Since I started my MA course, my blog posts have basically been about the week’s assignment. This week, however, the assignment was all about structure and heroic monomyth, which is something I’ve covered a lot on here already. I don’t want to go over the same ground, especially since there wasn’t really any new thoughts that came out of it, so I’m going to take the liberty of sharing my creative homework with you instead.
Having looked at the Grimm fairytale of the Girl Without Hands (which, seriously, is messed up on so many levels), we were told to use the basic structure to create a new story. We were allowed to change aspects, but had to justify why we’d done so. I changed three core things:
- I gave the heroine some actual agency. There are fairytales that let the protagonist make decisions, rather than things just happening to them, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve ranted about the importance of agency before. You can manage without it – Katniss Everdeen – but I’d rather not have to.
- No resetting. In the original story, the heroine’s hands are restored as part of her happy ending. I felt like this detracted somewhat from her struggles along the way. This builds on what I said last week about heroes and villains, and the stigma of physical deformity. Handicaps aren’t a barrier to success and happiness, and I think we should be writing more stories that make this clear.
- No devil and angels need apply. People do what they do for reasons, not because the infernal/divine intervened. It’s a point that comes back to agency, I guess, but it’s way more interesting to explore WHY someone’s behaving in this way. Even the villains. Especially the villains. Black and white characters were fine for fairytales but modern writing has a different style.
Anyway, without further ado, my synopsis for a modern retelling of the Girl Without Hands:
The Girl Without Feet
Specialist Grace Donnelly was on her second tour with the Bomb Disposal Squad in Karachi when things went wrong. It should have been a routine procedure of unexploded ordinance in a cleared area. When the team got there, however, they found an ambush waiting for them. They ought to have pulled out and returned another day, but Captain Hobson refused.
The previous week Hobson had been told he needed to increase his results or face an enquiry. He couldn’t risk that – too many pieces of equipment had fallen off the back of lorries – so he pushed his team hard. When the ambush blew up he refused to pull out, instead ordering Specialist Donnelly to ‘do her damn job instead of whining like a schoolgirl’. When she protested, he threatened her with court martial for insubordination and disobeying an officer.
As Grace crawled closer to the bomb, the intensity of the firepower increased. She tried to retreat but Hobson shouted over the radio for her to finish the mission. Then a stray round hit the bomb in exactly the wrong place.
The explosion sent her flying. The world disappeared in a pounding silence. She felt like she was floating, but a pressure round her legs anchored her. It didn’t hurt, though she thought distantly that it probably should. Someone was with her, mouthing her name. But she was so tired. It could wait until she’d slept.
She surfaced in Malir Cantonment Hospital. The doctors said shrapnel from the bomb had cut through her shins. There wasn’t enough to save – they’d had to amputate both legs from the knee down. She was out. What’s more, the report Hobson had filed laid the blame firmly at her feet (haha). He claimed she’d rushed in, counter to orders, endangering the entire squad. She was discharged without compensation.
Grace fought, of course, but suing the Army was a hopeless prospect. She couldn’t exactly afford a lawyer, either. Back home, all her savings went on physio and rent. She sat over her laptop, hunched in pain, and tried to make her bank account balance. She turned off the central heating. She rationed her food. She sold most of her furniture.
Then, one day, a man was waiting for her at the physio’s. His name was Simon and he worked for Help For Heroes. He said there was a place at Tedworth House with her name on it. It took some swallowing of pride, but Grace knew she couldn’t carry on alone much longer. By the weekend she was comfortably installed in a private room in the charity’s recovery centre. She was warm, well fed, and Simon came to see her every day. Her spirits began to recover.
When he suggested challenging the terms of her discharge, she objected. No one ever won a case against the Forces. Simon pointed out that the Forces had only acted under information received. The guilty party was Captain Hobson. Why not go after him personally? Simon knew a good lawyer.
Word spread of Grace’s situation. Tedworth House residents asked veterans, who asked contacts. Evidence trickled in of Hobson’s record: paperwork from people he’d sold stolen equipment to, witness statements from her old team, a copy of the memo Hobson had received pushing him to increase results. Then, miraculously, Simon brought her a transcript of the team’s radio traffic on the day of the explosion.
The case never went to court. Grace stood up before an Army Enquiry Board, limping but mobile on her prosthetic legs, and presented the accumulated evidence. Hobson was given a Dishonourable Discharge and Grace accorded full compensation. She spent £300 of it on a weekend in Paris with Simon.