Tuesday 30 March 2010


As we know things may happen in a day, a moment of laughter, a piece of music, a beautiful sky or even a tidy desk and they can remind you of the person you are or were. Flashes of memory and flickers of desire float through your thoughts unknown to others and undisclosed unless revealed. They are private and personal. They are yours and yours alone. Even if you do share them the other person still won't have the same feelings as you as they will bring their own cultural moment to their understanding.

When you are busy it is easy to forget things, even the things that were important to you. I may have been guilty of that but then there are have a few moments recently which have reminded me of some of my desires. My love of art, my love of minimalism. (A distant memory was arguing with James Martin about the merits of sticks in interior design - I loved them, he hated them and it was before he was where he is now. It was a time when we would sit and have coffee outside the deli. They were perfect moments as my mum was well and very happy). Most importantly (and possibly rather vomit inducing) my love for life and friends. Several people have helped me with this and they know who they are and I hope they know how grateful I am.

I am going for radical exoticism now....explanation later when I have formulated my theory properly. But it is a good one.

This will be a piece of art that I truly love, as it makes me smile inside and out. It is a dancing sculpture or dad dancing....whichever way you look at it, it's brilliant.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Forgetting and moments

Today has been a day of remembering who I am and what I am. What I can do and what I can't. It is called being realistic and it is something I am not always great at. Others need to remind me. I have a friend who has created a dictionary of words that I don't 'understand' such as "being sensible". She quotes from it frequently.
It is not always easy to admit you can't be who you want to be. Spur of the moment becomes planned for moments ensuring all eventualities are covered and all possible consequences are considered. I can't be superwoman any more or even Icarus, which at the moment I would love to be. To have that freedom even if used stupidly and irresponsibly. I am just a very small person in this particular moment.
When I write I write moments and make connections between them. That is what I shall do with my life, I shall live moments and they will be all connected together through the love of my reduced life. I am sad about it today but tomorrow I will grab it and start living through those small moments. :-)

Saturday 27 March 2010

Even in Creative Writing....

I was surprised to hear at a meeting in a higher education establishment someone say: 'Even creative writing must have some form of methodology and pedagogy.' I thought we had got beyond this sort of attitude and that there was a greater understanding and acceptability of a creative writing degree, but it appears not. I am just beginning to write a paper on research informed teaching and its implications in creative writing and having heard this comment I realise how important it is that I get it write [sic].
You can understand why so many parents see creative writing as a waste of space as a degree when you hear it being devalued by others who work on different degrees. The lack of value is only in their lack of understanding. The university where I work and am doing my PhD made a deliberate pedagogical decision to create modules, particularly in the second and third year, which are outward facing. It is two of these that I will be focusing on within my paper, both of which highlight the benefit of research informed teaching and teaching informed research. It is also the approach taken by the respective module leaders that ensures the students become totally engaged.
I am really looking forward to writing this paper as I feel I really have something to say and that, just maybe, I may help educate those who pass comment on any perceived lack of methodology and pedagogy in creative writing. I am considering, and have been encouraged to, submit the paper to a conference in Australia. Let's get it written first and see what happens.
But my world is so full of possibilities and connections it is a very exciting place to be and I want to share it. Plus I really, really want people to understand how useful a creative writing degree can be and how embedded it is in research informed teaching etc etc
I will now get down off my soap box....but watch this space....you may get to hear more.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Baudrillard, Otherness and PhD

I have a new hero - Jean Baudrillard. He is making things very easy for me with my PhD, bless him!

The title of my novel is Others or I may change it to Otherness [that is a debate currently going on in my brain]. All the characters are 'others' and they are 'othered' and as such are seductive.

A mass of gobbledygook? No, a collection of teenagers all coming to terms with their lives and going through their individual rites of passage. the narrative asks questions of age, sex, foreignness, right, wrong, of the past and the future by living for the moment.

I have referred previously to Badudrillard's 'The Declination of Wills' which is part of a section entitled 'Radical Otherness'. This section has become my obsession it relates in so many ways to my PhD and the novel whilst explaining many of the connections. I never let my books get tatty but this one is beginning to as I read it, and then re-read it and re-read it again and again. Every spare moment I go back to it. Doing battle with the words until they submit and fall neatly into place in that jigsaw that is my PhD. It has given the critical aspect of my PhD a focus again and for that M.Jean Baudrillard I will be forever grateful (and to AM who suggested I looked at it again).

For the past, the present and the future...lest we forget

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Bad tempered and stroppy

This is me today - bad tempered cow. I am trying to do too much and juggle too many things and to top it all have picked up a bug which is making me feel 'proper poorly' she says in a man flu way. Now, do I do the sensible thing and hide away until the sun shines again? No I rant and rave at anyone who happens to even speak to me whether they deserve it or not.
I have a deadline and the pressure is huge. It would be ok if I just had that one thing to do but I don't. I have various other projects on the go plus lecturing. People say kind and helpful things, like 'you do too much.' And then I just want to rant again and say if I don't do it no one else will do it.
Why can't I just be Pollyanna like and take it all smiling without being Grumpy, I would make a great dwarf in Snow White. This is definitely a Harrumph moment. Time to kick a few plants and send emails apologising to the people [person] I have ranted at.
Tomorrow is another day and it will be better....it has to be or I could be done for something criminal LOL
A good clip that includes my friend McBernard Bear....if you can spot him.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Too long blogs

Somebody moaned my blogs were too long....so here is a very short blog by a very short person. Happy now? Probably not they never are...
This picture shows my gorgeous daughter celebrating my MA with me. She is always happy.

YAF and the British.

On Sunday night there was a wonderful programme on BBC Radio 3 called Beyond Narnia (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00rjy9k/Sunday_Feature_A_World_Beyond_Narnia/)
which was fascinating and well worth iplayering. However, as I have written elsewhere, I would like to contend that if we use the definition where the protagonist needs to be a teenager/adolescent then YAF started in Britain before it was used in the US.
Amatory novels from the Eighteenth Century, such as Penelope Aubin’s, have thirteen year old heroines often caught in very erotic situations such as The Strange Adventures of Count de Vinevil and his Family (1721). Though the book title might suggest it is about the Count de Vinevil, the adventures are actually those of his teenage daughter Ardelisa. Chris Mounsey has said that Aubin was writing for an audience of the age and probably sex of her main protagonists. Also in his paper ‘”…bring her naked from her Bed, that I may ravish her before the Dotard’s face, and then send his Soul to hell”: Penelope Aubin, impious pietist, humorist or purveyor of juvenile fantasy?’ he suggests that Aubin's books with their moral machineryy surrounding their erotic plots could be seen as a device used 'to educate young people in proper behaviour' but more likely to prevent mothers from realising they were explicityly erotic juvenile novels.
Once again we can see YAF being used as a source of information. This is further evidenced if we go even further back, and whilst using the same definition, to the late Sixteenth Century when Robert Greene wrote ‘cony catching’ literature (1592), which was often aimed at apprentices (generally boys between the ages of twelve and fourteen year old boys) in London. He used them to warn the boys about card sharks, prostitutes, gambling etc. Therefore, this contemporary argument that YAF is innovative in the way it deals with contentious issues seems erroneous in the face of this information.
Going even further back and using the same definition I would suggest that Chaucer's 'Physician's Tale' from The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) is also an example of young adult fiction as the main protagonist once more is an adolescent and also highlights a form of honour killing which in our contemporary world can still be an issue. Virginia, the chaste and beautiful daughter, is murdered by her father, Virginius, rather than allowing her to be sullied by the lecherous governor Apius.
Please also look at Bridget Carrington's PhD thesis entitled 'Paths of Virtue?' as this further validates some of my thoughts.
May be things don't change as much as we think they do.

Sunday 21 March 2010

2 academics and the mad hatter

What do you get if two academics watch a film together? 96 minutes of analysis. There was Alice looking like the Joan of Arc and the number of eyes that were lost and in some cases replaced. But of greatest fascination was the Mad Hatter (and yes it did help it was Johnny Depp). Why did he slip in to this Scottish accent? Why the kilt? Johnny Depp's explanation was that he wanted to show a darker side to the Mad Hatter. Was it purely coincidence that the Hatter's jacket at the beginning of the final battle has hints of the blue that is used in Braveheart?
We, also, both noticed how he appeared to be the 'other' to Hamish's 'norm'. Hamish is the character who proposes to Alice at the beginning who happens to have red hair and to be as boring as possible. It is when she hesitates over his proposal that she runs off, falls down the rabbit hole and meet the Mad Hatter. There is a definite attraction, which could be seen as sexual, between Alice and him that is opposite to the coldness and contempt that is obvious between Alice and Hamish.
My daughter informed us both how sad she thought we were as we had both returned home and independently googled the Mad Hatter to see what was said about is Scottishness. Methinks there could be a paper in this.
These are my first thoughts on this that I needed to write down. I will be coming back to it. Did all this analysis detract from the film? Absolutely not, it was a glorious film and one we both intend to see again. But the best thing we came away with was a new phrase....all the best people are bonkers. I concur.

Friday 19 March 2010


Over the last week I have been having problems with one of my characters. He didn't seem to be working and I thought it was his name, so it changed it.That failed totally as he became absolutely silent. The DoS as always came to the rescue and recognised the problem immediately. Read Jean Baudrillard's essay, 'The Declination of Wills' that will help. He was right (which irritatingly he does have a habit of being quite often), I suddenly realised what had happened to my character. He had lost his shadow. All the issues I had with him and the concerns about I had about using multiple voices were dispelled and the writing started to flow once again.
But I also started the rest of the section entitled 'Radical Otherness' in Baudrillard's book The Transparency of Evil. This has been a revelation and so thought provoking for someone whose PhD is looking at the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol where I have seen a movement from 'other' to 'normalised' particularly with the representation of cannabis. Baudrillard has suggested the the other is no longer 'there to be exterminated, hated, rejected or seduced, but instead to be understood, liberated, coddled, recognized.' I can see the sense of what he is suggesting however if you consider one of my previous posts where I talked about Carter's and Freud's idea that other becomes normalised through ambivalence. At the moment I would suggest this is more of a truism than Baudrillard's idea as with his idea the other remains othered but accepted, desired even, whilst with the other it has become normal because it has moved from the edge of society to the centre. This is an idea that is still formulating in my mind and may well, if I am honest, change it because it is clear cut.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

The narrative of moments in time

I have just attended a fascinating and thought provoking seminar by Prof Jen Webb, a visiting academic from Canberra University. Her seminar started with her personal narrative of 9/11, where she was when she heard etc. This started me thinking about how we all have very personal narratives to momentous moments. We all can say we remember exactly where we were we first heard the news and the images started being broadcast into our lives, like the one at the side here. However, even if we were in the same place as other people that narrative is going to be yours alone as it will be defined by your experiences, thoughts and cultural moments.
For me 9/11 is in extricably linked with serious illness. I hadn't eaten anything or drunk properly since the December of the previous year when I had had surgery that went wrong. I was lying on my bed starving to death watching people jumping to their deaths. I felt connected to them. I had met my own terrorist in the surgeon who had operated on me. He had no grievance against me personally or even my country, unlike the 9/11 bombers, but I was one of Blair's initiatives - do them quick in private hospitals and churn them out then we can keep to our waiting list target.My surgeon was a bureaucratic terrorist primed to meet and beat targets.
But that is irrelevant now as I survived at the intervention of another surgeon, maybe a peace-keeping one who gave me a tube into my stomach that keeps me alive. I was lucky those in the Twin Towers on that fateful day weren't. I have a whole new life and the person I was then watching the Towers fall almost doesn't exist anymore. I have a new narrative based on survival and the future, not on image and money as it once was.
As I said I was lying on my bed to weak to move watching the tv in embarrassed fascination. You felt you should look away but you couldn't, there was a morbid fascination. It was almost too huge to comprehend and there was always this thought that it was a joke. It was just a disaster movie and someone's cruel script being played out in front of you. Unfortunately it wasn't,those people jumping weren't stunt men, those buildings collapsing were not choreographed, instead this was the moment that the US knew, what the rest of us had known for a lot longer, what terrorism was.
As an aside I heard that the French railways had to apologise for a press release that went out saying that several hundred people had died in a bomb blast on one of their trains. It was fake and it had been a scenario they had been working on to test all their systems...just someone forgot to tell the PR man...oops...we laugh about it but the fact is it shows us that people are out there creating appropriate discourses 'just in case'.
I wonder how many 'just in cases' there are and how many will end up being used?
Now some gloriously naf music but I do believe what it says: (they won't allow me to embed it so you will have to click on it) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHzMLGH1Rfs&feature=related

Sunday 14 March 2010


I spent yesterday doing some background research for my novel. It won't all necessarily make it into the narrative but it will add depth and an element of versimillitude. I was checking out the age of consent in France, the weather, potential journeys, age you are allowed to drink alcohol and most importantly child trafficking. It was this aspect of research that took me to some areas I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Of course I know about child trafficking but I now realise I didn't actually KNOW about it. I hadn't thought about what they go through: the humiliation, the desperation, the loss of identity. Their eyes know too much and have seen too much - they are pools of despair in the midst of baby faces both male and female. Some girls are as young as 5, that is no age to have everything taken away from you.

As a writer for young adults I now have the opportunity to reflect and, maybe, more importantly highlight the experience of a child being trafficked so the future generations can try harder to stop it, rather than just making noises about how bad it is. Melvin Burgess states that a child can cope with anything if it is put in context. However, it is worth noting that unfortunately he didn't adhere to this in Nicholas Dane when he allows the authorial voice to step in at the point of male rape saying that it was not necessary to give the details of this. In my mind all this does is silence it further, humiliating any unfortunate sufferer of male rape by implying that it can never be spoken about. It also begs the question would Burgess have stepped in if it had been a girl who was being raped?

Writers for children do have a responsibility to deal with these issues sensitively and appropriately. We provide an opportunity for children or teenagers, in particularly, to experience life vicariously - to gain an understanding of risk taking endeavours without stepping outside the safety of their room. But with this we must also be aware that as writers we shouldn't make them feel worse about life just enhance their understanding. This is the challenge of writing for children and should be embraced and not avoided.
I found this clip whilst searching, I think it says everything:

Saturday 13 March 2010

Understanding the past helps create the future

This is a painting by the Iranian artist Hasti Akhavan and is entitled 'Past and Future'(and is reproduced with her kind permission).I love the merging of colours which I see as reflecting the merging of the past and future to become one - the present maybe? But what it also reflects is how the past can and does influence the future. Martin Scorsese spoke about this in an interview in the BBC Culture Show this week. He suggested that you have to know the films of the past in order to decide what 'to accept, reject, complain about, hate, love, whatever'...so that you can create the new. I suggested to my students yesterday that this is not just applicable to films it applies to any creative endeavour. An understanding of what comes before you allows/encourages you to become a better writer.

It ties in with the idea that every book you read is going to influence you and that all words have a past. Consequently the better reader you are the better writer you will become as writing is a craft that needs to be mastered/honed through practice and understanding. As Elmore Leonard suggested in the same programme 'Writing is re-writing.' I would be a very rich woman if I had received a pound for every time I have had to defend my creative writing PhD or even lecturing on the said subject. 'But you're just writing, everyone can do that.' If that was the case every one of us would be published and all the books would be identical. There would be no joy in dipping into the glorious words of Kundera or Calvino, or, exploring the worlds of Pratchett and Pullman who take you away from the norm - but only just, whilst tackling Kafka and Dostoevsky - making your mind do somersaults as it comes to terms with some of the images.

Elmore Leonard is right writing is re-writing but not just that it is reading and re-reading. And I am off for a luxurious weekend of doing all that.
This is Paul McCartney singing Ever Present Past with a great video. I can't embed it but worth going to the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCMAV5BEKxk

Saturday 6 March 2010

Icarus and kites

This is an oil picture by Babara Fletcher entitled 'Man with Kite'. Today in a moment of reckless abandon I purchased her watercolour and acrylic version of the same picture. Though much smaller and cheaper. It is beautiful and it is me I have decided. I am that man flying my kite. Testing the water, seeing what I can do with it. Swoop through the sky with my feet safely on the ground. I am being an insecure Icarus, having quite got the faith to leap but allowing the kite to live my dreams.
I got the picture from one of my favourite galleries. It is true escapism to go there but also full of inspiration for a writer. I took my painting and then did something I never do (the guilt associated with taking time for me when I have so much else to do always stops me) - I say in a coffee shop and sipped a little bit of chamomile tea whilst I took in every inch of this tiny picture.
I love beautiful skies, I love the stars and the moon. They are my inspiration. There is a story in Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics about climbing up to the moon using a ladder. Earlier this week there was a moon I am sure you could do that too. I was picking my son up from work at midnight and there it was hanging in blackness. An orange moon that I could almost touch as it was so low in the sky. It was mystical.
I bought this picture today because it is my time to be Icarus and not the man on the beach. Maybe stupidly but with faith it is time for me to step off the cliff and try to reach the sun or moon with my writing. To believe and have faith in it and myself by trusting the connections. But more importantly to go back to being who I really am as a person and a writer and not let others decide who I should be. There are only a few who know me enough to suggest things like that (at times knowing me better than I know myself) and it is them that I need to listen to again. I need to go back to reaching for the stars, the moon and the sun in my own way just like Icarus but without the ultimate fall hopefully.
A very short clip!

Thursday 4 March 2010

La différance

My PhD research is partly looking at the problems of representation/representing sex, drugs and alcohol in YAF. I have become more and more aware that these are in fact all weapons in the YAs armoury, potential tools that can be used by YAs to emphasise and extend the difference between them (the YA) and adults (and indeed the children that they once were). But perhaps the word here should not be “difference” but rather Jaques Derrida’s well trammelled word, “différance”.[1] Loosely translated, différance comes to mean two things, for there is no straight English translation: it is to "defer," to put off, and to “differ”, to be unlike. This could also be seen as like a young adult, no longer a child and not yet an adult, where to differ, be different, is part of the identity development and to defer is the denial of the inevitable which is that one day the YA will become adult. Thus the transition period, the period between childhood and adulthood, is fluid and ever changing, constantly in flux, ever unstable in meaning and directionless, to define it is like chasing a chimera, until the inevitable is realised by all YAs: that one day they will, indeed, emerge as adults (a state, arguably and equally defined by difference). As such I feel this adds a further dimension to be considered when writing YAF and something I became very aware of when reading No & Me (see earlier post), this was a book written about a girl who is just entering teenagedom but is in a class of much older teenagers because she is so bright. There is a difference , she has only just started the journey whilst many there are moving towards the end. As writers it is important to be understanding of this difference, this movement whilst never assuming that the progress from childhood to adulthood is straight forward and linear nor identical, it is a journey that follows an individual path for everyone.
[1] Derrida, J., ‘ Differance’, In J. Derrida (Ed.), Margins of Philosophy, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982) pp. 3-27

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Possibilities 2

Today is a glorious day. I am very lucky where I live I can walkout of the house and watch polo ponies being exercised. As I drove out of the village several wonderful songs were played on the radio, the sun was shining and all the hedgerows and trees all have a shimmer of green. The world today is full of possibilities and new beginnings.
In my post yesterday I talked about possibilities and I directed you to one of AM's blogs where he talks about not taking the easy route when writing. Today I have found a book that takes him at his word. I am currently reading No and Me by Delphine De Vigan as I will be reviewing it be Writeaway. It is a wonderful book that does anything but take the easy route. De Vigan definitely paints fantastic pictures with her words. She challenges concepts and explores ideas of identity and stereotype. It is the sort of book that you aspire to write like as it provides the 'oh' and 'throughness' moments as previously mentioned. You walk into the first page and it wraps the words you drawing you in.
Lou is young and has ultra bright so has been moved up a couple of years in school. She decides to do a presentation on homelessness and meets No because of it. It is a gentle story that asks questions of itself and the reader. It is sentimental without being clawing, in particular the section where Lou describes the death of her sister through a cot death. It has been translated from the French into English by George Miller and the act of translation seems to have been so expertly done that the story has lost nothing.
This is a book which reminds me why I want to write, why I encourage others to write and most importantly why I insist people read if they want to become good writers. If I can achieve an ounce of what this book does then I will be a happy woman.
Today with the sun shining, the ponies galloping and the trees budding I am going to grab those moments of possibility and new beginning and run with them.
Possibilities - don't like the film but...

Monday 1 March 2010

a perfect phrase

A perfect phrase came to me today. A phrase that I will use to connect two characters and build a whole chapter out of.
It is a simple phrase that is just four words long. But they are four words that say a whole lot in a very simple way. They are full of possibilities. The story could go in any direction from them, they will be a hub, a starting point.
Will I share them? No not yet, they aren't ready, the are new barely formed. In their infancy as they find their way in my mind ready to lead me on to the next bit of the story. Ready to create a million possibilities from four short words. See they don't have to be long or complicated in order to paint pictures with. They just need to bring colour to your story. Hopefully they will bring enough depth to encourage the reader to walk into the story and be part of it by tring to create 'throughness' (http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/ and previous posts) or that 6th sense that brings the 'oh' moment (AM -http://www.kunderacalvino.blogspot.com/)

They are perfect in my eyes but it may be when I show them to someone else they won't see the magic I do. In which case I will have failed as a writer to paint the best picture possible for the reader from such a small collection of letters. Therefore I need to go back to that sixth sense to find the write [sic] words and not, as we were told today, take the easy route, instead explore all possibilities .
And a perfect song for a perfect image: