Friday 28 September 2012

Copyright, plagiarism and all that stuff....

Tired-ness and Elated-ness
We have just come to the end of the first week of teaching in Semester 1 and I have to confess to being a little tired. However prepared you are it still takes you by surprise. One of the delights of this week for me has been that every group of students I have had have been enthusiastic and engaged. It has been an absolute thrill to teach them. Add to that that yesterday we found out that Creative Writing at the University of Winchester had been voted number one in England for overall satisfaction by the students in the National Student Survey. This is a big deal for us. And, I admit, we are elated.

As lecturers we are always told to keep an eye out for plagiarism, luckily in creative writing examples of it seem very rare. In fact, in the five years that I have been lecturing I have not come across any but I know others who have and we do come down hard on them. Do they really think we don't spot it? But I have been watching with interest an email conversation that has been going on in one of the elists. I am not going to be specific and you will see why. It has been about a book that was self published and reviewed by what appears to be a very reputable source. What apparently has come to light is that this book bears more than a slight likeness to another book published many years ago (but still within copyright).To the extent that some of the same phrases, plots and themes etc have been used and are definitely recognisable. Plagiarism and copyright infringement- who knows?

The person who wrote the self published book does not appear to be being malicious, it was more a case of naivety. They wanted to produce the book so that they could share the story with others and apparently also thought it was a fable not an actual book. This made me ask myself several questions - if we are contemplating self publishing do we also need to do a quick Google check to make sure our perceived original idea is not a direct copy of a book we loved as a child? I have not self published anything so am not sure of the processes. Do the organisations that self publish assume you have checked all copyright issues? Where does the responsibility lie? The other thing that came out of this was it was suggested that reviewers should consider checking books to make sure they are not infringements. It seems to me that something quite  apparently innocent has taken on all new proportions and to  a certain extent quite rightly so. It took me back to some discussions held on facebook recently about images that are used on blogs if you don't own them, what actually gives you the right to use them if you have not sought permission?There was in fact a legal case about it. Someone also quite rightly pointed out would we be so dismissive if it was our writing that someone had taken and used without permission.

I have no answers to any of this, am just really thinking out loud.

And just because I am in a Paul Buchanan type of mood....

Sunday 23 September 2012

Starting Over.....

Starting over....
Last week was full of new beginnings. On Friday I spent a glorious morning with our new students for a couple of induction sessions at the University of Winchester. It was wonderful, the room was absolutely buzzing. Their faces were so full of hope and happiness. There was a good dose of laughter too, which is always important. I can't wait to work with them.

This week I actually wrote the first chapter of my new story. I have been mulling it over for a while but I decided to get the first chapter down and see what happens. Luckily the words flowed and seemed (at the moment) to be in the right order. It doesn't mean they will stay like that but it is a start.

This is the first story I have written for a long time that is not tied into some form of academic achievement. Quite a strange feeling. I have been very lucky, however, to be invited to join a particular YA Critique group. I am delighted to be part of it because the writers who are already members are very strong writers and am sure I am going to get a huge amount out of it. It is quite terrifying though. I posted my first chapter this morning and this in itself is unusual for me as I usually tinker for ages before I let people see it. But I decided I would be interested in seeing what their thoughts are on a very early version. It was a real GULP moment for me putting something so new and precious out there, particularly when you know deep down that it isn't perfect. I am looking forward to their comments though as I am certain they will help keep me on my toes when I am writing this new story - it has a tentative title 'Persephone's Pegasus' - which may well change but I always have to name my stories so that I 'own' them. They become mine and it is something I encourage my students to do, even for their assignments.

I have spent the last two and bit years working on Trafficking (that which was Ham and Jam) so it is quite strange to start over again with a totally new story,new voice and new characters. I am busy getting to know them, getting to understand their idiosyncrasies and knowing what they look like. All good fun. They will become my friends in the same way Saba and Amina became my friends before and who are hopefully going to embark on their own journey soon.

I am also involved in a new project which I can't quite reveal yet but it certainly will be hatching in the very near future. I will share all the details with you very soon. I am very excited about it and what it will offer, plus I am working with some fantastic people on it.

You see I am definitely 'starting over....'

Monday 17 September 2012

Writing Britain

British Library
Yesterday I met up with a great friend who had done her MA in Writing for Children at the same time as me. We don't often get together as she lives in Cambridge but when we do there is an awful lot of talking going on. The reason for our latest get together was because a few weeks ago I won tickets for the Writing Britain Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition at the British Library. (Many thanks to the Tall Tales & Short Stories blog).

It was a joyous exhibition, there were some wonderful books, in particular a beautifully illustrated manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1410), which was just incredible to look at it.....the work - it must have taken hours. But for me, as a writer, the best parts were the handwritten manuscripts whether in books or loose leaf paper. It was seeing how they wrote, how they edited, what their processes were. It was all about the creative practice for me. There were manuscripts from Austen, Emily Bronte, James Joyce (how he reads his edits goodness knows), Dickens, J.G.Ballard (he uses a fascinating method of different coloued pens, writes in black, then edits first in red then in blue), Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter (a personal hero), Philip Larkin, Virginia Woolf (another hero), William Blake, to name but a few. But I have to say I was delighted to see so many children's books too - Lewis Carrol's handwritten and illustrated book that he gave to Alice, Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, right up to a JK Rowlings hand written 'The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters' chapter from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. I was previously lucky enough to see a handwritten manuscript by Philip Pullman, which is held at Seven Stories in Newcastle.As I said as a writer it is a real thrill to see these things. It is not only good to see how they do things and how they approach the process but also it might give you new ideas and it might even mean you have your methods affirmed as their approach to editing is the same as yours.

The exhibition is only on until the 25th September, but if you get a chance to go, do so. It is well worth it.

On a different matter it was ten years ago that I started as a very tentative mature student at the University of Winchester. Little did I know all these years later I would be teaching at the same place. If I am honest at that stage it was the last thing on my mind but am so glad I was brave enough to do it because it changed my life in so many ways. But that is history and now I am looking forward so here is 'History's Door' by Husky to celebrate the fact:

Sunday 9 September 2012

New Beginnings...


It is all about new beginnings at the moment. Yesterday I was doing an Open Day at the University of Winchester. Two weeks tomorrow is the start of a new academic year and, lastly, I have two brand new stories buzzing around in my head.

Open Days are always fun to do particularly if you are part of a double act. You have a room full of beaming potential students with their slightly less beaming parents. It is always a relief to see at the end of the talk to see that the parents smiles are just as wide as their children when they realise how useful a creative writing degree can be. Also I have to say it is hugely satisfying when at the end of the talk the parents and prospective students clap and cheer. We had lots of students come through our four sessions yesterday and it was a joy if a bit exhausting. Hopefully we will see many of them next September.

Talking of which, as I said, two weeks tomorrow will be the start of the new academic year. An exciting time but also a time of fear even for the lecturers. I am in the midst of lesson planning and ensuring that all my work is up to date so I can hit the ground running when the teaching starts....hmmm...that's the plan, will it be the reality remains to be seen!

The most exciting new beginning for me is the fact I have two new stories buzzing around. Trafficking is off with the editor and I decided it was time to start something new. But then it was like buses, two stories came along at the same time. Both pretty well formed but one requires a huge amount of research (including travelling abroad in order to do it) so I think that one is going to have to sit and wait on the back burner until I have the time and the money to do it justice. Luckily, I love the other story, it is another thriller for YA but quite different from Trafficking. The ideas for it are just dancing around my mind. I can see the plot and as always it is basic but I know I can build it up with some thrilling twists and turns. I am going to try and get a bit of it written before the start of term because once it starts the writing will have to take a back step, which to be honest is quite frustrating, but I might take a leaf out of Marcus Sedgwick's book (excuse the pun) who used to write every other Saturday when he was working for publishers and writing his books at the same time. I will set a day aside a week dedicated to writing. I know some people would sit back and wait for the feedback on Trafficking but I want to move forward. I never feel complete unless I am writing and I have a story flowing through my head that needs to be put on the page. Definitely a case of Happi-Ness!!

This is irrelevant to this post but I think it is beautiful, I have no idea how it is done but I thought you would enjoy it too.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Foucault and teaching

Just a few of my Foucault books
'I'm no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.' This quote is attributed to my friend (and nemesis), Michel Foucault. It has not appeared in print but apparently was said by him and overheard by Hubert Dreyfus who then used it in a talk that was heard by Lewis Hyde. He then used it in his book Trickster Makes This World: How Disruption Imagination Creates Culture.(2008) A long winded way of saying I am not positive whether Foucault did say it or not, but it is a quote I find very inspiring particularly when thinking about teaching.

Today is the 1st September and my personal deadline for when I can no longer focus solely on my own work/research, now it is time to start all the planning for next semester. I am hoping that by doing 12 weeks of lesson plans and writing lectures now I will have time to continue with my own work even whilst teaching. Otherwise it is too easy to have the life sucked out of you as the academic whirlwind, that is all encompassing, consumes you then spits you out lifeless and exhausted at the end. Plus there is a new job in a different area to apply for, which if I get will take even more of my time, and a wonderful new project that I am involved in that, excitingly, is right away from academia. Then of course there is the new story idea I have which will need lots of research before I can start it. Lots of positives but all will need my time. Time is such a precious commodity that we rarely appreciate until we have none left.

Oops went off on a tangent there, anyway back to the quote, as I said it made me think of teaching and, no, I am not claiming to be a prophet but I did think that teaching is all about 'creating windows where there were once walls.' Particularly in creative writing where we are giving students the chance to try on and fall in love with different voices. As well as exploring their writing styles and techniques whilst finding out who they are as writers. They learn to hone their craft and knock through their own walls to create those windows on the world which welcome the light in. It is a privilege to watch students develop through their degree and become confident in who they are as writers.

I think this week might also contain a trip to get new pens and pencils and notepads. Who says you have to be a student to experience that bit of excitement? For me it is just another excuse, but so many writers I know are  stationery addicts too - comes with the territory I think.

This seemed appropriate for knocking windows in walls and the forthcoming start of a new semester. Pink Floyd's ' 'Another Brick in the Wall'. Good luck to all teachers and lecturers for the forthcoming onslaught, particularly those of us in Higher Education who are facing our first year of 'those fees'.