Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Brahms and Jane Austen
I received a telephone call this morning...'Fancy the lunchtime concert at the cathedral?' As the brain went through all the things that had to be done before tomorrow the mouth said yes. And what an intelligent thing to do. It was glorious.
I love the cathedral anyway and we are only a short walk from there. We are also very lucky that all our graduations take place in there so are particularly glorious. Every Tuesday they have a free one hour concert so in we went. Not only did we have a chance to listen to some glorious music by The Due Teresa Carreno, a leading Venezuelan ensemble but we got a look at some of the Jane Austen exhibits.
In particular a poem written by her on her 33rd birthday. It was a wonderful feeling just seeing her writing. I did hope some of her magic would rub off on me.
As I said the music was incredible. There was a cello that looked like it had been honed out of amber, its colour was so rich and its sound resonated warmth round us all. It truly was a 'moment' when everything seems ok. It was a step in re-awakening the heart and retrieving the soul.
This is one of the pieces we listened to. Thank you Tina for the call.
A complicated journey
This, I believe, is where I am staying in Caen. I go tomorrow afternoon for three nights. I am going there in order to do some research for my PhD novel which is based around there and has links with the D Day Landings. It should be (sorry) will be a wonderful experience.
It puts a slight dampener on it when you try and organise what you need to take. I have a very small bag with clothes in and one very big bag with all the paraphernalia that I have to drag with me in order to keep me alive! But I am not thinking about that.
This trip is for me.I am aware, and it has been said to me, that I am writing with my head at the moment and not my heart.I need to reconnect with my soul so that I can bring life and emotion to my writing again. Hopefully whilst on this trip I will be able to. I have no one else to consider just myself. A very strange feeling but one I am hoping I can revel in.
I am going to soak in the atmosphere and sit and watch people. What a perfect writer's life.Plus I have since found out that Caen has one of the best art collections in Europe. Might just have to find my way there too.
In the last six months my life has changed totally and I am aware of how lucky I am. I wouldn't be going to Caen if these things hadn't happened. I thought I would add a bit of Jason Mraz and his lucky to mine.
Saturday, 26 June 2010
Terry Pratchett and steered serendipitus
And then...Terry Pratchett stood up and spoke, giving the most wonderful and amusing speech and I would like to share three things that I took from his speech with you.
1. He suggests, as do we all to our students, read, read and read again. But what really surprised me was that some of the books he read were ancient, second hand and non-fiction. (the history of false teeth or Stories of Famous Financiers). He suggested that you would be surprised what nuggets of information you can get from these books, which then can later appear in your fiction - possibly helping you to paint pictures with words.
2. He also went on to inform all these aspiring writers and writers who were all hanging off every single word of his, that he doesn't plot. The way he works is steered serendipity. He likes to see where the story takes him. Something I think I may try.
Barbara Large then went on to announc several writers who were now published thanks to the connections they had made at the Writers' Conference. Terry Pratchett got up once again and...
3. finally he told a story or two about people who he knew and had agreed to read their work. He thought it was quite good so sent it to his agent who agreed in both instances they were quite good and was interested in them if they would make ceratin changes. When told this the two authors both turned round and said 'Oh I don't think so!' At which point the whole auditorium gasps at the thought of wasted opportunities. The nugget of information that Terry Pratchett then shared with us is something I will remember for ever....'grab every opoortunity by the foreskin...'
How can we resist!
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Today was the Homecoming Parade for 11 Light Brigade who have just returned from Afghanistan. I wanted to go for several reasons, it was something my parents would have loved it and would have been so proud to be there, there was my own sense of pride - I am friends with various friends and family who have been involved in either Afghanistan or Iraq or both - so it was acknowledgement of what they all risk and we all take for granted - their lives. And finally I thought it would be useful for my PhD. There is a military thread - hence the trip to Normandy. It was very emotional to see these soldiers march by with wonderful bands playing a perfect sound track to the spectacle. The crowds clapped and cheered, waving flags and this was only on the edge of the City, it apparently was even more amazing once you got into the centre.
However, what I didn't expect was a moment of pure inspiration, where an idea leaped into my head and formed a perfect and very neat sub plot that links various things together and provides a better ending than the one I had. But I had failed, I had taken my camera but hadn't taken pencil and paper so I kept having to repeat the plot in my head over and over again until I could get to a notebook.
Two lessons learnt: a) don't ever assume that you know where moments of inspiration are going to come from, b) always, always take paper and pen with you because the moment you don't you will need them.
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
Tall Story is the debut novel for Candy Gourlay, an active member of the SCBWI and is published by David Fickling - who in his recent blog compared Candy to Jacqueline Wilson. There's praise (or pressure) indeed.
The story is about a family who have been separated by the Home Office. Andi lives with her parents and is a great fan of basketball despite being very small. She has a half-brother, Bernardo, who lives in the Phillipines and who she desperately wants to join them in the UK. They are all rather shaken when Bernardo arrives and is actually 8 feet tall.
The book is a delight to read and just draws you in as you see the story either from Andi's perspective or Bernardo's. The book deals sympahtically with the potential clash of cultures with part of the book being centred in San Andres. I am not going to include any spoilers in this review because I just think you should read it. It was a feel good book without being slushy.
A great debut, can't wait for the next one Candy.(I should also point out there willbe an extended review in the November edition of Write4Children (www.write4children.org)
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Forget to Disbelieve
Our narratives have to provide enough of a resemblance for the reader to make a connection with the story. This needs to be through verisimilitude. And I would suggest even in fantasy. As a writer you need to create an alternative world that is so believeable we can see the truth in it and forget to disbelieve.
Part of this comes down to writing with the soul and not just the head. The head provides all the details and the practicalities. The soul creates the dream event which replays in the reader's mind. The soul's influence takes the reader by the hand encouraging them to believe themselves to be part of the story - a witness to events. If a reader says to you: 'I got totally involved in that story' you know you've done something right.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Connections and circles ~ 2
In this post I originally discussed a few people that this connection had happened with but sitting back and thinking about it there are actually so many that I couldn't do a single blog on them and they have all had such a major impact on my life it is wrong to not mention them
So I am going to delete all mention of everyone on the basis that you know who you are and you know how important to me you are and the difference you have made.
All these connections that I have made have had an influence on my PhD in their way. But what you need to do with any connections is that you must look after and cherish them and not abuse. Just to be grateful that these people have stepped in to your life. As they will make a difference. When I achieve my PhD it will be partly down to the connections I have made.
Thank you all for your time and your thoughts.
Sunday, 20 June 2010
Editing can be a tough thing to do. You go back to something which when you last looked at it was the most amazing piece of work you had ever seen. You knew you could give Dickens or Dahl a run for their money, it is that good. Then when you look at it again it has mysteriously moved from being a piece of 'great writing' to a load of tosh. You need to operate on it, removing, adding or re-ordering as required, trying to get it to a semblance of a piece of good writing. (Great writing I think you achieve by accident and something you an never claim of your own work.)
You start reading it - btw editing must be done on a hard copy not the computer screen - with your pencil in hand ready to slash through words, scribble thoughts in the margin, use the above symbols to create/remove paragraphs,indents etc. It can be a very satisfying process as you watch your writing develop and form the narrative you were aiming for.
However, this can cause as much pain as it lifts you. There will be times when you have to 'kill your babies'. This is not as violent as it seems but it feels like it at the time. We have all done it, considered for hours a sentence until, in our eyes, it is absolutely perfect. It says everything we want it to and we glow with pleasure at the result. Then we come across it when we edit.What a disaster, it is still a glorious sentence, but not for this story. You have to be brave and for the sake of your work strike through those words. At times it really hurts and you have to be brave but in the end you will know you did the right thing.
Writing is a craft, something you need to practice, to hone and editing is part of this. If you think of a carpenter he will work on a piece of wood until it takes a form similar to the one he envisages to be the final product. Then he takes his piece of sandpaper to smooth the rough wood. The sandpaper is his editor's pencil. Smoothing out the rough bits and enhancing the good until they feel smooth and in his own mind his work is finished. I am off with my piece of sandpaper to polish The Book Protectors' Daughter.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
Representations # 2
My PhD is looking at the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol but my novel is not about said issues instead they will be within the plot. As with real life for teenagers they are things the are aware of but don't necessarily partake in. This is where I think I want mimesis to come in as I do not want my novel to be didactic and laying down the rules as to how teenagers should behave and the dire consequences if you have sex, take drugs or drink alcohol (and it would be too easy to fall into that trap). It could be said that mimesis is 'showing' whilst didactism is 'telling'. As I tell my students over and over again 'show not tell'. Now something I must adhere to myself. But I think it is more complicated than that. It is more than just making the narrative come to life through dialogue and action. I think it is allowing, in my case, sex, drugs and alcohol to be just 'there' in the text,part of the plot and not the driving force of the narrative (or slapping you around the face type of text - 'the I am about to talk about sex narrative - pay attention, you will learn something.'. It is more a case where it is subsumed into the plot so the reader doesn't notice but at some later stage when thinking about sex for example can think 'Oh I remember reading something about that vaguely.' In other words they have learnt something but with out realising it.
Mimesis and resemblance are going to be the latest route I am going to take and how I can apply them to the novel. Is it something you need to be deliberately aware of or if you are do you risk the possibility of slipping into didactism because of your awareness? Is being a great writer one who works mimesis and resemblance rather than representation seamlessly into their work? More questions, more thoughts that I need to contemplate. More reading to be done!
Friday, 18 June 2010
My Bed Fellow
I thought I would introduce you to my bed fellow. My new pump finally arrived. There is another reason I am showing you this machine that helps me stay alive and keep going. I have decided to stop wasting the time I am attached to it (which amounts up to ten hours)instead I am going to use it for concentrated reading or writing time on my PhD. I often feel quite claustrophobic attached to it as you can't just decide to go and do something wild or even quite boring! . The pile of pillows (note I even managed to co-ordinate the pump with my bed linen!) is because I cannot lie flat whilst attached...nasty things can happen if I do.
It is very noisy, it whirrs and squeaks a lot and the tube pulls quite a bit. I always say it is like sleeping with a man but without any of the benefits! (I am talking wallet there!)
There, so you now have been introduced to my important other half. It is the thing that is going to allow me to make this PhD something special as it will give me the strength. It is also the reason why some days I am not as strong as I would like to be. But it won't stop me.
Chaosmos and axiomatic
I keep coming across the term axiomatic. I have come across it in Jen Webb's book on representation that I have already told you about. It suggests that representation is axiological in that it involves questions of ethics or 'the "right" way of seeing and knowing. As you know I have already been going round in circles considering the meaning of representation and how it fits with my thesis. Then last night another book was suggested to me - John Gardner's The Art of Fiction - where in his chapter on Aesthetic Law and Artistic Mystery he suggests that it is axiomatic that any piece of fiction should answer every question raised in the narrative. and that leaving questions unanswered is sloppy and leaves the reader irritated. But then argues against it by suggesting that some great writing doesn't answer question leaving some answers as a given. He cites Homer and Shakespeare. Just adding further to my confusion.
The novel I am writing for my PhD should be axiomatic in that it will be looking to encourage values and allowing the reader to experience making ethical decisions.But taking these two views I need to find a fine balance between wearing a strait jacket of axiomatology or being sloppy and irritating the reader by leaving too many questions unanswered.
See so many things to think about! A need to find this mythical 'great writing' and apply it to my work particularly as I am determined to make this PhD something special (doesn't everyone)means the pressure is on. Time to light one match at a time and keep the oxygen low so it burns slowly then I will be able to keep up and out of chaos will come order in my thesis.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Two photos today! One is the view from my house. Isn't it wonderful? Sometimes in the far field you can watch polo ponies being trained. When you stand outside often you can hear nothing but the birds and the leaves being blown in the trees. I can't imagine living surrounded by noise now. I have got too used to the quietness. The other photo is of a rose that my sister Jacky gave me, along with my other sisters, to remember our Mother by. As you can see it is out in bloom now and looking stunning. My Mother would have loved it.
But I can hear you ask what has this to do with PhDs and writing. Easy, they are both sources of inspiration to me. I love the sense of freedom the view provides me with and the intensity of the perfume and colour of the rose. I have just listened to Michael Morpurgo who did a live event via The Scottish Book Trust. He spoke about inspiration and was explaining how he lives on a farm and it is not the animals that are necessarily the inspiration instead it is the interaction between humans and animals. He was also taking about how he got inspiration from everywhere. He said to go to lots of places, asks lots of questions and you never know when one of those moments will come back as a bit of inspiration. It started me thinking about what can inspire me. And I realised it is a huge list, it can be: music, art, a place, a smell, a person, a phrase, silence, noise...the list is in fact endless.
As I may have mentioned (a few times) I am off to Normandy at the end of the month for a few days. This is so I can experience it and then bring that experience to my writing. The majority of my story (my PhD novel) takes place in France and I wanted to feel the place, smell it, live it. Whether it is walking along a French street or looking at a war cemetery, it will all have its place in my novel. The visit will help me with the nuances that you can add to your description that help the story come alive. I know there is an urban myth about someone who won a prize for a book they had written about a country they had never been to. But I am not sure I could write a whole book like that. I know you can get a sense of a place by looking on the Internet, even via google maps but you are only going to get a representation (back there again too, sorry), a digital interpretation for you to interpret. I also acknowledge there are places that you may want to write about but it is not possible or sensible to visit. I am not dismissing that form of research as it all has its place and there is a part of my novel which I am reliant on the Internet/TV and books for my sense of place, but if you have the opportunity to visit then I think you should.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
This photograph is of a Damien Hurst installation at the Tate Modern. It used identical twins in a Pop life exhibition. Now the question is, who is real and who is the representation? Or are they both real and both representations. They could be transitive - a representation that represents something or reflexive where the representations presents itself as representing something. So many questions. So many circles...or so it feels like in my head.
My PhD is looking at how sex, drugs and alcohol are represented in young adult fiction but also explores the issues of representing these in a piece of young adult fiction I am writing. Again, there are just so many questions: is it my representation based on my cultural experience, medical knowledge and/or political understanding? Is it a true representation then or is it invalid and therefore just an interpretation? Does the reader have the same concerns about the representation? The 'lived in experience' that I will bring as a reader has to be different to the 14 year old reading in the corner of their bedroom. Who is right?
These questions have been tumbling around in my head since I started reading Jen Webb's Understanding Representation. A book I wish I had found at the beginning of my PhD rather than towards the end. Though logically I wouldn't have understood it in the way I do now if I had looked it when I first started. So maybe it arrived on my desk at the right time.
I have no answers to give you, just loads of questions to think about. When you write what sort of representation are you creating? Is it altered because of the message you are trying to create? See there are some more for you. I'm off to contemplate these questions.
Sunday, 13 June 2010
The Book Protectors' Daughter
Anyway, it is complete in that the whole story is now on the page, but it needs a lot of work and re-drafting. I shall look forward to that. BPD has been my escape when the sex, drugs and alcohol from my PhD have go too much. This is because BPD is a soft fantasy novel. It is about Alice who has to save the stories of the world by rescuing The Book Guardian from The Trojan, an evil computer virus who has kidnapped him. The Trojan wants to stop children reading stories and using their imagination. Instead he wants them to use computers so he can control them. In order to rescue the Book Guardian Alice has to actually step inside some of her favourite stories and become part of them.
Who knows what will happen next with it, maybe I will be lucky, maybe it will make it off a slush pile. But at the end of the day, I have had a great time writing it. And that makes me very happy.
Friday, 11 June 2010
What I am talking about with emotional writing is when you are writing about something that is so gut wrenching that by the time you have finished it. You are exhausted and drained. You have lived every moment of that chapter. This is what I have done today. I have written a stand alone chapter that fits in my PhD novel. It is about an 11 year old girl called Saba (btw I have named the girl in the picture Saba too). She lived in Afghanistan until her Dad was shot. Then she and her Mum had to escape because the Taliban wanted to kill them too. Their sin - Father was a teacher who secretly ran schools for girls at nights and her Mother was a doctor, no longer allowed to practice but she would secretly run clinics for women who needed to talk to a woman.
The chapter is the story of her journey to 'freedom' in the boot of cars and the backs of lorries. However, her Mother dies during it. She is left alone. The people traffickers see a good use for her. A young virgin. There are men around who would pay a lot to play with that.
I am wrought with emotion. The story has literally just fallen out of my fingers through the keyboard and on to the screen. I have been thinking about it for quite a while but today was the day I was going to get it down. I can't go back to it yet. It is too raw and new. In a couple of days I will. I need to distance myself a bit from it.
But don't worry she is safe in the end.....but I'm not telling you how, you need to read the story ;-)
That's what writing can do. It can take you over, every part of you is living that story. It is real in your head. It is exhausting yet exhilarating. Who else can live two (or more) different lives? It is one of the pleasures and occasionally miseries of being a writer. But I wouldn't change it for anything. Enjoy your writing today, tomorrow or whenever you next get a chance to sit and imagine.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
A new day
Some people may think I am mad, if this comes off I will have 3 jobs, 2 novels to write, 1 journal to edit and a PhD to finish. No hassle! Bring it on. I know how can anyone make an about face like that in 24 hours? It isn't easy and I may slip back but I have remembered who I am and what I am. And I have got to stop letting others take that away from me.
A good friend sent me this poem by Adrienne Rich last night because she knew I was struggling and understood why. This was the catalyst for the reawakening. Thank you Jen and I will continue to keep my eye out for that intellectual reprobate. x
You're wondering if I am lonely:
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.
You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely
If I'm lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawn's first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep
If I'm lonely
it's with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, for a gift with burning
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
I knew this week was going to be tough but it has turned to be more difficult than I could possibly of imagined. It is filled with words like menopause, single, body failure. All of which are small insignificant words in themselves but are great at removing any sense of self or womanhood.
I am still trying to find who I am now I am no longer a carer and weeks like this don't help. Hang on need to open the window as yet another hot flush springs a surprise. Why do these things all come at once. A great friend is going through similar but different issues. Today is our day for feeling sorry for ourselves. We have both lost any sense of purpose or future. To a certain extent who am I kidding doing a PhD what purpose will I serve once I have got it. Other than I can wear a very fetching floppy hat. But also it is something I have wanted for so long and I love my project I have to hope that is enough.
We will get that sense of who we are back because that is what we do. I am going to hide in a corner lick my wounds and come bouncing back as if nothing has ever happened.
So be prepared!!
Saturday, 5 June 2010
Grey hairs, wrinkles and memories = this writer and her PhD
But this set me thinking. It is 20 years next Friday that I became single again and was left with three children under the age 5, the youngest was just 1. It was the World Cup then too. I think England and Germany were playing on the television in the corner as my secure life fell to pieces. It is strange what you remember. At the time several people said 'Don't worry you won't be on your own for long, there will be someone round the corner.' Well folks, all I can say is it is bloody long corner. Don't get me wrong there were men I fell in love with, they never knew and I was never quite good enough for them to fall in love with me. Maybe I was too choosy.
In that 20 years I have started a business and lost it. Become disabled and found a way to keep myself very happy - writing and academe. Would I change any of this. Nope not one bit (except maybe it would have been nice if one of them had loved me back lol). All the pain and stress and laughter and happy times (of which are in the majority) have etched their mark on my face and in my hair. Each wrinkle and grey hair was hard earned. I am proud of each one because of the experience they represent makes me the writer I am. It is also my experiences probably in the second half of the 20 that formed my PhD.
What would have happened or who would I be if that night 20 years ago hadn't happened. A very unhappy woman. This friend that I was with this afternoon is beginning also to see how good her life is going to be now the shock is subsiding. She is aware now that she is no longer under the pressure she was. This doesn't mean it is going to be easy but at least she feels she has a future now.
Just so you know I am proud of ever grey hair and wrinkle (just don't make me look at them!) and I am now going to write either this paper that is hanging over me or if I am feeling really bad I might do some PhD writing ;-)
Just remember you only have one life, enjoy it, wrinkles and all
Thursday, 3 June 2010
A scary photo. I hate pictures of myself. It never matches the perfect picture I have in my head so it is always a disappointment. The only reason I took the photo was because a friend wanted to see the new hair cut. I should have taken it yesterday when I had it first done. Ezra knows how to make it look perfect but I am learning again. I had a lot of my hair cut off yesterday for many reasons, some health related but in the main a bit of rebellion, my mother hated me having short hair! Behind me you can just see a collection of small sculptures. I fell in love with another one to add to the collection yesterday when I went to the local art gallery. This time instead of being a bird it is a yacht. It is very simple with smooth lines and the hint of a chance to escape.
This neatly takes me on to the other aspects of my life that are moving so fast. The tickets arrived for Normandy with the following as the description of where I am staying: renowned for its gastronomic restaurant (pity I can't eat!!), this ancient priory is at the quiet end of the city, overlooking the chateau. The adjoining chapel has been converted into a breakfast room and fitness suite. I am so excited, it is the first time I will have been away without worrying. I am also thrilled with the idea of bringing a deeper sense of verisimilitude to my novel.
But I have also booked my train tickets for Cambridge. I am going to give a paper at a conference there in September. I am currently fighting desperately with the said paper. I have too much to say and only have 2000 words!
I have journeys planned and a sense of freedom not felt for a very long time. The excitement just about stifles the guilt I feel about feeling so good. I am a bit old for this but feel a bit like I am a fledgling....can you get a fledgling with salt and pepper hair and more perforations than a t-bag?
Life may be moving fast but I am still managing to keep up. And I may yet have to get that yacht to add to my collection as a memento of this new freedom. :-)
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Tabitha Suzuma very kindly arranged for me to receive a review copy of her latest book Forbidden. I am going to do a review of it in the November edition of the e-journal Write4Children (www.write4children.org). It is also going to be very useful for my PhD because of the subject matter.
This review by necessity has to be brief as the full one will appear later as already mentioned. As with all of Suzuma's books it takes hold of you and dares you to put it down. You are immediately empathetic with the two main characters Lochan and Maya and they way they cope with difficult mother and keeping the home together. The illicit relationship is dealt with in such a sensitive way where as it would be so easy to sensationalise the whole thing making it crude and offensive. You cannot help but want to hug the two young people.
Tabitha Suzuma has once again weaved her magic making a story that has potential to be a car crash into something that touches your heart. Congratulations Tabitha!
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