Monday 27 October 2008

Creative Writing Workshop

I had just two students turn up in my workshop today. They are in heir final year of a BA in English and Creative Writing. I only had work to give to one of them. The normal pattern is that two students out of four email work to me and the rest of the group each week. We all read before the meeting and then give the person who has submitted verbal and written feedback. However, we’ve been beset recently with having to change times and emails and their attachments not getting through.
The other student made some really useful comments. She has come on. I was quite pleased to hear her quoting some ideas from the module she did with me last year. Is there an inciting incident? Are there complications leading to a climax? Is there a structure in this? The work we were discussing is a section of a 30 minute sit-com script. I asked whether every piece of dialogue is either revealing character or pushing the plot forward. We also talked about editing processes. We did manage to fill the 50 minutes.
To think I used to do this as a hobby, often paying for the privilege. It is great, having a day job which pays you for doing things which writers do anyway. And we remind our students that in Reading (Writing?) Week, they are perfectly justified in watching television and reading … as long as they’re thinking about how the writers have grabbed and retained our interest.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Getting “Making Changes” out there

This is getting quite exciting and quite scary at the same time. Money is rolling in for the London party / launch and for author copies. I now have to start the heavy marketing. I love writing and editing the books. I cringe at the marketing because it’s really facing rejection all over again. Yet it has to be done.
Just think of this, though.
Everyone knows 250 people. Would it be possible to see all 250 of them a copy of our wonderful little book? And isn’t it so good that those 250 would recommend it to the 250 they know? This is the theory that we are just six handshakes away from everyone in the world. Can we start the ball rolling on this one?
We are beginning to roll. There is a book launch arranged in Bangor and in London. I’m about to set one up in Salford. Some people are contacting their local press and radio stations. I want to find a radio station who will broadcast readings of the stories. I’m sending out review copies.
What more can I do? Will it work?

Friday 17 October 2008

Finding a New Routine

I’m having to get into a new routine for my writing. For the best part of eight years I’ve been able to get up and do the bulk of my writing at the beginning of the day. Now I’ve become a regular commuter and have to start my writing much later in the day. I do find it harder to start then, though it is good knowing that I’ve got many of the other tasks out of the way and am free to let my mind concentrate on this.

I always start with my blog. It gets the creative juices flowing. It’s a bit like Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” though I am conscious of a readership. It feels a little like talking to a group of friends as well, so is also the equivalent of meeting round the photocopier at the beginning of a day at school.

It doesn’t matter that I have to now write at a different time of the day. The writing still gets done. There are sabbaticals, holidays and eventual retirement to look forward to. Weekends too, when unfinished writing comes to the top of the to do list. My research day, also, must include six hours’ writing. I just love that! I don’t mind what sort of writing – friction, editing, correcting proofs, academic writing, writerly research. It all counts and it’s all joyous.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Book Covers

I get excited about book covers. I’ve had four to be excited about recently. I’ve been sent one for my 9-11 novel Kiters due out next spring, one for my Young Adult book Scum Bag. Also, one for my other Young Adult novel Veiled Dreams and last but not least, the one for our anthology Making Changes. It’s always seeing the cover which gets me excited. I’m not so precious about getting the book in my hands. I might just open it and find another typo or start editing it again. But the fact that some editor has found it good enough to give it a cover – now that is something! This is what my darling is going to look like when it goes out into the world and my darling is indeed going out into the world.
Unfortunately, I can’t share three of the covers with you yet. They’re not released. I can, however, share Making Changes with you. It’s out on 13 November. Preorders are accepted for that now. So take a look.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Writing to your strengths

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between talents and skills. Somewhere in there as well is passion and vision, desire and plainly what you enjoy doing. Wouldn’t it be great not to dread Monday mornings, not to cringe at the thought of interaction with particular individuals and to so love your work that weekends seem a superfluity?
It’s also my experience that every job I’ve ever had, every commission I’ve ever got, every / publisher I’ve ever worked with, when I’ve examined what has happened in retrospect, has turned out to be absolutely the right one from a selection. Having said that, there’s always an aspect of any job that one likes least. So you still experience the joy when you’re doing the parts you like most.
So, how does this translate into what I’m doing now?
I’ve had five fiction books accepted recently. One is already with the publisher and I’m doing a final edit on a second. A third is ready to go but will actually only be accepted if the two sequels – it is the first part of a trilogy - are written. Gulp!
I’m also publishing and editing a collection of short stories. I’m having great fun with that, though I hope the authors involved will be happy with the sales. With marketing anyway, I have to be in the mood.
I’ve had a commission to write a resource for teachers of French. I’m basing it very much on my philosophy of how language should be learnt and taught and it’s almost writing itself.
Then there is my job as Lecturer in Creative Writing. It feels like a privilege. I’m being paid for what I used to do as a hobby. However, with that come certain responsibilities and I do feel the weight of them occasionally. The day by day work is fun and comfortable, though. I have great colleagues and students.
So, I guess the passion is in the fiction and the certainty I feel about language learning. There is developing skill and latent talent in the former and developed skill in the latter. I actually enjoy putting my thoughts into words and typing them out via a computer. Fiction drains me emotionally and non-fiction sometimes gives me a headache. I sleep well at night, though, if I’ve done a fair chunk of work in one of these areas.
Talent? Do I have talent? Aren’t our talents birth gifts which fade if we don’t use them and even though they’re given, must be developed? Great of course if talent, skill and passion all line up. I’m working on it.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Vital Signs Neil Campbell at the University of Salford

This visit actually formed part of a module I’m teaching on at the University of Salford. My students on the Writing Short Fiction were invited to attend both a reading and a workshop. I also attended both and I’m really glad I did.
It’s quite nice, when your day job involves putting people through these sorts of experience, to actually sit back a little and have a go at a workshop yourself. I did just that this afternoon.
Neil’s reading was very interesting and he showed us several scenes form ordinary working lives. He admits to having held several uninteresting jobs and he treated us to some of the characters and situations he had met in these.
The workshop began with some reading of short story theory, which I found very useful and shall add to my collection of the same. We then read and unpicked a short story by Hemingway. We were also invited to create our own stories from memories of jobs we had done and funny / sad incidents. Mine was about donuts – based on my remembering working as a Saturday girl at Woolworth’s and being put on the donut machine because I had short hair.
We wrote for twenty minutes and by the end of that time I had about a third of a short story. I think it is one I’ll try to finish. In fact, it’s one I’m looking forward to finishing.

Friday 10 October 2008

Critiquing, Editing ,Abandoning

I have now started working in earnest with our new students. New on all three levels. I’m convening the Level 1 creative writing course. I’ve also got two good groups in Level 2 and Level 3.

I met my portfolio groups for the first time today. They are certainly on the ball, and I think I was also able to give them a lot of detailed feedback on their work. Was it good quality, though? I hope so.

It is amazing how looking at other people’s work actually helps you to understand your own even better. There is always an intensity about it. All those things we talk about: is the structure solid? Does it grab the reader? Are you showing instead of telling? Is the punctuation okay? Are there darlings to be killed off? Does the dialogue work? Is there enough description? Is the writer making use of their senses? Does this character convince?

When is the work finished? Could they come the week they have to give it in and have one last one-to-one? Of course they can. It’s programmed in. What if then, we give them advice and they don’t won’t or can’t take it? Or they think they do and the piece still doesn’t work?

How we go on and on. A piece of work is never finished. Just abandoned. I used to think that that was just so much of a piece of rubbish. There is, in fact, more than enough truth in that.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Ilkley Festival

I had my gig at the Ilkley fringe festival on Sunday. I delivered my Character Magic workshop and the magic worked as usual. It was intriguing that much of the time there was silence in the workshop as the participants scribbled away. They were pleased with what they produced and I have the feeling that they would have liked to carry on.

The Manor House is a beautiful old house and we were lucky to have such a pleasant sunny day. It enhances the mood. Mind you, you actually couldn’t really tell you were in such a beautiful old building as the room seemed much like any other classroom.

It was such a lovely day and the drive over there was very pleasant. I actually sat in the park to have my lunch. Well, there was a nip in the air, and you couldn’t have sat there too long, but considering it was October and I was in the North of England, and considering the terrible weather we had the day before, it was pretty good.

I attended another event at the main festival – all about “The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth” by Frances Wilson.

The Ilkley Playhouse is a treat, and it is so good that they manage to put on such an impressive festival in such a small, out of the way place. There are still some events going on if you’re interested.

It’s a place I could see myself living – small and cosy but lively.

I had a fantastic Balti afterwards as well. Check out

Friday 3 October 2008

Working from Home

I guess one of the joys of being a full time writer is that you don’t have to go out on cold mornings. On the other hand, one of the joys of having to commute to work is being all snug in your car and listening to Classis FM. I find driving good thinking time and an essential part of writing.

I worked form home today and relived with some nostalgia how I used to do it all the time. My husband also works from home and we are actually amazingly good at not disturbing each other. But there is just such a cosiness about it. My office at work is cold. The windows are metal framed and they shrink in the cold and let in a draught. It lacks colour. My study at home has warm colours and my chair is right next to the radiator. Plus I can slop around in my old faded jeans.

It is great that my job at the university is so flexible and that I can work form home now and then. I had to do it today, because I had a man from social services come and help me fill in a form for my dad to get £40 a month. It had to be filled in with the precision we use for filling in bids for funding. Home from home, I guess.

It didn’t stop the flood of emails, but at least I avoided the traffic.

Thursday 2 October 2008

A Productive Day

I had a very productive day in London yesterday. The train journey form Manchester to London goes quite smoothly. It takes just two hours twenty minutes. If you book in advance, you also get reserved seats. So, that two ways, and the odd hour hanging around between meetings gave me time to do the final edit of “Making Changes”. I found a handful of mistakes.

I had a meeting at the British Library with the publisher of Litro, a monthly collection of short stories. 100,000 of these are distributed on the London Underground. We’re hoping to get about 50,000 distributed in the North West. It would basically have the same content as the London edition but localised advertising. It is finding that advertising which may be the challenge. We also looked at having a North West special and a student edition.

And whilst I was at the British Library, I managed to sneak a look at their theatre exhibition. It was very interesting. It was good, too, to manage lunch with my son and a an after-work drink with my daughter. Amazingly, also, they paid.

I popped over to Theodore Bullfrog to see whether they can do our launch for us on 6th December. Apparently they can. I reckon we can do it for £10.00 per head. It’s a good central place, near Waterloo station. They can take up to 100. It could be good.

A very successful and productive day, then.