Friday 20 August 2010

Ludic or even plaedic reading and writing

I am becoming more and more interested in this as I work. I’ve encountered school students who, though they are very competent readers, do not enjoy reading. I’ve always found this difficult to understand: reading is my default activity. When questioned, the youngsters admitted to not getting a film in their head of the story and still seeing the dark marks on the pale page.
I often ask my creative writing students and even my English lit ones about their experience of reading. In five years I’ve only had one student admit to not getting pictures in her head and even she, arguably, if we look at exact meaning, reads ludically.
“Ludic” really means “playful”. Even my learner who sees no pictures plays with the abstract meaning of words. She has a Platonic relationship with what she reads. If she encounters a common noun – e.g. “cat” – she “plays with the idea of “cat” rather than “seeing” a particular moggy. Yet “ludic” comes from a word that means playing according to rules. Sure, we have rules about how we turn the dark marks into pictures or ideas, but there are no rules about how our imagination interacts with the ideas the dark marks give us. That seems to me to be more akin to “plaedus” – the type of imaginative games and role-play that I used to play as a child: Mums and Dad, hospitals and doctors, cowboys and Indians, Famous Five adventures. Maybe the term we need, then for this “film in the head” type of reading is “plaedic”.
I find this plaedic experience is even greater when I write than when I read. The pictures are sharper. Another interesting phenomenon occurs in my “Character magic” exercise. I suspect that the plaedic picture in the writer’s head is so strong that sub-consciously the writer picks exactly the right details to enable the plaedic reader to get the same plaedic image.
I’m interested in pursuing this further – starting with a little qualitative research through semi-structured interviews. Anyone interested in being part of the study? I’ll be aiming at a balanced demographic so may not be able to use everyone who volunteers. If so, let me know your details. I’ll aim to make a start mid-September.

Thursday 19 August 2010

A rejection that gets better by the minute

A rejection that gets better by the minute
Rejection is rejection and it’s not nice, no matter how used you are to it. Yet I can’t quite get myself to delete this one from my in-box. If it had been a hardcopy I would have kept it.
It is from an agent. They said they wouldn’t want to represent me with this story because they didn’t’ think it was strong enough for the current competitive market but that if I failed to get representation this time, then send them the next. They liked my writing. They had seen the whole novel.
I keep coming across the email. The more I see it, the more I like it.
I now have two tasks:
- rewrite this novel and make it stronger.
- write the next, equally strong, and send it to them if I still haven’t got an agent.
That’s how you have to go on, making the steady improvements

Tuesday 10 August 2010

The Trouble with Edward Cullen and Other Vampires

Oh yes, I was enthralled, too, the first time I met this lover-boy monster. I read most of Twilight in the womb-like, soporific bar of Limerick Airport, in the Republic or Ireland. I’d been taken there early and I’d run out of reading material. So, I bought a second copy of Twilight – one that’s got the hands and the apple. The one I’d left at home still intrigues me. On its cover is a rather mysterious, very handsome Edward who I’m sure is not Robert Pattinson though Bella is almost certainly Kristen Stewart.
I was hooked.
It’s amazing how many women fall in love with Edward. Not Robert Pattinson, though he’s amiable enough, a reasonable actor and pleasant to watch. In fact, I’m sure Robert Pattinson will be quite relieved that I’m talking about Edward and not him when he reads the next paragraph.
You see, it’s perfectly okay for middle-aged women to be completely besotted with a 17-year-old vampire. Because he’s not seventeen. He’s 104 – or more depending on where in the story we’re talking about and which year we’re in now. Actually, that makes his connection even to a middle-aged woman a little bizarre.
At first I thought it was poor use of language on the part of Stephen Meyer when she made Edward speak in that slightly old-fashioned way. It was almost unbelievable when he insisted that he and Bella should marry. Except when you remember he was a young man at the beginning of the 20th Century. Then you realise she has it exactly right.
It seems to be part of vampire lore that the age is fixed, as they change from human to monster. What then of Mitchell in Being Human? An even more interesting vampire for the grown-up ladies. Now, he does age as the years go by.

Friday 6 August 2010

Phrases that irritate

I’m a great fan of Rudolfo Anaya. His Bless Me, Ultima is, I believe, one of the best novels ever written for young adults. He wrote it in 1972, many years before the current explosion in YA texts. It is very well written and deals with identity possibly better than any other book. I’m currently reading The Anaya Reader – a collection of novel excerpts, short stories and essays. They are good – especially so if one remembers that he is not writing in his own language.
Yet he still gets away with some clichés and overwriting that I would pull my students up for. He uses “pervades” and “fills the air” quite often. These annoy me. Not as much as those writers who use the word “garb” or “vestments” when they really mean “clothes”. Such language should only be used as part of a character’s voice and even then there is an argument that says one should use modern speech… because in Tudor time, or whenever, they used what was then modern speech.
I think the more abstract examples, such as those I’ve quoted form Anaya, might come about because the writer is writing aurally. They are matching the voice they hear in their head of other writers reading their work out loud. As with all clichés, the “fills the air” and “pervades” were quite clever - the first time, but even then I suspect that particular writer ought to have killed off a darling.
Not that Anaya need worry. I award Dan Brown 58% for his work. So any of my own students who receive 59% or higher – and most of them are considerably higher – stand some chance of publication. I’m not afraid to award marks over 70% - a first class mark and again, several of my students achieve this. To Anaya, for all his works, I give 75%. If he ditched the clichés he be in the region of 87% - or higher.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Writing Bios

I’ve just had to write a 100 word bio to accompany an article I’m sending to a peer-reviewed journal. Every time you have to write a bio you should really provide a fresh one. It needs to some extent to be customised to what you are writing. For instance, in this latest one of mine, pasted below, I say first that I am a Lecturer in English and Creative Writing because the workshop I’m describing I gave in that role. Then I mentioned what I write: this seems important as I’m submitting the article to a publication called Writing in Education. I emphasize my school work as this is relevant to the project I describe. I put something about my latest initiative last. That possibly needs the most attention.
Sample bio reads therefore:
“Gill James is a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Salford. She writes fiction and educational materials for children and young adults and short stories for adults. Each year she conducts an extensive programme of school visits, often offering her Build a Book in a Day workshop. The Build a Book in Two Days workshop is now becoming a regular part of the Aimhigher Salford Young People’s University programme. She is also the founder of the Creative Café project and is currently launching the magazine CaféLit in association with this.”
I guess next week it will be different again. I’ll have grown. The bio itself will be associated with a different project. There is definitely an art to bio writing.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Getting Down to It

Back to an article / paper I’m submitting for a periodical. It’s quite a descriptive article, so in that sense quite easy to write. Getting the right tone is harder. Making sure everything is correctly formatted is tedious, but, as I say to my students, easy to get right if you make the effort. So it’s odd that I find myself so reluctant to get down to this – at this very moment.
Part of it, I guess is timing. If only I could go back to the times when I wrote first thing in the morning when my head was clear. But I cannot come into this office and settle down to writing when emails and other bits of admin are waiting for me. They have my attention first. When enough of that is done I can get down to the writing. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel that I have the brain space.
I suppose, though, in the end, it’s a matter of just doing it.