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Letter to Daniel revised

Daniel Patrick Keane was born on 4 February, 1996.
My dear son, it is six o'clock in the morning on the island of Hong Kong. You are asleep
cradled in my left arm and I am learning the art of one-handed typing. Your mother, more
tired yet more happy than I've ever known her, is sound asleep in the room next door and
there is a soft quiet in our apartment.
Since you've arrived, days have melted into night and back again and we are learning a new
grammar, a long sentence whose punctuation marks are feeding and winding and nappy
changing and these occasional moments of quiet.
When you're older we'll tell you that you were born in Britain's last Asian colony in the lunar
year of the pig and that when we brought you home, the staff of our apartment block gathered
to wish you well. "It's a boy, so lucky, so lucky. We Chinese love boys," they told us. One
man said you were the first baby to be born in the block in the year of the pig. This, he told
us, was good Feng Shui, in other words a positive sign for the building and everyone who
lived there.
Naturally your mother and I were only too happy to believe that. We had wanted you and
waited for you, imagined you and dreamed about you and now that you are here no dream can
do justice to you. Outside the window, below us on the harbour, the ferries are ploughing
back and forth to Kowloon. Millions are already up and moving about and the sun is slanting
through the tower blocks and out on to the flat silver waters of the South China Sea. I can see
the trail of a jet over Lamma Island and, somewhere out there, the last stars flickering towards
the other side of the world.
We have called you Daniel Patrick but I've been told by my Chinese friends that you should
have a Chinese name as well and this glorious dawn sky makes me think we'll call you Son of
the Eastern Star. So that later, when you and I are far from Asia, perhaps standing on a beach
some evening, I can point at the sky and tell you of the Orient and the times and the people
we knew there in the last years of the twentieth century.
Your coming has turned me upside down and inside out. So much that seemed essential to me
has, in the past few days, taken on a different colour. Like many foreign correspondents I
know, I have lived a life that, on occasion, has veered close to the edge: war zones, natural
disasters, darkness in all its shapes and forms.
In a world of insecurity and ambition and ego, it's easy to be drawn in, to take chances with
our lives, to believe that what we do and what people say about us is reason enough to gamble
with death. Now, looking at your sleeping face, inches away from me, listening to your
occasional sigh and gurgle, I wonder how I could have ever thought glory and prizes and
praise were sweeter than life.
And it's also true that I am pained, perhaps haunted is a better word, by the memory, suddenly
so vivid now, of each suffering child I have come across on my journeys. To tell you the
truth, it's nearly too much to bear at this moment to even think of children being hurt and
abused and killed. And yet, looking at you, the images come flooding back. Ten-year-old
Andi Mikail dying from napalm burns on a hillside in Eritrea, how his voice cried out,
growing ever more faint when the wind blew dust on to his wounds. The two brothers,
Domingo and Juste, in Menongue, southern Angola. Juste, two years old and blind, dying
from malnutrition, being carried on seven-year-old Domingo's back. And Domingo's words to
me, "He was nice before, but now he has the hunger."
Last October, in Afghanistan, when you were growing inside your mother, I met Sharja, aged
twelve. Motherless, fatherless, guiding me through the grey ruins of her home, everything was
gone, she told me. And I knew that, for all her tender years, she had learned more about loss
than I would likely understand in a lifetime.
There is one last memory, of Rwanda, and the churchyard of the parish of Nyarubuye where,
in a ransacked classroom, I found a mother and her three young children huddled together
where they'd been beaten to death. The children had died holding on to their mother, that
instinct we all learn from birth and in one way or another cling to until we die.
Daniel, these memories explain some of the fierce protectiveness I feel for you, the tenderness
and the occasional moments of blind terror when I imagine anything happening to you. But
there is something more, a story from long ago that I will tell you face to face, father and son,
when you are older. It's a very personal story but it's part of the picture. It has to do with the
long lines of blood and family, about our lives and how we can get lost in them and, if we're
lucky, find our way out again into the sunlight.
It begins thirty-five years ago in a big city on a January morning with snow on the ground and
a woman walking to the hospital to have her first baby. She is in her early twenties and the
city is still strange to her, bigger and noisier than the easy streets and gentle hills of her distant
home. She's walking because there is no money and everything of value has been pawned to
pay for the alcohol to which her husband has become addicted.
On the way, a taxi driver notices her sitting, exhausted and cold, in the doorway of a shop and
he takes her to hospital for free. Later that day, she gives birth to a baby boy and, just as you
are to me, he is the best thing she has ever seen. Her husband comes that night and weeps
with joy when he sees his son. He is truly happy. Hungover, broke, but in his own way happy,
for they were both young and in love with each other and their son.
But, Daniel, time had some bad surprises in store for them. The cancer of alcoholism ate away
at the man and he lost his family. This was not something he meant to do or wanted to do, it
just was. When you are older, my son, you will learn about how complicated life becomes,
how we can lose our way and how people get hurt inside and out. By the time his son had
grown up, the man lived away from his family, on his own in a one-roomed flat, living and
dying for the bottle.
He died on the fifth of January, one day before the anniversary of his son's birth, all those
years before in that snowbound city. But his son was too far away to hear his last words, his
final breath, and all the things they might have wished to say to one another were left
Yet now, Daniel, I must tell you that when you let out your first powerful cry in the delivery
room of the Adventist Hospital and I became a father, I thought of your grandfather and,
foolish though it may seem, hoped that in some way he could hear, across the infinity
between the living and the dead, your proud statement of arrival. For if he could hear, he
would recognize the distinct voice of family, the sound of hope and new beginnings that you
and all your innocence and freshness have brought to the world.
When writers plan their work, there are three basic questions they have to consider:
Who am I in this piece, myself or some other character?
Who am I writing for?
What effect do I want my writing to have on the reader?
The answers to these questions help authors determine which form of writing or which genre
they should adopt.
‘Letter to Daniel’ is a non-fiction text and in non-fiction we would normally expect authors to
write as themselves – rather than to adopt a different persona.
However, audience and purpose in non-fiction will vary and are extremely important. So,
whether we are reading an extract from a longer piece in order to answer interpretation
questions, or whether we are studying a complete work of non-fiction we should be thinking,
as we read:
Who is this aimed at?
Why has the author written this?
Activities 1 and 2 which follow, are designed to get you thinking about purpose and audience
and, in doing so, come to an understanding of what Fergal Keane set out to achieve in his
writing. You’ll work in pairs or groups to begin with, before whole-class discussion on the
Activity 1
The piece is addressed to ‘My dear son’ and the narrative technique is that of a letter,
speaking, at all times, directly to Daniel – yet it was broadcast to the nation on a BBC radio
programme. Discuss the following statements about the audience for the letter, decide which
one you agree with most and be prepared to report your conclusions.
The letter isn’t really aimed at his son.
The letter form is a device to get the attention of the general public.
The letter is aimed both at his son and the general public.
Activity 2
Consider the following possibilities and decide which one you think is Fergal Keane’s main
purpose for writing this letter. Referring closely to the text, you should try to offer at least
three reasons for your choice.
Fergal Keane wrote this letter in order to:
• express his feelings of pride and joy at having a new-born son;
• express wonder and delight at how his life has changed as a result of becoming a father;
• reflect on the world his newborn son has entered;
• use the letter as a sort of ‘time-capsule’ for his son to open and read when he reaches
• express his regret about never having known his own father;
• other?
Activity 3
The mood in the first five paragraphs is one of love and joy.
• Read over these paragraphs and identify all the ways in which Keane conveys his love for
his new son and his joy at becoming a father.
(When doing this you should consider techniques such as word choice, use of imagery, use
of setting . . .)
• Choose one feature which you particularly like: be prepared to talk about this feature and
explain why you feel it is effective.
Activity 4
Your coming has turned me inside out. (Opening of paragraph 6)
Daniel, these memories explain some of the fierce protectiveness I feel for you, the tenderness
and the occasional moments of blind terror when I imagine anything happening to you.
(Opening paragraph 11)
Between these sentences, Keane reflects on his life and experiences as a war correspondent.
Look at the ideas, the imagery and the word choice contained in paragraphs 6 and 7.
Be prepared to explain how, in your view, Keane tries to convey the way his outlook on
living has changed.
Look at the use of setting and at Keane’s choice of detail in paragraphs 8, 9 and 10.
• What do these examples have in common?
• Why, for Keane, are these memories ‘suddenly so vivid now’?
Which one of the following, do you feel, best describes the mood of these paragraphs?
You may choose more than one.
List all the examples of word choice which you feel help convey the mood which you
have identified.
Activity 5
(Paragraph 11 continues) But there is something more, a story from long ago that I will tell
you face to face, father and son, when you are older.
This sentence acts as a turning point, with Keane telling Daniel that another reason why he
feels so protective towards his son is that he never really knew his own father who had died,
an alcoholic, separated from his wife and family.
Look at paragraphs 12–15.
• How does the narrative stance change in these paragraphs?
• What effect do you think the author is trying to create here?
In paragraphs 12 and 13, for the only time in the letter, Keane is writing about
something of which he has no first-hand experience.•
Do you believe the facts
conveyed in these paragraphs?
• Do you think the detailed description is accurate? If so how could Keane know?
• If the facts are accurate but the detail faulty, does this make these paragraphs less
reliable as a non-fiction account?
Look at the final paragraph. It’s no great revelation for it to be confirmed – when
Keane seems to just slip in the phrase, ‘I thought of your grandfather’ – that his story
has been all along about himself and his parents.
Consider which of the following effects Keane might have been trying to create by
telling the ‘story’ in the way he does and by playing down his revelation.
You may choose more than one effect and you must be prepared to explain and justify
your choice(s).
• He wants to suggest that he didn’t really care about his father.
• He wants to suggest that it was all in the past and that he’s forgiven his father.
• He wants to suggest that he has left his origins and upbringing far behind.
• He wants to suggest that he wishes his father had been around for him, the way he is
determined to be around for Daniel.
Activity 6
Look at the final paragraph. The tone here returns to one of love and joy but added to it is a
sense of hope for the future.
• What is this hope that Fergal Keane has found in the birth of his son?
• Keane uses powerful, positive language to express his hope. Work carefully through
the final paragraph and list as many examples of this language as you can.
Paragraph 1
How does the piece begin? Having read the whole thing do you think this is a letter?
1. Why does the writer have to learn “one handed typing”?
2. The writer’s aim in this paragraph is to create a tone of calm and tranquillity –
what does the word “cradled” suggest to you?
3. Which other phrase is used to suggest calmness and peace?
Paragraph 2
4. What does the writer mean in his use of “days have melted into night”?
5. Keane compares his new life to a long sentence – why is this appropriate given
his occupation and how does he develop the idea?
Paragraph 3
6. The optimism Keane feels about his son is obvious. Why does he include the
information about his neighbours?
Paragraph 4
7. Look at the second sentence. Comment on the structure of this sentence.
8. Comment on the phrase “Wanted you and waited for you”.
9. Explain the contrast evident in the sentences beginning “Outside…China Sea”
10. How does the writer emphasise the distance from “home” in the last sentence?
Paragraph 5
11. Which word from this paragraph suggests the optimism Keane feels?
Paragraph 6
12. Comment on the sentence structure of “Like many…and forms.”
Paragraph 7
13. In your own words explain why Keane felt at times that he had to “gamble with
14. IYOW explain the effect on this attitude his son’s arrival has had.
Paragraph 8
15. This paragraph marks a change. What is the change?
16. Look at paragraphs 8-10. Keane conveys his memories of his time in war zones.
What is his purpose in doing so, in your opinion?
17. How does the story about Nyarubeye act as a prelude to what he will go on to
discuss in the next paragraph?
Paragraph 11
18. How does the first sentence act as a link between the two paragraphs 10&11?
19. The word “but” acts as a signal of change in direction or mood or subject for a
writer. How does Keane change here in the sentence beginning “But there is…”?
Where and why does he repeat this technique?
20. Keane says “I will tell you when you are older” What tense is used in the next
four paragraphs? Why do you think he tells this now rather than when Daniel is older?
Paragraphs 12-15.
21. People criticise Keane for being melodramatic in these paragraphs. He “overdoes”
the drama and emotion of the moment. Pick out and comment on any three
ways/events which suit this description.
22. How would you describe the mood of these paragraphs? Which words suggest this
to you?
23. In these paragraphs is there anything to suggest that Keane feels sorry for his
father / angry at him?
Paragraph 16.
24. Keane finishes off in a positive and optimistic fashion. How does he achieve this?
What does he write in the final paragraph to suggest optimism?
The passage overall.
1. How many times does he address Daniel directly? (by saying the name or “you”)
What is the effect of this?
2. What is the structure of the text? What is the mood of each part?
3. The themes of love and loss are examined in Keane’s very personal exposure of
the skeletons in his family. Where is he talking about love (give one example) and
where does he discuss loss?
4. Overall the text is about hope. Explain how the writer suggests his hope for the
future and why he feels hopeful.
5. Describe any contrasts you have noted as you read the text.
6. Imagery is very rich in this text. Choose any two images which you think are
effective and explain why you think so.
The colony is no more. The baby has grown into a boy and he now has a lovely younger
sister. And I have greying hair and no longer roam the war zones of the world. This much - at
least- has changed.
It started with a refusal. The producer called and asked if I would think of writing a piece about
being a foreign correspondent and a father. I said no. I was on paternity leave and
overwhelmed with the sleeplessness of early parenthood.
I also wondered what on earth I would say.
From Our Own Correspondent was my favourite programme - the greatest vehicle for
storytelling anywhere on the BBC - and I didn't see how the arrival of one reporter's child
might possibly engage the audience.
Surely FOOC - as we correspondents call it - was the place to talk about our experience of
other people's lives and countries, not to reflect on our own.
The producer of the programme thought he knew better. He called again. "Give it a try at
least," he said. Becoming a parent is a universal experience. "Just write it from the point of
view of a foreign correspondent."
I said I would think about it. But I didn't 'think'. Instead, one morning early, sitting up with the
baby in one arm, I just started to write. Directly to my son.
Haunting presence
In writing I spoke not just about becoming a father, but also about my own past, about loss
and the failure of dreams, about the pain of different children I had met along the roads of
war, about my father and how alcohol had taken him from me.
Listening back now I see that at that time, he inhabited my life as a ghost, far from me, yet
always present.
There was one draft of the letter. No re-writing. And after the piece was done I went back to
my paternity leave.
And then the letters started to arrive. By the sack load. From a mother whose only son had
died on a military exercise in Canada; from a man writing by the light of an oil lamp in a tent in
Antartica, missing his family back in Britain; and many, many letters from those who had
struggled with alcohol or seen loved ones die from it.
The letter writers shared stories of their lives. They were the kind of letters only a programme
like From Our Own Correspondent could inspire.
Much has happened in the nearly ten years since the Letter was broadcast.
I eventually quit wandering the war zones of the world. I came to live in Britain.
And I found my father. He was waiting for me at the end of the longest road of all: one tougher
than all the roads I'd travelled in Africa and Asia.
For in the years after the letter I found myself gradually becoming lost in the disease that took
his life.
Casualties of a different war
Alcohol is an occupational hazard for journalists; for me it went from being the comforting,
relaxing presence that calmed the aftermath of witnessing bloody violence, to a self
destructive compulsion, that taken to its logical conclusion would have taken my life just as I
had seen it take the careers, marriages and lives of good friends and colleagues in
newspapers and broadcasting.
Reporting war can give us good reasons for drinking - but for some the "reason" eventually
becomes the "excuse." Our trade is littered with its casualties.
I was lucky to stop in time. There were many things that helped: those I loved, good
colleagues, and others who had found sobriety long before me.
More than anything though it was the presence of my son, the boy in the Letter: his zest for
life and his need for my presence gave me the strength I needed.
And, as I've said, I found my father. In those shivering early morning hours before I quit, in
hotels across the world, I think I was touched by some of the pain he knew as alcohol was
claiming more of his life and spirit, that steady, incremental departure of hope.
And having known that pain I could only feel compassion and that word which we tough,
battle weary journalists of the war zones find so hard to use...love.
Some of my friends worried that I would be identified with "Letter To Daniel" for the rest of my
life; they felt for me when a critic attacked me for writing so personal a piece.
And I replied that nothing anybody says about it - good, bad or indifferent - matters a damn in
the long run.
When I read the Letter now, and I remember that morning with the baby asleep in my lap, I
see a young father about to start out on the greatest adventure of his life. He doesn't know
that yet, of course.
But that child will be the making of him, the saving of him.
Key ideas and concerns
• Knowledge of the text(s), and a basic understanding of the main concerns will
be used. 12 – 15 marks
• Knowledge and understanding of the central concerns of the text(s) will be
used. 16 – 19 marks
• Secure knowledge and some insight into the central concerns of the text(s) will
be demonstrated at this level. 20 – 25 marks
the narrative technique is that of a letter
the structure is of four sections (paragraphs 1-5 / 6-10 / 11(but there is…)-16 / 17
the subjects are 1. the son 2. Keane himself. 3. Keane’s own father. 4 back to the son again.
The word choice is deliberately used to create the mood of the subject
Sentence structure is used effectively
The audience is not only the addressee (the son) but everyone
The themes are responsibility and loss and death and war and children suffering from adults’
The mark range for each Category is identified.
IV 8 – 11
III 12 − 15
II 16 − 19
I 20 – 25
• An essay which falls into this category may do so
for a variety of reasons
It could be
• to provide an answer which is
generally relevant to the task.
• to provide an answer which is
mainly relevant to the task.
• and there will be a line of
thought consistently relevant
to the task.
• that it fails to achieve sufficient technical
• or that any knowledge and understanding of the
material is not deployed as a response relevant to
the task
• or that analysis and evaluation attempted are
• or that the answer is simply too thin.
• Some
reference to
the text(s)
will be made
to support
• Reference to the text(s) will
be used as evidence to
promote the candidate’s
• Reference to the text(s) will
be used appropriately as
evidence which helps to
develop the argument fully.
• There will
be an
of the
of literary/
techniques to
the impact of
the text(s)
• There will be an explanation
of the effectiveness of the
contribution of literary/
linguistic techniques to the
impact of the text(s).
• There will be some insight
shown into the effectiveness of
the contribution of the
literary/linguistic techniques to
the impact of the text(s).
• There will
be some
with the
text(s) which
will state or
imply an
evaluation of
• There will be some
engagement with the text(s),
which leads to a generally
valid evaluative stance with
respect to the text(s).
• There will be a clear
engagement with the text(s),
which leads to a valid
evaluative stance with respect
to the material.
• Language
the argument
clearly, and
there will be
grammar and
will be
• Language will communicate
the argument clearly, and there
will be an appropriate critical
terminology deployed to aid
the argument. Spelling,
grammar and punctuation will
be sufficiently accurate.
• Language will communicate
effectively making appropriate
use of critical terminology to
further the argument.
Spelling, grammar and
punctuation will be sufficiently