Thursday 31 December 2009
I’ve had two Young Adult books come out. Annoyingly, though, they came out within three weeks of each other – one had been delayed for almost two years. I’ve also got a couple of academic papers under my belt. I’m certainly enjoying teaching creative writing at university level. The writing itself is still going quite well and I’ve still plenty of ideas. I just need to make sure I do get enough time to write. And I’m beginning to see what my retirement might look like.
Carrying on with Bridge House has been fun. We’ve got eight book out this year. It’s been a bit hard to keep to deadlines – we were ambitious, life events happened, and sometimes authors were slow to respond to edits or proof-reading – they too had life events and deadlines with other people. But we just about did it and our publications have been a delight. We continue to champion the short story. We begin to be recognised by other publishers and generally by the people in the world of books.
The Red Telephone took off in the summer – that is our imprint for Young Adult books and is in fact now publishing three of mine. We’ll be bringing another one out by another author in June 2010 – hopefully.
There are some exciting projects to look forward to next year – not least of all the animal anthology we’re doing to support Born Free. There’s also plenty planned elsewhere at Bridge House and The Red Telephone. And I have plenty of my own projects and plenty at the university. All good stuff.
Wednesday 30 December 2009
Of course, we also need to avoid the situation where we manipulate dialogue so that it becomes unnatural in our efforts to make one of our characters give the readers any background they need.
I’m reasonably good now at setting scenes into what feels like real time and space so I don’t have to do all that much usually in this particular edit. There are times, though, when I tell in order to propel the action forward. Sometimes this is because of laziness when I’ve not been bothered to write the actual scene. Other times, however, it’s because the detials are trivial and could bore the reader. This in turn sometimes means that scene wasn’t necessary. Other times though you do have to find another way of telling.
I find I get round the latter by telling the tale from the point of view of one of the main characters – the protagonist if possible. This generally works well.
It’s also important to refrain from naming emotions. It’s best to show the emotions by describing a character’s physical state and making him / her speak their mind.
“Telling” is characterised by long descriptions, often with several abstract words. “Showing” is generally full of dialogue and a considerable amount of action, giving the reader a real feeling of time and space.
I’ve now read the whole of Babel and found the weak points in this area. I’m now two thirds of the way through making the corrections.
Just three more edits to go.
Tuesday 29 December 2009
I’m lucky in having a day job which encompasses my writing to a large extent.
Hang on a minute? Am I lucky? Or did I create that through visualisation?
Interestingly, there is a lot that is good about my job – it recognises my writing as valid and important and it allows me to actually spend much of my time thinking and talking about writing to others. In fact, I’m expected to carry on honing my own skills and increasing my own knowledge and pass that on to others. I’m paid a reasonable wage for this and one could almost look upon it as a type of retainer.
I earn some money directly from my writing and there is also some writing I consider important though it is not commercial enough to earn me much. I manage to spend what feels like the right amount of my time on my writing and not too much on doing things I don’t want to do, including what I name “jobbing writing”. I’d like to shrink the latter two further.
I’d like to earn a little more. I’m not greedy in terms of material items. I actually don’t enjoy so-called “retail therapy” – it’s not a patch on writing. I find it hard to imagine my ideal living conditions, though I do have my eyes on a house around the corner from where I’m currently living. I’d like to feel comfortable enough to not struggle at the end of the month and to be able to visit my children and treat them a little but not too much without major planning involved. I certainly always want to be warm enough and have enough good food to eat, and to be able to buy ink, paper and new computers as needed as well as all the books and postage I require.
I want the writing itself to carry on getting better and better. I want it to always earn the amount of time I can give it.
It’s a tricky dream to hold on to, because it’s actually quite hard to put it into words – even for a writer.
Thursday 24 December 2009
It is a skilled adaptation. Very appropriate, too, having something by CAD, now poet laureate. It retains the essence of the original slightly grimmer versions of some well-known fairy-tales. Could the word “grim” possibly come from the nature of these stories?
The stories – Hansel and Gretel, the Golden Goose, Ashputtel (Cinderella to us), Iron Hans, The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage, the Lady and the Lion and Little Red Ridinghood were presented almost in Brechtian fashion, with a troupe of actors who narrated the stories, acting out some of the characters as they went along. They also played impressive jigs on a variety of musical instruments.
The stage at the Library Theatre anyway is novel. It tapers to the back to fit into the circular building which is the Central Library in Manchester. It has quite a slope on it too. You fear for the actors’ balance. The set was enchanting, though. A mixture of woodland and faded old mansion, with misty forest in the background.
It was gratifying to see the theatre absolutely full. Interestingly, the audience was middle to low-brow, with lots of children as well, yet they really appreciated the humour and the subtle connections. This was so much better than the traditional smutty pantomimes.
The Library Theatre is moving temporarily to the Lowry then taking over the former Theatre Royal. I wonder what they will do with that enticing space?
We came home in a heavy snowstorm. Manchester was enchanting. The trams ran all right but the short car journey back to our home was decidedly iffy. We did it, though we couldn’t get the car on to the drive.
Wednesday 23 December 2009
I finished my twelfth edit of Babel. We’re getting horribly close to that most demanding of edits – the one where you read the whole text out loud. You probably need to such a lot of sweets in between sessions. That’s a slower edit, of course.
So, I finished that edit. I also finished critiquing ten short stories for the winner of the Bridge House short story competition – Sandra Morgan. I did a little work on getting the Molecules of Hope web site up and running.
There is a glorious side to being snowed in. So many excuses not to do things. Food can be a worry. We do need to shop today. It looks as if we can get out with care. But as long as the infra structure is still working, as long as you can get news of the outside world and as long as you can keep warm, why worry? Writing time – in heaps.
Tuesday 22 December 2009
Thanks to Debz’s hard work.
Way to go.
Friday 18 December 2009
However, I am sure if I take another look today and certainly if I take a look in a few weeks time, I’ll think differently again. The Constant Editor is always with us. I hope this means that my writing is getting better and better. I’m sure I’ll never be completely satisfied.
I’m certain I’m not alone in this. I guess most writers behave the same way. It is in the end a form of quality control.
Monday 14 December 2009
I recently read What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones and I have to say that I was impressed. Books like this are rarely a commercial success, but I would be very proud to get mine published all the same. Is it one for Cinnamon, Salt or even The Red Telephone?
I think this type of novel has three great advantages: you can get really close to the main character, they’re quite a quick read, and each poem is still self-contained. Lets hope I manage to make this one work.
Friday 11 December 2009
Some funny things happen, such as the sheep mistaking bagpipes for a sick animal and there are some other funny permanent features, such as the huge sheep who eats anything – including the kite the flock has taken pains to rescue from a tree.
The big question, however, is is it really for children? There are a few – thank goodness not too many- jokes at the children’s expense. There are more which perhaps only adults will understand. On the other hand, there is some humour that would appeal to Teletubbies’ fans. So, let’s take a vote. Who is Shaun really for?
Tuesday 8 December 2009
We have a system where students email work to each other and their personal tutor about three days before we meet. Everybody looks at the work and then gives verbal and written feedback on what they’ve read. It’s a serious critique group really.
I find I learn a lot myself from reading students’ work. They also learn from each other. They become quite severe critiques of their own work in the end. It is amazing then what happens to the work. It really comes on, setting a challenge for us lecturers. Our students get to become really good writers.
Thursday 3 December 2009
An academic paper given at a conference would be considerably tighter and one written for a journal would be even tighter still.
When we are speaking, we do need to add in extra words. It gives the speaker thinking time and it gives the listener interpreting time. When we write, we have the chance to draft and redraft and get it right. The reader can pause to reflect on what they have read. As we read more quickly than we listen or speak, we can become very irritated by words and phrases that prevent us from getting to the content of the message.
I’ve been marking undergraduate essay assignments recently. So many of the students overwrite. I’m sure it’s because they’re thinking as they go along. Which is what I’m doing now. Which is why I’m overwriting. Still, I’ll edit this three times before I post it. And I’ll try not to take out the overwriting.
Wednesday 2 December 2009
There is something about tone that changes according to who is writing for whom and who is speaking to whom. There are so many parallels between speaking and writing. They are both active communication skills – as opposed to the two passive ones – reading and listening. There is also talking which uses an active and a passive skill together. You can argue that listening can be active. Reading can also be proactive and in fact for a writer is it possible to switch off the jabbering editing voice which tells you what you can learn from the writer whose work you are reading? And of course, identifying the tone and how the writer has achieved that tone.
There are so many unknowns. Is it the words that are used, the complexity of the sentences, even the paragraphing that determines tone in writing? Are we talking about an atmosphere created? Is there something to do with rhythms and sounds?
Tone, style, voice, all important. Are they different? Are they the same? Are they related?
Monday 30 November 2009
We had been planning to meet at Borders, but since that has gone into receivership they cancelled our booking. A little short-sighted, I thought, as they could do with footfall through the shop so that as much stock is sold as possible. However, we ended up at the Kog Café project and to me delight this would be a great candidate also for the Creative Café project. It reminded my somewhat of the Nexus Arts Café in Manchester, and I guess the Merchants Quarter Glasgow is similar enough to the Northern Quarter Manchester. It was a good space, if a little cold for the first part of the day, and the food was home made and appetising.
I talked a little about Bridge House and the Red Telephone. I hope we’ll get lots of submissions. There is some distrust of us as a little publisher. Hopefully that will disappear in time. We’ll make good.
I also did sessions on voice, characterisation, plot structure, characteristics of the Young Adult novel, what young adults are like and editing.
SCBWI Scotland members are an advanced bunch. You can always be afraid that you’re talking down to them. I hope I didn’t. They did take plenty of notes. They did ask questions and a couple of them thanked me for what I’d taught them.
And I’ve decided I like Glasgow.
Thursday 26 November 2009
The main publishing house is also not happy with what the designers / copy editors have done. Meanwhile, we’ve had a little go at doing it ourselves. And we can do it better. It just goes to show.
But I’m glad some of us are talking the same language.
Question is, do I go ahead and finish the proof read? I think I might. The main editors are keen to see what I disagree with.
Wednesday 25 November 2009
The book in question is a teaching resource with photocopiable sheets for the students. I’ve created tons of resources like this for another publisher. A lot of consideration is about words fitting the page and what it looks like.
They requested an unformatted version. This is not unreasonable. As I also work as a publisher I know why this is. However, as they did not provide a full formatting language and what they did supply was not like formatting language I’d used before, I also provided a visual copy of the text. Which they have ignored twice, having requested it the second time. Many of the student pages look terrible and don’t make any sense.
They requested a lot of supplementary material. I duly put this in. Of course, it has now made some of the pages too big. I told them it would. Some of it is because I’m a victim of my own success. I introduced a couple of good ideas. They have latched on to these and extended them.
They have now produced pages in tiny squashed up writing which give you a headache to read. Some important aspects of layout have been ignored. What do you do?
Well, I’ve emailed back and expressed my concerns. Fingers crossed they’re decent people and will respond positively. Watch this space.
Monday 23 November 2009
Nevertheless, the students- the majority boys –listened well and responded well to my questions. Many admitted to liking fantasy and science fiction. Only a few girls liked science fiction. Could The Prophecy change that? Who knows?
It was good that they understood, much of what was going on in the snippets of The Prophecy that I read out. Am I allowed to say I wrote it right?
They listened well and asked some very shrewd questions. Extremely pleasing for their age again – especially from the boys. I told them quite a lot about my editing processes, and they seemed to understand quite easily.
I also met a teacher and a Y13 student very committed to writing. It is good to meet people like that.
I arrived at about break-time. I realise the staff room is something I miss from my days as a secondary school teacher. There is a certain camaraderie not found in Higher Education. A large chocolate cake dominated. Someone had reached their thirtieth birthday at the weekend. At the university, you are lucky if somebody comes out of their box -aka office- at the same time as you let alone meets your for a coffee or lunch. But I guess we also have compensations. Like the fact that I’m working from home for the rest of the day.
Friday 20 November 2009
I do edit as I go along. I write a chunk – a chapter or part of a chapter - then I reread it three times. I’ll even do that with this blog post. I’ll later do precise edits. I have to admit, though, that I’ve got this buttoned down better with fiction than with non-fiction. I don’t have a sophisticated checklist for non-fiction / academic as I have for fiction.
Finally, I print off and read in hardcopy. And still I find things I need to correct. In this final edit, I read out loud. Yes, even when it’s a 100,000 word novel. It’s good reading out loud. It slows you right down and you notice oddities that you don’t notice when you read in your head. You have to take a little care that you’re not dealing with something that should be written another way if it is to be read out loud. This only applies in a very few cases anyway. And you find things you need to alter. Every single time.
The question is: when do you stop? Do you print it out again and again? Until you finally get a copy where you don’t want to alter anything?
I don’t, actually. Unless I’ve made some big alterations, I just make the final changes from the hard copy I’ve read out. After all, you have to leave something for the editors, don’t you?
Then the book arrives. You open it. You, the writer who has continued to grow, reads it … and you want to alter it yet again. Just as you would like to tinker with all those texts written by others.
Yes, it’s all about crafting, recrafting and crafting again.
Thursday 19 November 2009
Actually, I’m most impressed about his power to hold an audience. He started at six prompt. He spoke clearly and warmly, and kept us entertained as well as informed, continued for an hour and at no time did I ever feel that I’d had enough. Often I can listen to a lecture, find the content fascinating but be bored by the form – even at Salford where the seats are comfortable. This was not the case last night. When he stopped at seven, I wanted him to carry on. If anything, it was the questions which were tedious. Some were mere comments, confirming what he had said. Others were more affirmations of the questioner’s own beliefs. No one raised anything of note.
I felt a little overwhelmed. I’ve been in the same room as him several times and I’ve even been published in the same book. Would he remember that? Maybe. In the very first edition of Lines in the Sand, in which we both appear, Frances Lincoln managed to chop out the last third of my story. So that other writers would not believe me to be an idiot, Mary Hoffman, the editor, emailed the complete story to all the other writers and illustrators in the book. It’s probably, though, a case of I know him but he doesn’t know me. And of course he was the Children’s Laureate.
Yet it is unfair to him to be overwhelmed. He is human. He is pleasant. In addition he is focussed, he is charismatic and he communicates well. All good qualities for a Children’s Laureate?
Wednesday 18 November 2009
Someone described it last weekend as writing in your bedroom and pushing the manuscript under the door and waiting for the cheque to be pushed back in the other direction. We’d all like that. It just doesn’t happen.
Not even if you write a bestseller. Because even a bestseller doesn’t sell forever and then because you have to go on tour to stretch its selling potential you have to be disciplined enough to do your writing on the train and in the hotel room. Or grab ten minutes like I am now.
Until you achieve that bestseller, you have to do something else. Great, if like me, you can have a job where you are employed because you are a writer. A lot of my activities include editing and critiquing and that actually enhances my writing as well.
An then there is something else.
If you are just in that bubble of writing might you not run out of things to write about? Doesn’t the rest of your life feed your writing? And of course the life around you that you observe.
The story-tellers of days gone by were often employed in other capacities, too. By day they might be hunters or fishermen, in the evenings they told their stories.
Monday 16 November 2009
But of course, that is not all. The conference was bigger than ever this year. We started on Friday afternoon, finished on Sunday morning, and there were five strands. There have been four before and when I first joined, it was usually a day conference in London.
There was a lot of choices, though inevitably there were times that you wanted to go to two or even three session at once, and other times when you had less interesting choices. I went to a mixture of the Higher Education sessions, one or two of the writers in schools session and a few of the less sector dominated ones. One or two resulted in some healthy arguments.
As usual, at such events the networking opportunities provided and the chances offered to catch up with old friends is of great value. Chillworth Manor provided a very comfortable and incredibly beautiful setting for such activities.
I came back really inspired and very relaxed.
Tuesday 10 November 2009
I long for the time when I could get a couple of hours writing done before I started the office work. When you do have the time after you’ve been running around like a mad thing, you can’t get the necessary concentration.
Yet, it is the mere habit of sitting down at the keyboard, or with a pen in your hand that brings that concentration. It may take twenty minutes or so to get into it, but get into you can, any time anywhere. Then you don’t want to stop.
I used to give a young boy French lessons. I asked his older sister who supervised his homework to make sure that he did at least fifteen minutes a day. The first five were always the hardest, she reported. After that he was into it and he got going. Sometimes he did as much as an hour. That is what I now have to be like with my writing. It isn’t as comfortable as when I came to it fresh and raring to go. But it still works.
I must remember as well that I tend to write better on the days when I struggle.
Monday 9 November 2009
I’ve been doing some of the latter today. I’ve actually done two types. I’ve sent a revamped copy of the first three chapters of a Young Adult book and a synopsis out to an agent. It’s odd how you never send exactly the same out each time. Each time it comes back, you’ve moved on a little and you write differently. I would just so love to get an agent. So, I have to market myself to potential agents.
I’ve also spent some time approaching festivals to attend as a writer. I send pretty much the same basic email out to each one. But I do custom it to what I’ve found out about their festival. It’s only polite to find out as much as you can before you approach the organisers.
It’s always important with these to address people by name if you can. It really helps.
It’s actually quite fun doing it once you have persuaded yourself you can.
Friday 6 November 2009
I’ve also been busy with my choir, the Ordsall Acapella Singers. We had two gigs down at the Quays last night and a rehearsal Tuesday evening – followed by normal choir practice. Today, as I’m now secretary for the organisation, I had to go and do some business at the bank – our branch happens just to be on the Quays.
The Quays is an odd sort of place. It doesn’t belong to Salford proper – it’s a tad too posh as well and that may become even more so once the BBC gets there. Yet it’s also oddly desolate. The bank itself seem futuristic and ahead of its time inside.
Yet it used to be a very industrialised area. In fact the performance we did down by the waterside celebrated Salford’s industrial past. Later, we performed in the Lowry Theatre during the interval. The audience was middle class and then some.
There’s a big council estate next to the Quays. A lot of good things happen there. Yet the residents remain in awe of this whole regenerated area and of nearby Salford University. It was really good then to see children from the estate coming to the venue carrying lanterns and enjoying the show we put on.
We were spared the rain both evenings. Not so this afternoon. Yet I still couldn’t’ help wondering at the amount of wildlife living on and by the water. Despite the grey skies and despite the rain, the place was beautiful. Post-industrial.
Wednesday 21 October 2009
After all, the person writing this blog is the one whose Ph D Thesis is subtitled “Towards a Global Definition of the Young Adult Novel.”
I’ve spent considerable time in my “Introduction to Children’s Literature” talking about how books today have to be “politically correct” and in particular how young people should not be left alone or left with dubious adults. This, of course, refers only to texts, written in English, about characters in the Northern Hemisphere, Western World and white South Africa.
There are numerous picture books, for instance, still written in English, but based on other native populations on the African, American, Oceania continents and the Indian subcontinent showing young people operating within other cultures – cultures where the children work with the adults, where they are left alone and where they are in many ways more “street” or “worldly” wise than their first world peers.
What a wake-up call!
Monday 19 October 2009
The covers are glorious – we seem to be going form strength to strength with those. One of our authors doesn’t like one of the covers, but actually it’s quite unusual for authors to like coves at all. So, all in all, we’re actually winning.
I’ve had lots of buzzy ideas about selling these two collections at a discount. Or also selling our whole collection at a discount, with a further 25% off for authors.
So, lets set it up and get the orders rolling in.
This is going to make an excellent “day job” for me when I retire.
Friday 16 October 2009
Then there is the editing process itself. I think of editing at three main stages:
Grammar, punctuation, formatting.
The less editing that is needed the better, but if something is going to be extraordinary with a bit of work, lets do the work.
Unfortunately, you do not know until you start how people are going to react towards being asked to edit. Most writers are fine, some don’t mind the suggestions but can’t react to them and a minority become very precious about their work and refuse to budge. Note to self: never accept anything again by people from the third group and if time is pressing, avoid the second group as well. If an author can’t respond to editorial advice, the editors themselves have to make the changes. Fine, but where’s the time? And actually, the results are usually better if the editor and the writer work together to find a third, much superior way.
Then there is author anxiety. When will this book come out? Why haven’t I heard from you? When will we get the proofs? Well, actually, as soon as possible…. And sooner if I don’t stop to answer this question.
I know, too, as a writer who networks with other writers that even those published by the big guys in Random House end up doing a lot of their own marketing. We’re only a small company. The staff work for love and peanuts. We give as much of our time as we can. What we can’t do is pay Waterstones £25,000 to frontline our books. What we can do is produce wonderful books and I think, on the whole we do.
Tuesday 13 October 2009
The book is our fattest yet and the stories are extraordinary. Although they are fairy stories, they are not at all for children. They are written from an adult point of view. The protagonist is not usually the normal one. Sometimes it is the enemy sometimes it is a minor character. Sometimes it is even a mere onlooker. One exception is Goldilocks but even she unusually is portrayed as a horrible adolescent instead of the normal innocent.
It’s a good read, even though I say so myself. It’s the most solid book we’ve done yet.
Friday 9 October 2009
I take two different groups. A colleague takes a third. In one group, I get round everybody. In the second group, each student has so much to say that we only get through two or three. I keep a strict register so that I can give everyone a fair chance to speak.
These particular students seem to have taken on board that their course is 120 hours long. They have twenty hours fifteen minutes contact time with me. A little less perhaps – we have a ten minute break in the middle of each session.
We ‘re looking at many aspects of children’s literature, mainly 21st Century, though the first session was on the history of children’s literature. This week we looked at picture book texts. Then we’ll move on to chapter book, books for fluent readers, books for teens, books for young adults, high-lows and graphic novels.
We practise an analysis method I call text autopsy. It’s a very special form of close reading and resembles the French “explication de texte”. It allows the student to analyse a text quite objectively, and resembles a little also the way a pathologist describes the body on the slab – moving form the generic to the specific and establishing the unusual. Students are asked to comment on: what the text actually is, how the content is developed, any linguistic and visual devices used, how the text conceded to the reader and how it fits with other texts of its own generation and historically.
So far, the students have taken this on with gusto. I know a lot about this topic but I’m also learning with them.
Thursday 8 October 2009
Our mind jumps around in a particular random way and we seem to have three levels of consciousness, almost. There is the higher self, having its grand thoughts, often analysing and symbolising the world. A matter-of fact voice then just describes what is happening in human terms and a third part is just aware physically of the world around us. Which voice speaks in those rich scenes created with the senses?
I’ve been teaching this week about the characteristics of the novel and about writing autobiography. Both can use some of the same techniques and it’s often all to do with bringing the reader into the middle of a scene, setting them in what feels like a real time / space. We create that scene with our imagination and our memory and our imagination is based upon our memory.
Wednesday 7 October 2009
Creativity isn’t just there in great artistic works and great literary works. It’s there in everything we do. Including in planning and delivering lectures. I find it is actually a great part of the job I have now. I have to design my lectures: what I say, what I show on PowerPoint, what is in the handout and what goes on Blackboard, our VLE, are all slightly different but they come together in a harmonious whole. Is the whole greater than the parts? Each part matches a learning style or an aspect of a learning style. There is some repetition. There is something new in each bit.
It’s been a little rushed this time. I’ve had to put some things together very last minute. That should be part of the skills I hold anyway. If the opportunity offers itself, it will be good to revise in more detail before next year.
It’s a very enjoyable process, bringing the components together. It was also one of the most enjoyable aspects of secondary school-teaching: lesson planning. That’s creativity I guess.
Friday 2 October 2009
I’ve even got my mobile switched off and the house-phone is on answer machine – though it will probably still annoy me.
So, in a few minutes, I’ll be returning to Babel and carrying on with the scene where Kaleem meets the medics who are rebelling against Switch-Off. Then I shall try to repair the damage from last week. Writing is hard. Do we sometimes do everything we can to avoid it?
Thursday 1 October 2009
They are proactive:
There are more people willing to be student reps than there are vacancies.
They are forming their own critique group.
All good stuff.
Wednesday 30 September 2009
Teens are still struggling with puberty, they are leaving childhood behind and they still retain an idealised view of adulthood. They like to see children having the power of adults. They will often read up about people a couple of years older than them.
Young Adults are post-puberty but still struggling with hormones. They are sexually enabled but may or may not be sexually active. They still have problems because their brain is still growing. They can suffer mood-swings, and tend to judge with their emotions. They often lack sleep. They are risk takers, because of the excess dopamine in their brain.
In their reading they seek books where the protagonists and other significant characters look like them. They need fast pace and emotional closeness, and this often leaves the writer at odds; these require two different writing styles. Often the author can combine both by making the stakes extremely high.
It is often difficult to place a YA novel in a genre; it is frequently multi-genre and multi-themed. The unifying factor is that it is a Biludungsroman, usually taking one adolescent theme and more often than not it is identity.
Also, this reader likes to have a substantial amount of control over the text.
The group on Saturday did get quite deep into this. It was most interesting.
Friday 25 September 2009
Your characters won’t behave, so you pin them down or listen to them and pin yourself down.
You don’t like your work when you reread it x weeks on, so you change it to please the writer that you have now become.
You become published and that means dealing with an editor and a copy-editor. They are there to make the work as good as it can be. But they can also make you feel totally inadequate. You have to hang on to the fact that they basically like your work. Very much in fact in these days of cut backs, which make it even harder to get published. Copy editors can be infuriating. But they are often right and when they’re wrong you might find you are as well and you have to find a third way. The third way, incidentally can be far better than either the first or the second. We’re not talking compromise. We’re talking about something far bigger.
The book is out there. What will the reviewers and the critics think? What will your personal friends think? They say they enjoyed listening to you read at the book launch. A week later they don’t even remember going to your book launch. Were they just being polite?
You agree, actually. That book that has just come out was finished probably at least a year ago.
You aim is just to write perfectly. Every time you miss that particular mark you have to trouble shoot. In the end, writing is mainly rewriting.
Thursday 24 September 2009
It took a long time to get the submission ready. First of all I had to have a good look at their web site and see what they were really after. Then I had to write the query letter and the synopsis just the way they seemed to be asking for it. Of course, though, what took the longest was reediting the text. Spooked was completed a year ago. I’ve moved on since then. I can’t leave it alone. Does this mean that the first thirty pages are going to be absolutely polished and the rest, should it ever be accepted, be out of kilter? Maybe every time I get a rejection, I’d better rewrite the whole lot, then. Plenty of work, then.
Sadly, I’ve noticed on my travels that some agents are not accepting unsolicited submissions. Does this mean that you have to get agents’ agents?
All a little worrying.
Wednesday 23 September 2009
As we move about the campus at the moment – well we can’t actually move – there are queues everywhere. It is really the busiest time of the year. But I don’t remember it being quite this hectic last year. I presume it will die down a little. However, next week we get our other students back.
Another couple of signs:
- I had to arrive late on Monday and although we only have one year group in, the car park was full.
- The mail room, usually full of boxes of reams of paper is down to two boxes.
We have 69 students enrolled for English and Creative Writing. The numbers are still swelling. Good recruitment, but what will happen when it comes to retention?
Monday 21 September 2009
The Bridge House style
Our marketing officer talked about some marketing ploys.
The venue was good, with the only slight disadvantage that we had to eat in the same room as we had our sessions. We suffered from Rainy City weather and all we could really do to stretch our legs at lunch time was wander around the chocolate shop. That was a feast for our eyes and noses, and certainly got the taste buds tingling.
But goodness, Slattery’s did us proud. We had excellent tea and coffee with lovely biscuits- mainly chocolate though not all of them. Then the lunch was brilliant - scrumptious sandwiches and delicious pies and pasties. Lovely salads including the most gorgeous tomato one. Cakes. They seem to have calculated two per person. Of course we couldn’t manage all of them, event though we carried on eating them with our afternoon tea. They did give us boxes so that we could take some home.
Could chocolate be a muse factor for the short story writer?
Friday 18 September 2009
Or is it just the sheer number of different things a writer has to do?
Yesterday, I forgot to take my two memory sticks to work with me. When I came home from work, I forgot to bring my manuscript that I’m editing with me.
Well, I am the wrong side of fifty.
But I think it’s something else. Currently, I have these particular balls in the air:
- Arranging my book launch – this evening. Definitely related to my writing.
- Arranging my workshop tomorrow. Definitely related to my writing and publishing activities.
- Arranging a family party to celebrate the life of my late father who died on 14th August this year. Not writing related, but so similar to those things I do in relation to my writing that I can hardly distinguish it.
-Arranging a workshop next weekend.
-Completing a bigger project to do with my father’s art work. Not writing related but involving applying for an Arts Council grant – something that’s part of my day job.
-Juggling timetables at the university. I’m employed by the university because I am a writer and I have a Ph D in Creative Writing.
Not to mention the actual writing.
Wednesday 16 September 2009
We have a new GTA this year. She is doing a Ph D and will be teaching on a couple of modules I’m convening this year. It’s so good to have fresh blood. One of my meetings was with her, so quite pleasurable.
In many ways, though, it will be a relief to teach. While you’re teaching, you can’t be doing anything else.
And with my new module, Introduction to Children’s Literature, there is something to look forward to.
Tuesday 15 September 2009
I’ve just been talking to one of my students about critique groups. They are good to go to, even for our students over and above our own workshops. But there are so many possibilities. Here are a few:
Tea party. It makes you feel nice. “I really like the way you talk about the trees bending in the wind.” It’s good to have that once in a while. But is it actually productive?
Harsh. Every conceivable problem with the piece is discussed. Nothing good is acknowledged. There is even discussion about how publishable the text might be. It can make you want to give up sometimes.
Balanced. The good points and the bad points are mentioned and you can come out of that feeling okay. However, you can never be sure what the balance actually is.
Genre specific. This can be useful, as you can concentrate on the particular requirements of your field. However, cross-fertilisation is also good.
My brand: I say what is good. I say what works less well. I give advice about how the piece might be improved. I summarise what I’ve said – emphasising the positives. It’s a nice method, but doesn’t paint the whole picture. I use this also with my students in workshops and always try to pick the comments the most useful to them.
What is the most important thing that they are doing right?
Which fault is pulling the work down the most?
Which is the most effective step they can now take to improve their work?
Maybe there is an argument about going to a variety of critique groups:
One that makes you feel good.
One that tells you how it is.
One that is genre-specific.
One that is balanced.
I also argue that there is much to be gained by showing a finished piece to someone who has never seen it before. Critiquers can lose objectivity if they see a piece several times.
Monday 14 September 2009
Over thirty books out and I still get quite a kick out of seeing their glossy covers. However, I don’t like opening them. I find sentences I want to change. It’s odd as well – I don’t quite recognise them. I’m so used to seeing my books as double-spaced A4 sheets. They don’t look quite as if they belong to me when they’re in the form of books on the shelf. Who is this Gill James anyway?
I’m going to have to pick the bits I want to read soon and practise. That’s enjoyable, though. I think we’ve got a fair audience. Perhaps the free chocolate cake and the free carrot cake is attracting them….
Is text enhanced by performance? Or should the text speak for itself? I know often in critique groups, one tends to underread. I did have a friend, though, who could make the direst texts come to life. At readings anyway one has to actually perform. Practise I must, therefore.
Friday 11 September 2009
It’s a great venue and very appropriate. I’m hoping to get them into the Creative Café network. They’re actually a really good example of the Creative Café. The epitomise it – and they’re still pushing it further.
It was good yesterday, having the excuse to go and visit to pay the deposit. I just had to try a piece of the chocolate cake ….
Thursday 10 September 2009
If this hadn’t been a poetry novel, because of its content, it would be “chicklet-lit”. Chicklet-lit is like chick-lit but for the next generation down – for the young adult. It already has a little more gravitas than the Bridget Jones style novels. In this form, though it really takes off. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as close to a protagonist as I do to Sophie in this novel.
Is it something I’d like to have a go at myself? I certainly think so. It is definitely something I’d recommend to my students. It would be fantastic for their Final Portfolio, an important final year module.
Monday 7 September 2009
It’s almost easier when I’m at work. In fact I’m writing this at work – and I do it without feeling guilty. Fortunately my employers expect me to write – what a fantastic day job, but they do also give me plenty of admin, plenty of marking and plenty of meetings to attend, but in the end they’re all to do with writing so it feels good.
But I’m lucky if I can squeeze in two hours a day / 2000 words. I used to manage that even I when I worked full time in a school as a Head of Department, though admittedly then I wouldn’t have been able do the talks and school visits and all the marketing and presence creating that I now do.
Many writers, especially those who have become renowned do complain of this. They become public figures and are in demand. They have to become used to writing in hotel rooms or on the train.
Then there is writer’s research – which can be a good procrastination tool anyway. That research can also just be a matter of sitting back and observing life.
In addition, there is a very positive upside. Reading is an activity that is essential for writers. It happens also to be my default activity. I don’t have to feel guilty, then, if I’m indulging myself in a good book. It’s part of my work!
What a wonderful life-style!
Thursday 3 September 2009
Deborha Savage’s Kotuku is an interesting read. There is some mystery and Savage is very clever in the way she gradually reveals how Wim’s best friend Jilly actually died. Wim is extremely well drawn also. She is a true young adult with all the uncertainties that go with that age and a fair amount of self-absorption. A believable real person is revealed from time to time through the trappings of adolescence.
Yet at times, although the novel is well-written, the narrative can be a little too introspective for even an adult reader. It may irritate a young adult who needs fast pace and high drama. There is risk taking – Wim is very brave in the way she handles her demented great aunt – but it does not go quite far enough. In addition Savage is a little too insistent on the reality of a fantasy thread. It would be much wiser to leave the decisions about this to the imagination of the reader.
This book doesn’t quite have the impact of some other similar more literary Young Adult novels. However, it is very readable and it’s conclusion is reasonably satisfying. The question of course is, how does she attain this style and what is preventing her from perfecting it?
Thursday 6 August 2009
Now, I have to add in some more detail, discuss some other sections and make some alterations. It’s all go, naturally. It always seems to be that way: when you have all the time in the world, nothing much happens, and just in those precise weeks when you have a lot on, all the rewrites come in.
I also had two of my other non-fiction resources reviewed. They were quite favourable reviews and where they did make comments was mainly actually to do with what had been intended anyway. Yes, this was meant to be a resource for the most able. Yes, there is an oddity about the order the German grammar was presented. It is in the order of what makes the greatest difference to learners at GCSE level. That is why we start with the perfect tense.
Thursday 23 July 2009
I really do find it useful to check for one thing at a time, though I’ll often notice other things apart from what I’m actually looking for in a particular edit. So, writing always become rewriting.
There is the danger, I suppose, that after a while you become jaded and cannot see the major faults. In any case, though, you edit from big picture to smaller detail. You get rid of the real problems first and then come down to spellings, punctuation and syntax.
Yesterday, I also looked at final proofs of The Prophecy which comes out in September. I agreed with the copy-editor on all but one change. We were using Track Changes. I then accidentally “accepted all”. Fortunately, I’d got two copies. However, I was then not able to find the change I did not want to accept. I guess I just have to trust my copy editor.
Monday 13 July 2009
The main points I made were that:
- her stories show a lot of everyday Roman reality and historical fact
- she makes huge concessions to the 21st Century, making the stories and the setting palatable to the modern reader
- the books are first and foremost books for children and have the characteristics of that beast
- she objectifies modern society by inviting us to compare it with Roman times
- I think we both left the conference quite happy. In her talk, she also spoke about story arcs and gave a fantastic Power Point on the Vogler theory. I must put together a decent Power Point myself.
Tuesday 30 June 2009
We then went into the hall where Nikki Heath, the school librarian and the find-raiser from Francis House, the hospice for children that the students had elected to support, and I all spoke about the book. Francis House does a fantastic job in providing family support and looking after children who are dying.
As always with my Build a Book in a Day workshop, we first of all decided on a charity and a focus for our book. Then we worked on poems – haikus, acrostic, opposites, we worked on writing with the senses and memory and also on retelling well-knows stories. We include an editing process and the students also work on illustrating and marketing their work. I do the final edit and voilà! – a book is born.
Next we went outside and really had a go at launching the books. There were three sizes of copies of the book cover for students and parents to make into paper aeroplanes or hubs for a rocket made from plastic bottles containing vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. The makers of the planes and the rockets that went the furthest won prizes.
Then, we were back in the hall. Some students read form the book. Finally parents bought copies. All of the youngsters lined up to sign the books.
I was given a huge bouquet of flowers.
It was really a fantastic evening. And it stayed sunny and dry while we “launched” the book covers. Whilst the readings and signings went on, it rained and brought some relief form this excessive heat.
David Morley is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Warwick Writing Programme at the University of Warwick. Interestingly, he has a background in science.
The book goes deep and one could be fooled by looking at the headings and the title into thinking this was just yet another “how to” manual: chapters include those on writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, performing writing. Fortunately, others on creative writing in the world, the challenges of creative writing, composition and creative writing, processes of creative writing and writing in the community and academy show us that this is not the case.
This book has certainly provided me with food for thought. The writing exercises are really imaginative and the body of the chapters offer some thought-provoking ideas.
Monday 29 June 2009
However, I’m not sure that some of their arguments stand up. And knowing what I know, built on at least five years’ intensive study, there are certain matters I am certain about.
You see, they dispute my statement that there was an explosion of Young Adult literature at the turn of the century. I am not saying that it didn’t exist before. It most certainly did – Little Women, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahe, Das Brot der frühen Jahren etc. My own research says as much – and we are talking here of a rigorously tested Ph D thesis. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that something explosive happened in the late 90s and early 2000s, partly commercially driven.
Possibly part of the problem was that I was trying to condense a large body of knowledge into a few words. Maybe a mistake.
And I find myself disagreeing, quite strongly, with some of the comments that the peer reviewers have made. Do I actually know more than they do? Is it just that I have expressed myself clumsily?
I wonder how people react to the comments I make when I peer review?
Friday 26 June 2009
Leaving reader to decide
Fast paced / high stakes
Characters resemble young adults
I was delighted that with this edit I’ve hardly had to do anything. I guess, though that that makes sense. I write knowing these things anyway. I ought to know them. That came up in what I found out about in my PhD.
Always, when I’m editing, other things occur. I’ve decided I need to expand one section by two mini-scenes.
It’s coming along quite nicely.
Thursday 25 June 2009
I’ve just been talking to a colleague who teaches English in a tertiary college. We were giving her some pointers about what she might do on some creative writing enrichment courses at her college.
We talked for two hours. There is so much that she could do. I almost I wish I had that opportunity.
There is such a contrast between teaching at university level and teaching at school level. I actually love my work and never dread Monday mornings, but I do miss the contrast. There is a feeling that things never end here. I guess that was also true at school. But there was the feeling that you were less on call. That doesn’t ever seem to go away form this job.
However, the big plus about working here is that it does fit quite well with my writing. It’s almost impossible to write and teach at school level. You use up so much of your creative energy as you go along there. There, the days don’t end but do run into one another. At least the years end. Here the years don’t end but the days do.
Wednesday 24 June 2009
It’s interesting that outcomes can be so different.
At the Great Writing launch of the three book launched one had already sold out, one sold out that evening and the other moved just one copy.
About a third of the books sold at the Café launch. With the same two people and a third launching a similar book six months ago, we had twice as many books and sold out.
I wonder how I will do on 15th July.
Monday 22 June 2009
Well, I got my wish eventually:
I am a writer.
I did live in North Wales for a time - too short a time probably.
And I am teaching – I’m teaching creative writing now.
But it’s even better, I guess, than I wished for: Bangor is even more attractive than Colwyn Bay, I have a PhD now as well as the teaching certificate I thought I was going to get. The writing is even more interesting than I thought it was going to be.
It was my first chance to see the new NIECI building. It was a little disconcerting. I couldn’t quite recognise the space. Still, I guess the view of the Straits was reassuring – and the Ladies’ loo hadn’t changed much. Otherwise, I had to keep asking myself where I was. Nice space, though.
The conference was the usual mix and there were some truly amazing papers, some interesting exchanges of ideas and competently chaired sessions, though there were some disappointments as well. I think my session went well and was certainly finely chaired by my good friend Nessa O’ Mahoney. My two colleagues were interesting and articulate on their panel, so Salford accounted well for itself. The session I chaired was unproblematic.
The most exciting for me were sessions about European networking of creative writing departments, digital stories, a session about creative process, some more definition of what children’s literature is about and Graeme Harper’s very full account of the state of play at the moment.
An added bonus has to be being invited to contribute a paper to a new journal about writing for children and young adults that the good folk at Winchester are putting together.
And of course, not least, being able again to touch base with my former Ph D supervisor. I rather like the German expression “Doktorvater”. It would be a little odd in our case, though, – I’m quite a bit older than him. Still, it was good to see him again and also some of my other former colleagues and fellow students from my time there.
Friday 12 June 2009
Aspects of writing-related working lives: attending a module board at the university where I teach (Salford)
I was very pleased with my students. They attended well. They were either there or let me know why they weren’t. They were engaged. All of them worked hard and all of them learnt a lot. They all eventually came up with a plot that worked. Most of them managed to condense this into an industry standard synopsis. Most of them already wrote an extract form a novel which was almost publishable.
How can I not be pleased?
Wednesday 10 June 2009
Is that the height of success and should I be proud? Being commissioned to write for a wedding – being commissioned, in fact, by my harshest critic.
Would Adorno call it committed art?
Monday 8 June 2009
I pre-empt this edit a little by planning the time in anyway. As I writer my chapter outline, I decide the time at which and within which the action takes place and any time gaps there are between chapters.
I still need to check, though. I have to check that nothing happens which couldn’t possibly happen in that time. Also I have to ascertain that any significant passage of time is properly signalled.
It wasn’t too onerous a job and there was in fact little that I had to change, possibly because of earlier planning. However, I did find one or two characters referring to events at other times and I had to check that these worked. I did have to make one or two alterations despite my careful planning.
As always, also, there are other things you notice as you go through.
One thing I was delighted to notice: Babel is beginning to look like a novel.
Tuesday 2 June 2009
We have it now, our fine green-covered book. Very smart it looks too.
I popped into Lightning Source on the way to see if I could intercept my order. They’d both just gone. I’d paid for one of them to be rushed. It didn’t actually go out any quicker than the others. In fact, my “slow” ones were signed off before the fast one was yesterday. Could it be that the “fast” order was the trigger to get the title printing and as they had several orders for the same title ….
It was good to visit their new offices. I’d been to their old one. Not that they were all that old, actually. I was given tea, anyway. Very nice. It is in a lovely spot. Semirural with Milton Keynes a dream in the distance and a pleasant lake a short drive away. It’s good to see all those books moving about.
All the excitement at the moment is about the expresso machine. I’d like to see one in action. All outlets of Blackwells have them so that means there is actually one on the campus here.
Say what you like about print-on-demand – it’s a very nice way of getting books out, I think.
I notice that both of our new books – this one and In the Shadow of the Red Queen have sales rankings on Amazon.
Back to the book launch.
Yes, a very pleasant evening.
Thursday 28 May 2009
I’m currently writing the second part of my Peace Child trilogy. A couple of years ago now I shared the opening chapter with a high-profile critique group. It was accepted as fine. I’ve since come back to this chapter and found it raw and very much like a first draft. I’ve shared with another critique group since and I’ll be sharing it with a university staff one soon.
Two years ago this chapter seemed polished.
Today it seems raw.
Have we collectively moved on?
The imagination fires up and away we go.
I’m in Limerick, the Republic of Ireland at the moment. It’s a pleasant enough place. The way two rivers meet is rather dramatic, yet the town centre is depressingly similar to any other town centre with the same chain stores we see everywhere. Even though this is a different country where they have a different currency. Still, the gentle Irish accent takes the edge off.
The ideas come. There used to be two towns – an Irish one and an English one. That is food for thought.
Then there is the Art Gallery in the park which just teems with pictures you could get ideas from. There was also a film showing a writer meeting his future self in a dream. A fascinating concept.
But here I am now, in my hotel room, very content to be writing. It’s raining outside and people are going home form work.
Saturday 16 May 2009
I worked with a group of Y8 boys on my Build a Book in a day programme at this school. The boys made up stories about superheroes that they had created. We crafted a story together first, then they planned their own, wrote them, word processed them, edited them and finally saved them to a collective area.
They did take a little while to settle. After break, though, it was quite magical. There was a real work atmosphere. I was pleased to see as I walked around and helped the boys that their stories were well formed and not just full of gratuitous spills and thrills.
At lunch time, they had to go out as other students wanted to use the library for private study. The bell went at the end of lunch and suddenly they were all their again.
Aha! Most of them had actually stayed in the library to carry on with their work. Some of them had asked their regular English teacher to get them into an early lunch so that they could return to the library.
The afternoon continued with much hard work. It was a little chaotic as they saved to the communal drive, but it worked. We ended the day with a huge group photo.
The title of the book? The Woolwich Poly League of Extraordinary Superheroes. Not bad, eh?
Monday 4 May 2009
I lived in Hampshire for over twenty years. It is a pretty county and the weather is often benign. Yet since we’ve lived here, the weather has been better than in the South of England. We avoided all of that snow which crippled most of the rest of the country in early 2009.
Last week, even, I left an 18° C Manchester to go to a 11° Romsey and left a cool damp south east to return to a16° Manchester the next day. In addition, I was glad to get back to the more rugged beauty of the Lancashire moors.
From our bedroom we can see a lake, between the houses, and then beyond that into Yorkshire. Wild geese regularly fly over our house. The vibrant cities of Manchester and Liverpool are a short drive away. I work in Salford, a city in its own right and a short walk from the middle of Manchester. It too has a cultural vibrancy, though more rugged than what I’m used to.
It’s an odd thing to do when you’re in your mid fifties. But I think it has spiced up the writing and the writer’s process.
Sunday 3 May 2009
Apparently I now have twelve people following me on Twitter. I only recognise four of them, so I’ve only signed up to follow those four.
Are we shortly to go to Web 3? Is this where the Web will become more fluid, more organic, where things will happen generated by the computer, but intelligently.
Face Book seems to be going mad at the moment. I don’t just mean the virus that’s been around. But I’m being invited into tons of relevant groups. A group seems to be being formed for every event. This is quite good though, because it increases your own network.
I tend to be a passive user of Face Book and My Space, as I can’t be bothered to keep spending time on it, though I will post events and I will react to other things that people invite me into.
My favourite web place is actually this blog. It has some lovely tools to play with and I can’t resist trying something new out almost every time I go in. It always looks good too.
I used to love Author’s Den, but that now seems a little dated and I rarely look at or use it. I am getting hits there, though, so perhaps I should use it still.
One thing is certain though: writers need a web presence.
Saturday 2 May 2009
Chocolate and Stories
I am as always buzzing with ideas. I want to run a workshop on writing stories for Bridge House and I want to run it at Slatterly’s, our local chocolatier’s restaurant / conference centre. Their chocolate is wonderful. Their ambience is wonderful. Bridge House’s stories are wonderful. It is what is needed.
I think we might do it at £60.00 a time. £30.00 of that per person would be for two lots of coffee and biscuits (and chocolate?) and the other £30.00 would be for tuition by yours truly. Delegates would leave knowing how to write for us and have a good chance of getting published.
Would chocolate be the inspiration?
Writers need chocolate.
Wednesday 29 April 2009
However, do people actually buy print-on-demand titles other than from people they know or if they are in a very specialised area?
On the other hand, what do you do when your publisher never answers the phone, delays and delays your publication date and seems to have done very little marketing? Take the control back yourself?
There has also been great excitement recently about the Expresso machine where you put a computer programme in one end of the machine and the book comes out of the other. We really do need to think of a new way of publishing.
Saturday 18 April 2009
I am indeed at a tricky scene which is the beginning of the resolution and of course that is the one part that absolutely has to be right. It is in fact the most difficult part of a story to get right.
I’ve also had a funny week where I’ve not had much time to write. It makes me feel uneasy. It’s like not eating enough fruit or not getting enough exercise. But that coupled with being at that awkward spot …. Not helping!
It is good to be writing today, though.
Sunday 12 April 2009
Then I recognised a couple of lines from it. And I sort of remembered writing it. One year on holiday, I think.
I believe, though, I abandoned it because I didn’t see much chance of publication. Young Adult had only just been invented then. This is suitable for the lower end of that. And you just don’t write short stories for Young Adult. Well, of course at Bridge House, we’re changing all that.
I’m considering putting it on Triond. I’m not earning much from that yet, but I am earning something. It was whilst I was looking for a piece I wanted to put on there I came across “Weight Watching”.
I like Triond, even though you earn a pittance. Work is vetted. It usually takes about 24 hours for them to approve a piece. However, there was another surprise yesterday. I submitted “For peanuts”, a short comic sketch with characters also YA to their “off-beat” site yesterday. By the time I’d changed emial accounts it had been accepted for publication. In other words, within seconds.
Life is full of surprises.
Thursday 9 April 2009
There were a couple if interesting points about the submissions: possibly the very best one of all was one we can’t possibly use. It gives the point of view of Michael in the Peter Pan story and has brilliantly conceived ending. Alas, I don’t think we dare touch it with a barge pole. The copyright issues are so complex. Another submission failed to have the contact details in the footer as requested. It was a shame, but I felt we had to stick to our guns. It was just too much extra work.
We are now getting more submissions than I can comfortably handle. Our administrator is now going to edit one of the books. It will be great once the other two partners are working full time.
Tuesday 7 April 2009
Judy Waite uses a third person present tense narrative and does move though the view points of the three girls. She provides a strong sense of time and place. This with the strong narrative voice gives the reader an emotional closeness to the three main characters. We are able to see them as human and understand why they do what they do.
Waite certainly pushed boundaries with this novel but at least she gives us an honest and open glimpse of something which is of concern for many young women. As well as taking on this very big issue, the author also explores the frequent Young Adult themes of sexuality, relationships, risk-taking and peer pressure.
I personally read this book very quickly and couldn’t put it down.
Monday 6 April 2009
I met some interesting people. We were a slightly crazy mixture of creative practitioners and health care workers. It seems there is now a recognised link between mental, emotional and possibly physical health and creativity. One of the healthcare workers approached me about doing reading to do with emotional health. We signalled out The Lombardy Grotto for junior age emotional health, Scum-Bag for 14+ self-esteem and Nick’s Gallery for grief counselling. An interesting contact.
I also met some people who are working on local radio programmes about the earlier lives of older Salford residents. They are looking at the idea of having their word interpreted by younger people. This would be a way of bridging the gape between the generations. Getting some of our students to do this would also help bridge the gap between students and townspeople.
There’s going to be an open day on 30th April There will be a market, live music, and so much more. But they may have to postpone it for a week. I hope they do. I have a long-standing school visit arranged for that day and I really don’t want to miss the open day.
A very useful meeting indeed.
Friday 3 April 2009
Different writers of course spend different amounts of time planning. Some hardly plan at all. Others go into tremendous detail. It is useful to have the bare bones of the plot always visible – it can stop the characters running away with the story. It is remarkable how many of my students have commented that they have realised that.
I’m looking for two things as I mark this work: a well crafted plot and the successful condensing of that plot into a synopsis. I’m seeing two major difficulties: the resolutions in some of the plots come too easily; the plot as presented in the synopsis loses its balance.
Other common problems with the plot have been:
· Too much set-up time
· Inciting incident coming too far in.
· Over-complexity so that we do not know to whom the story belongs.
Pleasingly, all the submissions have been fast-paced and have had a feasible Young Adult protagonist.
Problems in the synopsis have been:
· Going over word length
· Spending too little / too much of the word count on plot / character
· Not showing enough of the emotional life of the characters.
On the whole, though, the students have written fluently.
The amount of reading they have done has been a little disappointing. Lets hope that improves.
I am incredibly pleased with what they have managed to do. They all found it hard, but I think they would all acknowledge that they have grown through it. In every case, I have been impressed by an honest attempt at crafting a plot and with crystallizing that into a competent synopsis.
Thursday 2 April 2009
We then talked at length about what I might do. I’m going to see them again on 23 April to talk it all through. But ideas include:
Piloting “Creative Language Learning”
Working with Art on producing book covers
Working with Art on producing a picture book
Working with Science on writing about the environment
Standard author visits
Working further with the English as a Second Language group.
It is actually quite exciting. I am going to become their “Writer in Residence”
I had some time to kill before it was time for my train. I went to the British library. It’s amazing now how you can’t get into the Reading Rooms because so many people are now allowed to join, and how they’ve made spaces for people to work on the laptops in the lobbies. You can more often than not find a power point. And often you can find a little desk to work at. Quite a sight – I reckon about 200 people working on their laptops in the public areas.
It’s not bad at all getting from London to Manchester. Virgin Trains offer some good Advance fares and you can usually book a seat with a power point. It takes just over two hours and doesn’t cost much more than it used to to travel from Southampton where there is no facility for reserving seats.
Tuesday 31 March 2009
Will there be that story which takes your breath away? That is perfect and helps to define Bridge House?
We are making progress as a publishing company. We have a good web site now. We have professional sounding email addresses.
One person who has submitted seems impressed with the number of titles we are producing. All in the name of getting out there.
I actually can’t wait to get going on the new books.
Saturday 28 March 2009
I do feel, though, that there is more to character than this. We probably also need to know where within each quartile our character sits. Then there are all the other thoughts about what they look like, how they think, what presses their buttons and what the problems are in a particular story.
I don’t actually sit for hours thinking these things about my character, though it is useful to now and then spend a little quality time with one’s character. I sometimes do that if I can’t sleep or when I’m driving or racing up and down the swimming pool.
I suppose actually I should count myself lucky that I’ve managed to work twice this week on my characters.
Friday 27 March 2009
And yet…. I actually prefer it when there are just a few people in a workshop.
I guess there were several factors. Some people do have lectures and seminars at that time. It was essay week. Many of our students have employment commitments. They work out of genuine need, not greed. The weather was appalling. Once in a building it was tempting to stay there. And the Arts Unit had moved the venue. Even I had to read the email several times before I realised that we had been transferred to another building from our usual one.
No matter. The Council Chamber of the Old Fire Station is a lovely place for a workshop – even if it is under the beady eyes of former Vice-Chancellors and Prince Philip.
Judy gave us lots of information about how her teaching career took off and plenty of advice about our attitude to getting published. A good reason for being careful about which publishers we approach is that if we keep approaching the wrong ones we’ll just get rejected over and over and become demoralised. At least of we approach someone who seems to want the sort of thing we’re producing, rejection is genuine feedback and we may even get more of an explanation.
Judy’s research is incredibly and admirably thorough. She has talked to gypsies, got herself locked in a police cell, done herself up as a seventeen-year old and auditioned for a boy band (yes, it’s true) and paid Amsterdam prostitutes the going rate in order to interview them about their working lives.
Later, we did some intensive work on our characters. This involved the lighting of candles, writing with our non-dominant hand, and talking to them. This may seem a little New Age, but in fact it was a way of gaining a much better understanding of our characters. We live in such a busy, jangly world that we often don’t have the brain space to think deeply enough. I was pleased to see my protagonist become much more likeable and much more assertive but still retaining some of his humility. Just as well – I have to finish the current novel and another one by the end of the year. I was also delighted to see two of our students make astonishing progress in an afternoon.
Because we were such a small intimate group we were able to discuss our work in detail. That was a real opportunity. We had the value of each other’s attention and Judy’s input. We actually ran over time because we were so absorbed we hadn’t noticed.
Judy also gives very professional and very honest talks. She came armed with a suitcase full of her books and information and realia from her writing life.
Thursday 26 March 2009
Judy and I go back a long way. We both write for the same readers. We also did our MAs together in 2000 (Writing for Children, Winchester). She was full time and I was in my second year of part time.
She arrived yesterday, early evening and we had dinner together. I took her to Istanbul, Bridge St, Manchester. It’s a good restaurant. They do reasonably plain food well.
You can imagine we had quite a bit to talk about. Interesting, though. Sure we have a lot in common, yet we have totally different experiences of both our writing lives and of the universities where we teach.
And we are both fascinated by other writers’ routines.
Today should be good. Judy has a very respectable writing CV. She is also an excellent speaker.
Tuesday 24 March 2009
How, though, do we describe perfection? Must a really good piece be tightly written? Making a good moral point? Engaging the reader? Be a delight to read in its linguistic perfection? Make us famous?
I just want to write well and be known for that.
Monday 23 March 2009
There was a lot to discuss, and it was a pity the third partner and our administrator could not be there because of illness.
I think all three of us are really clear on what the bottom line is. We want a quality product and we want a good return on our labours. The other two want to give up their day jobs to work full time on this. I don’t want to, as I already have a day job which fits in well with and acknowledges my writing. In many ways the editorial work I am doing for the “company” is part of my day job.
There were lot of other items to discuss as well – prices, discounts, whether to use an accountant, how often to pay ourselves, whether to join the Independent Publisher’s Guild, where the lines are between the administrator and the publicist, what we should do about a Christmas celebration, how many titles a year we should produce.
It was exciting and scary at the same time.
But I’m glad we’re doing it.
I worked with two groups of Y9. One group learnt French, the other German. All bright students, as it was the “Gifted and Talented” budget that paid for me.
As usual when working with Creative Writing in other languages, I tried to get them focussed on what they did know rather than have them worrying about what they didn’t know. And because they’re bright, they did tend to rather worry about what they didn’t know.
However, we got going, and worked our way through a succession of “Hello / Goodbye” poems, acrostic poems, haikus on topics and haikus with colours, grammatical rhythm poems, changing and build up sentences.
The students worked delightfully hard. They managed to word process and perform their work well.
Aha! Well, they are a Technology and Performing Arts College!
You forget sometimes, though, how tiring a day in school can be. It pays well, but then you have to give value for money. A really nice school, however, and I was really well looked after. I have no right to complain