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The Register

by steve_1982 

Posted: 26 August 2003
Word Count: 686
Summary: This is the opening chapter of my first novel, The Register, which is currently very much in draft form! The novel will be made up of "months" which are essentially five or six chapters the length of the one below (often longer). As the book is written through the eyes of a 16 year old male growing up in Britain today, the "months" represent the school year, kicking off with September.

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Teenage pregnancies are on the increase. This is the first thing I hear after waking in my seat, almost exactly two hours after leaving the city on my way back home. These six words somehow sting me into life, abruptly wiping out my tiredness and forcing me to bolt upright in my window seat.
I don't know why these words make me sit to attention. I don't know anyone, teenaged at least, who is pregnant. I don't know any teenagers who have had babies, plan to have babies in the near future, or, to my knowledge, have had abortions or miscarriages. Yet these words still somehow bother me.
Teenage pregnancies are on the increase. Teenage pregnancies are on the increase.
I try to put it out of my mind. Try to think about how it is the end of summer and how in two weeks I will be 16. Try to think about how I am three days away from the start of my final school year and how Louise hasn't called or sent a text message for two days. Try to think about why my sister was crying when I phoned home on Wednesday. Try to think about which Middle Eastern country the American politicians on TV last night said they wanted to bomb next.
But all my mind wants to focus on is teenage pregnancies and why, if it is correct, they are on the increase. The woman who made the remark continues talking to her friend. They are sat directly behind me and I imagine they are in their late 40s, with tanning salon glows and heavily jewelled fingers. I can detect a faint regional accent when they talk but presume they are upwardly diverging to make themselves come across a lot posher than they are.
"And the Government want to give free condoms to kids in schools. That tells them it's okay to go out and....you know," the same woman says.
"I know, it's terrible," says her friend. "I fear for this country in 15, 20 years' time when the kids grow up and their parents are still only 30."
Teenage pregnancies are on the increase. I fear for this country in 15, 20 years' time. I feel my temperature rising. I am sweating and feeling slightly nauseous. I am telling myself to stay calm, breathe deeply. I check my watch. It shows 9.01am. Half an hour from home. I try to put the women out of my mind, think about getting back and waiting for Louise to call.
I know the batteries in my Walkman are dead but I put my headphones on and press 'play' anyway. The Ash tape starts up and, for a few seconds, it manages to squeeze out a mid-song guitar riff but then grinds to a halt and all I can hear is the clatter of the train on the tracks and a toddler crying somewhere in the carriage.
The women have stopped talking but their words are still spinning round my head. I don't know why it bothers me, so I put my head in my hands and exhale hot air onto my palms, all the time keeping my headphones on. I feel tired again but decide I can't risk falling asleep so close to my final destination. Five minutes before home, I leave my seat and go to stand by the door. I don't even glance in the direction of the women, just make my way to the exit where I stand, watching the countryside fizz by as the train thunders along, a blur of green fields flying past as I get nearer and nearer to my home.
The train pulls into the station and I am the first passenger off, pushing my way through the platform towards my mum, who had taken the morning off work to come and pick me up.
She smiles as she sees me over the heads of an ensemble of day-tripping pensioners and I smile back. But then I remember that teenage pregnancies are on the increase and I fear for this country in 15, 20 years' time.

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Comments by other Members

Ralph at 03:39 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
This had me cursing the fact that the book wasn't in front of me so I could keep reading. Too short! Want more!!!
Unreasonable demands aside, I loved the circular flow of this. The wanderings of a mind drawn ever backwards to those same six words. And, as things start to be revealed by the narrator (and I do think you have a very non-interruptive way of establishing facts, that's a real gift), I started wondering how these words are going to affect the continuation of this story. Is it something to do with Louise? Or the sister?
Couple of things to possibly think about if this is an opening chapter: the opening passage ends with the fact that the narrator's woken up in a seat, so you maybe don't need the "in my seat" in the first line. It just seems a little awkward as an opener.
I found myself playing guess the gender with the narrator a little bit (I know you say it's a male voice in the summary, but I'm guessing this isn't information that's immediately clear to people picking the book up). Not sure if Louise is a friend he is waiting to hear from or a girlfriend... and even then it doesn't really tell you whether the voice you're hearing is a girl's or a boy's... People might disagree with me here. Or it might be that there's a reason this stays unclear... I'm looking forward to finding out so please do post more soon.
All the best

dryyzz at 13:11 on 27 August 2003  Report this post

I liked this piece and found it easy to read. Very little is given away, but I'm not sure whether this is a problem or not. I'd have liked a little hook to know why the teenage pregnancies were such an issue to this character, though the fact that Louise had not phoned him offered a clue to this.

One thing I think you do need to be carefull with, and this always applies to first person narrative. Would my character actually speak like that?

For example.

...watching the countryside fizz by as the train thunders along, a blur of green fields flying past as..

I think this a just about OK for a 16 year old boy.

Bu this

...and heavily jewelled fingers. I can detect a faint regional accent when they talk but presume they are upwardly diverging to make themselves come across a lot posher than they are...

I'm no so sure.

Maybe this is just me, but I'd be interested in what others think.

I notice you have decided to use present tense as well. First person, present tense does cut down a lot of narrative options, but works fine in this portion of work.

But of course, should you wish to stretch the wings of your prose, it may get limited by what a 16 year old lad can be expected to express.

Nice, piece. I look forward to more.


steve_1982 at 17:15 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks for your comments guys. I appreciate it is still very much in the development stage, but take on board what you have said. I started drafting out a few lines when I was 16, and was so determined to finish the project that even now, 5 years on and with me growing up quite significantly, I am adding to it all the time.

It is difficult to write from the perspective of a 16 year old when you are 21, but I will use the ideas you and others have to help me shape that.

Thanks again. I will add more as and when...

Becca at 21:15 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Steve, good clear writing, a few repeats as in 'I don't know why..' The point Dryyzz made about how a 16 year old might talk is a valid one, one to watch in the following pieces, maybe? I'm sure you can write like a younger person, - really old writer's can do, although they may have to listen out more. I wait for more.

Nell at 16:21 on 31 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Steve,

A good beginning, easy to read too. I think Dryyzz has a point with watching for the way the narrator 'speaks', but that's something that once you're aware of you can easily monitor. Looking forward to reading more.

Best, Nell.

Elena at 21:23 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Steve,

I really liked this piece. I am very intrigued and want to know more. I want to know why Louise hasn't called and why his sister was crying. I read it as if it were a boy speaking, although Ralph is right that it isn't made clear - maybe I just assumed this because you were male.

I like the way in which you pose questions too, answering some of them but keeping a few aside so the reader has to continue with the story to find out more. It's something I do in my writing.

Looking forward to another installment,

Anna Reynolds at 16:19 on 24 September 2003  Report this post
Steve, the constant fearful repetition of 'teenage pregnancies are on the increase..' really worked for me. It became like a mantra, and really sets up the reader for where this might lead- hopefully something unexpected. I think if this is a chapter, you could definitely make it longer; the narrative voice is enjoyable and although it's not every sixteen year old, it reminds me a lot of some kids that age that I've worked with, who sometimes speak in an oddly elaborate, slightly ponderous way, as if they've just learned whole chunks of words and want to use them all at once. More please.

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