Sunday 24 April 2011

Writing is a roller coaster ride

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 17 April 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 12 April 2011

New Beginnings

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

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

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

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

Sunday 3 April 2011

Sentimentality and Mother's Day

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 1 April 2011


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