I’ve had parts of this – most notably the Bill Baileyesque beginning and certain parts of the dialogue - since I was house-sitting at my brother’s. This means I started writing Put Away Childish Things at the same time as working on the LoM/Miss Marple crossover To Know One’s Worth, er, around early May. That’s probably obvious with the shout-out to Hercule Poirot.
This is another one of those stories I told myself I wouldn’t write. I’ve said from the beginning that the reason I don’t generally write long Sam/Gene slash pieces is that I have a completely fatalistic view of their relationship and that I wasn’t willing to invest that much time and emotion in exploring it. Well, I lied. I had to try. This is the ‘angsty wangsty’ love story I said I thought about writing, listening to the Barenaked Ladies’ “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”. I have written angsty wangsty Sam/Gene fics before, of course, don’t get me wrong. Thanks, That Was Fun (sometimes marked up by others as “Don’t Forget, No Regrets”, because the title of the post differed from the title of the story) has a measure of angst. As Humans, We Crave Disappointment is primarily angst, too. Both of those end with hopeful messages, but then, so does this one, in a way.
I think of myself as a complete fluffball, but clearly I fail at presenting that side of myself in my fiction. Put Away Childish Things is more angsty and wangsty than any of the others (but not more so than Palimpsest, I’m pleased to say.) It doesn’t cut off as soon as Sam and Gene get together like TTWF and AHWCD do. This is me writing Sam and Gene establishing a relationship and then writing them in an established relationship, which isn’t completely new to me, but is something I’ve deliberately avoided tackling in long fiction.
The main difficulties in writing this were pacing (as always – and probably obviously) and wrestling with my own inability to balance exposition and ‘live action’. Most of the time I write very much in the moment. It’s one of the various reasons I write short fiction. I like writing scenes that play as if in real time. But there’s a long period that had to pass in this story, and I couldn’t quite justify 500,000 words on showing the progression I wanted to show. So it was a paragraph to explain away three weeks and then back with dialogue. I confess that I want a smoother transition in some of the sections, but I don’t know how to achieve that. And yes, I am that annoying kid who sits to the side of class, insisting on figuring it all out for themselves, without asking the teacher. And yes, as a teacher, I do know how annoying that kid can be.
Another difficulty I found writing was the characterisation of Sam – something I usually don’t have too much trouble with (the last time being AHWCD, funnily enough.) I didn’t want him to come across as too much of a “prickish pansy”, to use Gene’s words. Yet, he was doomed to go through emotional turmoil, and we were seeing it from his perspective. I was worried that Sam was occasionally being overwhelmingly melodramatic, but then I rewatched 2.01 and realised I could push it a bit more, if I wanted. Oh, right. Sam really is like that in canon too, it’s okay.
That’s also how I justified breaking up Sam and Annie in the beginning – something that made me intensely uncomfortable. “Guy did it with Sam and Maya,” I said, and went on my merry way. I didn’t want to handwave Sam/Annie – it may consist of a couple of kisses on the show, but it means something. At the same time, because of the necessities of the fic, it couldn’t mean the same something that it meant from Matthew’s point of view. I didn’t want to demonise Annie. I love her. I like Sam/Annie as a relationship. I had to be careful, so I did my best to cover all the bases. I hinted here, I ended there. And I showed that it wasn’t merely a day before Sam was gallivanting off with Gene – that his break up with Annie affected him, that it affected her too.
There’s a lot of repetition and a set structure in this story. At the end of a section within a given subheading there’s a continued element. The first and penultimate sections are easiest to see this in; where they end with “Sometimes, life…” Going through, there’s swearing, prominence of sound, kissing, punching, and prominence of light. Not all of these things are necessarily immediately obvious, but they are there for a reason. What is obvious, I hope, is that the subheadings clearly set the tone for what’s to come – by use of irony, or asking you to remember another line from the nursery rhyme, or just as they are.
I planned that out as such in my notes;
'and they all go marching' - the ants go marching - [the state of affairs]
'a merry old soul was he' - old king cole - [being comfortable with each other]
'he played knick knack on my knee' - this old man [sexually aware of each other]
'i'll grind his bones to make my bread' - fee, fi, foe, fum [sex]
'stone so strong will last so long' - london bridge is falling down [falling apart]
'all the king's horses and all the king's men' - humpty dumpty [broken]
'how I wonder what you are' - twinkle twinkle little star [stuck back together]
I’m fairly sure that a great deal of this structure means very little to a casual reader, but for me, along with the theme of childhood, it was how I was justifying to myself my innate need to write the fic in the first place. I’m all about experimentation, pushing myself as a writer to do something I haven’t quite done before. I write because I love to, but also because I want to get better. I want to learn.
As for the theme of childhood – it’s an integral part of Life on Mars that I’ve never really exploited or explored before. You know, the show is all about those childish fantasies, Sam wanting to be a cop (but not a boring, red tape bedecked cop), Sam wanting to play football with his dad, Sam wanting friends who need and love him – and Matthew has it that these fantasies get fulfilled, in the end. But, um, I don’t. Because I’m cruel. Because I’m cynical. Because Matthew also hinted that Sam has a habit of ruining his own fantasies, of making everything needlessly complicated.
Now, I don’t know how pretentious and/or sacrilegious it was starting this story with a title and quote from the Bible. I do know that this same quote was used in Hornblower - Captain Pellew saying it to our fine, young, eponymous hero. And I’m pretty sure it’s been used in other things too. It’s something writers do. We allude, borrow and steal to suit our own nefarious needs. And, you have to admit, the Bible has some fantastic lines, it really does.
So. I actually finished another story that has a plot (and a plot that’s character driven, by the way – did you see that? I finally did it!) This shouldn’t hold the significance it does, I know, but I can’t help but be rather glad.
Finally, I think I’ll leave you with a fun fact: the end section didn’t exist until I’d edited the story four times (and by the way, I gave it another look today and still found a couple of commas that were missing. FAIL!) I read and revised the story and thought, “yeah, ending on a line about hope is perfect.” I took a three day break, came back, reread, and decided that a coda was absolutely necessary.