Tuesday 30 June 2009

Book Launch at Werneth School

We launched A World Away for Here last night form Werneth School, Stockport. It was a really lovely occasion. We started off with drinks and nibbles and general chat. It was so hot that no one wanted to eat much and most of the students and their families had already had their tea. Still, it was all just what we needed – fruit juices, raw vegetables and dips, tiny cakes and lovely fruit.
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 – An Introduction to Creative Writing

“An Introduction to Creative Writing” is probably a misnomer for this book. I actually find it quite advanced and it is, in fact, suitable for teachers of Creative Writing at university level. The exercises in it are certainly very tantalising and I think maybe they would renew the creative juices and get the ideas flowing again. Maybe they’re something to be tackled whilst on holiday. I may just try that.
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

Academic Writing

I’ve just had a paper I gave at a conference rejected for publication. It was peer reviewed by two people. Fair enough.
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

Edit Three

I have just finished the third edit of Babel, the second part of the Peace Child Trilogy. The third edit is the one where I see that my Young Adult novel really is a Young Adult novel. I check to see that it is:
Mixed genre
Emotional closeness
Leaving reader to decide
Pushing boundaries
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

Teaching Creative Writing at University Level

Teaching Creative Writing at University Level
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

Books and Book Launches

I attended two book launches on Friday evening, one as part of the great Writing Conference and one as part of my Creative Café Project and as part my own publishing venture. I’ve also arranged another one over at the Angel Café for later this month.
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

Great Writing 2009

Another great Great Writing behind us. Another chance to meet with like-minded colleagues and writers and a chance to go back to my university. Interesting, that as a little girl, I always wanted to live in North Wales, I always wanted to be a writer and I always wanted to go to college in Colwyn Bay and learn to be a teacher.
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)

It is a strange process. We sit around a large table and ponder the marks our students achieved. We concentrate mainly on the fails and the oddities, but then we discuss the overall outcome of the marks and what we are pleased about and what we are less pleased about and how we might effect change.
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

A Strange Commission

My daughter has actually commissioned me to write a story for her wedding. I’ve done this now. It fits the three to four minutes she said she wanted it to fit. I’ve called it “Five Phone Calls.” It’s the story of that day when Stoo phoned to ask for Martin’s numbers and it went through my mind that he was going to do something incredibly old-fashioned. Well, he did. It was a slightly tense time, and tension is always a good theme for a story.
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

Still editing

I have now completed my third edit of Babel. This is where I check that the time is right. This is where I guard against ten-month pregnancies, protagonists who don’t have time to eat or sleep or the setting in which there is perpetual spring.
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

A Suitcase Full of Stories

What an exciting evening. Sitting outside in a summer garden in Sydenham was delightful.
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.