age ten I would overextend myself), but when I got back home after my holiday I didn’t carry on. This might have been because of my “hectic” schedule at school, but more likely it was because I had no idea what I was doing or how to sustain a story over a really long time.
Still, the start of the story isn’t too bad, although I think the dialogue reveals that I had been reading a touch too many old-fashioned British books like Rupert Annuals, and Just William, and Sherlock Holmes:
“I say, my dear chap, you have an awful bad cold,” came Bruce’s voice from the other end of the table.
“Yes, I – sniff – do… a-a-a-chooo!” came a reply from Dr. Tab. “It’s this awful cold cave, you know.”
The two cats went on talking without noticing the Doggy Police slowly creeping up on them. Suddenly an alarm system went off: ” BRING, BRING, BRING!”
“Quickly, my dear chap,” said Bruce.
“Oh stop calling me dear chap.”
“Come on, no time to lose my dear ch-”
POW! – a shell (a pea shell) exploded centimetres from Bruce’s left paw. “Oh my,” Dr. Tab said as another exploded near his right paw.
“Quickly my dear…” he was stopped short by a glare from Dr. Tab.
“Surrender!” came the voice of the Sergeant of the Doggy Police.
“Never! Isn’t that right my dear… buddy.”
POW! POW! POW!
“Oh no. No time to waste, quickly follow me.”
Now if you think about it peas wouldn’t hurt us, and it doesn’t hurt the cats either, but if they get hit the pea spatters and the cats stop and clean themselves making it easy for them to be caught.
Most splendidly of all however is my book’s dedication:
Which was probably four: the two cats Gran owned (Kitty and Bones), and the two we had (Friday and Penny). Friday didn’t last too long. He was a black cat who came from the SPCA I believe and peed everywhere. I still remember him though. Nice fellow but incontinent, and let’s face it the incontinent have a hard time making new friends.
Penny stayed with us longer, and shifted around with us a few times before she had to be put down.
Although Gran had two cats there was one who lived the longest and exuded the most charm and his name was Bones. Aside from being one of those cats who always seems to be surviving getting hit by cars, he was a kleptomaniac. Come to think of it the charm he had was a kind of rogue’s charm. He wasn’t a cat that particularly liked to be cuddled; he was much more of a roamer who would turn up at dinner time, and might be found snoozing in the sun somewhere around Gran’s section. It must have been hard work staying up all night nicking things. Here is Bones with Gran and all of his loot.
My Gran used to have to go around her neighbours every now and then like the Prince from the Cinderella story with a collection of lonely, stray shoes and slippers and see if she could find a matching pair. I imagine it was somewhat mortifying. When I was a kid I assumed for years that the pile of soft toys in the cot in the spare room were precious family treasures, and was quite shocked to discover that they were the product of feline larceny.
It was sad when Bones died. The end of an era. When I first started going down to Gran’s place she had a budgie named Dick, and the two cats: Kitty and Bones. Bones lasted the longest, and when he went I feel like it signalled a change. My Gran got another cat who I never took to, and she finally moved out of the house that I will always associate with her into her penultimate home. There are very few times that I would actually like to go back to, but one of them would be to Gran’s house, when Kitty and Bones were alive, waking up to the mill siren and going down the hall to the lounge for porridge.
This was supposed to be a post about my first creative failure, but it is mostly about cats. Not that it matters. There are two simple and related lessons about failure to be learned from my first effort at writing: don’t over-extend your work to fit some arbitrary format.
A constant problem I have faced right down to this day is being overly ambitious. If I write a decent short story I want to turn it into a novel; if I write a few decent songs I want to record an album with a ten piece band. I think this is because I have the idea that serious art has to be in the long form, and – this is the second, closely related point – because I have always felt that I have to follow the standard formats. For a long time in my head I had it that songs are about three minutes long, and about ten of them are needed for an album. Which is silly. A song is as long or as short as a song needs to be, and an album is really the length that it is for technological and not artistic reasons. Same with stories. Some stories take a hundred words, and some take a million.
The Adventures of Dr. Tab and Bruce should have been a short story. A short story for kids.
A final point I suppose is that when you are very young and you don’t finish something it doesn’t seem to matter. You can be quite flippant about things because time seems infinite and the potential of your talent seems to be just around the corner.