Saturday, 31 December 2011

The past and J K Rowling

Yesterday was supposed to be the last post of 2011 but then I thought I would share this with you. In the meantime and at the risk of repeating myself I hope 2012 brings you a lot of happiness and possibly the odd publishing contract!

Just before Christmas I had a skip delivered. Madness you may think but we needed a clear out. There were boxes in my son's room which had never been opened from the day we moved in 5 years ago. But what happens when you have a clear out is that you find things that weren't lost but are full of memories.

There were a mass of documents and brochures relating to my business which was part of my 'past' life. Was I really that woman that ran a PR and management consultancy company? What happened to her? Luckily she faded away. I didn't like her.

There were cards wishing me good luck with my course. I started a degree in English at Winchester uni  in 2002 having lost the business through ill health. There was also a diary which I had planned to write throughout my course which I had forgotten all about. I didn't complete it but I did manage to write odd snippets for the first semester. I found a comment I had written after just two weeks which said 'I love this. I wonder if I can do the MA and then a PhD?' The answer is yes you can and did! The final entry was a random comment relating to bumping into a lecturer who I  knew of but didn't know as he hadn't taught me. He had had to step into mark the creative writing assessments at the last minute. He remembered what I had written and informed me that I could write! I was astounded as this lecturer knew nothing about me. He might not have said that if he had known then how often he would have to work with me in the future... would you AM? LOL

I also found a book plate which is signed by J K Rowling - a proper signature not a laser print one. I had forgotten that we had been given this. It was just lying in a drawer. I have now stuck it into one of her books. When I mentioned on fb that I had found it the immediate suggestion was to sell it. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. I write for children and I would be rich if I had a pound for every time a person said of my writing: 'Are you going to be the next J K Rowling?' The answer is of course I am not going to be and I wouldn't want to be. The Harry Potter books are unique. Two of my children loved reading them. I would have to order 3 copies of the book when they came out so we could all read it at the same time then we could talk about it and no one could spoil it for the others. My youngest loved the films (he hates books!) and has bought me the complete set of DVDs for Christmas. On which note I confess I love Harry Potter too. I know as a CW lecturer the writing could be tightened at times and I am aware that a lot of people knock them but as far as I am concerned they are great stories to escape into. J K Rowling does the best description of meals ever! So maybe I will keep that signature just for the sheer pleasure of it and as a reminder of all those magical moments when,  as a family, we would discuss Harry Potter. Thank you JK.

This song is called The Universal Child and that is who, as writers, we write for, never forget who they are. I love this song, see if you can spot the Icarus reference. It is here especially for my children who have grown and flown. And for my grandchild and step grandchildren who are just beginning to grow. Just in case you didn't know I am so proud of you all.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Happy New Year - 2012

What did you do in 2011?
Wow! What a year that was. There is only a day or so left of 2011 and as you can see by the photo it has been a pretty amazing year for me. I did exactly what I set out to do and  I achieved my PhD. Also little Noah made a fairly dramatic appearance in July and is the light of my life. Making our family even more perfect - thank you Charlie and Greg. A doctor in June and Nanny Noo Noo (don't ask!!) in July. I graduated in November surrounded by family and friends, which was a day I will never forget. It was incredible (see my post in November for full details)

As well as some truly wonderful and awe inspiring highs there have been a few lows in 2011 including surgery but I have been supported throughout by some fantastic friends and, of course, my amazing family.

There was only one conference where I gave a paper this year and that was Great Writing in June 2011 and run by Graeme Harper, who happened to be my external examiner at my viva. Therefore the fact it was straight after my viva was an experience. The paper went particularly well. I felt like I had a whole new confidence in my work. It was a great conference and I was able to spend a lot of time either side of it with my great friend Jen Webb. Who had already surprised me by being there when I turned up for my viva. We went to museums, art galleries and the theatre. We drank champagne and talked and talked. It was a perfect few days. Jen is coming back over to the UK for a few months at the beginning of 2012. That is certainly something to look forward to.

I had the privilege to watch the development, writing and then publication of two outstanding academic books which were both produced by Andrew Melrose, my former Director of Studies and a great friend who shared many of my celebrations and stuck the pieces back together during my lows. Thank you Andy.

I went to the SCBWI's conference in November for the first time for several years. It was a fascinating and illuminating conference where I managed to catch up with many fb and Google+ friends.

I have just read my blog from this time last year and I was so focused. I knew exactly what I was going to do. A great feeling for someone who has been accused in the past of being a bit of a control freak! 2012 doesn't feel quite so focused. I was advised to take 6 months away from the critical stuff once my PhD was finished to let the brain stop being quite so mushy. Well come January that 6 months is up. I have 2012 stretching out in front of me and it looks quite empty. I have several potential projects but nothing concrete. A bit freaky for someone who likes to know exactly what is happening. All the potentials focus on my creative work rather than my critical but am sure I will find ways to address this. I have just got to stop standing on the precipice and take that step off to see what happens.

To all my wonderful friends, and you know who you are I am sure, and my glorious family, thank you for a truly amazing 2011 and I wish you all a very happy and successful 2012. See you here this time next year.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Voices and reading



Today is more about characterisation and voice. I was recently advised to read a certain book because it had a good example of the type of voice I was trying to create. I took the advice and read the book waiting for my epiphany. Unfortunately, it didn't come, or rather it did but not in a way I expected. This strong voice that was recommended to me I found to be weak and predictable. Admittedly they were not the main character but even so minor characters have got to be able to stand up for themselves. Make you aware they are there and why. My epiphany was more of a reminder of how much reading is actually subjective. Any reader, whether adult or child does not come to a story empty handed. They arrive full of their past experiences and knowledge ready to take away new knowledge and interpretation for dissemination when they share a good tale.

As reading is subjective I would suggest that as a writer sometimes you just need to follow your gut instinct. Be strong and believe in yourself. You will know if it is not working. Trust that inner voice. Just because one agent or publisher happens to like one style doesn't mean that your style is wrong. It may just not be right for them. Try others. You have to believe in what you are writing and stand by it. If you have doubts then the reader definitely will too.

Equally as important as listening to that inner voice is ensuring you read, and read copiously. Not just books that are within your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. As I mentioned above, about the reader, you will take away from all books you read a bit more knowledge about writing. It might be a style you don't like or a style you love. Words they may have used could inspire you. The more you read the more informed you become as a writer and therefore can have even more faith in that inner voice.

This song is because I love it and Joni plus maybe because  it is time to skate away ready for a new year



Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Writing again


Happy Christmas!
Do you ever take yourself by surprise? I did yesterday evening when I had the need to write a story. It was a short story and was for adults not children so couldn't be further from what I normally do. There had been an idea simmering in the back of my mind for years all relating to a little black dress but nothing had come of it. Then some recent snippets of conversations and people watching that had been logged away meant that  the story suddenly presented itself. The little black dress is in it but not the main character I always thought it would be. It was something that had to be written. I had no choice. 


People, who are not writers, always think you are mad when you say things like that but all writers understand that sometimes a 'craziness' does take hold when you just have to write and nothing will stop you. A story or a poem just needs to find its way out of your mind and onto the page. A lot of this story kept coming to me during the night luckily for the moment my laptop is still on my bed so I could keep writing. It is not quite fully formed but it is getting there.


As you may know I recently wrote a post on getting the words flowing and I seem to have found another way as what writing this short story did do for me was to release the block that I have had on other projects. One in particular whose main character I have been very worried about as potentially she could be risky but then I was reading a book recommended by a very good friend and I read this:


You can only take the risk and know two things: 1) that you are doing it for the right reasons (not for the sensation, the gimmicks, or the chance to preach or show off) and 2) that you have brought every bit of your talent, literary skill and energy to bear upon the task.


 Thank you Alison Macleod for writing this in Vanessa Gebbie's edited collection entitled Short Circuit. This wonderful collection may also have been a trigger for the need to write a short story along with the Alice Munro's New Selected Stories I am reading. Nothing ever happens for no reason even if it does take you by surprise. Combine these two incidents and I find myself writing freely again.


I realised I know this character really well. I can take a risk with her because I trust her. I need to focus on writing the story and not worry about anything else. 


Guess what I will be doing this Christmas between the marking and planning that is!


There is very definitely hope in my heart as we head towards 2012. So many plans and ideas.  I may be a grandmother and on crutches but there will definitely be no time to be a 'little old lady' no matter what anyone suggests  LOL ;-)


Just love this (you may have to watch it via YouTube)


Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review of the Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

A book to fall into

The Sky is Everywhere is Jandy Nelson's debut novel and came out 2010 and is published by Walker Books. It is a beautifully written book that deals with the desperation of grief intertwined with the intensity of first love without a vampire or black cover in sight.

The main character is Lennie, a 17 year old who plays the clarinet and is in the school band. She writes poetry and has read Wuthering Heights 23 times - some would say a geek. Instead you find a fully rounded character who no longer knows who she is. You meet Lennie as she is dealing with the sudden death of her 19 year old sister, Bailey. Lennie sees herself as the pony companion to her race horse sister so is left floundering by her absence. If you then add to this boys, which until this point she had had no interest in, you suddenly have a tumultuous story. The blurb on the back says: 'What's wrong with me? What kind of a girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her (dead) sister's boyfriend the previous night?' Lennie is confused and torn. She deals with her emotions by writing poems on the nearest surface available and leaving them all over the place. The reader joins her on her journey where she finds that the sky is everywhere. Lennie lives with her grandmother, Gram and uncle, Big, as her mother left to explore the world when the girls were very small. They are larger than life characters and at times the grief of all three of them is almost palpable. As a reader you feel like you could be intruding. But don't get me wrong it is not a sad book, it is one of raw emotion.

Toby (Bailey's boyfriend) and Joe (the new boy in school who just happens to be gorgeous!) are the male interests and could potentially be perceived as being rather predictable characters but the writing lifts them way beyond any predictability. The writing  is poignant, crazy, challenging and powerful. The narrative is littered with references to Simone De Beauvoir, Hélène Cixous, Jean-Paul Satre, Mozart, Bach, clarinets, mandolins and guitairs. But there is nothing geeky about this book. It is just full of some wonderful phrases and ideas as you move through Lennie's grief and her first experiences of love - that Heathcliff and Cathy/Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors/Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy moment. Well worth a read.


Like with grief sometimes it is just too hard to let go of many things.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Where can words come from?



I am a writer, a wordsmith. I take a collection of letters and make them into words which I then paint a picture with. But where can these words come from? I find they can come from anywhere in the same way inspiration takes you by surprise. It might be a song, a poem or a conversation. It can be a piece of art, a beautiful sky or a perfumed flower. All these and a myriad of other things can be the trigger for those words to start forming that picture which becomes a narrative and then a complete story or poem.

There are times though when you need those words to start working and they just won't. Some might say 'walk away, they will come eventually.' But that isn't always an option. Here are a few ways of kick starting the process:

1. Stop thinking you can't do it.

2. Go away and read some poetry or a favourite book. It is amazing how other people's beautifully crafted words can trigger your own.

3. Do some free writing - just writing continuously without thinking about what you are writing. Don't stop (and I mean don't stop) just keep going for a couple of minutes. When you read it back you may find something there that jumps out at you and starts the flow of words. The added advantage of this exercise is that you will have emptied your brain of all the 'stuff' that was clogging it up.

4. Go through your notebook - you are a writer you should always have a notebook in which you take notes of snippets of interesting conversations, descriptions of places, people you've seen, experiences. Something in there will remind you of a moment you wish to bring to life.

5. Try something different - write in a different way. Maybe take your free writing and cut it up then reorder it. See what comes out of that and then fly with it.

Most importantly believe that those words are there, they may be shy but they will come forward if you give them a chance. Enjoy your writing.

The idea of cut ups is, apparently, an aleatory literary technique and is most often associated with the likes of William S Burroughs and David Bowie. Below is a song written in a similar way but am not sure that it relies as much on chance as the term aleatory suggests but it is hugely successful and poignant for many of us. It is a song sung by the Military Wives Choir with Gareth Malone but importantly it is written by Paul Mealor. He took the letters of these wives and their husbands then using phrases from them he created this song. A song truly from the heart and I wish them luck with all their fundraising and really hope they get to be Christmas number one.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Which books have influenced your desire to write?



 I was listening to a TED talk by Sarah Kay entitled 'How many lives can you live?' She mentioned in the talk how when she was a child and asked what she was going to be when she grew up her answer would be 'Princess/Ballerina/Astronaut (all said as one word.). Also, as seen in a previous post,  in Keith Gray's podcast he mentioned two books and a film that had influenced and inspired him to become a writer. Both of these very separate incidents seemed to combined together and I started thinking about what my answers would be. Firstly when I was growing up I wanted to be a show jumper/doctor/actress/writer. Two out of four isn't bad.  But then what about the books that influenced and encouraged me when I was a child and fueled this desire to write, below is my very brief list. It could have gone on for an eternity but I thought instead I would just give you a sample:

1. Teddy Robinson Tales  by Joan G Robinson, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne and Paddington Bear by Michael Bond. Spot a theme? These were all books that were read to me by my mother, and yes, she did have a thing about Teddy Bears. For me they represent that intimate moment between parent and child when sharing a book. A moment that you should be able to bottle.

2..K.M.Peyton's Fly-by-Night. This was a book I read over and over again as a young girl desperate to own a pony and become a show jumping champion. A few weeks ago I had the chance to go and meet K.M.Peyton but unfortunately I couldn't get there due to ill health. However, I started to re-read Fly-by-Night and it immediately took me back to those impassioned moments when I believed and lived every moment. I was Ruth Hollis. It is the time when I truly understood the power of the book and the chance to escape.

3. As a teenager I read vociferously some of which were real rubbish but one book that does stick out in my mind for all the wrong reasons is D.H. Lawrence's Three Novellas. We were studying it for A level and we had a very new, very young, very good looking male English teacher with the most piercing blue eyes ever and  to whom I would now like to apologise! I loved the stories and it introduced me to the power of the short story and many other things.

All of the above books have influenced and inspired my desire to write. How about you? What did you want to be? And what books to you remember from childhood?


Now a beautiful piece of music and thank you Rachel Rooney for this, I love its gentleness.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Keith Gray's Pod Casts on Writing


I have just found five little gems. If you are interested in writing check this series of mini pod casts produced by Keith Gray and organised by the Scottish Book Trust (http://youtu.be/nLY_uXod8FQ). Keith Gray has written some truly awesome books including: MARLAKEY and OSTRICH BOYS. Below I will give a very brief summary but I would really recommend you take the time to listen to them.

1. Inspiration and ideas: Keith talks about how he works at his desk for several hours a day.  But before he sits at his desk he has to know what he is going to write. He looks for inspiration in books, people watch as he sits in a cafe, on walks or watching tv for example. He says his ideas can come from his real life experiences, from wishful thinking or real life events.

2. Characters: The main characters should have: a talent, an ambition, a deep dark secret, a best friend and a worst enemy. Keith also suggests you 'know what's in their pockets' which is something I was taught on my MA at Winchester so I use it frequently for all my characters. It helps you get right inside the character's heads. He also reminded me that actions can show what characters are like.

3. Plot: A story is about conflict, someone with a problem. As a writer you need to create the problem or the dilemma that should be followed by some confrontation as you try to solve it before you end the story with a resolution.

4. Setting:  Keith pointed out how people used to write reams of description which describe the setting. Now you tend to give bits of description. He also pointed out how setting can be the cause of conflict, it can also be the source of atmosphere. Setting can even add to a character's description -  sometimes when you think of someone you automatically put them in a certain place.

5. Redrafting; When redrafting he has suggested you look for clarity, colour and construction. On this basis I would also suggest reading your work out loud.

As I said just a brief synopsis of these excellent podcasts. I hope you enjoy the real thing.

For just one of those days when you wish you had walked away.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Final part of the SCBWIs Conference - The Edge

This is the very final post on the SCBWIs conference I promise but the topic is very relevant to my own writing and is my research area. On the Sunday I attended The Edge Panel comprising of authors who write for The Edge Blog including: Miriam Halahmy, Dave Cousins,Bryony Pearce, Sara Grant and Paula Rawsthorne. They are all authors of 'edgy' books. As someone who has done a whole PhD on the ideas behind 'edgy' books I found myself very relieved when I was agreeing with everything they were saying. Maybe my research wasn't too far off the mark!

 Firstly what is 'edgy' fiction? They suggested it would be issue driven and contentious, though they did point out that issues can differ from person to person. They also highlighted how if you were too passionate about trying to get a message about issues across you could lose sight of your story. This was a message that hit home for me. HAM AND JAM was the second novel for my PhD. The first had to be abandoned for exactly that reason. I was so busy trying to get sex, drugs and alcohol into the narrative I lost sight of any potential story. It was like walking through treacle. The story felt forced and contrived so was placed in a very deep bottom drawer after my Upgrade. Luckily, and eventually, the idea for HAM AND JAM appeared which was totally story driven.

The panel also suggested you have to be comfortable with what you are writing whilst also being willing to stand by what you have said if you are dealing with contentious issues. The team came up with some excellent tips for writing for YAs including needing lots for the reader to connect with. It was also suggested that you should have a post it note near where you write just saying: 'Entertaining! Gripping! Thought Provoking! Engaging!' You need to ask yourself does my writing meet these requirements throughout. A good reminder. It was also suggested that you should treat each chapter as a scene with the idea you should 'jump into the middle of the scene and hit the ground running.' In other words, 'late in and early out'. Really good advice.

 As someone who already has an elderly character, Finley McGinley, in my novel I was very pleased to here the panel say that YAs might drive the story but there is nothing stopping you having other adults in there. Phew! Another good tip was to be careful with slang, technology, films and music - what is contemporary and cutting edge now may have disappeared off the scene by the time your book is published. Go generic or make it up was the suggestion.

 All in all it was a great panel and I now have a pile of books to read as at the time of the conference I had only read Miriam's excellent book HIDDEN but am now the proud owner of THE TRUTH ABOUT CELIA FROST, ANGEL'S FURY and DARK PARTIES with FIFTEEN DAYS WITHOUT A HEAD now on pre-order. I know what I will be reading over Christmas.

 Now an aside, today I was taken totally by surprise, a very good friend presented me with a signed copy of his book which I have watched evolve with great delight over the past year and have had many discussions about. And yes, I confess, I am thrilled by it because it was so unexpected.Thank you AM

 And now a bit of Norah Jones because it is Friday at the end of week 10 and I am very tired so the thought of going away somewhere sounds very appealing instead I have a weekend of marking planned.

Friday, 25 November 2011

SCBWIs Conference # 2

Australian Aborigines say that the big stories — the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life — are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.(Robert Moss, Dreamgates) This was one of the quotes used in Frank Cottrell Boyce's keynote speech, which was both amusing and inspiring. Like everyone there I will never think of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the same away again! He talked about reading raising expectations, which is so true. As writers we can provide the 'tools [for readers] to read this world carefully and critically' ('Learning to Read', Children's Literature Assocation Quarterly, 1997 Vol 22 No 3). It is a chance for us, as writers, to provide readers with a vicarious experience allowing them to make decisions on how they might react in certain situations - for more information on this idea see my PhD and Andrew Melrose's new book Here Comes the Bogeyman. Cottrell Boyce also pointed out that children's books lead you towards adulthood. But, as he said, reading is about so much more, it is about wanting to share something wonderful and passing it on. It is about having a story that they want to read in the first place. It is about having a narrative that makes them want to turn the page and finish the book. It is about great books. Frank continued by saying: 'A tale isn't beautiful until it has been added to!' (Very pertinent to someone who teaches textual intervention)

 In which case, may all of you potential writers that attended the SCBWI Conference (or couldn't make it this year) find that big story that is stalking you and make it into a beautiful tale that has been added to. For more information on Anthony McGowan's sessions on plotting and controversy check out Laura Atkins' brilliant blog http://www.lauraatkins.com/newblog/blog7.php/scbwi-bi-conference-anthony-mcgowan-1 and http://www.lauraatkins.com/newblog/blog7.php/scbwi-bi-conference-anthony-mcgowan These were both fantastic sessions but I really couldn't add any more to these excellent posts.

 The SCBWI conference was a great place to remember why you write stories for children. For a start, it was a great leveler as you were surrounded by aspiring authors, multi-award winning authors, illustrators, publishers, editors and agents, but you couldn't always tell who was who as everyone is too busy chatting to worry about who someone might be. Though I did wonder if Anthony McGowan thought I might be stalking him as I attended both his sessions - it was pure interest honest! It was also a great place for Facebook Blind Date - or rather a chance to meet 'for real' all those people you have been talking to for months via fb. Also, if you need a reminder as to how welcoming and apparently buoyant children's publishing is make sure you become a member of SCBWI and then attend next year's conference. Part three on The Edge Panel to follow shortly!

 Here is another Ed Sheeran song because it is very relevant to my PhD. And I hope one day soon both parts of which will be books ;-)

Monday, 21 November 2011

2011 SCBWI Conference

Or you know when you've been SCWBI'd when:*

1) Your head is buzzing and you see inspiration around every corner. 
2) You meet up with many fb friends find that they are just delightful in ‘real life’.
 3) You are told by an author, who you have admired for years, “but you know more than I do!” Even if he didn't mean it, it felt good!
 4) You get to lie down on the job….or rather you get to play the denouement for Anthony McGowan!**
 5) You meet an agent who doesn’t bite your head off and spit it out. And also doesn’t say ‘What on earth makes you think you can write?’
 6) You are surrounded by like-minded people who get just as excited as you about writing for children.
 7) You hear Frank Cottrell Boyce say ‘A tale isn’t beautiful until it is added to.’**
 8) You hear a member of the industry panel say ‘Don’t look at what’s selling, write what you want.’**
 9) You hear a group of authors who write ‘Edgy’ YA fiction who all spoke so passionately about a subject that is so important to me.**
 10)You get to read Candy Gourlay’s speech which makes you realise what is possible and not to give up. (Wished I could have heard it but the body had other ideas as it always seems to)
 11) You can’t wait to get back to the computer to start writing as, and going back to where I started, you see inspiration round every corner.
 *with thanks to Nick Cross
 ** There will be more detailed posts on these at a later date
 This is Ed Sheeran with his Lego House, just because he is my new favourite and I have just got his CD!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Full Stop - the PhD has finished


Yesterday I received my PhD at our Faculty of Arts graduation.I thought I would tell you about what an amazing day it was. It is always a spectacular event. For 3 days Winchester is full of excited graduates in black and purple robes (PhD robes are glorious, they are red and purple). Proud families sit outside the numerous cafes chattering and laughing before going in.

Our graduations always runs like clockwork thanks to all in Registry and it is held in the Cathedral which, and I'm sorry but there is no other word for it, is awesome! A great deal of pomp and circumstance goes on. I was very lucky to have my family there to share the moment (including my three and half month old grandson who was beautifully behaved).

It always starts when the senior management and lecturers plus those receiving honorary degrees (Phillippa Forrester and Tony Palmer, who both gave fantastic and inspirational speeches) process down the aisle to the front where they take their places on the dais. Once there all the students are presented to the Chancellor, Dame Mary Fagan, who congratulates every single one of them.

The PhD students come last. This year there were just the two of us in this particular ceremony. Myself and Graham Spencer, who started his PhD at the same time as me so it seemed fitting we should be together. Debbie Welham who also started with us (but finished earlier as she was full time) was ushering and there was a great deal of reminiscing going on! It had been many years since we used to all be sat together on a Monday night doing Research Training.

Many of my friends from the University managed to be in the cathedral too (if you are on facebook you can see many photos!). Plus Sally Ballet, who is a casual verger at the Cathedral (and yes she is quite offended by the title) and like a family member. She and I have been friends for over 20 years so it seemed fitting that she could be there too.

This was the year I particularly wanted to graduate as it was the first time that I had students graduating who I had taught from the first year through to the end. They were a great group and I was so proud of them.

The usher at the end of our row was also a great friend, Leonie, I was just surrounded by friends. It was wonderful. She gave me the biggest smile ever as she pointed me in the right direction. I waved to my students as I walked by. It is quite an impressive feeling walking up the aisle of the Cathedral to the front where I was my met by my Director of Studies, Andy Melrose, who taught me as an undergrad, then during my MA and finally getting me through my PhD. I am lucky, he has become a great friend along the journey too. He greeted me with one of the biggest grin I have seen from him for a long time. He had to present me to the Chancellor as my name and the title of my thesis is read out. It is all quite formal...

But then it happened, a moment, I will never, ever forget throughout the whole of my life. As I walked (limped) up the stairs so I could hear the clapping start then my children whooping. Suddenly the roof came off the cathedral as the clapping became a crescendo of cheers from my students, friends and colleagues. It was just incredible. The Chancellor said 'Everyone seems very happy about your degree!' When Andy helped me back down the stairs he just said 'Did you hear that?'

Outside I was met by another of my supervisors who happens also to be Senior Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Liz Stuart, who handed me a feather, which will mean nothing to most of you but to those who know the story of my Mum and feathers will understand how important this was. There were more hugs and photographs and many, many delighted students who came to see me.

The day continued on that sort of a high as I received so many congratulations. Many of my friends joined me for drinks before I took my family for a meal. It was a way of saying thank you as I owe these people so much. They have been great friends and such a support throughout the process.

I was on Cloud 9...and still am.

This has just really been mere details I have found it impossible to explain to you how truly amazing the day was. It seems ironic, I am a writer, yet sometimes words fail to appear when you are trying to describe a perfect moment so am going to end on this song for no other reason than I love it.



Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review of c.j. Skuse's Pretty Bad Things

Pretty Bad Things is c.j.skuse’s debut novel and is published by Chicken House. And what a debut! It is the story of Paisley and Beau, the ‘Wonder Twins’, who had first hit the headlines when they were six and were found lost in a forest. As readers, we join them when they are sixteen and they are given the letters that their absent dad had been sending to them from prison for the last ten years. Their grandmother had ordered that the letters should be destroyed but her housekeeper kept them and gave them to Beau instead. The twins had been separated for a lot of this time with Paisley being sent to various boarding schools which she inevitably was expelled from as she was a troublemaker whilst her brother had to live with their grandmother. He had learnt to keep his head down and not to rock the boat despite being badly bullied at school. The incident with the letters triggers a journey for the twins as they go to search for their absentee dad in Las Vegas. The dad they were told didn’t care about them. The letters showed otherwise. Their search for him becomes intertwined with crime as in a desperate attempt to find him they rob various candy stores leaving a trail behind them in the hope their dad will pick up on it.

As a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Winchester there is a second year module which I teach on entitled ‘Textual Intervention’ where we encourage students to look at stories, fairy tales etc and ‘intervene’ with them. Pretty Bad Things is a perfect example of this. The ‘intervention’ with Grimms’ Hansel and Gretal, is inspired. I have to say the grandmother is one of the most evil characters I have come across recently. A perfect witch. There were many times when I wondered how low could she go?

Skuse has produced two main characters with really strong yet distinctive voices. The story is told in the first person and the chapters alternate between Paisley and Beau so you get a balanced view of everything that goes on. I have to confess there were times when I wanted to slap Paisley but her desperation is so apparent that by the end you can almost forgive her anything. Talking of the ending, it is not predictable and neither is it sugar coated. This is a story full of emotion and effectively shows the turmoil of being a teenager. It also gives you, as the reader, that opportunity to vicariously experience being the rebellious teenager you always wanted to be.

This is a good and challenging read. Give it a go!

Whilst writing this review it has been a perfect autumn day so I thought this would be a perfect piece of music to finish on. Justin Hayward lived next door to a close family friend and this has so many memories of those times so this is for Aunt Syl and all the laughter from those times.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


When I handed my MA dissertation I felt bereft but nothing prepared me for the way I would feel once the PhD process was over with. I am totally lost. Something that filled every waking minute for the last four years has gone and I have to say it is a very strange and horrible feeling. What do I do now? Part of the problem is I don't think I ever thought beyond the PhD. I am told that there is plenty to do, just got to work out what it is. Doing a PhD gives you a structure and a title -you are a research student - then when it is has finished both have gone.

In a couple of weeks the whole process comes to a very final end when I graduate, which will be an amazing experience. We get to wear the most wonderful gowns and we graduate in Winchester Cathedral which is truly spectacular. I will be surrounded by family and friends so it will be a fantastic day. But I have set myself a challenge I have got to get over this dreadful feeling of loss by then. There is so much to do out there, so I am told, even if things like not being able to travel are thrown in my way. I have rewrites to do to the PhD novel for a publisher who have expressed an interest. I have papers to write. But it is all very scary. I think I need a whole bucket full of courage. Fancy holding my hand ;-)

I should also say I haven't been totally wasting my time. I have been reading several books which I am going to post reviews on very soon. It is a novelty to read a book without having to think how it fits in with the PhD, so there are benefits. Keep an eye out for my reviews on Meg Rosoff's There is no dog, c.j.Skuse's Pretty Bad Things and Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, for a start.

Don't get me wrong despite all the stress at times and the feeling of loss now I wouldn't change a thing. My PhD years were truly good years.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Plato and Virginia

Say hello to my new friends, Plato and Virginia Woolf, who have traveled all the way from Melbourne via Canberra to watch over me as I write. They are currently attached to my bed head - they are not only finger puppets but magnets too. Virginia is watching me get a 'room of one's own' as I plan to stop writing, working, living and sleeping on my bed and instead have that space to write! I am finding it harder and harder to write as I feel so cluttered and cornered. Whilst Plato is here to help me focus on my reasoning by helping me to understand the decisions I make/made. They are both here to help balance my left brain and right brain. Both of which I believe are required when writing. All creativity has a critical element. Decisions to be made such as what word to use or what direction to take the story/poem/script in. All these decisions come under the wonderful idea of being creatively critical and critically creative which, I believe, sums up the writing process. I love the idea of understanding my processes which is why I embarked on a PhD I do believe.

My PhD, as I have been told frequently, is just the beginning. And I thought so too, I had so many aspirations, which included world domination of course, unfortunately they have splintered in front of my eyes this week. I have to rethink so much now and learn to let my fingers do the walking instead. As always when things are hard I escaped into writing and reading. I came upon this: '...you might gain more and more trust in what is hard and in your own loneliness among other people. And otherwise let life take its course. Believe me: life is right, whatever happens.'(Rainer Maria Rilke) It is something I will keep reminding myself. In the meantime the song below was sent to me at my lowest moment by a friend who understood how sad I felt. In the meantime I just have to find new ways to have an impact on this world.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

The end of a chapter...maybe

 A friend sent  me a wonderful Rothko picture today as she has spent the weekend going round art galleries. It sounded like a wonderful time. We had spent some time together earlier in the summer which included an indulgent moment sitting in the Rothko Room in Tate Modern followed by a glass of champagne. Moments like that add to the 'rich tapestry of life'. I can hear my brother cringing from here as this was a saying he and my mother used to use all the time. It came to mind the other day when I was involved in a Facebook conversation about editing. I am someone who writes cold and edits hot. That is not the normal way round so I keep being told. I get the bare bones of the story down so I know I have a structure and then go back and edit it by adding in the 'colour' to bring it to life.

I keep trying to write at the moment but life gets in the way as there are things that need finishing. I do sit there with my manuscript and pencil ready to give it a go but the mind always drifts off elsewhere. There is part of me that wishes it was this time last year as I was about to embark on a Writer's Tutored Retreat having been awarded an Arvon Grant. It allowed me a whole week to write without any interruptions apart from the odd text message. It was the most wonderful experience and gave me the opportunity to finish the first complete draft of the PhD novel. But it was also a time which allowed me to remember why I write and why I love it so much. If you get the opportunity to go on a Arvon course or retreat take it, you will be surprised by how much you get out of it. Not only did I get write in peace and quiet but also I met up with a great group of like minded people with whom I am still in touch.

This piece of music was one of the old girl's favourites. It is all drama which was her all over. Tomorrow, hopefully, will be the end of a chapter connected with her that needs desperately to be finished so we can all move on. Fingers crossed

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Disjointed


Disjointed is a novel that started as my final year project when I was an undergrad. It was also the piece of creative writing that was responsible for me ending up doing a creative writing PhD that focused on the representations of sex, drugs and alcohol in YAF. Disjointed is a piece of YAF that looks at cannabis psychosis - not an on trend subject!!

Until recently it has resided in a bottom drawer which I always thought I would never revisit. However, whilst I am waiting for feedback from a publisher on Ham and Jam, another YA novel I have written, I thought I would look at it again and was quite surprised that it wasn't as desperate as I thought. When I first wrote it I did have some interest from a small publisher but they wanted me to change the psychotic voice to one that sounded like a hippy. Possibly arrogantly, I refused as that made a farce of the rest of the story.

Anyway I am thinking of rewriting it - which includes adding to it as at the moment it is too short. I want to make it darker as well. One of my main decisions is whether to change the setting. At the moment it is in middle England and I am wondering if I should move it to an inner city location - though is that a cliche and a little too predictable? Need to think on that one.

Coming back to a piece of old work can be daunting, in one way I find is like starting afresh and having pages of ideas to pick from but in another you try to have to pick up on the thoughts you had at the time of writing. You have to embark on that journey again. I found this quote recently in my PhD notes from Susan Sontag and I think it explains (not specifically) one of the aspects of writing for children really well, she says a novelist ‘...is someone who takes you on a journey. Through space. Through time. A novelist [who] leads the reader over a gap, makes something go where it was not' It is stepping into the experiential gap between perceived experienced adult writer and less experienced reader then inviting them to join and explore your story together. So I am going to pick up my Disjointed map and go for a trip whilst seeing if I can get any young adults to join me there!

I was looking for an appropriate song and came across this odd little song by Neil Diamond no less!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Ummmm


Well that was a faster U turn than any Coalition government.

I have been surprised, and totally humbled, by the number of people who have contacted me and in so many ways - email, in person, through facebook - asking me not to stop Chaosmos. I had no idea how many people were actually following me.

So I have had to do a little re-think. Chaosmos is coming back. I am aiming, as a friend suggested, to make it reflections on my work and that of others,and discussions of books I'm reading, or even new ideas pieces.

With that idea in mind I would like to mention a little book that someone gave me, entitled Carry a Poem. It is a delightful little book about snippets of poems that people carry around with them. A poem can say so much and mean so many different things as we bring our own cultural moment to our reading. One of the snippets was from an e e cummings poem which means a lot to me.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

I realised quite how many people carry my heart with them when they came out of the woodwork saying they enjoyed Chaosmos. This was further endorsed by several totally unrelated emails, some intentional, some not, that proved to me how many people care. I know I carry a lot of hearts with me but sometimes it is too easy to forget in this busy life that it is often a reciprocal thing.

I have heard this song sung by a very old friend who has a wonderful voice. She's not old but we've known each other for over 20 years. She also has one of the biggest hearts I know and is the only person who can get away with calling me 'Stumpy'. Enjoy a bit of Summertime

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Goodbye


In June I gained a doctorate then in July this gorgeous person pictured here joined our family. He is my grandson and very precious. As I cuddled him last night I told him about all the books I am going to write for him. It started me thinking about what I should do next.

This blog was my musings about my PhD and now that is virtually over I think it is time to stop. If I decide I have something worth saying maybe I will start a new blog. But for now it is time to move on. To those that have followed me, thank you.

I went to see these two groups when they performed at the hallowed Wembley stadium and yes I did pick a blade of grass. I saw Simon & Garfunkle in 1981 and Simply Red in 1991 then in 2001 I was too ill to do anything, and now, it is 2011. These songs have followed me around for many, many years and I think, for me, they are appropriate songs to finish with as I say goodbye and as I move on to who knows what. Enjoy!


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The end....

A week ago I was preparing for my final viva. The photo is of me immediately afterwards and, yes, I was a traumatised as I looked. Two long hours of interrogation but I walked away having been awarded a PhD (with some minor corrections) after four years of effort.The flowers were from a friend who started her PhD at the same time as me who came miles so she could be waiting outside, an absolute treasure. My DoS came in with me (he has to sit behind me) but prior he did his utmost to keep me calm by bringing a great friend with him, which was a wonderful surprise as she had been such a great support throughout the last year. He also played some music at my request as it kept my mind of what was to come.I owe him a lot. I also owe my children and my nephew a lot as they celebrated with me that night. I seem to be in debt to a lot of people!

But I feel I should be ecstatic but at the moment it hasn't sunk in so I feel more numb than anything. I don't feel like it is real.

I went straight from the viva to a conference which was good if exhausting followed by a day in London with the same friend who surprised me at my viva. We talked lots, laughed loads and occasionally cried some. We saw Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds and felt humbled, rested in Rothko's room and were enthralled by women war artists at the Imperial War Museum, then cried more at the awe-inspiring War Horse.

But now I am home and back to reality. It has been suggested that this should be the end of this blog and maybe it will be, but maybe it won't. At the moment I am not making any decisions. Instead I need to stop and think 'what next'. When I have made that choice you will be the first to know

In the meantime, here is one of my favourite songs. It is Kate Rusby's I belong to you. It is a theme that has run throughout my PhD but also in my 'past' life where it was a favourite for different reasons. Enjoy, as I love it.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Always look on the bright side...five days to go...


 In a few days it is the final viva of my PhD, the culmination of four years of hard work so I thought I would write my final pre viva post. If I am honest, I had been secretly looking forward to it, admittedly mixed with a fair amount of fear so I was possibly a little complacent. I thought I knew my thesis inside out...and I do if I just chat to someone with reference to it. But ask me a question about the thing and my brain moves out quicker than my ex husband did a few hundred years ago.

How do I know this? I had a mock viva with my very patient DoS who asked me questions and when he did I froze or would manage to answer questions on a superficial basis. I did a great impression of a goldfish as I sat there, mouth opening and closing whilst I prayed that some legible words would come out of it and he looked at me expectantly. If he used the word Foucault (my nemesis you may remember) in the question then that is all I heard. I was a wreck by the end of it and any shred of complacency was dispelled, which is probably a good thing.

Luckily for me my DoS is good on connections and how to make them and how to remember them (wait til you read his new book!) so I have a weekend of connections planned as I refuse to let down the people who have supported me throughout this process so in the meantime, a little Monty Python...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Why the writing never stops


It was Maurice Blanchot who stated that 'the writer never knows if the work is done' in fact '...the work of art the literary work - is neither finished nor unfinished: it is.' How right he was. When I handed in my novel for my PhD, I loved it and was very happy with the way it had turned out. That was a couple of months ago and this week I went back to it, just to have a read through again before my viva. That was a mistake. I kept finding things that I want to change, whole sections I want to rewrite. How can I like something and be happy with it one moment and feel it is not good enough in the next. At the moment there is nothing I can do about it, other than accept 'it is'.

It made me realise that maybe that is a writer's lot. You spend your life wanting to change anything you have written. It is never finished. It could always be tweaked just one more time. This is not restricted to fictional writing though, it is just as applicable to any academic writing you do. Indeed, any writing - even your shopping list. Face the fact your life as a writer is going to be one long rewrite and edit!

This is a piece called La Serenisssima by Loreena McKennitt. It was given to me by a friend who said it was great to write to...I might do some re-writing to it!

Friday, 3 June 2011

12 days and counting....I want to be writing...!


12 days and counting....what's that about eh? It is 12 days until I have to defend the document in the picture at my final viva and I am trying to stay focused when all I want to do is write. I want to escape into made up worlds creating new lives but I can't, not yet. Instead I am trying to keep tight control of my nemesis Foucault and all the other arguments I have in my critical piece. As well as trying to remember why I made the decisions I did when writing the novel part - Ham and Jam. I am being given lots of advice but actually it will all be irrelevant if I can't keep my brain working. When I'm nervous my brain freezes and my mouth fills up with cotton wool as it open and closes like a goldfish. Considering this is a creative writing PhD I can be incredibly inept with words as I try to find the right ones to answer any questions asked - and don't get me wrong, this can be as simple as 'what is your name?'

That's bad enough but am also surrounded by piles of marking which I am slowly plodding through. This work is by my students from the University of Winchester and they deserve my full attention as they have often put their heart and soul into their piece of work so I need to focus on that too.

So between those two pressures I am close to screaming pitch and wanting to throw things out of the window - a real dolly out of the pram moment. It will be over soon enough and I can then do what I am desperate to do, in fact so desperate it almost hurts, I want to be writing again. Does anyone else get that sort of pain? It is like an irritating mozzie bite that needs scratching. I have ideas buzzing around in my head that need dealing with but I keep having to squash them to make sure there is plenty of space for all the stuff I need in the viva. But then...who knows what I will be writing.

Below is a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter entitled I have a need for solitude and that title could have been written for me. It is a song from one of her cds which was part of a collection of cds given to me recently by a good friend who knows what I can be like. They have been my saviour.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Children's books

Recently there has been a plethora of babies being born, the wonderful Ruaidhri who was in such a hurry he couldn't wait for the midwife and had to be caught by his father, Molly and Phoebe both beautiful little girls and, of course, in a few weeks time Noah will be making his entrance to make my daughter's family even more perfect than it is now. When I found out my gorgeous daughter was pregnant I was determined to buy him his first book (how could I not?!). I asked Charlie what book she would like and there was no hesitation: 'It has to be The Hungry Caterpillar, that was my favourite!' And so it was. It is a book we can recognise from the main character and many a parent has sat and read the story to their child. Remember those perfect moments when they sit on your lap engrossed in the story. You can now buy clothes which bear the Hungry Caterpillar logo on...oh the commodification of childhood...but this is not the place to discuss that.

What I did want to talk about was an epiphany I had, probably one that has already occurred to you, but I wanted to share my version. I am lucky enough to write books for children and I also teach people who wish to write books for children. At the moment the world is full of doom and gloom and austerity, not a good place to be a writer you would think. However, (here's my epiphany) with all these babies being born (and will continue to be born) there is always going to be a need for children's books whether they are the hard copy or an e-copy! Children will need books, good stories that wrap them in a hug, stories that challenge their view on the world and stories that provide sanctuary to escape into. Perhaps, therefore, being a children's writer (aspiring or published) is a good place to be because you know there will always (or maybe eventually) be a market for your work.

So keep writing, don't stop, the children need you!

This is the 'Candy Man' as sung by Sammy Davis Jnr. It was used in the film of Charlie and Chocolate Factory, one of my favourite books and films but also the Candy Man epitomises what it is to be a children's author 'who can make tomorrow and put it in a dream'. Enjoy

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Writing is a roller coaster ride

There is picture, called 'Man Reading in the Garden' is by Honore Daumier (1808 to 1879) and was first brought to my attention during a keynote speech given by Philip Pullman. Talking afterwards he very kindly sent me the details and a link to a copy of it. We both love what it represents and for me it is a reminder of why I write as I know there is nothing more delightful than being lost in a book. To me it's a very calm picture and one I would look at a lot in the last few weeks of my PhD. I needed its soothing balm. I have a copy at home and in my office. I would love to see the original but though it is kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York it currently is not on view. One day maybe...

The writing hangover mentioned last week is still there. I did manage to write a creative writing exercise I had been commissioned to do and had a deadline for and I managed to tidy up some references in a book a friend is writing, but to actually write something for me that is creatively rather than academically based is proving to be an issue. I want to submit a piece on 'beginnings' for the new Gumbo Press e-zine and I have masses of notes but seem to have an issue with actually starting it. Empty page/screen syndrome!

I follow a good friends blog and the two most recent posts epitiomised, to me, this roller coaster activity which I so love. On Friday they spoke about how easy writing was, just a matter of getting the words in the right order, then yesterday it was a post full of sighs and doubt as to whether what they are producing is good enough. It is, I have read it, but I also understand that doubt. I ride that roller coaster on a regular basis it can be thrilling yet more often than not it is terrifying. On that note I have also taken the next step in my new beginnings, if they are successful I will tell you, if not I will disappear quietly into a corner to lick my wounds before repeating the process, but thank you to Nicky Schmidt for her support and advice in this matter.

It was my final week of recuperation but I didn't manage as much reading as I had hoped, too many distractions. And this week I am back to work on Tuesday and I am hosting an event for our third years when Morag Joss is going to come in to talk to the students about being a writer. It should be a wonderful event and a great way back into the working environment before the stress of assignment and final year project marking comes flooding in.

I am still not as strong as I would like to be so need to take things a bit slower and to remember that I'm no super[woman]....

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Something old, something new, something borrowed....

I have had a week of forced recuperation following surgery. I had promised my children, and many friends, that this time I would let the body heal rather than my normal “I’m fine!” approach where I never actually stop to take a breath regardless of what has been done to me. It also felt like a full stop ending a period in my life. It was a brief moment to take breath before starting the next phase and whatever that might bring. I had planned to write but the brain wasn’t willing. I think the final ultra-stressful last few weeks of intense writing and re-writing in the lead up to submitting my PhD left me with, and as Meg Rosoff has recently highlighted, a writing hangover. So instead of sitting looking at a blinking cursor on an empty screen I decided to read. For the first time for nearly nine years of study and enforced reading (BA, MA and submitting a PhD) I could read anything I wanted to.

So firstly, ‘something old,’ I read Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse first published in 1946 and also the Carnegie Medal winner for that year. It was one of those books which give no clue to the delight to come when you start with a dark journey across what appears to be a gloomy moor. It is a quest story where the delightful Maria Merryweather with the help of numerous animals helps to make amends for the past misdemeanours of her long dead relatives that lead her into all sorts of dangerous escapades and adventures. As a reader you are taken through the rock tunnel to a sumptuous story that is full of colour. It draws you in then wraps its pages around you like a hug. It is a ‘Pollyanna’ of a book. But don’t get me wrong it is not a sentimental book even though every plot and subplot is neatly tied up by the end of story like every perfect ‘shoelace’ aka plotline should be. It is gentle yet thrilling; romantic yet scary. The characters are a delight and fully rounded. In particular, I fell in love with Marmaduke Scarlet and his ability to cook and his insistence on using the longest words possible in every conversation. On that note I should point out it is a ‘wordy’ book but that is one of the reasons I loved it. It is also one of those books I wished I could have written.

Continuing on the note of past misdemeanours the second book, ‘something new’, is one which deals with some very difficult issues. It is Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace, also a prize winner, but this time it won the Costa Children’s Book Award for 2010. It is a good but truly uncomfortable read as it takes us back to Zimbabwe in the 1980s. It is a school story but a school story like no other I have ever read. It is certainly not Malory Towers. The main character, Robert Jacklin, is from England but has to go to Zimbabwe following his Dad’s new job and is sent to a boarding school there. The war for independence is over and Robert Mugabe has come to power. And I think as an adult maybe it is that fact that meant I found it an uncomfortable read knowing what has since happened to Zimbabwe. You know there must have been people like the characters in this book but it doesn’t make it easier to read, it is not one, unlike the previous book, to wrap itself round you. It is a tense book where you often find yourself holding your breath reading rapidly to see what is going to happen next. There is a rawness to the narrative which I believe relates to the subject matter and the author, Jason Wallace’s ability to use language so economically yet so powerfully. It is just as good a read as The Little White Horse but in a different way. It leaves you with many questions and a definite feeling of ‘what if?’

And finally, ‘something borrowed’ or rather something recommend, which I think is like borrowed as it is like this great friend gave it to me to read when she suggested it. The book is a collection of stories by Alice Munro entitled Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage which was first published in 2001 and is a book for adults – things I have not read a lot of in the last four years! Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime of work. She is an outstanding short story writer and like Wallace her economic use of language just holds you tight and leads you through her short stories, each one of which is like a compact novel. It is something you can dip in and out of when you have a spare moment. It was a delight to read. One of my favourites in the collection, possibly in a slightly macabre way, is ‘Comfort’ where we hear how Nina deals with the suicide of her partner ‘Lewis’. It is a story on so many layers that leaves you feeling quite sated yet frustrated by the end. Her ability with words and her tightness of narrative was inspiring and something I will experiment with in my own writing.

Though I have spent the week reading there has been a lot of pre-writing going on, mulling over things, considering changes I want to make to The Book Protectors’ Daughter. I will not be touching Ham & Jam for a while. It is too painful for me at the moment (fear of finding a mistake) plus it is currently with a publisher at the moment who expressed an interest and wanted to see it when it was PhD ready. ‘Expressed an interest’ was a lovely and secure feeling to be able to say but now it is at risk because at any moment there could be that email that says ‘no thanks’ and you are left trying to work out what to do with it next. I am trying not to think about that bit and it is so difficult to type with your fingers crossed all the time.

I have another week of recuperation before back to work and lecturing so will take the chance to read some more and maybe the hangover will be over and I can start writing again.

But finally to complete the saying....'something blue' Here are The Beatles singing 'For You Blue': http://youtu.be/vcQ0YaAlnww (Youtube is not allowing you to embed things today so am afraid it is a case of using the link and clicking on it - hopefully)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Beginnings


I started this blog just over a year ago and as I have said in previous posts the aim of it was to tell the tale of my PhD. At that time I didn't know when I would be submitting but now it is done. The thesis was handed in last week. My plans for the blog though were hijacked by life and certain things that happened within that year that had a major impact on my world. Well that year is over now, a pesky gall bladder has been removed and it is time to start new beginnings.

These new beginnings will start with this blog (which I know I have said before but once again life got in the way). Chaosmos is a word used by James Joyce and means 'out of chaos comes order' and that is the way I write, therefore, this blog is going be about my writing and not about my academic career. I have two novels (I am not counting the one that will remain safely in the bottom drawer for the moment) - a YA novel called Ham and Jam which is completed and polished; the other is a book aged at 7-10 called The Book Protectors' Daughter which needs a good seeing to. My plan for the next few weeks is to get that done and then decide which one I am going to submit to the SCBWIs Undiscovered Voices competition.

There are some very impressive blogs out there (rather than list them I suggest you look at the ones I follow as a guide) and I am not going to attempt to compete with them. What I can offer with my blog is sharing some of my experiences, any useful tips I come across and useful sites to visit or books to read.

Annie Lennox singing about a shining light which I hope will lead me into these new beginnings

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sentimentality and Mother's Day



Earlier this week I was accused of being a sentimental old cow....and I can't deny it, I am every one of those things. Music, words, places, people and the things they do mean a huge amount to me. And this is going to be unashamedly sentimental post.

In the UK it is Mother's Day, the first without the old dear. She always saw it is as another excuse for a few glasses of wine but also loved to receive huge bunches of flowers and to see all her children. This time last year she was in hospital and I have a wonderful photo of my three sisters sitting up in bed in her house before they went off to see her. It is also the first for my daughter who is a soon to be mummy so lots to look forward to and try not to look backwards too often. I know I am lucky with my children, they have been so strong and coped with so much. Dealing with a suddenly disabled mother when you are 15, 13 and 11 is not easy but they did it. They have been my inspiration for my PhD and have kept me going throughout. They are not perfect but I wouldn't want them to be.

We are also part of a large family and I have so many sentimental memories of my times with them. Some not that long ago at a huge family wedding. And we really didn't mean to set fire to the tables....

As I said I am proud to be sentimental in the same way I like to say thank you and let people know how much I appreciate them. So for all those Mummy's out there, Happy Mother's Day, for all my friends and family. Thank you for being there. To my children - tough you're stuck with me x

The song attached is also pure sentimentality and for the gorgeous daughter. It was one of 'our' songs.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Submission


On the 1st March 2007 I registered to do a PhD. Today, 1st April 2011, I submitted my thesis - a novel and an accompanying critical exegesis. And what an amazing feeling and an incredible journey it has been. I have been to America, France, Scotland and numerous places within the UK to talk about my subject. Met some truly wonderful people and made some great friends along the way. There have been some lows but even more highs. My family have stuck by me throughout. I know how lucky I am. This song was sent to me recently by a very good friend to celebrate the final proof read of the novel. And there is no better way to say how I feel today. Thank you to everyone who has been there for me. You know who you are x

Sunday, 27 March 2011

F**king Foucault!

Here is a collection of some of the books I have on Michel Foucault. A man who used to be my nemesis but is beginning to turn into my secret lover as I flirt with his work. I don't think I will ever be able to claim I am an expert on him as I find just as I think I 'get him' the concept slips out of my grasp. Let's hope he doesn't turn back into my nemesis at the final viva! This new 'understanding' has come about due to a very patient friend and an equally patient DoS! I admit I can be very thick at times...

The song below is by Labi Siffre,someone I hadn't thought of for ages until I saw a post by Alan Gibbons on facebook this morning - thank you Alan. The title of the song is 'Something inside so strong' and that is what you need to have when you are doing a PhD. Many may call it madness but you have to have something that drives you towards the end and keeps you going. At times it would have been too easy to give up but there was always that voice from inside that said 'I know I can make it'.

It is a song that I would also like to dedicate to all those who marched against the cuts yesterday and all those throughout the world who are currently fighting to get their voices heard. Stay strong





Saturday, 19 March 2011

Perigee Moon



It has been an unusual day. Firstly I have finished the final edits on the PhD novel. It just needs to go to the DoS and the rest of the team to have a final look and then it should be submission ready. It is going to be very hard to let go as you already know. Having said that, reading it again today, it is still a story I love and am so pleased I have written regardless of what the future holds for it.
The other unusual event was seeing a perigee moon which I have just seen as I drove back home. I have never seen anything quite so beautiful or big.There were some people I would have loved to have shared it with but even so it was still the perfect ending to the day. A sign of all these new beginnings maybe? It certainly was in charge of the sky.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Confession


I have spent four years buried in this PhD, I suppose it became my 'raison d’être' and within the month I am likely to hand it over. And this is where the confession comes in - I am absolutely terrified. There will be this big hole in my life and it will be very much a case of 'what next?' To which I can only answer, I have no idea and that is frightening in itself. It is very easy to feel alone at the moment.

The worst (and best) thing is, and I know all you authors out there will understand this, is that I have potential interest in the novel that is part of the PhD. It is such a wonderful phrase 'potential interest' - it is full of hope. Once the PhD is submitted they want to see it, but suddenly that potential interest is something that could be whipped away in a brief email of 'not interested.' It is so hard to let go of the novel and in particular let go of that security blanket phrase 'potential interest.' I need to 'Man-up' as my children say and face the world and the reality of it all by sending it out and thinking of the next novel which is bubbling away in the background.

Virginia Woolf says 'The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.' My balance seems to be biased towards the anguished at the moment. I need to find more laughter as my heart is definitely asunder.

So to quote Jackson Browne 'I will try anything' (maybe this is the start, my laptop has allowed me to add music!)

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Endings

It is 4am and I can't sleep. All the minor niggles of life have suddenly become massive as is the joy of any 4am musing. Yesterday was a long day for many reasons some too personal to share here for the moment. But I finally saw a very dim light at the end of the PhD tunnel. It is happening despite my thoughts over the past few months that I would never get there. Am awake because of the mixed emotions that are now surrounding that. When I started my PhD there was a sense of security within the academic community. So much hope. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. Very few places are in a position to employ new lecturers and that was not something I had anticipated. I feel there are so many endings coming up but what about the beginnings are they really there too?

I really hope so

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

It's been a while...

Oh the guilt, one of my new year's resolutions was to blog more - failed miserably but with good reason though as every waking moment is focused on the PhD. I was warned (repeatedly) how hard the last few months were, but hey I thought I'm tough I can cope with anything, have you seen how much crap I have had to deal with. Failed again. This afternoon I got close to throwing the laptop across the room in frustration as my brain just wouldn't think through the idea I needed it to. It felt like it could explode at any moment but I got there. Alongside the stress is the satisfaction of seeing something that has been part of my life for the last four years develop into something truly tangible and, of course, it will be worth it in the end...

Tomorrow is my birthday and the start of another year, a year in which, hopefully, I will get my PhD, my gorgeous daughter will present me with an equally gorgeous baby and I hope to have a bedroom to sleep in and another room to work/live in. At the moment and for the last four years I have lived/slept/worked all in one room. It is too complicated to explain why but just take my word for it. Maybe once it is sorted I will post a picture of the new rooms. There are a lot of new beginnings and in some ways quite a few endings. This time last year I could not possibly of anticipated what the year was to bring so who knows what will happen this year. I was born in the year of the Rabbit, as was my eldest son and gorgeous daughter's partner. Apparently last week when it was the Chinese New Year, it was the year of the Rabbit and therefore should be a lucky one for the three of us. That would be good.

Note to self: must try harder lol