Monday, 31 May 2010
A desk of one's own as opposed to Virginia Woolf's room of one's own. A place to write, to think and to research. This picture is to prove that I did tidy my desk yesterday. I needed space to think as I have three critical papers that need to be written this month. It all seemed such a good idea when I initially put the abstracts in...when will I learn.
I have to confess though often if I am writing one of my novels I do lying on my bed with masses of pillows and cushions to prop me up whilst I work on my laptop. I believe Michael Morpurgo has a day bed where he takes a similar approach to writing. If it works for him who am I to knock it.
When I work I surround myself with things that mean something to me. Fresh flowers because I love flowers and for no other reason. The picture on the wall is one of mine that I did a few years ago, the one underneath is one I mentioned previously in this blog. It is 'Man with Kite on a Beach' and I still love it very much but need to get it framed. The two 'V's on the cds are printer's block letters. I collect letters, as I work with letters it seemed a logical thing to do. The photos are of my Dad, my three sisters, my Mum and me all doing a great impressions of mushrooms at a family wedding and one of my favourite photos of my daughter. She was 18 in this photo and it is full of laughter. You will see I have no photos of my sons, not through lack of love, through lack of decent photos. They see a camera lens and immediately pull a stupid face. (And the dog was our old dog called Beau who grew up with the children and was a very important part of our lives). The metal couple dancing was a present from my mother to me when she was trying to mend my broken heart many years ago. And as for the china cake....what else do you give someone who can't eat!
As a writer I love being surrounded by things like these, they spark ideas, feed the imagination and provide a panacea for a stressed and lost mind. They are friends to whom I need explain nothing. What they do highlight is having a space of your own to work in. Virginia Woolf was so right.
Sunday, 30 May 2010
In my opinion there can be very few people like that as writing is really hard work at times. Does this mean that the rest of us that write do it, as I do, because I have to. There isn't a choice, all these ideas and stories coming bubbling into my head and are not willing to be ignored. I can imagine them knocking frantically on the door to my brain desperate to be the one that is let in.
I see writing as a craft that has to be honed like sewing, painting or sculpture etc. You need to practice in order to make your writing the best it can be. The proliferation of creative writing degress both at undergraduate and postgraduate level must help with that. Having said that if you need to write you are going to whether you have a degree in it or not. That must never be prevented, nor must we make people who haven't got a degree feel they shouldn't even bother. As with any craft there are going to be naturally talented people.
The most important thought of today, if you want to write, write. Don't wait to be told, don't think you shouldn't, just do it. It doesn't matter if no one ever sees it. It will make you feel good when you do it.
That's it folks, my thought of today, I'm off to write now ;-)
Saturday, 29 May 2010
This is not strictly connected with my PhD though the feelings express do make me the writer I am. Those that follow this blog are probably aware that my Mummy died recently (we were never meant to call her Mum, she hated it). The wonderful Prof Elizabeth Stuart explained that grief is like a madness and it takes over when you least expect it. She wasn't wrong. I suddenly find myself overwhelmed by it at the weirdest of times.
Today was one of those days. I went to watch my gorgeous 5 year old step grand daughter dance in her first ballet show. She was a bunny. It was a wonderful show. But she dances at the same ballet school that my own gorgeous girl, Charlie, danced at. The school is run by the darling Sally Ballet (actually Stanyard) who also sang at the funeral. I was really looking forward to it and then the curtain went up. Some of the 'big' girls came on in white tutus and danced a beautiful dance. Well that did it. The memories came flooding back. My Mummy was passionate about dance having danced throughout the first part of her life until World War II interrupted her dream. She was over the moon when Charlie started dancing too. She came to every show with me and we would sit and watch the glorious spectacles that Sally always puts on. So today was the first show I had watched with out her and the last show I had watched was with her and with my daughter dancing. Some of the costumes were similar and some of the dances too. I confess there was definitely the odd tear in my eye. Greg, Bea's Daddy and Charlie's wonderful partner was very tolerant of this weird woman weeping beside him.
It is these emotions that make me a writer. Make me see, hear and feel things that stir the imagination. The memories may have made me cry but they were such good ones. I know the first year of grief is the first of a lot of things, but in my mind that had meant birthdays, Christmas etc. It didn't occur to me that ballet shows and the Chelsea Flower Show would come into these. (She loved that too - I have Ascot and Wimbledon to get through yet)
I do know she was with me watching as there were numerous white feathers.
Please excuse this indulgence and I will get back to the proper subject in the next post. But I wanted to highlight that even writers have feelings. LOL
And the photo at the top is of my wonderful daughter and step grand-daughter. I am so lucky.
Friday, 28 May 2010
So I am going from writing my PhD novel, entitled The Other (working title) which has the following very brief synopsis:
The Other is about four teenagers on a history school trip to Normandy. Between meeting a WW2 veteran and saving a girl from Afghanistan who is being used in the sex trade they find that by exploring the past, they can understand the present and live for the future.
To writing The Book Protectors' Daughter, with the following brief synopsis:
Alice has no idea how strange the night is going to get when she wakes up with a pixie’s finger up her nose and a goblin pinching her ear. Then she discovers that her missing parents are not the ordinary people she thought they were but in fact Book Protectors. Now their boss has been kidnapped by Trojan, an evil computer virus out to stop people reading stories. And worst of all, everyone expects Alice to sort out the mess. They think she can step into books and become part of the story. It is going to be a long night!
I will keep you posted. Have a wonderful weekend.
Thursday, 27 May 2010
A very satisfying afternoon's work. Having found the holes I just need to fill them. That will be tomorrow's job. But I am very pleased with what I have found. Simple things can be enormously satisfying.
The relevance of the picture - it is not just holes - it is bullet holes like the ones my characters will see when they visit The Pegasus Bridge
I mentioned two posts ago that my writing was lacking imagery and doesn't consider the bigger picture just the micronarrative. I was concerned how to address this and then had this moment of inspiration (all my own this time!). I have just picked up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (it was in my bag I had been looking at the sections on feasting). I opened it at a random chapter and have just broken the whole chapter down paragraph by paragraph. I have said what the aim of the paragraph was, how it was achieved and what was included. I have done this previously with WIlliam Thornton's Mad and Rich, but there I dissected the chapters. I didn't go into as much details.
Very rapidly I have come to realise what I am missing and what I am doing wrong.I already have a page of notes I want to add into the PhD novel - it has got a name, it is called The Other (at the moment that is).
this piece of music is for me
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
But a solution was offered and it is a gem of pure genius. So simple that I can't believe it never came to me. AM suggested that as these moments of inspiration start jumping up and down in my head instead of info-dumping within the story. PUT IT IN AN END NOTE! And it works. I have just tried it. I can put notes of ways I want the story to go, pertinent lines that are not right to be used yet, ideas of incidents for characters. I have a book full of notes too but this concept of using an end note is wonderful. Your ideas are there at the end of your finger tips and as you work the idea into the story so you can remove the end note.
Thank you AM for a moment of pure genius
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
I am very conscious of my lack of identity at the moment. I am drifting (hence the picture of driftwood- which I love). Are you supposed to go looking for who you are or just accept whatever happens? I know I have different faces that I put on in certain places. As do we all. But when you have a multitude of faces how do you know which is the real one? It is the same with writing - you need to understand the multitude of faces your characters have and consequently how they would react in certain situations.
I had a good PhD meeting (one of the few good moments in the day) but having spent years being told to remove my imagery as I go over the top I have now gone the otherway and my writing is lacking. I don't look at the big picture just at the micronarrative. Maybe I just need to open my eyes more. Which face shall I wear to do that then? What do you think?
Tomorrow is another day, perhaps I will get the binoculars the right way round ;-)
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Today was a pottering day. I knew I was going to write at some point but there was no rush. One son had to have surgery to remove the pins from his hand and I wasn't sure when I had to pick him. Consequently the day took on a fluid look. See what happens type of thing.
One of the things I had to do was get my mum's house ready to sell. It wasn't a sad thing to do as I dusted and polished all her belongings. Her favourite CDs blaring in the back ground. I anticipated it being upsetting and as I said it wasn't. Instead it was a time full of memories. The photo of my Dad in his parachute regiment uniform. Looking young and proud. I realise that both my sons have eyes just like him. There are photos of weddings, babies and graduations. Every single one has a whole feast of memories to match it. Ornaments that have invisible labels attached to each one, saying who it came from and why. The hippopotamus that my daughter brought back from Kenya when she worked in an orphanage for children with AIDs. The Ladro figures representing many a birthday and anniversary. The Japanese coffee set that was my grandmothers. There was so much happiness attached to every one. But also there were so many ideas flowing out of them - the old inspires the new.
What has this to do with my PhD? A very tenuous but important connection. As I pottered my mind emptied and the plot of a complete chapter started as a small seed and grew into a whole and powerful chapter filling a large part of my mind. By spending my time looking at other things and not trying force it the moment of inspiration just grew and grew. Things I was looking at triggered other thoughts which lead to twists in the chapter. Often you are asked where, as a writer, you get your ideas from. The answer is simple, everywhere, nowhere and over there in the corner. You just have to listen to yourself and let it grow without force. Let the nugget of an idea take hold before you push it. As I said in a previous post it is too easy for these thoughts/ideas to float into your head and promptly float out again without touching the sides. This is where you must make sure you don't chase it away. Let it settle, let it rest and watch it grow.
This is what I did and this afternoon I wrote the chapter that developed whilst at my mum's house. It is a good one, I like it very much.
As I was about to finish the song that appeared to fill the room was 'I will see you in all the old familiar places.' I couldn't have chosen a better accompaniment to my thoughts. And I know my Mum would have loved it too. This PhD is for her now.
Friday, 21 May 2010
I will play with words both from a critical and creative perspective. And a chance to forget the horrendous week I have had at work. When I walk out of the office door today. It won't exist for forty eight hours. Then I will be ready to deal with it again on Monday.
It is quite a juggling act doing a PhD and working. Though I know loads of us who do it. It is learning to prioritise when all you really want to do is work on the PhD - your baby.
I met a new friend last year at a conference in Newcastle. There was a fire alarm in our hotel and we met on the street both clutching our USB sticks - nothing else. We looked at each other and promptly said 'PhD?' SO started a good friendship and we are both still fighting our way through our PhDs.
I still love my PhD and the work I do on it. I know some would say I am very lucky as I know of people who now hate their subjects.
It is my plan over the summer vacation to finish the novel part. And I can't wait to get my teeth into it for long protracted lengths of time.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
pullmepushyou'. I am juggling my interest in the critical and my creative writing. I am not always getting the balance right. Or possibly more importantly I keep being tantalised by critical ideas that lead me away to places I shouldn't be looking at at the moment. (Thank you Andy!) I need to focus more. But these wonderful ideas keep being waved in front of me and I just have to go and look.
I was sent a wonderful quote this morning by Delueze and Guattari which says 'We require just a little more order to protect us from chaos. Nothing is more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, that ideas that fly off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness or precipitated into others that we no longer master.' (Thank you Jen x) This is only part of a fairly long quote but it epitomises me at the moment. These ideas float in and disappear before I can grab them and mould them into something concrete and suitable for PhD work. I run after them with the proverbial butterfly net trying to catch them and recreate that moment of understanding and inspiration. I rarely achieve it but hope that one day they will return possibly slightly more formed.
I always maintain or have been taught that creativity and criticality are not actually separate things, in fact they feed off each other and thank goodness for that because they are both my passion. When I catch these floating ideas you will be the first to know - I promise.
Monday, 17 May 2010
veteran. It will make sense I promise. They are very independent and I needed to get their voices right so they reflected who they really were.
Teenage voices are not always easy to get and as readers they are very quick to spot a fake voice. So it is worth making the effort to get them right in the beginning. Having got their introductory chapters spot on they can become my pattern or style bible for their future chapters. I can look back at them and think how would ....react in a certain situation.
I always read my work out loud as I also tell my students to. But my DoS pointed out that it needed to be more of a performance than just reading out. That way you can hear when sentences are really not working. Plus it gives you a chance to hear the voices you are creating. It was a moment of pure inspiration on my DoS's part as it has made this huge difference to how I hear my work. I should add you do feel a bit of prat performing your work but if you do it when the house is empty you can really get into it. Just call me Judy Dench from now onwards.
DoS about a week ago on the creative piece of my PhD. He highlighted some things that he felt needed working on. As usual (and very irritatingly) he was right...again.
This weekend I worked on the chapters and made the changes he suggested. It was a very satisfying process. Maybe I am sad to enjoy editing/re-writing. But I like to see how you can mould the narrative and change that first inspirational moment into something sharp and sparky for the reader to read. I sometimes get students to play around with Plasticine and ask them to make something out of it. I relate it to the idea of writing and intervention with other stories. You know there are hints of whatever you have read or seen (or the original piece of Plasticine) in the final piece as they have developed and grown into something new and tantalising. Within the novel I am doing at the moment there is a blatant intervention with Tess of the D'Urbervilles and I am likely to have another one with Jane Eyre.
This morning I read Meg Rosoff's blog (www.megrosoff.co.uk) and she was talking about a similar process. She has completed the latest version of a book she is currently working on. She was talking about how she knows when the book is beginning to work and she suggested it is when you read and you think someone else wrote it. This is an interesting idea and I think something we have all experienced at some time.
It is an important idea to come to terms with and that is that editing is as, if not more, important than the getting the first draft down. It is where you can iron out mistakes, inconsistencies and add that bit of Mr Sheen to it (you polish it!)
Sunday, 16 May 2010
The esteemed DoS suggested I read this as a good example of a piece that uses multiple voices. He was right, it is. Maupin manages the flip between characters with ease as you just don't notice it. Each character as a very distinct voice so you immediately know who the paragraph is about. He hasn't written it so that each chapter has a single character rather within each chapter he can cover several characters by leaving slightly larger spaces between paragraphs to indicate change of character. This is likely to be because the book was originally a regular feature in a newspaper.
His natural way with multiple voices was not what I wanted to talk about in this blog. I was reading it last night and came across this simple sentence 'She didn't shave under her arms.' A sentence with only six words which implies a thousand. There was no need for any further description of this character and none was given. You knew what sort of woman he was describing. As a reader you knew when the story was set - 1976 and what was implied during this period when a woman didn't shave her underarms. A second wave feminist to the extreme probably. But no explanation was required. Those six words said it all. It is a confident author that is willing to leave at that. And something that I know I am guilty of - giving too much information too soon. I found a new acronym the other day - RUE - Resist the Urge to Explain and this will be my new mantra as I edit and re-write three of my chapters of THE novel.
I completed a story map yesterday so the whole story is now down on paper. It had been in my head for ages but it was very satisfying to see it in a tangible form. I will be interested to see how closely I stick to it or whether the story and characters end up taking me in another direction. Interesting times coming up methinks.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
This is a picture by Laura Matthews and is currently exhibiting at http://www.metrogallery.com.auk/ . I was introduced to her work through Facebook where her sister Nicky Matthews Browne (the author NM Browne) put the link up. One of the main advantages of Facebook. The picture is entitled 'Not Alone' and that is not something I can claim I have felt recently at times. It is a very weird time. I have been told grief can take many forms and last for up to a year but I seem to be just going through the motions of life. I assume I will get there eventually.
Anyway back to the PhD. I was supposed to be reading Bourdieu with regard to a research informed teaching project but the PhD jumped in again when a certain section sparked an idea which I am still working through.It occurred to me, when considering Bourdieu's second way that language 'makes the world' in terms of what language is 'made to mean'. It crossed my mind that as a writer of young adult fiction I am imposing and possibly appropriating the language/vernacular of teenagers and then feeding it back to them based on my interpretation, so I 'politicise' it. But then I thought am I actually appropriating it or when the teenagers take it back and read it themselves does the language go back to being theirs and their interpretation? I thought I was a mediator but perhaps actually I am irrelevant as the author. As you can see these are ramblings which I am currently working my way through. I am not claiming they are correct neither am I claiming they are wrong - yet! All thoughts welcome!
I have had a battle with bias as well. In that I was trying to make it far more complicated than it actually was and it was only when I went and read Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal, that I realised I was right in the first place. I really must try to have a bit more faith in myself.
I have just completed a story map as suggested by the DoS. It does focus the mind and now have a very good idea how the story is going to develop, though I do acknowledge that no story map is final, it may well and most probably will change but it is a plan of sorts. I am hoping now to get on with some writing. I have to say that quietly because if my brain realises that is what I am aiming to do it promptly shuts down the inspiration department, so I have to sneak up on it, taking it by surprise. Wish me luck!
Sunday, 9 May 2010
As predicted,yesterday was a much better day for me as I wallowed in academe. I went to the NCRCL conference at Roehampton University with my Director of Studies. I saw many people I had met at other conferences and who happen to be on the editorial board of the e-journal I edit with Andrew Melrose (also my Director of Studies) - Write4Children (found at http://www.write4children.org/). Peter Hunt was there, along with Maria Nikolajeva of the University of Cambridge, and Kim Reynolds, of the University of Newcastle. And had a Facebook blind date with Laura Atkins of Roehampton University, who has a brilliant article in our latest edition but also who I am in contact with via Facebook. Though dismissed by many it is proving to be a vital tool for maintaining contacts with other academics and authors for me.
Lisa Sainsbury's paper, 'But the Soldier's Remains Were Gone: thought experiments in British Children's Literature', was very useful for my PhD with her use of the though experiment, definitely something I felt I could apply to the books I review and the book I am writing for it. At the parallel session I attended, Farah Mendlesohn, who gave a paper entitled 'The Domestic Landscape of Children's Fantasy', partly solved a query I have about why there is that surprise chapter on Pan in Wind in the Willows when giving her paper, for which I am very grateful. Matthew Grenby from the University of Newcastle gave a wonderful paper on 'The Uses (and Abuses) of Literacy: attitudes to children's reading and the origins of modern children's literature'. This paper was fascinating as Matthew showed us examples of books that had been de-faced by children in the 18th century in much the same way children of today do. Writing their names in it, changing titles, colouring the pictures in, writing comments etc. And as my other passion is the long 18th century this was of particular interest to me but of no real use to my PhD.
The other paper in the parallel session I attended was one by Charlie Butler, entitled 'The Irrelevance of Genre to Historical Books for Children', which was an interesting paper as it broadened the definition of historical books to encompass time slip books and the like to the genre. Emer O'Sullivan gave a paper on 'The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National Characters in Children's Literature' which was a wonderfully amusing paper with some fascinating illustrations. Unfortunately due to my lack of stamina because of my condition we were unable to stay for Bart Moeyaert's presentation on the creative process, which was a shame though I imagine it was fascinating.
I had a chance to meet up with Alison Waller who has written a book I use so much in my PhD (Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism). It was a joy to talk to her and I hope to have the opportunity again soon.
The day for me was both hard, yet enlightening, as it highlighted the freedom I now have. I didn't have to keep checking my phone nor did I need to get any of my sisters up to take care of my mother. It was a very relaxed day, if cold!
Another one of my baby steps to this new life and new identity I am now creating from the debris left over.
Thank you Laura and everyone at Roehampton for a great day.
Friday, 7 May 2010
People are wonderful they are concerned that you are ok. You just smile, you don't tell the truth, what's the point? They can't do anything. They can't mend you. Several years ago I lost my identity. I was a businesswoman, own business and all that goes with it, the power suits the lot. I laugh when I look back at it now and what I was like. Then I became ill and lost it all. at the time I pathetically wrote this:
I am no one
I was once
The briefcase, the suit that was me
Now, I'm the Tesco's carrier bag
It is crap I know but at the time it was explaining how I felt. I had lost this identity and had to find a new one which I did and is in the main exceedingly happy.
We all know that we are made up of several identities and I have recently lost another one. That of carer. I have so much time now, no pressure, I can do whatever I want to. I am going to a conference tomorrow. I haven't had to organise anything in order to go. I get up, get on the train and go. No worries about medicines, meals or potential falls.
Everyone is wonderful they have such fantastic ideas about how I am going to fill this time. I just keep smiling but on the inside I am in a thousand pieces as I try and find another new me.
It will be a good day tomorrow but today I just keep smiling...
Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Bourdieu's The Field of Cultural Production as a continuation of this RIT article I am writing and wrote about in the previous post. It has been heavy going as it is a case of reading it over and over until I am confident that I understand what he is saying and what my take is on it - with particular reference to creative writing of course. That should be enough shouldn't it really? But what happens I am there concentrating hard on this and can feel an idea barging its way into my mind. It is like someone knocking on the door continuously until you answer it. I try and ignore it forcing myself to focus on doxas and 'space of possibles' but to no avail this idea is going to be heard.
What is this idea that believes it must be heard over my academic work? It is the end of a story I have been working on for 9-12 year olds, a piece of soft fantasy (don't google as I did and found myself being pointed to some sites that had nothing to do with children's stories). I hadn't even been thinking about that piece of work as am snowed under with other things like my PhD. I find it fascinating when things like this happen. There was no way this idea was going to leave until I had heard it out but it had come from no where because I wasn't even thinking about the story. why does it suddenly appear? Is that my sub or un-concsious working away for my benefit?
Whatever it is I love it. The ending it has suggested is just brilliant so I am one very Happ-Ness.
Monday, 3 May 2010
research informed teaching' [RIT] in creative writing. It has been an interesting experience as in the majority of texts promoting the benefits and importance of RIT any practice based degree is ignored. Certainly never being used as the basis for a case study. But then I have read a variety of articles on practice-led research which appear to take for granted the concept of RIT(or perhaps are just not aware that they are undertaking RIT activities).
When I was at a meeting the question was asked (as I think I may have said before) that even creative writing must have a methodology? I was surprised to hear this as I thought that the misconceptions about creative writing degrees had been buried. Apparently not. Those involved in 'traditional' subjects still seem to find it very difficult to assimilate research with creativity. The fact that both are intertwined and reliant upon the other seems to be ignored or impossible to understand. (see previous post mentioning Melrose's Creative criticality and critical creativity concept).
As part of this I have been thinking a lot about a model that Andrew Melrose and I have been developing. The need for it as it ties in ontological stances with epistemological stances and with methodology embedded in the centre. I realised that each creative project is not stand alone for an individual. Rather every creative project evolves out of previous projects, as such, there is no beginning or ending just a continuum. It was a very satisfying thought.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
I walked out of that chapel feeling at peace and knowing she was safe and happy. I later received two emails both full of wonderful words from people who were not family but were there and who I care about. The emails were full of joy and happiness from the experience they had shared with me and my family. One of which was from the Priest who stayed with my mother whilst she started her journey. Her email told me of the love and beauty that was radiating from a coffin covered in flowers and that there were angels everywhere. Whether you believe or not (my mother believed avidly in angels as do I) those simple words reinforced the lightness of my heart and will stay with me forever.
Because that's what words and music can do. They can stay with you and bring back those moments of happiness and ecstasy in a 'heady scented moment of happiness'. (the quote is from the poem I wrote [with the help of the other email writer] and read at the funeral and maybe one day I will put the whole thing up).
I said goodbye yesterday and today, the 1st of May, is the first day I can move forward. My life is words punctuated with music and I will continue to use them to bring some of the happiness and solace to others as so many have done for me.