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Danny's Advanced Level Reading Practice!

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Danny's is a teacher at EC Malta English language school. He has over ten years of experince. Let's see what he has to say this month:

Every month, at around this time, I suddenly remember (or suddenly get reminded, via a polite email from the EC Team) that it’s time, once again, to write another article. So upstairs I go, where I switch on the computer, bring up Microsoft Word, and scowl fiercely at the blinking cursor while I roll myself the first of too many cigarettes…

One thing I should point out, at this stage, is that I’ve taken certain liberties with the above paragraph, in that I have left out quite a bit. Between the switching on of the computer and the calling up of Microsoft Word, for example, I neglected to mention the sixty-odd minutes I spend messing around on Facebook. The way I see it, however, is that this is part of my writing process – while I answer messages, ignore thousands of invitations to join groups I’ve never heard of and zip around my virtual farm pointlessly harvesting pumpkins, there is one question, and one question only, bouncing around my skull, and that is…

What shall I write about this month?

There are times when I start typing and the words just flow from brain to computer screen via the fingertips. And then there are times when I get stuck for hours and can’t even get to the end of a senten

… this is one of those times.

I sit in front of my computer and wait for ages for inspiration to strike. I might as well be waiting for Godot. Not one to give up so easily, I stub out my cigarette, and, since inspiration refuses to come to me, I stomp off and go to look for it myself. I go out into the yard and look up the sky. There’s a cloud. Not very inspirational, so I go on to the roof, just in case the cloud turns out to be a UFO when viewed from slightly closer. But no, it’s still just a boring old cloud. Only a tiny bit bigger. So I look down at the street below. It’s usually bustling with people hurrying to and fro to wherever – people with fascinating characteristics and odd idiosyncrasies that I could lift, manipulate and highlight in a wonderfully satirical article about what people get up to when they think nobody is watching them. But this evening, the street is empty, save for a lone crisp packet that’s being pushed along by the breeze. Salt and vinegar flavour, in case you were wondering. I look up at the cloud again. It ignores me, and gets on with ‘clouding’.

Sometimes, neither the mountain nor Mohammed can be bothered to make the effort.

Once, I gave a friend of mine an article that I had just written. I wanted him to read it because I needed the answer to one very specific question. Unfortunately, he misunderstood the gesture and assumed that I wanted a critique. So when he finished, he handed it back to me and said slowly, “It’s good.”

I knew it was good. I wouldn’t have given it to him if I had thought it was rubbish.

“But…” he continued.

But? But what?

“You do realise, don’t you, that you break practically every rule of writing that there is to break?”

As far as I’m concerned, writing shouldn’t have rules. Writing is something that should be free, and the words should be allowed to go wherever they want to, not locked up in a box labeled ‘Rules’.

“I like my writing to be unconventional”, I protest, “otherwise it’s just complete and utter Twilight!”

“But there are certain rules that should be followed”, said my friend patiently, and perhaps just a tad condescendingly.

“For example?”

“For example”, said he, darting his eyes over the article and stabbing a particular paragraph with his finger, “your assumption over here that your readers have read ‘Waiting For Godot’, and know what you’re talking about.”

“Well, I’m kind of hoping that if they haven’t, they’ll look it up to find out. And either way, it’s just an aside, and doesn’t really affect the overall meaning of the article”, I said.

“How about this bit over here?” he continued, ignoring me. “’The cloud gets on with clouding’? You shouldn’t verb a noun. It doesn’t make sense.”

“It does to me. It’s what a cloud does”.

“You’ve also used a proper noun as an adjective over here. ‘Complete and utter Twilight indeed!”

I sighed.

“But you know what I mean, right?” I asked. “You get what I’m trying to say?”

“Well, yes. But you could have said it better.”

Of course I could have said it better. But I didn’t want to say it better. I wanted to say it exactly like that. I liked the sound of it, and I thought it was funny. And I hated Twilight.

“Why on earth do you point out that the crisp packet you can see once contained salt and vinegar flavoured crisps?” my friend continued. “I mean… who cares?”

“It's a direct address to the reader”, I said. “Just in case they were about to wander off somewhere.”

“And finally”, my friend concluded, “the whole article is impossible. It doesn’t make sense!”

“I was a bit worried about that myself”, I conceded. He did have a point.

“You see, it’s an article about a conversation you had with your friend – i.e. me – about an article you wrote. And the article we’re talking about is the article in which we’re talking about the article in which we’re talking about the article in which we’re… um… I can’t even explain it!”

“I know. I know”.

“Look”, he said. “What is the point of the article?”

“Well”, I started, and then had to pause to think a bit, before starting again. “Well, ever since I started writing these articles…”

“Do you realise you just used the verb ‘start’ three times in the same sentence?” he interrupted. “Isn’t that a bit repetitive?”

“Ever since I started writing these articles”, I began again, “I’ve received hundreds of flattering emails from readers complimenting my writing style and…”

“Hundreds?” he repeated, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, three or four”, I confessed. “You know I sometimes use exaggeration for humour’s sake, so stop interrupting every nanosecond. Anyway, sometimes people ask me how I write the way I do, and for tips and so on, so I decided to tell them. I mean, I only decided to take that direction halfway through the article. At first I was just typing away, waiting for inspiration to strike…”

“Yes, it was obvious”, my friend replied, dryly, “but do go on.”

“… but then I thought it would be a good idea. So I went into how I like to play with words, and juggle with common expressions…”

“Yes, I got the mountain / Mohammed reference.”

“… and so on and so forth. I thought it might be interesting to people who like, or would like, to write”, I finished lamely.

“Ah! But is it interesting to people who like to read?” my friend asked.

And this was the very specific question that I had asked him when I had handed him the article thirty minutes before.

“That’s what I want to know”, I told him, “which is why I asked you to read it in the first place”.

My friend shrugged. “It’ll do”, he said, after a pause that lasted a century… after a slight pause.

“Thank you”.

“There’s just one thing I’d like to know, though… why me? Why did you ask me to read it first. Why not someone else?”

I frowned.

“Um… because you’re me. I’m the writer. You’re the reader. And we’re both me. You can’t have one without the other. You always have to read what you write, and criticize the hell out of it…”

And I open my eyes. The cloud is still clouding. And I’ve still got an article to write, just as soon as I finish harvesting my pumpkins…

And there you go.

Now what shall I write about next month…?

By Danny


Danny's Advanced Level Reading Practice - Life

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