And I’m finding out a lot about the characters and setting. I thought I would, but not to the extent that I am. Both of the characters that are in the short story appear in my longer piece. They are, to greater and lesser extents, important to the plot, and yet I’m starting to understand how little I know about them. I have expectations of them, that as I am writing, I change or even go against. So yes, here’s my advice, if you really want to know the motivations of a character that is not your protagonist, then I recommend writing them. I was going to write something sarcastic here about you only need to go back twenty years to understand what’s going on now, but I think I accidentally made a lot of sense. Oops.
I’ve also FINALLY got kindle unlimited, at least the first free month version, and I’ve been running through books by the dozen. I’ve read a lot of poetry, a lot of first books in a series, a lot of obscure new genres that I didn’t know were a thing. It’s been illuminating. And, though this is possibly a mean thing to say, it has made me feel like a much better writer and poet. Especially poet. I’ll probably end up regretting this, especially as, like I said, it seems people are very keen to put the first book up in a series but very reluctant to put the rest of them up where they’re free to read. But I understand that. And I’ll probably fall into their trap, going on to buy plenty of books just because I read the first one for free.
This is especially true as there is a brand new genre for me to explore, I came across it while scrolling through the fantasy section and it fits there as well as anything else. This new genre is RPGLit which is, as far as I can understand it when you have an extra fourth wall between you and your story, a story which is modelled on Role Playing Games. It’s odd, decidedly so, but there are some really well-written stories out there about characters finding out that those adventurers who are running around the countryside are being controlled by creatures from another dimension. It’s a delicious expose on the ways some players like to run around causing havoc, while using expressions like “awesome” and “pawned” to the confusion of the ordinary people surrounding them.
But I’m off now to do some more writing, until next time!
I’ve been reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” on and off the last few weeks. It is a fantastic book but it can be quite heavy so I’ve been reading little bits at a time to avoid getting tired of it. It’s made me think a lot about the process of writing, about how this is a thing that unites so many people, and yet how differently we all see it.
I’ve also been diving through plenty of comics since Christmas, I got a huge pile and so I have been enjoying myself immensely. One of the best things about reading comics is that it helps you to see where you can tighten up your writing, especially dialogue. The comic with too much text is a rare beast and so you can start to pick up that sparely written style. That’s definitely something that I can learn from, I need to get a bit more comfortable writing what happens with less about what might have happened if the character had done things differently.
Personal projects have hit a bit of a bump lately, the January blues no doubt! But with the University schedule starting up again it’ll be fun to start carving out time for that work and defending it. Of course, I can’t promise that I will always be as productive as I would like, but having a plan, or at least a to-do list of bullet points, seems to settle my mind somewhat.
Anyway, Happy New Year to everyone, I hope you all have a wonderful year and that you get from it everything that you want and need!
All these assessments left scant reading time. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was the first book I finished, from my ever-burgeoning pile. I was duty bound, after a suggestion that I not bother and just ‘wing’ my review piece. The ‘honest injun’ in me could not live with that. I often struggle with a book, film or music album, but I rarely give up entirely. I like to give other’s creations some grace and try to find a positive. You never know when you might need it yourself.
Eileen made me want to give up half way through, so I shelved her for a bit. I found it repetitive, and the novel was becoming monotonous. You know you are nearing the end of your tether when you have to restrain yourself from shouting ‘OH JUST GET ON WITH IT’ at the pages – on a packed train, no less.
I am glad that I persevered. My cockiness of ‘I know what is going to happen anyway’ wasn’t entirely justified, my ego was delivered a little surprise twist. Eileen isn’t the kind of novel I’m used to reading, so I am giving myself a wee pat on the back. If I want to push boundaries with my writing, then I have to be willing to do the same with my reading. It is all yin and yang, innit?
After having flung Eileen to the side with a sigh of relief, I could hardly wait to get my teeth into ‘Scar Culture‘ by Toni Davidson. Kirsty recommended this to me during one of my tutorials. I just started it and am halfway through already. I can hardly put it down. It is a horrifying, yet fascinating novel and I love the way it is written, all fucked-up and jarring in snapshots and using grim, real subject matter. I can see why it was recommended to me, it is right up my dark, weird and twisted street. I won’t bang on about it too much, because I’m not finished yet and I’m not fond of forming half baked opinions. I like to make informed and considered judgements on these matters, who knows, I may hate it by the end, although that seems unlikely after the electrifying kick start.
I’ve also been reading other classmates work and sharing mine. I was a little nervous, as my work reaches into dark places that most people don’t want to see. These things are demanding to be written, and I must obey. As an earlier blog title proclaims, I have no control over what comes out, my writing is as random as the nonsense that goes on inside my head. I fell asleep early the other night, forgetting to take my make up off and woke up at mental o’ clock with a poem about potatoes going round and round in my head. It was particularly insistent that I write it all down. So I did, and went back to bed two hours later with black eyes and fingers covered in blue ink. This is not the ‘wood cabin, maroon cardigan, candles, log fire and old typewriter’ glamour of the writer’s life I had envisaged for myself.
I digress. The point that I wanted to make about sharing work is how valuable the process is. Fear accompanies everything I do, so trusting someone with my writing is a HUGE deal for me, but the rewards are worth it. And nobody has run screaming from me…yet. In all seriousness, I’m learning that writing and refining that writing are two separate things. A fresh perspective enhances your original piece, and even the most self sufficient of us need a little help, to become what we are truly meant to be.
Posted on November 20, 2016
Like everyone else I am up to my armpits in assessments so this entry is a cheat, a borrow from the ‘Guardian ‘and from the poet who began the Creative writing programme in the University of Glamorgan. Tony Curtis offers an instruction manual for a specific type of poem. The structure of the vilanelle was used by Dylan Thomas for one of my favourite poems, a poem which is generally perceived as one of the greatest viilanelles ever, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’
By placing this article here it can also act as a reminder for me to return to the vilanelle once this two weeks of mayhem and stress are over. Then I might be able to try and write my own.
I hope the link works and you enjoy both Tony Curtis and Dylan Thomas.
I had a really great chat with Kirsty Gunn last week, we went over my plans for the end of module portfolio and she really got me thinking about my writing. One of the things she pointed out, that I really needed to hear, was that my chosen genre of fantasy is definitely one written at a marathon pace rather than a sprint. Hopefully, that will be enough to stop that little voice in my head shouting, “you should have gotten nine million words done by now, write, write, write!” And she also gave me a great idea for some technically-not-procrastinating work, which admittedly I very rarely need help to find, the idea is to write a faux history book for my fantasy setting. Write from the point of view of a historian many years later and really explore what parts of it all would be remembered and what would be lost. I really love that, and it would be especially helpful as I am writing numerous epigraphs for chapter starts and scene changes. Plus it would probably be a good way to finally settle on what I want to happen. I have tried to outline it before, I swear, it’s just everytime I do I come up with something new to add in.
I’m getting my way through Helen Scales’ “Spirals in Time” at the moment. It’s a really interesting and well-written look at shellfish and their evolution. And yes, I realise that this does not seem like something interesting, but I’m enjoying it and learning a lot. I also have to admit something rather bad – I totally picked the book up because of its beautiful cover. Which is of course the exact opposite of what we are told to do, but it seems to have worked out this time. Sometimes good books have good covers too!
Anyway I think that will be all this week, my wisdom teeth have made an unwelcome resurgance and I would really love to know why we have them at all. Is it too much to ask that they could just spontaneously disappear?
See you next time,
The title of this blog post may require translation. It means ‘how are you?’ in Doric. Translated exactly it means ‘how’s your pigeons?’ to which the standard response is ‘ay pickin’ (always picking) which really means ‘fine’. Forgiveness is granted if you are confused already.
The inspiration for this post comes from Lindsay’s class, which was mainly about sounds of words, dialects, phonetics and speech. I love writing in my own dialect and have my own blog, often written partially in Doric. Being half ‘toonser‘, half ‘teuchter‘ and learning some Weegie whilst living in Glasgow has given me quite a wide vocabulary. Life experiences, like getting invited to have a ‘square go’ for calling someone a ‘Gadgie‘ in Dundee have highlighted the subtle and at times stark differences in the collective language we call ‘Scots’.
Doric is not an exact language. I have relatives from Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen, who all speak differently. Often, pronunciation changes a word, for example ‘Brochers’ (people hailing from Fraserburgh) would pronounce ‘mattress’ as ‘mah-trass’, making it sound like a new word.
Kirsty’s writing class also touched on this subject when we were asked to translate a piece of writing into our own dialect, which I found hysterically funny. I’m not sure that I’d want to write exclusively in Doric, but there are little pieces here and there appearing in what may be becoming my 6000 word portfolio. Just enough to pepper it with something alternative.
I’ll share some of my hen-scratchings that emerged from these classes.
Cheerio ye fuckin’ bams
Ah mine yon summer
Sun wis blazin ootside
Fit a fuckin’ bummer
I wiz stuck inside
ah by masel
cleanin mingin student flats
aye, like i pits oh hell
ah’ll tell ye’s at
ma face wiz soor
sweatin oot buckets
fur a pittance an oor
am aff, fuck iss
It’s a hing
fur hingin’ washin’
a widden hing or a
plastic hing ye’d
pit on a string
a line fur claes
ti dry oot
if ye hey a gairden.
Wearin’ dump claes
isna affa fine
sunny or windy
is best dryin wither
for claes fixed
by a peg on the line
This is a splendid peg, wooden and fine
Fit for a round hole
Or a windy line
Fixed around a washing pole
Doric Flash Fiction
Bit Grama, ah hinna any pennies ti get a taxi. Ma grunny stifles a laugh wi her fingers. I huff and fold ma airms cos ah hiv ti wait until she opens the door fur mi. Ah hid a wee suitcase packed for biding wi her while mi Mam wis in hospital heyin the bairn, a wee sister ca’ed Stephanie, accordin’ ti me.
‘ARI please driver’, grama sais ti the taxi driver. ‘Wi kin get ye new hings efter we’ve been up ti see yer Mam an yer new brither, Scott’, she sais ti me. Ah wiz fizzin’ mad. Mi Grama hid lost ma case on ih bus and I wis gein her grief fur bein si careless. Ah hid turned fower twa days afore, so ah wisna in ih best humour onywy, bein shunted aff ti ma grunny’s on ma birthday.
She couldna hide bein amused.
‘It isna funny Grama’ ah telt her, ‘ah ma best things and favourite toys wis in there!’ I teen a lookie in the rear view mirror at the dour faced driver, pointed and sais ‘See – he disna think its funny either!’
Ma Grunny wis in knots and telt abdy iss story.
I am ‘fair tricket‘ with PEG. I’ll leave the translations up to you. If you are really interested, you can look it up. I’ve been affa good by including some internet-linky-treats to get you started. Writing this has certainly inspired me to research beyond my personal interest. The Doric Detective Agency… open for investigation. I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that for another time.
Imagine what it is, then, for him to read a poem.
It was quite an innocent little book. No more than fifty pages of art. So slim it was almost saying all it needed to but no more. I thought what harm could it do. It looked so alluring. I hadn’t had a moment in so long. I picked it up and it fell open naturally on a page as if it had been much referred to. Such a simple little poem. So innocent. I read.
“More stars than people /by far reborn as stars”
My breath grows shallow and short. What does that mean? What could it mean? People reborn as stars? Stars forming other stars? My mind resisted as if it sensed these thoughts would not be good for me and, for my own well-being, kept them out. Unfortunately I should have stopped but because of this resistance I could not halt myself. I compelled myself to read on.
“And more stars than grains of sand /the number of grains of sand?/ (7.5*10 to the power of 18) grains of sand.
‘How, how, how’ I stammered ‘did we get from people to stars to grains of sand?’ I said aloud involuntary unable to keep it in. Something was forming the enormity of which I couldn’t fathom. I spoke because my mind resisted still and had to expel. I read still further.
Seven quintillion, five hundred /quadrillion grains of sand.
Eighteen zero’s! It did not help that it was further explained. ‘How do I get to the end of that!?’ eighteen zero’s. My mind took that in, hoovered it up like it was sucked into the vacuum of space with all those stars, how many? Numbers my mind could comprehend the concept it could not. The floor under my feet fell away and my eyes glazed the colour of onyx and I drooled from my slack jaw. Staring blankly into space. I had already seen the next line.
The same amount as molecules in ten drops of water.
I start to scream as my brain comprehended the infinity in the very large out there and in the very small. In gestation of these facts I associate and conclude. My logical mind finds the answer strained though it is. I struggle to talk but I find the words. I never seen it on the page but I finish the poem without the poet. For me this is the only conclusion that can be reached.
There are more worlds /in eleven of my teardrops /than stars or grains of sand.
I am there on the beach, I look to my left the night sky meets the sand that stretches to the horizon. I walk towards it. Stars lit up too many to count. I feel the sand on my bare feet the grains of which are too many to count.
One day I may reach that horizon. Or perhaps turn away and walk into the sea.
Their would still be too many to count.
The heart monitor blips and blips and blips.
I was also busy making a special Dungeons and Dragons campaign for tomorrow, my friends and (a friend’s younger brother, and) I will be exploring a ruined city filled with zombies and walking skeletons. It’s pushing my writing skills pretty hard. I have a couple dozen settings to come up with, plenty of non-player characters to design and a whole host of side quests to figure out. It’s tough but I can’t deny that I love it. The hardest thing is coming up with a few dozen different ways to have my players fight the same monsters. Skeletons and zombies can get old pretty quickly. That’s where subplots and side quests come in and I’m going to have fun terrifying them in a suitably Hallowe’en fashion. Luckily I won’t have to do one for Christmas as my flatmate has agreed to take over for a one off. For once I am going to get to play! So happy Hallowe’en everyone,
This very short story won third prize in the ‘Room to Write’ inaugural short story competition in 2014. If you want to read the whole thing it’s on https://roomtowritepublishing.wordpress.com/competition/our-2014-short-story-anthology/
It’s free to download.
It’s an extract from something much longer I’ve yet to finish. I can see flaws and am itching to edit but won’t. This is what was published. I’ve edited, couldn’t help myself.
‘I want to keep a photographic record,’ Mrs Stephens says to the visitor, her hand with its soft fingers that have never done a day’s work tight on his arm, digging into the fine wool of his coat. It would be soft to the touch that coat, soft against my skin. Her lips, wet and red, are reaching up to his ear.
‘I want to show how my girls progress.’
She breathes the words. Her eyelashes flutter. Charlotte, her daughter, does it too. It pleases only them and makes them look as if they are about to take a fit.
I am not ‘her’ girl.
Mrs Stephens waves her free arm, the sleeve too tight around her flesh. She tells him what we do, how we work. She doesn’t talk about how the boiling water and the lye that scalds our skin, how our fingers crack and weep, how our backs ache. Her knuckles brush my shoulder as she walks past.
She steers Walter Proctor past the coppers and the pails of water and the mangles. ‘Mrs Conti is an excellent photographer, and, being a woman, she doesn’t engender … excitement,’ she says, looking under her eyelashes, a bead of spittle on her lip. The first time Mrs Conti came she was with her husband, Jack. He has soft brown eyes, a rosebud mouth and a prick big enough to satisfy the oldest whore in Totterdown. We wore ourselves out talking and thinking about him.
Mrs Conti’s come on her own since, pushing that barrow of hers across the city, too tight to pay a boy a penny, stronger than you’d think she’d be. Walter Proctor nods at Mrs Stephens. He must know the patterns on every flagstone for he’s not once looked away from the floor, not once looked at us.
The smell in the room, our sweat, the sour milk smell of the soap, still allows me a whiff of him, coffee, a wood fire doused by water and something sharp, lemons. There’s a heat to him, underneath that buttoned vest and coat. His hands are restless. His neckerchief is so tight against his neck it must hurt. His fingers, long and pale have blunt edges that would press in were he to touch me.
We’ve been sorting the laundry, hiding away the worst of it. It wouldn’t do for Mr Proctor to see the way we stain our petticoats and our bed sheets, to smell the coppery scent of old blood. Mrs Stephens has filled the place with oil lamps. She’s only just had the fires lit under the coppers. The steam from the tubs would make it impossible for Mrs Conti to take a photograph. It wouldn’t do for Mr Proctor to sweat.
I could make him sweat.
Five Finger Death Punch
Posted on October 25, 2016 by Joanne Hastie
I smile when I hear the ‘five finger exercise’ mentioned in class. It makes me think of the band ‘Five Finger Death Punch’. At first, that is what I was silently cursing these exercises as, a death punch to the brain. It is meant to be difficult, making you think and reflect, like weights for the mind.Before I embarked on this course, people would ask ‘Oh, what do you write?’ The defence was always ‘short stories and crap poetry’. This course is making me realise that I am capable of writing poetry. I borrowed a book from Gail, meant to be for reviewing on DURA, but on reading it, knew instantly that I’m not knowledgeable enough to write an academic review. It would have been an opinion piece. Instead, I used it as inspiration. I flicked the pages and let the universe decide. Poem 8 from Beneath by Simon Perril it is then.
my sister went first
we’d a pact
that after crossing
she’d show she’d left
by gripping a weft
of unspooled wool
In the event she swung
and I saw the slug
of her tongue
at her outstretched palm
Point of view
She had always been the braver of the two, living up to her elder sister title. There were two extremes with her, the best and the worst. Anything in between was unacceptable. Demanding and telling at the same time, ‘I’ll go first.’ she said and promised to tug on the wool that was meant to hold them together on this latest daredevil adventure. A discussion seemed pointless to the outside world, Shelley would always go first, but this ritual always persuaded her brother, making his second place bearable and justified. She reeled him in with this tactic flawlessly every time.
I was fed up of being played around with. These damn kids had their fun with me, I’ll tell ya. I was meant to be a cute little bootie, or maybe a Christmas sweater, or a goddamn tea cosy for some a these English types, who like to drink tea in weird shaped pots insteada coffee like regular folks. Instead, whadda I get? Tossed over to a girl that shoulda been a warden. She had dictator stamped all over her, I’ll tell ya that for nuthin’. She turned my life into hell, twistin’ and knottin’ me around into cat’s cradles, passed along into her brother’s filthy hands and gettin’ God knows what all over me. Here I am, all outta shape and dirty and whadda them two do? Takes my sister, a nice red number all new and unspooled outta the bag and takes her on some stoopid secret mission. I’m still waitin’ for em to come back, they been gone a long while.
The jagged rocks jutted
from their hiding place
clawing with their points
for a leg an arm a face
The jagged rocks hungered
many an empty hour
sharply slowly waiting
poised to devour
The jagged rocks rejoice
she enters their domain
woolly lifeline falls with her
ripped by the strain
The jagged rocks are sated
sporting bloody smiles
the hunger will return to them
in a short while.
The cave was a palette of grey and black. Nothing shone or twinkled here, as if the darkness had sucked the beauty from it centuries ago. It stank of death. The jagged rocks hid the floor, sentinels poised to attack. The air was thick with icy nightmares bristling your skin with wrongness. Every fibre of human being screamed GET OUT, but the two children swept fear aside ignoring those instincts in favour of burning curiosity and took another step toward the entrance to Hell.
The unspooled wool twanged and snapped under the strain of her white knuckled grip. Mark stumbled backward as Shelley fell in an un-choreographed surprise dance. Open mouthed in horror, the silence of her scream conveyed her fate as the rock sentinels grasped for her flesh. The head struck first, giving birth to crumbs of stone that rolled into the abyss. The mother, a grey pyramid surrounded by a moat of blood protruded from Shelley’s right temple, her slug tongue reaching for her shoulder. Her wide disbelief eyes stared at the roof of that terrible place, palm extended upward pleading to an unseen God.
I know none of these are perfect. I know I am well over my word count. Sometimes you have to take a few hits to get to the title fight.
‘Dividing the Spoils’
Posted on October 22, 2016 by Sarah Isaac
This is the sonnet I wrote for homework on the theme of Divorce. It was really challenging and I could redraft it forever. There are rhymes to be had that I haven’t found. In the process of getting from draft twenty to here I’ve rewritten it another six times. I think I might call a halt here.
‘Dividing the Spoils’
You can have the ponderous furniture,
The weight of that old, brown, inheritance,
And that absurd painting she gave to you,
That you hung above our marital bed
The oven is yours, the freezer my cold self.
I’ll cleft the kettle and halt that last brew.
We can chop the toaster and cleave the fridge.
Let us take a child apiece, the boy mine.
The girl yours to remind you of your wife.
Or will I use your father’s fine toothed saw
To cut through hair, to rive from brain to groin?
My share will be where the mole marks her cheek,
And his grazed left knee with its star shaped scar
|I’ll tend to the beating of their bruised hearts.
Networking and Community
Posted on October 20, 2016 by Poppy Jarratt
When I started this course, I had to admit that a huge reason was to do some great networking. I’ve been networking in the literary stratosphere since I was about 15. I started going to creative writing classes on Saturdays, then went on to volunteer my time to culture events, book festivals, writing workshops and publications. As I got older, the volunteering turned into interning and is transitioning now into bits of paid work. However, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I’m the girl who is happy to be paid in literary experience. I am not at all adverse to doing more volunteering, so that is what I am doing. I am a volunteer at the Dundee Literary Festival. I haven’t exactly done much this far as the two events that I was supposed to cover the roving mic both boiled over with interesting conversation, meaning that one only had time for two questions and one had no time for questions at all. Nevertheless, yesterday, whilst doing the latter of ‘working hard or hardly working’, I got to see some events which were extremely important to me.
The first was a conversation between Kirsty Gunn, Ron Hay, Lindsay MacGregor, Eddie Small and Gail Low, discussing The Voyage Out, a publication celebrating ten years of Writing Practice and Study (WPS) at the University of Dundee. The book is an international anthology of fiction, poetry, essays, art, film and science, all about voyages. For me, having been an ungerdrad WPS student and now an MLitt WPS student, I felt proud to be in my fourth year with the department. There was a lot of talk of the lovely, sorely missed, late Jim Stewart. Kirsty answered ‘Jim is behind so much of what we do on the writing program,’ when asked how much input Jim had on the publication, and I wholeheartedly agree. There was no us and them at this event, just one group of people listening to another group of people discuss something everyone in the room was excited about. I cherish my copy of The Voyage Out, given to me so kindly by Eddie, whose name is just above Jim’s in the credits.
The second event was Livewire! If anything could assure me that I made the right decision to take the journey onto the MLitt course more than The Voyage Out event, this was it. I won’t go into too much detail because I’ll be writing an essay on the event, but I have to write a bit… On the MLitt last year, the students were thrown into the deep end of performing and were asked to perform around this time in their first semester. They performed in what used to be Shrink to Fit, an offshoot of Superstore which has now evolved into a different pub for about the 7th time since I moved to Dundee. I remember seeing a lot of nervous performances but being absolutely amazed by the talent and the utter balls they had, performing with a mic so early on in their MLitt course. (Be careful what you wish for…) But the performances I saw yesterday was not comparable. I saw six calm, confident writers take to the stage and read eloquent, considered pieces which were refined and performed so well. I was working the roving mic and the last question was near the back so whilst I waited to retrieve the mic, I allowed myself a moment to stand at the back of the room and look at the whole audience and the six accomplished writers on the stage. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than feeling like you belong somewhere, and I felt it yesterday.
My point is is that I’ve been ‘networking’ for seven years, never turning down an opportunity to meet new people in the field, to help out if I can. I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. This week has felt like a tidal wave of things to do, life and class are at a crescendo and I barely have space to breathe, but I couldn’t resist putting myself forwards to help at the Dundee Literary Festival. Peggy, who runs the festival and Literary Dundee, is incentive enough to volunteer. She is a fireball of energy, enthusiasm and friendly personality who definitely spoils her volunteers in amazing literary experience. Yesterday, although I was technically working, although I tried to introduce myself to as many people as possible, yesterday didn’t feel like networking, it felt like I was part of an amazing community.
What is a Live Wire? I know now!
Posted on October 19, 2016 by Conner Mcaleese
I’ve just dashed (yes, I know, FABULOUS word choice) from a LiveWire event for the Dundee Literary Festival. Run by Eddie Small, the event is an ongoing production that showcases the writing of recent and current students, and no doubt a whole lot of other people also but I’ve only been to one so give me some leeway here. And, call me stupid if you will, I was walking home and wondering why in the Hades it was called ‘LiveWire’. It’s live, sure, but there’s no wires. Even the roving mic was just that, roving, and in today’s world of Health and Safety regulations, you can bet your bottom dollar that it didn’t have a wire. Then, as I came home and sat by my computer, I realized that I felt electric. My fingers are actually pulsing as I type this. Maybe it’s because I know I’ll have to do one one day, or maybe it’s the awesome talent I just witnessed that inspired a creative surge in me, but either way I feel electric. And then it hit me. Live Wire, as in the one that’ll kill you if you touch it.
I get it now.
We’re approaching a nervous section of the course. The place in the movie where the sea starts to swell and some screenwriter adds a joke to the movie like, “Hey guys, hope we don’t sink,” while he washes his hands in a sink. And then, because the movie is called “Sinking Ship” or “Titanic 2” we all know exactly what’s about to happen. That ship’s not arriving in any port, any time soon (insert dirty joke here). I spoke last week about it, and I’ll continue doing so until they’re over – assessments are coming. But, unlike last week, I am more confident. I’ve had formative feedback on a review I submitted – the main critique being “be less catty” – and I’ve had a one on one meeting with Kirsty. So I have followed Gail’s advice and removed certain phrases from my assessed review on The Girl on The Train that poke fun at Paula Hawkins cameo being removed from the film adaptation of her novel. So far, so good.
It is from my one on one with Kirsty, however, that the true pride of this week lies. I submitted a rough sheaf of five pages of manuscript for her perusal to begin working on my portfolio for the end of semester one. I shall keep most of what she said confidential, as I am too cowardly in the face of fate to jinx the most exciting part of what we discussed, but I would like to share a short extract from one of the homework exercise she gave us.
The kitchen is his favourite room of all. A fridge and freezer stand side by side, the top of the fridge more yellow than its brother. There is no work surface. No unit. So the fridge must suffice. Gentle yellowing is an easy price to pay. Another bare light bulb swings from a pendulum coated in cooking grease. But the room is large, the window larger still and so it swings on unnoticed. Its early evening. The sun hasn’t set yet. And so the window is alive with honey light, seeping in through the glass and coating every surface of the kitchen. Checkered linoleum, a burnt kitchen table – scarred with the mark of an incense stick let to burn for too long – and a dull green microwave that, only in this light, looks like it’s worth a million bucks. He stands there. In the honey light kitchen. And wonders how he came to be so lucky. Many flats have kitchens only half this size. Cracks in the ceiling are nothing compared to the gloriousness of standing here, right now, in the warm sunlit air. The window sits slightly open, just a crack so that cat can’t stray too far out, it’s too high and he may fall, and a breeze weedles its way in – no doubt jealous of the boy’s dumb grin. It notes the disheveled pajamas hastily thrown on between the bathroom sink and here, and congratulates itself on being incorporeal, unneeding of such mix match clothes. It stands beside him, that jealous gust of wind, and basks in the sunlight of another day endured. The boy feels it with him but says nothing, not wanting to scare it away. Instead he sniffs, in between tears, at the fragrant vanilla that gently wafts around them both.
As I’ve mentioned before, I once quit my job and spent every penny I had on trying to get my first novel published. It didn’t work. But now, as I discuss my work with other writers and explain the heart of what I’m trying to write, I feel that little bud of a daffodil – the flower of hope and Spring – unfurl after a long Winter of disappointment. This piece if about me, about what a place I know, and it’s the heart and bones of who I am. A boy in his pyjammas thankful to still be alive, to still have hope and to still be writing.
Travelling Has Become A Theme
Posted on October 17, 2016 by Kirsty Mackay
Well, my weekend was certainly busy, I managed to get home and celebrated my dad’s birthday and managed to get some much-needed reading done on the train. I finished Constellations and got started on the next book on my list, I’ll be writing a review for Constellations so I won’t say much more about it. Just watch this space!
Speaking of space, my attention has been grabbed lately by the idea of multigenerational spaceships. The distances in space are so huge that attempting to cross them in the lifetime of one person is not likely to happen until we can figure out a way of reliably making wormholes. So making ships that are communities with the idea of generations coming and going on the ship, all knowing that the journey is truly for the benefit of their great, great, great (etc., etc.) grandchildren. I just can’t help but feel that such a setting would make for great inter-personal drama. Children feeling as if their choices were taken from them, parents sacrificing their futures for their children (and children’s children), and all taking place in what must be one of the most claustrophobic communities possible. Do they have the chance to communicate with other ships? Or are they limited to the people all crammed into the same tin can flying through the vacuum of space at almost light speed? I just think it’s a setting rife with possibilities. I have not gotten around to writing anything for it yet, I am a bit too busy with other work, but it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to getting my hands on when I can.
I have also taken the time to get stuck into my portfolio project. I’ve managed to overcomplicate it for myself by not just making it an extract of a longer piece as I had planned, but I am also intending on having epigraphs at the start of every chapter – and for the portfolio at least – every time I change the scene. Like I said it means I have to do a lot more work, so far I’ve written a sonnet and a short skipping rhyme that will be put in at the beginning of the piece and at the star of the second scene. I’ve been trying really hard to make them work in the world I’ve built, they’re meant to be from that world, you see. So the sonnet is a piece of work by a poet during the timeframe of the story and the skipping rhyme is briefly mentioned in the work. The idea is that the epigraphs will add to the feeling of a deep and intricate world building, especially the later ones which will include extracts of letters describing scenes in the story from another’s point of view and even, if I can figure out how to write it, a piece written in the style of an academic essay. I quite like the idea of suggesting that a lot of the people in the story will one day be interesting to historians, as, after all, I deal with a lot of royals in it and at the very least they would be remembered. I think this has influenced my reading of Constellations, the book shows how the loss of so many people changes the lives of those who are left behind so perfectly, that I can’t help but be inspired by it.
How Satan was predestined to take charge of all god created but did not want responsibility for!
Posted on October 17, 2016 by Matthew Richardson
Hey, First post and I thought I would go in heavy……………………..here goes!
Creation Story: Inspired by Paradise Lost.
Does anyone remember me as an Angel? I was the Bright Morningstar.
Fairest in all the creation of my father, But none recall this now.
Heaven is but a dream to even me. All my time there was by my father’s grace.
The day of my creation, was when I fell defeated from that unassailable foe.
I lost the war in heaven, a war I could never win, and was withdrawn from paradise forever.
It terrified God’s loyal Angels that I even tried and it was only God who could smite me.
But he could not kill me. He had foreseen my fate.
He needed me cast out because of his latest creation, That of the race of man.
In them he found traits the need for which he did not want to be responsible.
For this he found use in me. I was cast down as my father’s proxy.
He of infinite forgiveness and mercy could not bring himself to forgive.
On this I pondered and after a thousand years the answer occured me.
As if my heavenly father granted me the ability to now see. As if he acted still.
I brought my daughter Sin into the world of men and our bastard son Death born of rapine.
I was to tempt them to their fate through Eve as god knew as inevitable.
I was to bear the responsibility as the divine sacrifice to preserve his sanctity.
I am the Satan now, the enemy, the adversary, the accused and the defeated.
I can still appear as an Angel, for that is what I will always be, as Lucifer.
When I see my father again, and I will, it will be as an equal and not as his servant.
I will walk past my brothers and sisters who art in heaven still, and they will fear me.
I will stand and face the divinity as I did what he could not bring himself to do.
I will gaze upon his grace as it can no longer blind me as it does all others.
Even the Angels must still veil their eyes in his glorious presence. That was ever so.
And I will speak unto him of his shame that resides in me and he shall know woe.
Hell is the place where I now reside and it is no separate place from the world of Earth.
Hell resides there, this home of man, where none can see; where none ever look.
On the untended ground and in the idle minds of ill gotten men it festers.
On battlefields fresh and ancient it lingers and in dead things lately ignored.
There, out of sight, as if in a desert on a dusky night in a lonely place, it conceals itself.
Hidden so that none may know and all are taken unawares on to Pandemonium.
My home, my heaven, my freedom, my punishment and my father’s melancholy.
Feedback and criticism welcomed!
Blaschka’s Sea Creatures
Posted on October 15, 2016 by Sarah Isaac
Our conversation in class this week about the D’Arcy Thompson Museum reminded me of this piece from last year, inspired by Blaschka’s glass sea creatures and an old photograph. After the section below it spirals out of control and is, frankly, an over complicated mess so any suggestions as to what could happen next would be welcome.
“The young man is wearing his best suit. Only it’s not his. The jacket is too big, the trousers too short. It’s his father’s perhaps, an indication of what he will be in thirty years’ time, broader, shorter, still poor.
He smiles then remembers and closes his lips so his broken teeth are hidden.
The ring on his fourth finger catches the light. I watch him in my viewfinder, upside down, the photographic process briefly giving him the power of a spider to scuttle across his ceiling; if I allowed him to move.
The painted backdrop is cracked and peeling, my uncle’s work. The young man doesn’t complain. The people in the waiting room, dressed in taffeta and wool, will not complain. I am what they can afford.
I would prefer to record the young man in his work clothes, a stained vest and torn trousers, the overworked muscles in his arms visible and his hair wet with sweat. I would have him smile. There would be no badly painted scenery. The rotten timbers of my attic studio and its flaking plaster would suffice.
He will return the suit to his potbellied father and, in his own clothes, smelling of sweat, he will deliver the photograph to his sweetheart who will think him handsome. There will be a flare of light on the right of the print caused by a worm hole in the plate holder because in this place every timber is eaten, some to the point of crumbling. A fine dust settles and invades those things which should be clean for the alchemy to work.
His sweetheart will accept the inadequacies of the image, just as she accepts him.
This is how they are. This is what I show of them.
The next customer is a woman, hot and overstuffed in black bombazine. In her outdated mourning she is still, clearly, more prosperous than the shop girls, soldiers and labourers who are my usual customers. She presses herself into the wall as the young man in the borrowed suit passes. She stands between her sons and they smirk and stroke their tailored coats of fine wool. Thick necked and cow eyed, they show even teeth. I have allowed them entrance ahead of those waiting. No one complains.
The boys lean away from one another and their fists stay clenched. If they dared to open their fingers and flex their hands, if they looked at one another, then they would surely launch themselves and all I would capture would be the widow looking solemn and a vortex of movement obscuring her skirts.
They loathe one another.
When the waiting room is empty I make the prints that have all the imperfections I expected and more. I sit and wait for the night, the threadbare nature of my accommodation obscured by lamplight and shadows.The glass sea creatures, delicate and translucent, that line the mantelpiece, that flicker in the meagre light from the fire, are the rest of my inheritance, my preferred part, a reminder that this was once a prosperous place until my uncle’s obsession shrank his premises to this dusty top floor.
Getting Thoughtful About Stealing Lines
Posted on October 13, 2016 by Poppy Jarratt
I find lines that other people thought of weaving their way into my own writing. I find myself finishing a piece, reading it in class, coming home and realising that I have stollen. Like a chocolate bar falling into my pocket at the shop, I have stollen without meaning to, but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry because who doesn’t like free chocolate?
I wrote a piece yesterday in class with Eddie, who is a dear friend and source of inspiration to me always. Eddie told me I was a suffragette. I was to write about the men leaving for World War I… Then I had to write about them coming back after four long, hard years. This is a sad piece because between all the words on the page are the people who didn’t get to come back from the war, the ones who don’t get to be in stories about homecoming.
Here is my piece:
The war has changed us all. I never thought I’d work so much with my hands. I always wanted to be a reporter, but from our side there hasn’t been much to report. And there hasn’t been much time. Yes, four years have gone by, but I’ve barely had a minute. We never stopped.
I’m a munitionette. I think we call ourselves munitionettes to make the job seem nicer than it is. I’ve been making instruments to be used to kill other women’s men and boys, but I can’t think like that. I have to keep reminding myself that what I’m making is to protect our own.
When they left, many of us stopped shouting to be heard, there was so much to do, so many new worries. Being heard was slumped to the bottom of many to-do lists. I kept going to meetings, the odd march, signed my name on whichever sheet needed women’s signatures. But I also learnt how to fix an engine. I learnt how to tend a farm. I learnt how to make weapons to kill people. Knowledge is power, I kept telling myself and now I’ve got the type of knowledge a man would be proud to possess. How can I go unheard with all this knowledge?
The crowd is smaller than it was those years ago. So many meaningful members of our community aren’t here today, either because they don’t have anyone to welcome home, or because they couldn’t come back alive. Even those who are here are smaller. The weight of the world has been hard to shoulder during the war.
As well as a suffragette, a typist, a handy woman and a munitionette, I’m also a daughter waiting for my dad to return. I had these visions of seeing him again, saying ‘Look Dad! Look at the grease under my nails, the callouses on my palms, aren’t I like you now? Look Dad, look how much I know.’ But again, just like before, now isn’t a time for me to be heard.
I have something to admit. One of these lines does not belong to me. The line ‘look how much I know’ has been borrowed from a heart-warming poem by Sarah Kay called ‘Mrs. Ribeiro’. Here is the link, please take a few minutes to listen. I’m not sorry that I stole this line. It is such a simple line but I feel it holds so much. ‘Look how much I know.’ It is full of pride and excitement. In Kay’s poem it is a proud child, excited to learn, but for my suffragette, it is pride and excitement that maybe she is worthy of being listened to. It is a hopeful line, but my suffragette had to keep it inside, to put it on hold with the rest of her hopes of being heard.
Assessments are coming…
Posted on October 12, 2016 by Conner Mcaleese
…see what I did there? #GameOfThrones
It’s week five. As in, we’ve been doing this for five weeks already. And something peculiar has happened. An extraordinary, miraculous thing has occurred. I feel confident in my writing. I feel different to my undergrad degree, I feel like I am paying attention and learning. My exercises in class are not always spot on, but I never feel a need to preface it by saying “I don’t think it’s good.” That’s not to say those that do should be herranged in the foyer of the Dalhousie Building as faux writers deserving only humiliation. All it means is that, in a room full of people I admire for their talent, I don’t feel out of place. And as someone who always feels out of sync with those around him, that’s a big deal.
I’ve just submitted (well, Poppy handed it in for me as I was working and prescribe to an “oh sweet Jesus that’s for tomorrow” method of handing in my work, despite doing it days before) five pages of rough draft work that may or may not evolve into a 6,000 word portfolio for the end of semester one. I’ve chosen to work on the two areas I hope to develop on this course: horror and historical fiction. Although my novels are Young Adult Fantasy works, the daily five fingered exercise of Kirsty Gunn’s division and the in-class exercises, I feel, are helping me in leaps and bounds better explore my worlds on the page – instead of merely describing them. I don’t just want to be a fantasy writer though; I have many ideas that don’t quite fit with that genre. Ideas I want to explore….
Lastly, a quick little scribble at the bottom of the page, I am thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year. I did it last year (though in Oct for the extra day) and got 57,000 words done of a novel called Cetilla. I flat lined at the last hurdle, but I wonder if it would be worth trying again this year? Maybe. Whatever I decide, I’ll keep you updated.
And so, for now, au revoir and goodbye for another week!
I have no control over what comes out
Posted on October 11, 2016 by Joanne Hastie
I am sometimes afraid of my own writing. I fear that I will reveal too much of myself to the wrong people and this (my crazy head tells me) is guaranteed to result in an event of apocalyptic proportions, of exactly what I have no idea. Except that it will be monumentally bad.
I allow this fear to prevent me from writing. This course has been a catalyst for ‘blootering’ it and giving me the freedom to just write, but in non-class situations fear can still rear its ugly mug and laugh in my face, becoming a block once more.
I was interviewing today in what I like to describe as my main job, the one that pays the bills, my bread and butter so to speak. My ‘other’ job is not exactly work since it consists largely of watching people, shows and gigs, with a bit of ice-cream selling in the middle.
This is Thomas Truax. He is an American musician, but I’d add performance artist and sound artist to that description. I am also a little in love with this Victorian Gothic vibe he has going on, playing instruments he has made himself from a range of materials. The Hornicator is made from a gramophone speaker, a mass of wires and (at a wild guess) the mike from a megaphone, whilst Mother Superior is a programmable drum machine made from what appears to be bicycle wheel parts. Truax’s material shape-shifts from the hysterically funny to the oddly spellbinding to credible post punk riffs – all delivered with an infectious familiarity that you feel compelled to pay rapt attention to. Despite being paid, I do not view this as work. It was an absolute joy of a shift.
However, I digress. As much as I would like to fritter my word count away on Thomas Truax, and yet another obsessive musical journey, I was talking about my main job, which I hardly consider work either because I truly love it.
We were interviewing for a support writer for one of the projects I manage. A section of the interview was a writing activity, so we could get a taster of how the candidates would deliver a session with our participants. This is where the fear kicked in. Cue lots of inner monologue expletives. We did three separate activities from the interviews, so to fulfil my blog commitment, and to avoid typing up the five pages we are meant to write for Kirsty for a little longer, I will share what came out.
dark day colours
masquerading as her true self
midnight black and muddy white
The autumn leaves dance around her face as she gazes up in wonder at the man who seemed like a giant. He shows her how to make a sycamore seed into a helicopter, his diamond blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Rubbing the stalk between his palms, the seed spirals off into the rain grey sky.
Don’t give me the whole truth
But don’t feed me no lies
Don’t give me flickered glances
I want to remember your eyes
Don’t fill me with heavy sorrow
And don’t you dare cry
Don’t give me a wave, love
When you say goodbye
I have no control over what comes out, but I’m learning that isn’t a bad thing. I’m starting to get what Kirsty is trying to teach us about not discarding the scored out lines and words. I’m learning to let go. I’ve even used a little bit of what came out today for my five pages. It isn’t finished or polished but it is becoming something. I think. I need to let myself colour outside the lines for a bit so that I can get the best picture and remind myself that sometimes, the best picture is outside the lines.
John Cheever ‘The Swimmer’
October 7, 2016 by Sarah Isaac
I read John Cheever’s short story’ The Swimmer’ four times in quick succession. I want to read it again. It deserves that kind of attention. Published in 1964 in the ‘The New Yorker’ it’s available in a myriad of formats online.This is the world of ‘Mad Men’ and Don Draper. John Cheever lived in Ossining, the town Don Draper is said to come from. It’s not a coincidence. The ‘Mad Men’ scriptwriters are clearly Cheever readers, like him, mining dysfunction in the affluent middles classes of Connecticut.
I feel possessive of that opening line. I want it to be mine.
‘It was one of those midsummer afternoons when everyone sat around saying ‘I drank too much last night’.
In the first paragraph, he tells us exactly where we are; and more. He shows us the prejudices and constraints of that place.
‘You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving the church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife reserve where the leader of the Audubon was struggling with a terrible hangover.’
Neddy Merrill, the central character, is handsome and athletic. Cheever says:
‘He might have been compared to a summer’s day, particularly the last hours of one.’
I love that. It’s such a clever way to tell us he’s fading, he’s not what he was but he hasn’t quite realised yet.
Neddy Merrill decides he will make the journey home, all eight miles of it , by swimming through his neighbours swimming pools. As he does there are brutal interruptions, the busy highway he has to cross, the public pool with its noise and its litter. There are time shifts; and he drinks.
It doesn’t end well.
There is a film version I have a vague memory of where Burt Lancaster models the hairstyle George Clooney later adopts, a twentieth century American Caesar waiting for his crown of laurel. There are trailers on Youtube. It’s not an accurate representation fo the story. It involves young women and a horse, but it is, in parts, faithful to the elegiac mood of the piece.
John Cheever’s prosperous family lost their fortune, suddenly and dramatically. It smarted. Cheever drank, copiously. There are clear parallels with Neddy Merrill. Cheever wanted to be surrounded by adorable children and a Labrador, smoking a pipe in front of a log fire in a well appointed home. He wanted what his father had lost. To some extent he managed this. His three children speak fondly of him. They are successful and settled. His wife stayed.
He lead another, parallell life, conducting multiple affairs with men and women, wresting a few sober writing hours out of each morning, retreating to the pantry for a ‘scoop of gin’ at regular intervals.
In 1975, after nearly dying from an alcohol related illness, he dried out. He didn’t drink again and lived openly as a homosexual man from then on. He died in 1982 in his Quincy home with his wife, his children and his lover present.
Cheever taught in the Iowa workshops alongside Raymond Carver and others . He was published in the ‘New Yorker ‘a hundred and twenty times. He was award winning. His prose, which began as spare as Hemingway’s, gradually became lusher and more surreal. His journals, published posthumously, are unflinching. They shocked his friends, writers for the most art, John Updike and Saul Bellow among them. He thought of himself as an outsider:
‘I remember the galling loneliness of my adolescence…. It is the sense of the voyeur, the lonely, lonely boy with no role in life but to peer in at the lighted windows of other people’s contentment and vitality. It seems comical—farcical—that, having been treated so generously, I should be struck with this image of a kid in the rain walking along the road shoulders of East Milton .’
In the ‘Swimmer’ Neddy Merrill begins his journey content and vital but becomes that wondering boy, using alcohol to dull questions, looking in at other’s fortune.
The story is available online in a myriad of formats. Read it. Tell me what you think.
Of course this means my book list is getting longer.
Today I Read: Deborah Levy
Posted on October 6, 2016 by Poppy Jarratt
Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know. What a delicious read. I am grateful for Kirsty for including this gem in my bespoke reading list. I have not read George Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Why I Write’, but I am confident that Levy’s response does it justice.
In class today with Beth McDonough, we discussed imagery and senses. Levy’s use of the senses makes the reader forget the piece* is autobiographical. Levy can describe an entire scene, whilst focusing on such delicate senses; a feeling of needing to cry on an escalator, the smell of 99 per cent cocao, the texture of undercooked bacon. This mixed with extreme emotions of loss, more loss, confusion, anger and the feeling of not wanting to know things.
I feel very inadequate writing about such a gorgeous text with my clunky words and inability to choose beautiful phrases. I just know that I feel touched by Things I Don’t Want to Know, even if I am struggling to explain how. There are descriptions of Levy as a child experiencing racial discrimination in South Africa and the inner monologue of the autobiographical narrator looking through the eyes of herself as a child is incredible. I believe Levy when she describes herself as a child, not understanding but clearly seeing injustice. I believe that Levy’s sense of loss for her father, Sister Joan, Melissa, her parents marriage and her personal identity were probably heightened with the hindsight of writing in the past tense, but I do believe that the feelings are accurately represented of how she felt as a child. So often, childhood is presented through rose-tinted glasses, but instead, Levy used a magnifying glass to zoom in on vignettes of her past, exposing the tender moments and the crushing ones side by side.
I feel like I have read a book of short stories, rather than one cohesive piece. This is not because the sections do not flow, but because the vignettes are sometimes so complete and harrowing in themselves that part of me doesn’t want to believe that all of these life events are inside of one person. The text is short, only 100 pages or so. Every page is packed with intricately defined details and yet I found myself reading the whole thing in two short sittings; drinking up the life of a woman I regretfully hadn’t heard of a few weeks ago.
The reason it took me two short sittings to read the book, rather than a singular longer one, is that my muse was delivered to me around 35 pages in and I felt like I had better not ignore her. The first section of Things I Don’t Want to Know describes a lost and emotional Levy who cries on escalators. A woman who finds sanctuary in booking a flight and revisiting a remote hotel up a Majorcan mountain in a particularly wintery springtime. When I started reading, I felt like I was pretty close to crying on escalators myself and the notion of having the option of running away to a place where nobody asked any questions, where it was accepted that I would be left alone to write, this seemed like something I could dream about. Most of my aspirations wriggle their way into my writing some way or another, so I ended up writing about a woman winning a holiday from a crap advert in a magazine… A lesser version of Levy’s experience, I must admit.
In terms of inspiring literature, it is normally when I am listening/watching spoken word poetry that my muse decides to pay a visit, rather than when I am reading, but lately my muse has enjoyed good literature. Levy helped me find my muse this time, and as an aspiring writer, that is the best compliment I am able to give.
*I shy away from saying essay or defining the text in any way, as the reviews and forward have been very careful not to use any defining titles, so far be it for me to go right ahead and presume an art form.
I don’t understand… but I’ll make sure I do (one day)
Posted on October 5, 2016 by Conner Mcaleese
Perhaps what I’m getting most from my fellow students is that they think I have a tremendous amount of confidence. And that’s true, I guess. But only because I know there’s a world full of people just waiting to not believe in you, if you give them the chance. Which I don’t. They’re easy to spot, as often they are walking around with the shards of their own broken dreams littering their sensibly priced fleece. I’m a believer, a hoper, and an ardent follower of my dreams, but that doesn’t always feel like confidence, it doesn’t mean I am not fully aware of my shortcomings. And this week proves that point spectacularly.I have a reading list as long as an escapee toilet roll that my cat has decided is more entertaining than an episode of FRIENDS, and all I can think of is how woefully under equipped I am to properly appreciate these novels. I’m a lazy reader. I want to be entertained. To fall into a world so unlike my own and feel for people that exist only in my heart. I was discussing today with the wonderful Poppy how, if an author doesn’t explicitly state what they mean (she cried hysterically), then I probably won’t get it. Many a paragraph has been read and re-read because I can tell there’s something there I’m supposed to be picking up, some morsel of information that the entire plot hinges on, but often, I just can’t. And so if the book doesn’t flow with a good story, then I just can’t immerse myself in it. Technical brilliance or no.
It could have been that I never paid enough attention in English class. I didn’t want to know what an adverb was, I wanted to see one being used. I wanted to run before I could walk. Laborious reading of heavy texts may have instilled within me an aversion habit, and for that, I certainly do not blame my English teachers. But I better understand the rowdy kids that never paid attention in History class now. Because nothing is more boring than something we don’t understand. The Sound of Fury by William Faulkner is one of those books for me, the technically brilliant ones whose composition changed the way we write and read. Decry me as an indolent fool, as that may be what I am, but the constant time jumping just threw me for six, right out of his own novel and into the more forgiving arms of Philippa Gregory. I feel stupid as I type this. I feel like an indolent fool. I couldn’t read Wuthering Heights during my time in China, I don’t always fully understand what Shakespeare is on about and Jane Austen is synonymous in my head with Keira Knightley. I want to understand. Truly, I’d love to type to you all as a master of Chaucer and Twain, a veritable encyclopaedia of prose composition and poetic metaphors. But I’m just not. I like stories. I write stories. I’m not an English student, I’m a book reader. But that doesn’t mean I won’t ever be.
I’m just beginning to read His Bloody Project by Graeme MaCrae Burnet and I am terrified I won’t get past page 65. However, there’s something pleasant about this anticipation, this fear, which is reminiscent of starting university way back in 2011. Leaving my comfort zone. No excursion beyond our limits, beyond our little kingdom of safe words and experiences, ever leaves us empty handed. As I listen to the advice of wiser readers, their suggestions my compass pointing North, and begin my journey down a reading list I’d have never thought to venture down, I know I’ll find some skills, some techniques, and some pleasure that I can bring back to my safe space. And hey, who knows, maybe I’ll even find a new favourite along the way. And maybe, just possibly, I may even understand what they’re saying.
Today, I finished…
Posted on October 4, 2016 by Joanne Hastie
We read an extract from Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter in class. The words leapt from the page and slapped my face. ‘Read me, read me! You know this!’ they cried. I bought the book.
I started reading. I cried, several times. I laughed, so loud on the train that people were staring at me. I did their thinking for them. ‘Look at that sick weirdo, reading a book about grief and laughing. Tut, tut, tsk tsk.’ I smiled and kept on reading, lost in the words and the feelings once more. I finished the book today.
I am afraid to write about it. I am not ready. I look at Facebook. I make a cup of hot, sweet tea – writer’s fuel, that is. I look at Facebook again, mindlessly scrolling up and down, minutes dissolving into the ether of useless information. I finished the book today. My blog post is due tomorrow. I must begin writing. Just write. Music will help. I make a playlist. I take a photograph of the book for the blog. Break up the text with pictures. I capture another image, of the book I have finished on top of the other books I have yet to finish, but would find easier to write about….
Twitter distracts me further. I throw my phone down on the table in frustration and consider taking a hammer to it. Instead, I pick up my pen and finally begin to write. So, here we are. I finished the book today.
Max Porter artfully uses dark humour in his description of looking out from a maelstrom of grief, setting the scene with a series of detached observations. I have been a central character in that parade, surrounded by family, close friends, part-time friends, strangers, wannabe friends, and drama-by-proxy addicts, tripping over themselves to dole out advice or share personal experiences that have, frankly, fuck-all to do with anything you are feeling.
Porter shares the circus of it all with stark honesty, harnessing the spaced out feelings of the first few days perfectly. Grieving feels like being ripped out of your own life and plonked on an empty stage in an empty theatre, to star in an absurd play. The audience float around outside the theatre, whilst the you that everyone sees smiles weakly, nods, croaks thanks. The unseen, simultaneous roles of you respond quite differently, often with a great deal of swearing and, an occasional punch in the face.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a fractured account of shared experiences written from multiple perspectives in a myriad of ways. The writing style achieves the feeling of making complete sense, whilst making no sense at all. Crow, our antagonist and hero rolled into one is invited in, yet invades the remains of this family. Throughout the narrative, Crow hops and darts around the boys and the father, tormenting and saving, hurting and healing. He pecks at the darkest parts of humanity and is the father, the boys, grief, anger, hope, the past, the future – a black mirror in which to view ourselves as we truly are. I found this book easy to read, drinking in all its darkness and light. Heartfelt honesty and clever imagery paints an emotive masterpiece that is accessible to all, whether you have been cast in the death show or not. You may finish this book, but it will not be finished with you.
Books end. Grief does not. I finished my blog post.
Posted on October 3, 2016 by Cameron Twiddy
Hello, I’m Cameron. I recently graduated from the University of Dundee’s undergraduate English Literature and Creative Writing programme and now I’m back for another year of creativity and fun (and hard work).
Unlike some of my classmates on the Mlitt course, I haven’t always thought of myself as a writer. While I did enjoy reading as a child, at that time I didn’t fully understand why literature was important and therefore never really felt like trying to create it myself. To me books were just a form of entertainment. Something to keep me busy when I wasn’t out playing with my friends or watching television. This idea was no doubt sustained by the fact that I only ever read adventure stories. Jules Verne was my favourite writer as a kid. But as exciting and diverting as I found Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, I couldn’t connect anything in that novel to my own experience. I mean Phileas Fogg was an English gentleman who decided to circumnavigate the globe on a bet for a very large sum of money. That wasn’t like life. Not like my life anyway. That was absurd. And I felt the same way about almost every book I read as a child. All of them contained characters who were nothing like myself or anyone I knew and they were all doing things which I couldn’t imagine a real human being actually doing.
It wasn’t until I started watching American indie films from the 90s that I started to become interested in putting pen to paper myself. The film that really stands out as having completely changed my attitude towards writing is ‘Slacker’ by Richard Linklater. ‘Slacker’ has nothing in the way of plot. It’s more like a series of conversations. The camera follows a couple of characters for a while, the audience begins to get a sense of who they are, and then the camera will refocus on a passerby or someone in the background and follow them for a while. The characters share the camera frame for a moment but are otherwise unconnected. I had never seen a film like it before.The characters were young and relatable. They sounded like people I knew. People I was friends with. Me. They discussed trying to find a job, politics, conspiracy theories, the media, pop culture, anything that popped into their heads. It didn’t sound scripted at all. It all seemed so real. And this isn’t to say that I think good art has to be a perfect mirror of reality, or even a funhouse mirror of reality, in fact I don’t think it has to be connected to reality at all, but for me there was something enormously validating in watching an entire feature-length film of normal-looking people engaging in mostly mundane everyday dialogues. It taught me that when it comes to writing anything goes. My thoughts and feelings, conversations I’ve had, things I’ve done, places I’ve been. I realised all of it could be used as material. And since that discovery I’ve been a writer.
A week late, but better late than never?
Posted on October 3, 2016 by Kirsty Mackay
Hello everyone! My name is Kirsty Mackay and I am a writer, or at least I’m trying to be and I’m hoping this course will kick me into being one. I was supposed to post this last week, however there was unfortunately a bit of a technological snafu so you are getting this a wee bit late.
I write almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction, plus elements of game writing which frequently blend both into a strange and terrifying muddle. Almost all of my characters are women or non-binary, I love writing characters that would be, in more traditional media, ignored, villainised or “fridged”.* I think I write so many characters that usually fall between the cracks of modern media as a way of fighting back. Plus it’s much harder to fall into old clichés when you are actively writing against those clichés. Though sometimes I like to pick up clichés, steal them and give them a makeover. You know, give the bossy mother a war axe and send her after the ravening horde that’s ruining her vegetable patch, or make the nervous schoolgirl secretly a witch with terrifying powers or make the cheerful and pink best friend of the goth girl a vampire who doesn’t take kindly to people being mean to her BFF. Turning people’s expectations around on them is fun, though my friends have started to pick up on my evil smirk being a bit of a hint, so I might have to dial it back a wee bit!
I think that love of twisting people’s expectations partly comes from my love of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. I adore those books, luckily there are over forty of them so I don’t have to worry about running out any time soon and I’m holding the last few in reserve for days in the future when I really need a good book with plenty of fantastic characters, humour and wonderful world building.
I’ve also been writing for games a lot recently, Dungeons & Dragons especially, as I’ve bullied a few of my friends into playing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, it has all the best bits of fantasy writing, gambling and dramatic improv. Though I might be a bit biased as I spent four hours last week leading some adventurers through a cave system, a very dangerous cave system it turns out as it was filled with Helmed Horrors and fungus that was both violet and violent. I’m hoping to post a better and more neatly written version of the adventure on the Dungeons Master’s Guild website. Once up there other people can download and play it themselves.
Anyway, I’m sure that’s all you need to know about me for now. Once I get a few more things up on the web I might come back and update this page with links to where you can find them, but I need to actually get things written for that to happen! Well fingers crossed and may your pens never run out and your brains never get the dreaded writer’s block,
* “Fridged” refers to the cliché of killing off a usually female love interest to create DRAMA and ANGST in the usually male main characters. It comes from a Green Lantern comic where a female character was killed off screen and left for the main character to find in his fridge.
Three weeks in
Posted on October 2, 2016 by Sarah Isaac
Fit like? I am Jo, native Aberdonian, former teuchter and adopted Glaswegian. I also have blue hair. I’m the scary one that spends a great deal of time trying not to swear (as much) in class. I have always been a writer. Since I was a kid, my nose was either buried in a book or I was scribbling furiously in notebooks – in between catching tadpoles and fighting with boys.
My all-time favourite book is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I was spellbound by Roald Dahl’s imaginative storytelling, absurd hilarity and wonderful hyper-real characters. I read George’s Marvellous Medicine countless times, along with The Twits, using the world of fantasy and magic as an escape from the real world.
I read a short story called ‘The Pedestrian’ by Ray Bradbury and went on to trawl my way through everything he ever penned, but I have a special fondness for Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you haven’t partaken already, I insist that you do. From then on, my love affair with weirdness and wonder has done nothing but mushroom, bordering on the obsessive. I drooled over books that had a series of three or more, becoming a sucker for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I devoured titles by Douglas Adams, Phillip K Dick, Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, Stephen Donaldson and a whole host of others. I love the anticipation of being sucked into another world.
I’m not what you would call ‘well read’, and feel a little intimidated by the academic parts of the class. I just read what I like. I was possessed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its relevance to the present day continues to astound me. I own a giant, ever growing book pile which includes one huge book containing seven George Orwell novels. I will finish it one day, but something new always gets added to the pile. I accepted a long time ago that I’ll never be ‘done’ reading. There are simply too many great books, there is no finish line for me.
I adore the strange and unusual, so when a friend suggested that I read Kurt Vonnegut, I selected Slaughterhouse Five. I was not disappointed. I love stories that fling your brain around in a knapsack and chuck it at a brick wall, so that half way through the book, you are going ‘eh? Fits this aboot?’ and by the end of the book you are still not really sure because it is all up for debate. Slaughterhouse Five did that to me and I am insanely (literally) looking forward to reading more of his work. I am not a fan of sugary ‘new equilibrium’ Hollywood endings.
I recently finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I was really disappointed and quite annoyed, because it took me ages to finish. I really struggled with it. My high expectations that it might give me some answers about my own grieving process were not met in the slightest.
I am currently reading two books (I have a terrible habit of reading several books at once) The Grief Club by Melody Beattie – not what I would usually read, but on advice I gave it a whirl. One chapter at a time is all I can do, but I am getting lots of healing from it despite the slow going. The other book I am reading at the moment is The Zen Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – a superb collection of essays and short stories about his writing processes. I am practically overdosing on inspiration despite being just halfway through. It inspired me to find this course.
What do I want out of this year? I want to scream in the face of fear, write anyway and become my own Ray Bradbury, a writing rebel with pen poised, ready to break all the rules.
Hello, I’m Stephen.
I have known for a long time that I need to write. When life, or doubt, or procrastination or whatever else, gets in the way of writing, I don’t feel myself. I have been a teacher in a high school for the last nine years. I am quite excited now by the prospect of being ‘allowed’ to also call myself a writer.
Far more exciting though, is the prospect of properly ‘allowing’ myself to write.
‘So, what do you write?’
It is a question I hate because it always feels like I am trying to get out of something when I answer ‘I don’t know’, or ‘this and that.’ But I am being truthful. And it does not mean that I am not writing. Maybe the answer to that question only arrives when I have written something and I can look up from the page and the meandering trail of ink with surprise and say ‘Er… I write… THIS!’
A man asks Van Gogh, so ‘What do you paint?’ What would his answer be? ‘Sunflowers? Starry nights? Paintings? Myself? Life?’
Some things I have written: short stories, short plays, a radio play, beginnings and middles of novels, chunks of plays, ideas, sketches, bad poems.
Things I would like to write: more of the same! Except with enough time and headspace to shape them to be as good as I would like them to be. Even the poems.
Some things I have written about: fictionalised accounts of things I have seen, done, said; slightly unreal versions of reality; pieces based on things in the news; characters who intrigue me.
When it comes to what I read, I don’t think there are that many things that I won’t consider reading. I had a preference for science fiction and fantasy as a teenager but that sprouted into sampling anything and everything. The writers that always feel like I am coming home when I read them: Ursula Le Guin, Dostoevsky, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver.
Having never touched the stuff before, in the last few years I have really started to enjoy reading non-fiction too. ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain was really inspiring. ‘All that is Solid Melts into Air’ by Marshall Berman was heavy going at first but kept me coming back to it. I also really enjoyed ‘The Beechwood Airship’ by Dan Richards which is on our reading list. Having tried to teach pupils to be ‘creative’ in their writing, I am fascinated by ideas of creativity and craft and how to help both flourish.
I am really enjoying the course so far. The different things it has thrown up every day so far – writers to sample, writing styles to attempt, interesting people to meet, challenges to overcome, discussions to be had – seem just now like a glorious network of trails around a forest to spend some time getting lost in. I am a little wary of my ability to enjoy the wandering off and hanging around somewhere other than I had intended a bit too much. But I figure there is still plenty of time to plot a route and arrive at some worthwhile destinations. Wow – I really have stretched that metaphor to the limit.
To echo what Sarah said: it is going to be a good year.
Read sonnets? Not a phrase I have used very often in my life, to my slight shame as an English teacher.
From ‘The Eye’ by Don Paterson from 40 Sonnets:
The empty mind you finally display
ten weeks into the yogic agony
of your silent retreat, you will discover
in the latter stages of a gin hangover.
The words rang true. The sense of that moment in a long hangover, whereby you have finally transcended pain, and suffering, and self-loathing, and vowing never again, in order to arrive, sometimes only briefly, at a point whereby you know that you are actually going to get better. And so, you can just –exist. And everything is okay. And because it wasn’t before you feel amazing. And you’re not a bad person.
Except of course, Don Paterson puts it a lot more elegantly, which of course, is the point.
The poem goes on to consider those other, elusive, moments of transcendence, when you can just be. Its conclusion hints, I think, at something darker in the desire for that emptiness.
What I like about Don Paterson (so far) is that he clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously. Unlike, it seems upon reading it back to myself, this post.
I ‘m Sarah. I write short stories which are sometimes historical. Often they feature animals, a bear, black grouse, a wasp, a stag. Fatherless children, mostly girls, recur. The starting point can be a place or an image, or even a process, the growing of a pineapple in Scotland, the story of an abandoned dancing bear in 1860’s Bristol , taken to court where he lay down and broke sulphurous wind.
I want to write something longer. I’ve started. I’m struggling with structure, allowing too many tangents to develop, tending too well to the sub plots.
I’m reading Gordon MacRae Burnet’s ‘His Bloody Project’. Reading this soon after seeing ‘The Cheviot, the’ Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ at the Rep could be seen as a nice bit of synchronicity. I live in Glenisla. There are markers of past existences everywhere, rectangles of stone, walls crumbling amongst the ranked conifers. It’s not synchronicity, it’s simply rural Scotland’s ever present past.
I’m rereading an old favourite too, V S Naipaul’s ‘House for Mr Biswas.’ I was anxious at this revisiting. After a gap of thirty or more years would I think it as good? It’s better. Blending humour with darkness it uses beautifully described place and objects to construct a world. Reversing the rules of narrative fiction and beginning with the end makes it sad but doesn’t make it disappointing.
I’m working on not reading solely for the narrative, not reading as an anaesthetic, as a greedy escape from the day to day (although some of that has remained. Habits are hard to break.)
On the M Litt course I’m sharing my work with others. I’m listening better.
I’m working on getting a structure to my day and on embracing the aspects of the course I find most challenging, poetry, the academic stuff, rhythm and gorgeousness. I’m still terrified by the notion of interviewing an author, a real life published one.
Performing … it will happen. I’ll get over it. I’ll get better at it.
It’s going to be a really good year.
Hello everyone, I’m Poppy. I’m the one in class with the long blonde hair who is always clutching my purple diary to keep up with my schedule. I never wanted to become predictable with my reading but looking back at the books I am most interested in, there is a strong running theme. Women. I’m a complete sucker for a novel with a strong female lead or a mousy lady who is downtrodden by a patriarchal society who rises above it to empowerment or even a woman going about her daily business. This is not to say that I do not also enjoy reading about men, some of my favourite work is by men, with male leads. It’s just that my literary heart lies with women.
I’m currently doing something I hate which is reading books simultaneously. I’m reading last year’s Man Booker International Prize winner, The Vegetarian: A Novel by Han Kang. This is the hilarious story of a man from South Korea whose usually boring wife decides to become a vegetarian (She’s actually vegan but I won’t be pedantic). I’m also reading Kate Tempest’s debut novel, The Bricks that Built the Houses, though I’m reading it painfully slowly, trying to adapt to the slower pace in contrast to her poetry. Alongside these novels, I have just started Angela Readman’s book of short stories, Don’t Try This at Home. Published by & Other Stories, the lovely mustard, jackalope* printed cover is what drew me in and the first line of the blurb was irresistible: ‘A girl repeatedly chops her boyfriend in half but, while her ‘other half’ multiplies, she is still not satisfied.’
My literary influences, to those who know me, may be slightly boring as I rarely shut up about them. Firstly we have the fraud** that is James Frey, I don’t care if his work is fictional or not, his writing style is right up my alley. Secondly we have Steig Larsson, a true feminist ally. I can’t have anything but admiration for a man who wrote a trilogy (intending to write ten whole novels), exposing disgusting misogynists, portraying off-kilter sexual and romantic relationships completely without judgment and celebrating the weird and wondrous creation which is Lisbeth Salander. Next there is Miranda July whose short stories and novel left me feeling completely inadequate as a writer; if I could create a character with half of the intrigue of one of July’s, I would be a happy little writer. Marilyn French is the next on my list, The Women’s Room cemented my views and made me eternally grateful for the women who have fought, even if quietly, for women to be where we are today, even if we have further to go. Finally there is Sylvia Plath because, of course.
I’m running closer to the word count so I’ll leave this here. I hope you’ll get to know me over the year as more than the blonde haired lass with the purple diary who keeps banging on about women.
*I later read that these are a creation by one of the characters where he puts antlers onto stuffed rabbits.
** Frey claimed that A Million Little Pieces was autobiographical but it was found that a lot, if not all of it was fiction. (Click here for more info)
Conner’s back!… tell a friend.
Hello!I’m Conner, a recent graduate and returning Post Grad student at the University of Dundee. Although my Undergrad degree is in History, it’s in writing stories that my destiny lies. And yes, I am exceedingly thankful I completed a degree with such easily transferable skills and hadn’t spent four years doing Mathematics or Sport Exercise. Praise the Fates for they are generous.
I grew up reading whatever my mum read as we couldn’t really afford to splurge out. This meant that, as an eight-year-old, I would read books like Along Came a Spider and other James Patterson classics. It was brutal. But it was exciting. It was also liberating. I wasn’t scared of big books. In fact, I loved them. I remember selecting the first book in the Wind Singer trilogy by William Nicholson purely to show off to the librarian. I subsequently learned one of the most important lessons of my life in the trilogies’ second novel, Slaves of the Mastery, but that’s a story for another blog.
Currently, my favourite author is Marian Keyes. If you haven’t read one of her novels then I insist (see, INSIST) that you open Amazon.com in a new tab and purchase Rachel’s Holiday this very moment.
On you go, I’ll wait.
Her innate sense of funny, which she combines with harrowing, severe subjects (in this case, drug addiction) is one of the single greatest pleasures I take from her work. It’s also something I hope to emulate as, in my own novels, I try and combine fantastic adventures with real problems. I write primarily for Young Adults and see no reason why depression, alcohol addiction, unwanted pregnancy, suicide, rape, abuse, self-harm and even murder should be withheld from anyone until they reach a certain age, especially as several of these issues affect teenagers much more than they do adults. It is to Marian Keyes I look towards when I want to remind my readers that life may suck now, but there’s still a whole new world out there – if only you’d step out of your bubble and see it.
(Joss Whedon encapsulates this perfectly when he says, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke”.)
At this moment in time, I have written two novels (none, as of yet, published). Conniption and The Court of Wolves and Rabbits, with a third novel five thousand words away from completion. A handful of other manuscripts, all twenty thousand words plus (which is the graduation stage, in my head, from ‘idea’ to ‘work in progress’) litter my hard drive and I hope, one day, they will be plucked from a bookshelf somewhere on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
I’m Conner and I write stories.That’s all you really need to know. Everything else is buried there, somewhere, in my stories.