Wednesday 29 September 2010

Fluid and multifaceted aspects of creative writing

Today has been a day of finishing things off that have been hanging over you for weeks. Things that you know need to be done but you avoid them because they require a bit of extra effort. So yes I do feel good now I have done them. I have written some reviews and written the majority of a discussion paper for a conference in November. I was aware that the whole time I was working on them I was aware of my PhD asking questions in the back of my head all the time. 'Is this relevant? Can we use it? How about using that in the discussion of your creativity?' As you can see the PhD never goes away or do you ever take a break from it. It is always there asking questions. not that I mind as most of the time what is coming to mind is very important and relevant.
In particular I was re-reading an article by Jeri Kroll that appeared in the latest edition of 'Text' ( partly for the paper I am writing and also for my PhD as the article is entitled 'Living on the Edge: Creative Writers in Higher Education'. In particular her thoughts on 'exploiting a concept of writing research as fluid and multifaceted in order to enrich our discipline's study and practice at all levels' seemed particularly pertinent to me at this present time as I am coming towards the end of my PhD. I am particularly interested in the idea that research is fluid and multifaceted, Graeme Harper in his book 'On Creative Writing' talks about the fluidity of the discipline and its inability to stand still for any length of time. I think that is what I like about creative writing - it challenges you to stay standing in shifting sand. it allows you to develop and evolve whilst not inflicting any impenetrable restrictions.
What do you think?

Friday 24 September 2010


It has been a chaotic week filled with good bits, strange bits and some downright horrible bits. I am very conscious of time, or the lack of it. In my head I have a deadline for my PhD. It is good to work towards an end. I love my PhD but I need to finish it and move on.Though that has had to change slightly having taken on extra teaching at the last moment. Nothing like taking on a module you haven't taught on a week before it starts to increase the stress levels slightly! Luckily I have already read 3 out of the 4 set books and the 4th one is one I have heard good things about so will look forward to reading. Plus it looks a brilliant module which I think will be useful as well as enjoyable to teach.
There is someone in my life who is struggling with time at the moment particularly during the night. There is nothing slower than those hours when you are meant to be sleeping. They drag and allow a mass of negative thoughts to worm their way in as you are busy lying there waiting for the elusive sleep to arrive. When it doesn't, those negative thoughts can win. I hope sleep appeared for them last night and gave them some much needed rest.
Though it was me who couldn't sleep last night. The brain just wouldn't switch off. It was full of PhD stuff. I have several pages of notes that I wrote during the night. I have no curtains (joys of living in the middle of the countryside) so the glorious full moon shone straight into my room all night long. It was so bright I didn't even have to switch a light on to write these notes.
There were also elements of a possible story floating around my brain. I was at my Mum's house again yesterday (not for many more days) but for the first time I noticed the clock on her mantelpiece had stopped. It had stopped at the time she had died...bit of cliche but still weird!
Let's be honest time can be your friend or your enemy. Let's hope for everyone I know and care about it can be a friend for a while.
Because I am being naughty and writing this whilst in the office I can add music. This piece is from the sound track of my life, my boys were in to Green Day for quite a few years and I can't tell you how many times I heard this in the car when being a taxi driver.

Saturday 18 September 2010

PhDs, Stories and Memories

I am very disappointed that my computer won't allow me to put links to music on my blog. There are so many pieces I would like to put up particularly as music is a large part of my life. I like to think that I have my own sound track - perhaps that's just me ;-)
I have been working on my PhD novel today. Doing some rewrites and tightening bits up that needed it. I have left the big thing until tomorrow. My DoS suggested chapters 8,9 and 10 were talking heads. I read them again today and realised other than providing bits of back story or incidents that might or might not link to things later they are actually irrelevant. It is going to be a case of 'killing my darlings' tomorrow as I rip these chapters to pieces. Writing is rewriting, rewriting and rewriting again.
I have been working on the novel as I needed to break the day up a bit. I have been clearing my Mum's house again. The downstairs this time. The place is full of stories. The photo I have put up is my Mum and my three sisters sharing my graduation when I got my MA. My sisters and my brother are joining me at my Mum's house in two weeks as we finally sort it out before the house clearance person goes in. I have been trying to get rid of stuff that could be thrown - why would a person want 12 packets of imodium? Best not answer that.
I have been going through various boxes and envelopes full of photos and documents. Today the most poignant piece was a tiny scrap of paper that looked like it had been torn from a diary. It was dated 1918. It was written to my grandmother by my grandfather before they were married. It just said 'thank you for a perfect day.' It is good to know everyone has perfect days. But to me, as a writer, it is an image that is now filed away. I am sure a story can come out of that piece of paper. Then there is all the documents between the same grandmother and the person she worked for at the House of Commons. I think there may have been more to that too. Another story waiting to be written.
I have laughed and cried today, a photo opens the door to so many memories. We have a lot of photographs. This is partly because one of my sisters has a degree in photography. But also there are all the programmes - for graduations, for dinners at Woburn Abbey, medal ceremonies. Bits of newspapers carefully clipped out announcing the death of a famous aunty, of a sister who was arrested for putting jellies by parking meters (yes you did read that right), for a journey to Camp America, announcing success as head teacher or head injuries nurse. Blueys from another sister who with the TAs spent several months in Iraq. These snippets equal stories and memories. They are part of the patchwork that makes my family what it is. They are a rich source of stories but not stories that tell family tales but stepping stones to fictional ones. This is what we do as writers. This is what I am doing with my PhD novel. It doesn't relate to any family tales but other memories that have stirred a moment of inspiration. It could be as simple as seeing a single cross with a poppy on by a gravestone. There is a whole story behind that poppy.
OK that's enough for now, it is back to 'killing my darlings'

Friday 17 September 2010

PhDs are not easy

That's a fact, PhDs are not easy but neither are they meant to be. Otherwise we'd all be doing them. Just sometimes it can be overwhelming when you actually stop and take stock of what needs to be done. Editing the novel for a start, which I am still very pleased with but am also very happy with the feedback I have received, it is both valid and accurate. When you have been writing something for a long time sometimes it is impossible to see the blindingly obvious things that need to be done to it. A serious case of not being able to see the wood for the trees. This is when your supervisors step in as they clear the decks so you can see properly again thankfully.
I also have the critical piece to write which sad as it may seem I am really looking forward to. I enjoy exploring the creative process critically and have many notes and ideas which I will be able to include. I get a real buzz at the thought of it.
Doesn't sound too bad does it? But then you include real life - papers to be written, lectures to be prepared and a journal to get out. That's when things get scary and it is best not to think. Someone once said to me you can't eat an elephant whole...weird but true. So for the next few months I won't be trying. I will be keeping my head down and just getting on with it. I may be plodding and taking small measurable steps each day but I will get there.
The point of this blog today, just to remind you that doing a PhD isn't an easy option and you've got to be mad to a certain extent to do one and I certainly qualify as that. But on the other hand the satisfaction of producing something you can be really proud of and to be called Dr is pretty good too ;-)

Wednesday 15 September 2010


Firstly the situation as it is at the moment. The novel, which is the creative part of my PhD, is complete - well a polished first draft. It is currently with the DoS for feedback, as you probably know I have received feedback on the first 100 pages which was in the main good and constructive. Am waiting to get the rest before I can do much more to the novel. Therefore I need to focus on the critical aspect of the PhD. This accompanies the creative piece and is linked to it. It can be given various names from critical commentary to rationale to exegesis.
This is the piece I am planning for at the moment. When I am working on the more academic stuff I have to have a plan. I need to know which direction I am going in and what I am hoping to achieve. At the moment this is proving to be rather vague which I am finding difficult. I need to decide how much of my previous research needs to be included and whether I can focus more on the creative process (which I would like). I have made a list of chapter headings as the first stage of my plan. I am not sure how set in stone they are but at least I have a sense of the direction I am going in. Part of the problem is I also have a lot to say and I need to decide what is important and relevant. It is going to be a case of a lot of planning and several notebooks (I always work on the basis that the smarter the notebook the more intelligent the notes inside)
I am also hoping for an epiphanic moment telling me exactly what needs to be included ...I'll keep you posted

Monday 13 September 2010

Thinking critically

Today I had planned to write a paper for a conference I have in a few weeks. It didn't happen. Mainly because there are a lot of ideas swishing around in my brain that are connected with the critical aspect of my PhD. They kept jumping in front of any ideas I might have for the paper and needed to be written down just in case I forgot them. At the moment they are just snippets of ideas linking the creative process with my research. There have been bits of Bourdieu bumbling alongside thoughts of the panoptican (an all seeing character) and the carnivalesque (a transgressive character) whilst intertwined with thoughts of connectedness and the vicarious experience. - not related at the moment but who knows how it will finally work. But these moments and snippets are vital and it is important that I keep all these notes and ideas so I can eventually pull together a coherent critical piece that explores my creative processes. A short and sweet blog for today. Am hoping the brain will stop swishing so much and let me focus on my paper tomorrow.
However, note to self: Don't throw anything away. It may be vital. Write all these notes in a note book and not on scraps of paper.

Friday 10 September 2010

Emergent Adult and the week following.

This time last week I was at The Emergent Adult conference at Homerton College, Cambridge University run by Maria Nikolajeva and her team. It was a brilliant conference with some excellent and fascinating strands.The two key note speakers - Meg Rosoff, the author, on the Friday and Shirley Brice Heath from Brown University, USA - were outstanding. Both of whom spoke at length on subjects that were relevant to my PhD. Meg Rosoff was discussing the concept of 'throughness' which I have spoken about in previous posts and relates to the idea of becoming completely connected with your writing. Whilst Shirley was talking in part about the need for vicarious experiences for teenagers and how books can fit in with this. An idea that is very pertinent to my PhD.Even my own paper on my research into risk taking behaviour by teenagers and how it relates to my PhD went down very well and I was delighted with the response it received. The conference was also eased along by being in good company - Lucy Christopher and Teri Terry - who both made it a delightful weekend full of laughter and some serious conversations even.

The week that followed was full of good times too. Both Prof Jen Webb and Prof Nancy Rosoff visited Winchester University and I spent a delightful few hours discussing a wide range of subjects including some things pertinent to my PhD as well as some not such academic subjects with both of them as they are not just academics but good friends too.

Everything at the moment seems to be focused around my PhD, I think probably because I am heading towards the end. I received feedback on the first hundred pages of the creative piece of my PhD. The feedback was useful and good. There were even large chunks with no comments on at all which was hugely satisfying. This further reinforced the positive feedback I had received in Scotland and gave me a great sense of confidence about my work - both the critical and creative aspects. There is still a mass to do but it is something I am really looking forward to. This is how I intend to use this blog from now onwards. It is to be a diary of how the final few months of my PhD go - both the good and the bad.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Cambridge and my research

I am off to Cambridge tomorrow to Homerton College for a conference entitled The Emergent Adult which is being organised by Maria Nikolajeva (a member of the editorial board of Write4Children). This is the first time I have taken part in a conference like this and am really looking forward to it but also slightly nervous about the whole thing. We had to submit our papers by the 1st of July. They have been available online for everyone to read and also a discussant will lead the session. Instead of presenting your paper (as everyone will have already read it) you have ten minutes to talk about your research and then twenty minutes for questions. Methinks this could be good practice for my final viva! The other papers look fascinating. I think this is going to be a wonderful conference.
Meg Rosoff is going to speak on Friday and I am really looking forward to hearing her as I love her books but also she has been very supportive with my own writing for which I am very grateful. Another friend Teri is going to the conference so at least I will have moral support. lol
I am also taking the opportunity to catch up with a good friend who started her MA with me. Looking forward to it Jen and seeing Toby and Jessica.
I love Cambridge but it is years since I have been there. Can't wait!