Monday 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012....Hello 2013

A touch of madness....
It is the last day of 2012 and I have had a look back at my post for this time last year to see what I said. I had had such a momentous year in 2011 I was then feeling quite lost and wondering what 2012 could bring me to top it. Well no, it didn't top it, (I don't think anything ever will) but it was still pretty damn good.

What I could never of anticipated at the beginning of the year was that I would have a 'proper' job (or two). In September I was lucky enough to get a .5 lecturer's position at Winchester after several years of being an HPL. It is an amazing feeling and one that still, even now, doesn't feel quite real. I am still waiting for someone to wake me up and say 'Ha! Only joking...' But in the meantime I keep working hard at it and love it so much even through all the stress. I then also got the position of Skills Development Manager for all post graduate students at the uni - that is going to be very exciting and challenging as a position.

A year ago I had no idea either that I would be involved in a project with the gorgeous  Imogen Cooper - The Golden Egg Academy. Such an exciting experience and another chance to work with some incredible people. I cannot wait for the launch in January. I think GE is going to grow and grow next year beyond any of our thoughts or expectations. Bring it on. On the creative side I am still (yes I know) working on Trafficking and have also started a new story as well. I wonder what 2013 will bring for them?

I also had no idea I would have a new knee - a very shiny one according to the brochure that the very excited surgeon showed me before he inserted the contraption in my leg. It is apparently the 'best in the world'. I am sure in the long run it will be amazing but I am still battling through times of intense pain. I can't wait to be without crutches though. I did manage to ride the static bike the other day so can't wait to get it moving even more. I should add at this point that I will be eternally grateful to my children and Jen W and Nicky S who helped me get through some really dark times in the last few weeks. I owe you all.

That brings me neatly on to friends. I am lucky I have some amazing ones who have brought so much joy, laughter, writing, art and music into my life. Some are many miles away and some are very close. Friends are an important part of life and I treasure every single one of you. Thank you for being part of my life. I hope all your dreams comes true in 2013 and for many of you I know that would be a publishing contract.

There have been some low moments too of course. However, if you don't have those how could you appreciate the good. But I am not going to dwell on those. I had a chapter in a book published and I gave a couple of papers - one at Great Writing 2012 and one on technology in creative writing at a conference held at Winchester in July. Of course to start the new year I have been invited to co-write, with AM, a chapter for another book as well. What else shall I do next year? Well the aim is to get another book proposal out there based on my PhD and maybe a few more conferences. But we will see.

Oh yes next year....a momentous year for many reasons. Firstly I am going to be fabulous 50 in February and I fully intend to embrace the idea of fabulousness! Secondly, my beautiful daughter is getting married in September to a fantastic man and that is going to be one hell of a celebration. I know I am lucky with my family and how much of them I see. Watching N grow into a toddler is one of my greatest joys. Seeing my boys develop into men that I am proud of as well. I wondered what other excitement 2013 will bring me.

In the meantime, this is how I am going to approach 2013, I hope you will join me, let's dance....don't stop me now!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Morphine Blues!

Still trying to write...

I don't normally take photos of my legs and my laptop but there was a specific reason. A call went out by the Notes from the Slushpile lot of photos of us writing for their 12 Days of Christmas seemed a good idea at the time. Check it out here:

Anyway, in case you hadn't guessed, I have just undergone some surgery and because of the amount of pain I have been taking huge amounts of drugs including morphine. I kept thinking of all those amazing writers who produced incredible stuff whilst consuming vast amounts of laudanum and wondered when my moment was going to come. When were these amazing words going to fall out of my fingers onto the screen? They didn't, they have stayed resolutely buried within my grey matter, which has got greyier by the day.

I have been reading (and rereading as the drugs seem to make taking anything in an impossibility) an essay by Zadie Smith entitled 'Rereading Barthes and Nabokov.'  It is a good essay and I intended to write a highfaluting response - again mega fail on my part - one day I will but not yet. What I did keep getting attracted to was an idea of Milan Kundera's that she mentions: 'Great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors.'And I believe this is no less the case with children's books when you write them. They should take the author beyond what they know and understand in the same way. My great friend Foucault talks about this too when he says 'it would probably not be worth the trouble of making books if they failed to teach the author something he hadn't known before.' This flies in the face slightly of 'write what you know' but if we only wrote what we knew a lot of books would never have been written - how may of you went to Wizard schools, have ridden on the back of polar bears or have fallen through the back of a wardrobe to find a Narnia....

Writing is in fact all about challenging everyone - not just the writer but the reader too. Taking them to all sorts of new places. Opening the reader's eyes and giving them a chance to dance in new worlds.  The point with children is they often understand far more than they can articulate so the books you write for them need to be a challenge too. 

...and that's as far as I can go with my response to the essay. And my dreams of amazing words dissolved in the morphine blues. Maybe next week will be better I will see the world clearly again and in the meantime something for me to escape into:

Sunday 16 December 2012

Lost moments...

In Awe...
I had a very different post planned for this blog but just couldn't bring myself to write it following the events in the States on Friday. I don't think there was one of us who didn't hug our children or grandchildren tighter that night. This photo is of my grandson when he woke up and found a Christmas tree had sprouted in his lounge on Saturday morning. Last year he was too young to take much notice but this year it was a little different as you can see.

It is those precious moments, a mere snapshot, that mean you can build a whole life time of memories. On Friday a young man decided to wipe out any future memories for so many families. They will be left with the ones they already have, which will be unbelievably precious and they will never let fade. But there are no new moments to be made. Their lives hit a sudden and cruel full stop. I cannot imagine how you handle that but there are many people all over the world dealing with just that. Wars, conflict and crime punctuate our lives.

There are, quite rightly, a lot of arguments and chest beating going on about the gun laws in the US but we all know it is so much more than that. What about mental health care provision? Where's that?  I was lucky enough to have a full knee replacement this week, fully funded by the NHS, I will be fighting fit in a very few weeks. If I was in the US I doubt I would have been able to afford it. Don't get me wrong, we are not perfect, there is a lot wrong with our country too. And I am not going to use this post as a political diatribe there are many who can do that way better than I can. There are times when we need to stop and look at ourselves and what we are doing to this world.

If I am honest my thoughts are with the survivors and with the families who have lost someone. They will be getting through each day at a time. Facing the world wondering how they can do it. As a writer of children's books I am aware that a lot of innocence will have been lost on Friday. It is my hope that these children can find ways to recover their childhood a bit by disappearing into good books that will take them by the hand and remind them how to live again.

Sending everyone who has lost someone strength and love as we head towards this holiday season

Sunday 9 December 2012

A tiny book full of tiny poems

A tiny book full of tiny poems...

I know two posts in as many days but sometimes things just have to be spoken about. Books don't have to be huge to have an impact. In the post a little book arrived by Rumi and called Whispers of the Beloved. It is full of quatrains, so a tiny book full of tiny poems. I sat and read some of them last night and I fell in love with this one, it speaks so much truth:

It's good to leave each day behind,
like flowing water, free of sadness.
Yesterday is gone and its tale told.
Today new seeds are growing.

Then there was this little nugget, which seemed suitably applicable as I know how important my friends are, particularly at the moment. 

With friends you grow wings.
you are a single feather in disgrace.
With them you master the wind,
but alone,
you are blown in all directions.

Enjoy these two little poems and now here's a bit of Kirsty McColl with The Pogues with a Fairytale of New York, just for a bit of Christmas spirit. I love Christmas. 

Saturday 8 December 2012

Learning and Re-learning how to write

The soon to be bionic woman....
There is something you will never hear a writer say and that is 'I know how to write.' Writing is an ongoing learning process which never stops. I find it really ironic that when you finish one book and you start on another you find yourself thinking, how did I do that? Where do I start and your life is full of panic as you sit and face another blank page or screen.

Gaylene Perry in her essay 'History Documents, Arts Reveals: Creative Writing as Research,' states 'I wrote as I learned and I learned as I wrote.' So true and it never stops. I heard of a student who at a workshopping session for their creative pieces handed their complete piece, including assignment cover sheet stapled to it, to the tutor for some feedback. The said tutor was slightly taken aback as this was the first of three workshopping sessions, aimed at allowing the students to polish their assignment. They asked the student why and the student responded, 'Well, I've finished it.' No one, other than the student, had looked at it and needless to say once it was workshopped and the tutor had looked through it, it was not finished. There was writing all over it, highlighting things that needed to be changed. I must admit it is a hard, but important, thing to learn that your first draft is never (or very rarely) your finished draft. My own pieces of work often go through a multitude of redrafting, which is rarely in the single figures and often heads towards three figures.

A friend, who is an accomplished writer, has recently taken part in a course and found it so useful as they re-learnt things they already knew but had forgotten. It appeared to me that they felt, with the input of the course leaders, revitalised about their writing. They found it to be a very positive experience. For me this highlighted how when writing you never stop learning, confirming Perry's quote above. You learn as you write, as you read, as you research, as you share your work. It all shapes you into the writer you are. I am lucky even working with students helps me to improve my writing as I listen to them and their ideas and how they improve their work. It can be really inspirational.  Never be ashamed of looking to learn more. It will never be wasted. Neither assume you have learnt it all because I can assure you, you haven't. There is always something out there that can help bring your writing to life even more.

Right, I am off to be made into a bionic woman, you will soon see me jumping from roof to roof with my new body that they have rebuilt for me.

In the meantime, here's a bit of one of my favourite men

Sunday 2 December 2012

Writing for children is hard....

The joy of reading
Writing for children is hard and don't let anyone tell you anything else. Many years ago I was convinced to do the MA in Writing for Children because 'if you can write for children you can write for anyone.' And this is actually something I believe to a certain extent, partly because. as I said above, it is hard to write for children and get it right.  But how many times am I asked: 'When are you going to write a proper book?' (meaning an adult book) Because of course the books our children read are not real, they not proper, not worthwhile. Yet these are the same books than can create the most wonderful memories. Allow children to escape into their own worlds and form their minds.

The people that I know that write for children do so because they are driven, then can't not write. They love what they do. They are also fully aware they are unlikely to make millions at it. Though if I had a pound for everytime someone said to me 'Oh you're going to be the next JK are you?' I might just be. But you can't be the next JK Rowling because there is only one JK. We are all totally different, we approach writing differently and write different stories. Who knows what the next big thing will be? I know a few publishers who would pay a huge amount to have that insight however. What we need to keep doing is writing the best stories we can to the best of our ability. Writing is a craft and something that can be honed, the more you write and the more you read the better you will become.

The other little gem is: 'I'm going to write a children's books when I have time, it must be so easy....' Well actually, as we already know, it is not. You have to contemplate your audience. Think about the language you are going to use and consider whether your story is age appropriate. And that's just the beginning...

I am lucky I am a lecturer in creative writing so am surrounded by like minded people. I have spent the whole weekend writing feedback on draft assignments for all my students, giving advice on how to make their piece better before they submit and marking assignments. We workshop it in groups and they have numerous chances to polish that piece of work. That is fine when you are at university, however, when you are writing on your own or away from this hothouse situation that sort of support is not always available. You can get a lot of encouragement and good advice from critiquing groups and I heartily recommend being part of one of those.

However, there is nothing like working with an editor and a professional. On that basis I am doubly lucky as since the end of my PhD I have been working with an editor. I cannot tell you what sort of a difference that makes to your writing. It helps you lift the writing off the page so the story can become one of those ones that just might stay with a child forever...she says hopefully!!

This is a fabulous way to work and now there is an opportunity for you to do that too. Imogen Cooper of The Chicken House has set up The Golden Egg Academy - check out the website. I am lucky enough to also be involved in this. Our latest news is that Beverley Birch will be working with us too.  There is to be an official launch in January, at which point I will give you lots more information. It is a very exciting project and one that I am thrilled to be involved in.

The important thing is, it doesn't matter how hard writing for children is, we will still keep doing it because then we can have moments like the photo above where I am sharing a book with my gorgeous grandson. Something we do on a regular basis.

Now this is Karine Polwart in concert on the 30th November. It is not the greatest recording but I love it because of the emotion behind it. She is singing the song 'Salters Road' directly to a member of the audience for whose mother she wrote the song. That is what being creative is all about, it is about connections and emotions. Enjoy!