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In this section

Candidate G

The candidate was awarded 15 marks for this broadly creative piece of writing.

Summary

In this broadly creative piece, the candidate takes on the persona of a photographer. He is looking back at a series of photographs he has taken of Ophelia, starting in the 1960s and concluding with her death some time after 1976. The exact nature of both their relationship and her death are somewhat ambiguous, adding to the intrigue of the story.

Content

The piece exhibits strong attention to purpose and strong creative qualities right from the start, when the narrator opens ‘the padlocked tin box’ which contains the ‘most precious possessions’, photographs of the woman he later refers to as ‘Ophelia’. His emotion is conveyed skilfully through ‘My hand trembles almost imperceptibly’ and the comment that the photos ‘not only document my past, but possess my present’. The story then develops through the description of a series of photographs which capture Ophelia in a range of locations. Through the writer’s skilful use of language, in each of the individual scenes a very strong sense of time, place and character is created. Ophelia herself is, paradoxically, vividly present and strangely elusive. In the different environments, she stands out and yet is at times immersed in the life of the place. The narrator’s love for her seems obsessive, possibly destructive, and the subtle references to Hamlet throughout add depth and mystery to the pleasure of reading the story. There is skilful thematic development: the ephemeral nature of human experience, including love, is shown through the narrator’s desire to keep a moment ‘alive’ through a photograph. The idea of the camera capturing the woman’s spirit and giving her life after death is one of many indicating skilful command of the genre.

The first photograph is of a street in 1960s London, which the narrator describes as ‘packed like a tin of sardines, colourless sardines devoid of life, freedom, creativity’. His success in this world is bitterly summed up: ‘this façade of a businessman, a hollow picture of power and money… I was empty’. The vision of Ophelia, ‘a constant, becalmed’ contrasts with the teeming crowds and her impact on the narrator is skilfully conveyed in the succinct sentence ‘Serenity in a sea of chaos’.

The candidate continues to use richly evocative description in the episodes which accompany the subsequent photographs. In Goa, ‘the heavy, heady smells of spices and bolt upon bolt of silk’ contrasts with ‘a side street of the market that the sun seemed to miss, a corner on the page that the child had forgotten to colour in.’ The dreamy quality of ‘a dusky evening’ in Malawi where ‘she meandered’ gives way to the ‘outpouring of laughter and sharing news’ as a busy bus arrives. It is noticeable that Ophelia reaches out in these places: a starved dog, a poor child are touched by her warm love and life, whereas the narrator remains distant, observing, taking the photos.

The penultimate photograph depicts an ‘increasingly frail’ Ophelia with ‘pale skin, translucent like china, so delicate’ about to leave by train, while the narrator watches. With the final picture, taken after her death, the story reaches its climax. There is a disturbing quality about the narrator’s transformation of the woman into a piece of art, which again demonstrates a skilful command of the genre.

Style

The piece is characterised by confident and varied expression throughout. Each of the individual sections is vividly realised thanks to the selection of detail and highly creative use of linguistic features such as varied sentences, vocabulary and imagery. Examples include the scene in Goa and the final study of death: ‘curled and cold as alabaster’, ‘winding limbs of the reeds’ and ‘a crown of chestnut spindles’. The candidate’s expression is confident, elegant and controlled.

Structure is used effectively to enhance the story’s meaning: the use of individual photographs allows the candidate to evoke the different stages of the relationship, culminating in the powerful climax of her death. It also acts as an extended metaphor for the nature of their relationship: the narrator strives to ‘capture’ Ophelia, keeping her frozen in a moment in time – and, through her death, he succeeds. The references to Hamlet, woven throughout, enhance the intrigue and impact of the story.

Overall

This piece was placed in the 15-13 mark range. It is a skilful, confident piece of creative writing with beautifully observed descriptions, detailed characterisation and an intriguing structure. It was placed at the top of the 15-13 range and awarded 15 marks.