Sunday 28 February 2010

Rumination and germination

I love that moment when a seed of an idea falls from a star and plants itself in your brain waiting for a point of germination. The point of germination comes when a story is ready for it and only then. The other components from the story whether plot or character feed and water that germinating idea until it blooms into a fully formed thought ready for rumination.
Rumination is the point when you take the idea and roll it around like a boiled sweet in your mouth. It starts to fit properly in to your story but then comes the hard bit, you have to get that fully formed idea that you have honed impeccably on to the page. The words you use need to paint the image exactly as it is in your head. It needs to live as much as it does there so the reader gets to see your picture too. This I think could be tied in with Meg Rosoff's idea of 'throughness' and writing as a reader.
I have one of those little gems of an idea rolling round my head at the moment, it dips and dives as it develops ready for ruminating. It comes from all the books, music and films that fill my head. But it is an idea on its own belonging to no one else and ready soon to appear on the page. To create a special moment for the reader...or so I hope.
Enjoy catching your own ideas as they fall from the stars, germinate them then when fully grown ruminate with them until they are ready to be painted on your page.
I have used this song purely because of a conversation with someone who had a life size cardboard cut out of Bruce in her office (connected with work). So this if for those moments past H

Saturday 27 February 2010

Throughness and Ambivalence

This is a beautiful picture by George Kennedy of a horse doing dressage. Why? Well apart from the fact I have loved riding since I was very young I read the most wonderful and enlightening piece by Meg Rosoff in her blog on how she discusses a term used in dressage - 'throughness' and applies it to the connection between writer and reader - see her blog on 'Throughness' is a dressage term that describes that perfect communication between rider and horse. She perceives that it is a communication that is also achieve able between reader and writer. Where something she has written she knows is so good that the reader will understand exactly what she means. Meg suggests that she knows which pieces in a book will be used in a review and the considers that they often come from one of these 'throughness' moments where her writing has almost come straight from the subconscious.
I think this is the most wonderful concept and defines something I have been thinking about for several weeks not just as a writer but as a reader as well. We all know the best books to read are the ones we fell like we have walked into. As a reader you are so totally immersed in the story you become part of the plot with everything going on around you fading into oblivion. As a writer it is that moment when the words just fall out of the end of your fingers and you almost have no control on what is being said, it is the writer deep inside that doesn't have to think too much that has made a rare trip to the forefront of your brain because it is has something really important irresistible to say. This state either for reader or writer cannot be forced not can be it be predicted.But it is a moment of pure 'throughness' where the writer and reader are connected by a pulsating umbilical cord of understanding, they could be perceived as one at that particular moment.
I have one of those glorious weeks where I have had the opportunity to discuss my own work quite a bit. It is very self indulgent but also very useful when doing a creative writing PhD. It gives ideas that have been fermenting away a forum allowing those concepts, now fully formed, to make an entrance into the real world. They become clear and focused when verbalised.
This leads me onto another word I have been exploring this week and that is 'ambivalence'. Both Angela Carter and Freud suggest that ambivalence allows something to move from being 'othered' to being 'normal' implying that the more something is written about the more ambivalent people become to it. It seems a bit of an oxymoron in that ambivalence means to me that someone doesn't care but by writing about it a lot surely implies that you do care. However, as a concept it works and works well. It makes it to explain that sort of movement - for example in Melvin Burgess's Junk in 1996 uses cannabis and heroin to illustrate drug use. Now cannabis has become invisible and part of the plot, just every day life, whilst cocaine is used where cannabis was previously. It is often the drug of choice by writers to highlight drug use now.
Throughness and ambivalence two words I need to do more thinking about...I will let you know.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Chaos and connections

I have had one of those days. I started off doing a 'to do' list which was quite disturbing in itself as it was very long and all needed to be done in a very short space of time. I have to say there was enough there to make me want to sit in a dark corner and weep - 'I can't do it.' And then more kept coming in and with deadlines that were just as tight and required so much research- aargh.
However having kicked a few desks and screamed loudly that I can't do this as well, plus various other things that cannot be put here. I sat down, added to my 'to do' list which was very depressing and then slowly worked my way through it. I am going to be working some very long hours for the next few days and be very grey and tired by Friday But I began to see connections in the things I was doing. I could see links and opportunities to prove my point in the various bids, research, lecture prep, RIT prep, supervision, marking and oh PhD.
This blog will be quiet for a few days as I have other things to do...will let you know how the lecture goes. Harrumph

Monday 22 February 2010

sadness at the world

Munch's The Scream (or The cry) couldn't be more applicable to the way I feel about the world and the people in it at times. I find it sad that so many people think it is acceptable to be rude and arrogant. There is no excuse or justification for it. Maybe there would be less animosity, selfishness and possibly even poverty if we learnt to be generous of heart instead of being totally wrapped up in the self.
We all have pressures whether they are family, work, financial, health or a perceived lifestyle that needs to be achieved but these pressures do not give anyone the right to stop thinking of others and of caring. A smile, a please or a thank you cost nothing but can lift someone's day enormously because you don't know what they might be going through behind that facade of normality.
I watched the news tonight, it is full of flood and tempest and yes the Biblical reference was deliberate. I do think someone/thing/whatever is sending us a message. It is saying 'sort yourself out' to society in general. Stop being greedy and self-centred. Stop destroying each other and the world we share. In fact it is just saying STOP AND THINK before you do anything - could you hurt someone/something either physically or emotionally by your actions, could you make someone feel better by doing something different?

Sunday 21 February 2010


This is the woman who gave me life and lost her own fight for life on Saturday 10th April. I started this post when she was poorly in the hope of inspiring her to fight. She did for a very long time but just couldn't quite beat it at the end.

She was a strong character with a sharp brain. When she was tiny she was given a live baby penguin for Christmas. She came from a family who built a lot of Croyden and had a mother who worked for the speaker of the House of Commons. She danced almost from the moment she walked. She was sent to school in Belgium to stop her wanting to be an actress...she never stopped wanting that.
During the war she was a naughty WRN, thrown over fences when she was back after curfew amongst other things. Handed out sweets and cigarettes to all the soldiers the night before the D Day landings. She saw things people shouldn't see. She refused to marry someone because he was too high class. But then married someone she loved dearly and her parents didn't approve of. She acted in a film with Laurence Olivier briefly. She and my father knew how to party with a variety of people some famous, some not so but all good friends to them. On her 60th birthday she and my father decided to go to Brighton Nudist beach, just because they could and because they had never done anything like that before. Good thing her birthday was in July. These are just a mere taster of the things my mother got up to.
She did her bit to populate the world as there are five of us, fifteen grandchildren, six great grand children and three step great grand children. She was a very special woman to us all and we will miss her but we do have to make sure our lives are as full as hers was.
I will put her favourite songs here tomorrow


 My own weaknesses have been highlighted to me yet again this week. I am planning on going on a research trip for my PhD novel, it was suggested and then confirmed by the medical profession that I should not plan to travel alone. I need to be accompanied by someone who is willing to act as a support/carer if required. That was a shock! I know it is all with good reason and I know they are right - the joys of having a body that doesn't work properly. But I am now grieving yet again for a perceived lost of potential life. The first time I grieved was when I was first taken ill and I lost my identity. I went from being a successful and vibrant businesswoman to someone who couldn't get out of the house without being exhausted.
Then I had to grieve the fact that my social life would never be the same - I can't eat - at my age most of our social life was based on eating - either at restaurants or eating at friends house. I have no problem sitting with people who are eating but it is very difficult for them and often they have told me it makes them feel guilty and uncomfortable. So I avoid those situations now as I feel guilty for making them feel awkward. It is difficult also to explain in restaurants why you don't want to eat anything so why are you there or if you try and save embarrassment you order food and then only take a mouthful you then have to explain that there is nothing wrong with the food (often to the chef personally as they have taken personal offence).
These were times when I would go back to my writing as it was cathartic and it was a place where I could write the truth as I knew I would never show them to anyone and to this day I haven't and never will as they are from desperate moments.
BUT this weakness allowed me to make the most important change to my life and not many people get that chance. I went to university. I found a life there where they welcome people who are different. I found the passion of my life - writing and reading and the chance to share that with others who are equally passionate. And now as a lecturer I get the chance to try and inspire others. It is a good life and I am very lucky despite the googlies that are sent my way on what seems to be quite a regular basis.
I will deal with not being able to run off on my own on the spur of the never know a knight in shining armour may ride up and take me away so I still get to do it on the spur of the moment. In the meantime I am lucky I have a family who are willing to be that carer so whilst I wait for that knight I will enjoy my time with the people I love and who share my passion for my writing. But most importantly my writing will become stronger and deeper as a direct result of my weaknesses and the support and care of those who surround me both at home and at work. Thank you one and all x

Saturday 20 February 2010

Connections and circles

During last week I was looking for an image I could use in a lecture. I came across this photograph by Martin Parr - one of my favourite photographers. He was at Manchester Poly along with my sister where they both studied photography together. Her life followed a very different path to his but I still see her as one of the best photographers I know even though her current career bears no relation to her past studying. I love the simplicity of her photographs and have a series of them on my wall that she gave me. Why am I mentioning this - well she was the first to introduce me to true creativity. I was very young when she was studying but I can still remember the power of her photographs - a simple green apple in a frosted glass to a stripper emblazoned across a curtain. At that point I started to understand what impact images can have, it was the beginning of one of my circles. I often use photographs to inspire my writing or I give students a selection of photographs in order to make the connection between a photo and a narrative because that's the point, every photograph has a story - real or fictional - it is just waiting there to be told.
The simplicity of my sister's photographs belies the richness of the images plus the (often) hours of thought behind them. It is this that I have been trying to achieve with my writing but have found recently instead that there is a fine line between no atmosphere and gag-enducing purple prose! I am looking for that balance.
My search for that balance has included loking back through some of my favourite books in order to try and make the connections between images that are barely there but are powerful enough to fill the reader's imgination and those that are blatant and blunt but just as effective. Several books came to mind including Cosmicomics, Holes, Palace Pier Blues, The Book Thief and The Bloody Chamber, All of which achieve to varying degrees the balance of simplicity and richness in their descriptions.
The Bloody Chamber came to mind as it is a book that I am lecturing on next week. This has lead to further connections as I have been reading about Angela Carter this afternoon and apparently with my PhD looking at the representation of sex entitles me to label myself a 'moral pornographer' (an image I quite like if I am honest). In that it is my aim with my thesis novel to construct a text where the woman's sole purpose is not to just gratify the man, instead it is the demystification of flesh and a reflection of the real world where all are equal and desire is not shame-faced. I felt that sort of connection this afternoon.

Friday 19 February 2010


A migraine has pounced at least it waited to totally incapacitate me until after I had done my reading. Today all the lecturers on the textual intervention module (which includes me) were asked to read their own work and talk about any TI involved. Seems like a fairly simple thing doesn't it? Until you try and decide which piece of work you are going to read. My PhD novel is in no fit state having just restarted it, a previous novel I have written called Disjointed, about cannabis psychosis, just wouldn't work when read out as I can't do a psychotic voice and it looked better on the page. This left me with a soft fantasy I am writing for 9-12 year olds, called The Book Protectors' Daughter. It is a novel I was loving writing as it was so far removed from my PhD. It was true escapism, but I hadn't shared it with anyone yet and I wasn't sure it was ready. Reading it this morning confirmed that, it was like giving birth to a premature baby and I am now not sure it is going to survive. I may actually have killed it off by showing it too early. It ws gut wrenching.
It made me start wondering if it is only writers that feel like this or do all creative artists in the broadest sense have the same problems. Does a painting stagnate if exposed before its time? Is a piece of music shocked into silence if not ready? Do we prepare our students for these feelings or do we all pretend that we and our work are infallabile? Perhpas they need to know the truth and the reality of being a writer. It is not always an easy ride though in the long run the good outweighs the bad if you truly love writing as I do. Maybe I will get TBPD out of intensive care eventually but until then it is on a life support machine - a usb stick in a drawer...

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Creativity 2

Today is a crimson day. Rage or passion....same thing at times?
I love Rothko's work for the colours he uses and the simplicity. As with his painting it can often be said of your writing that less is more.
Tomorrow I am doing a session with third year students on where they think creativity is based - in the work or in the person type of thing? It should be interesting as they are a good and very vocal group.
Creativity and criticality are something I am passionate about and I hope to write an article with my DoS - in the not too distant future - based on a model we have created where creativity is embedded with a critical methodological approach. (Very loose description). This works alongside/through the idea of the gyre that I have already spoken about in previous posts. The creative feeds off the critical which in turn feeds off the creative, a continuous process and like ontological and epistemological stances feeding off each other. Pedagogically, for me anyway, I see this concept as a way of getting students to understand the idea of creativity with an academic slant - with my other hat on I would suggest it is a prime example of research informed teaching. This also allows me to justify to those doubters who have trouble with the validity of a creative writing PhD. I can talk ontological and epistemological stances till the moon turns crimson.
There is a problem with trying to fit creativity neatly into a box and that is creativity isn't neat, predictable or obvious. It comes in many formats - music, poetry, sculpture, prose or in fact anything you make using your hands. But being a former business woman I would suggest that there is a lot of creativity in enterprise (and I am not talking accounting here), to be successful in business you need to have the vision, the understanding of something that can be as intangible as a business plan, for example. They are created of words and numbers all put together in a certain order in exactly the same way as the novelist writes their novel or the poet conjures up their poem. It is all couched in creativity just some aren't as willing as others to see the fact. The ones that scoff at it are normally the ones who criticise doing a creative writing degree suggesting it is a soft subject. What they don't take into consideration are the transferable skills that any CW student will be able to add to their CV after completing their degree. Admittedly there is the obvious one - they will be able to write - but also they will be used to working to tight deadlines (both time and word counts), they can analyse, research, summarise, edit, manage their time, learn to think both creatively and critically and use both to great effect, work as a team and on their own, manage projects and most importantly have confidence in their worth. Any employer should be very pleased to employ a student of creative writing as they will have gained an adaptable, innovative, enthusiastic and conscientious member of staff.
The moon has turned crimson, time to stop. This is Bert Jansch singing Crimson Moon.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

it is a clear day

I would like to be walking along a beach today because the fog has gone. Everything suddenly has become clear as crystal. Isn't it good when that happens? When all the discordant pieces fall into place making sense of the world...or rather the PhD. And all it took was listening to W H Auden's 'Night Mail':
That sense of rhythm, the undulation of tone....oh and a really useful supervisory meeting. As I said in a previous posting I wasn't sure whether a supervisor should be an editor too but the meeting this morning proved that they can be both. It was a good balance between critical theory, creativity and editing. I left with threads of Foucault's Panoptican and Bakhtin's Carnivalesque forming a web of fiction that will draw any teenager in.I love it when a plan comes together (who said that?)
I got told off for a red gingham cliche so as a foil to that here is a suitably naff but self explantory song lol

Monday 15 February 2010

writing in colours

I want to write about writing in colours, this first came to mind sitting in a lecture last week where the lecturer spoke about a musical video that he had used as research for a novel he is writing. He spoke about wanting that image to run through his narrative. And this made me think of the idea of writing in colours (not different coloured pens btw though you can if you want to). It is where you can develop your narrative to such an extent that the reader is standing at the edge, having been led by your words, ready and willing to feel, see, hear and touch your story. They have become it, from a book being part of their macro-narrative to being so involved in the piece that it has become a micro-narrative. For that brief moment it is their world. This, I think, as writers is a moment we need to aspire to. It should be our purpose, our raison d'etre,our inspiration, our rhythm of life even.

Kundera says that the raison d'etre of the novel is to try and understand life. That puts a huge amount of pressure on a writer. I would rather go back to my writing in colours and use that as a means of giving time to people, time to escape, time to understand their own lives by being swallowed up by a the story. Sometimes we all need time to stop to understand, to switch off, to let the answers flow. I mentioned in a previous blog part of the reason behind this is a research informed teaching project and that is why I am sitting in on a module. But this module is giving me time to listen and think. It gives me that moment, that breathing space to allow things to fall into place and make sense again. It reminds me of the things I know but had forgotten I knew and also reminds me why I need to know them. Afterwards writing in colours is always easier and more focused. Maybe we all need to do that, a chance to stop and take life in, a time to listen and breath. A time just to be. Today is a lavender day - lavender pens, jumpers, skies.

Sunday 14 February 2010


Is this a piece of art? If it had the name Jackson Pollock then you would all say 'yes, of course.' But actually the signature in the corner is mine. It is something I did a few years ago. At the time it was my idea of how creativity is perceived. And to some extent I still agree with myself, however, I see it more as a beginning. It represents that spark of an idea. It is vaguley connected but basically all over the place. This randomness is smoothed out by research. It could be the background research that gives your writing depth and credibility. It could be the reading of books that are similar or have had a direct though probably unconscious impact on your writing. I don't consider this smoothing out as a straightforward process, as any research undertaken so further sparks of idea are inspired as can be seen above. I would suggest that it only reaches that totally symmetical gyre as you reach the end of the process. At the risk of repeating myself - this is my own personal chaosmos - out of chaos (the picture above) comes order (see below):

I told my students last week that this week we are going to discuss where creativity is based. Is it in the work or in yourself. Some bright spark suggested the pen which I suppose is not totally wrong. As though we are discussing where it might be based I would suggest there is no answer as I think is creativity is everywhere and sometimes we try to look too hard for answers. I'd rather just accept the fact it exists and not analyse it - or is that just a cop out?!

This rather randomly leads on to how many times I have to justify the fact I am doing a creative writing PhD. The usual comment is: it isn't a 'normal/proper' (fill in as you feel appropriate) PhD is it? Why not? It involves just as much, if not more (pause for screams of anger), research and analysis so what makes it not normal or proper. OK I am going to stop there as I may get into rant mode and this not what my blog is about.

I am still struggling with my writing which is distressing in itself. I have got find a way back to it, I have all these ideas in my head but when it comes to writing all that gets in the way is just the technical stuff and not the story. How do you get over that? Is that the disadvantage of making something like creative writing an academic process? Or, and something which I believe more, the fact I study the subject means I should be able to find a way through. Wish me luck!

Saturday 13 February 2010


I have a question as I think I am confused. I was re-reading an article by Nigel Krauth in the TEXT journal which was talking about your supervisor being editor, which raises a question in itself as it is not a role I had considered my supervisor to have, I saw them more as advisors - arguably the same thing I suppose. What it did seem to imply to me though was that whilst doing a creative writing PhD the ultimate, possibly only, aim was to be published with several already being published prior to completion. (LC's wonderful book being a prime and exemplary example)
Now this is where my question comes to mind - if the aim is to be published does this mean you are meant to write something that is 'commercially' acceptable and not necessarily 'original'? Before you start shouting at me I know every novel written is 'original' (apart from the obvious textual intervention, intertextuality etc etc). My concern is that it removes any thoughts of trying to write something that maybe challenges or pushes the boundaries and that is unlikely to be conceived as 'commercial' by any publisher but is just as valid because of the research undertaken whilst exploring the creative process.
I suppose what also worries me is what makes something of 'publishable' quality? We can all name books that should never have been published - but have. Whether you like a piece is subjective so who defines this indefinable word? Admittedly an issue for any creative writing course and not just PhDs, but I do think that the fact that the point of a PhD dissertation is to consist of original research that advances the knowledge in the chosen area is challenged by having to ensure your work is of 'publishable' quality. As a caveat I am not suggesting that poor writing is acceptable, if anything, it will need to be of a much higher quality if you are trying to break the rules and push the boundaries to the extreme - I am just aware that sometimes the best writing in the world is not acceptable by a publisher because it is not 'commercial'.
I am sure I will be shouted down and put in my place in no uncertain terms(she slips into a cliched ridden defence) but as I said when I explained what I am doing with this blog I am writing about things/issues that come into my head whilst working on my PhD - my musings.
I heard this today and it reminded me of how lucky I am

Friday 12 February 2010

endless rhythms

There is a picture called Endless Rhythms by Robert Delauney and painted in 1934. It reminds me of the gyre in the previous post, this concept of never ending and constantly evolving ideas that are self perpetuating. This is what a writer does. You get one idea which sparks another and then another fuelled by research, experience and moments - those beats in your life which leave an indelible imprint on you.
But this is where it gets to be a problem - for me anyway at the moment. My writing was flowing, I ws loving writing and happy with what was coming out (for a firstish draft) but then along comes this rhythm stick that was stuck through the spokes of my writing bicycle and now I have gone flying over the handlebars and come to a grinding halt flat on my face. The writing has stopped, the flow is a mere trickle that evaporates the moment it hits the air and I don't know how to get that feeling back. And all becuase of rhythm. I need to find it. Maybe I will, maybe there will be an epiphany and someone will tell me what it means but in the meantime I will have to hope that the Chinese New Year re-ignites my rhythm.

This is a performance of Chinese Drums for Chinese New Year and an alternative rhythm of life.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

The real reason

I have set this blog up partly as part of a module I am following/using for a research informed teaching project I am doing. I am looking at ways to encourage creative writing students to engage with the concept of research.But in the main it will be a place for my musings. I am currently doing a creative writing PhD and sometimes all my ideas of my creative and critical processes get confused and need straightening out - hence chaosmos - out of chaos comes order. I intend to use this blog as a metaphorical 'ironing board' (secret I love ironing slightly damp white sheets that smell beautiful and look crisp at the end - sorry I digress). A chance to put my ramblings down to see if I can come to some sort of conclusion.

One of my thoughts is the idea that creativity and criticality form a gyre, a never ending process that continuously develops and evolves: (see picture above) It is one of the many things I will be contemplating through this blog along with rhythm (as previously stated) and whatever else happens to come to mind as I try and complete my PhD. However, please be assured I am not arrogant enough to assume I will achieve any answers just might be able to see things clearer.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Rhythm of life....

There is a picture by Jean Michel Folon which I see as me (it portrays a man flying with a heart as a head) as someone who follows her heart rather than her head. I was introduced to this artist by someone who has created many new rhythms in my life through work, often making me open my eyes and see and hear things differently. All of which have had a direct impact on the beat of my writing and made me reconsider how I approach things. Please excuse this indulgence but I am very conscious of the beat of a heart at the moment. Tomorrow I will celebrate another year to add to the many others since my heart first started to beat and as I write the person who gave me that beat of life is fighting to keep their heart working.
But what I really want to say is that age does not stop you experiencing things for the first time whatever it may be. As a writer I know I have to be open to these experiences and welcome them. Allowing each one to add a beat to my writing. That echoing rhythm of verisimilitude that only lived out experience can bring. However, sometimes you can try too hard and you lose that natural rhythm. That is where I am now - I think. I need to step back open my eyes wide, listen hard and feel with my heart. Let the world light my way and remember to enjoy every moment that is given to me and find that rhythm.
This is pure indulgence too and it is for CLT because of the memories and laughter and it is part of the sound track to my rhythm of life