Finding Words

It’s only a matter of weeks before I’m required to upload several pieces of important coursework for my MLitt degree. I was hoping to breathe a sigh of relief after submission, to take a well-deserved break from academic work before embarking on the mighty dissertation that’s due in August. But the universe will not allow me that relief or relaxation. For now, the universe has decided that no-one should rest easy, the entire human species forced into high alert.

Coronavirus has not only distracted me from my studies, it has entirely stripped me of my ability to concentrate on anything other than the rapidly unfolding news. I cannot write, I cannot think; the world as we know it has been hurled into a spinning frenzy of infection fighting, every one of us affected. The life my children enjoy will effectively stop on Friday as schools close, social distancing measures become more stringent and the fixed routine they rely on grinds to a halt. Despite our best efforts to remain rational we can’t prevent the inevitable nervous adrenaline that is slowly consuming our families and communities, anxiety rising each day, as we wait to see how this drama will develop. Many small businesses that have recently thrived in our local community will soon face ruin. Elderly relatives are frightened and locked away in isolation. Our brave NHS friends, game faces on, are eerily poised for war.

These are strange and startling times and I’m unsure if the tightness in my chest is viral or worry. Struggling to concentrate on my coursework, I thought I’d write some words in an attempt, at the very least, to expel some thoughts, creating a little more room in my head. But the truth is, I have no words. There is nothing eloquent to say at this moment. I am not a writer today; like most others, I am unable to articulate the enormity of a global crisis that promises to disrupt and devastate.  Your words are as good as mine.

As in any crisis, people always find opportunities to laugh. If we didn’t we’d lose our minds entirely. I chuckled today at the prospect of, three to four weeks into isolation, discovering what my true hair colour might be after years of dying it. And coming to terms with there being no toilet roll to be found in the shops of Dundee. And also the fact that my introversion has been secretly waiting for intervention that instructs no socialising for weeks. We will, of course, when all this goes away, begin to recover, albeit wounded and weary but hopefully stronger and united. Positivity can make all the difference in times like these.

I implore my fellow students to be gentle with themselves. If your essays don’t go according to plan, don’t fret. If you can’t get to the library, not to worry. These are unprecedented times and we can only do our best. Every one of us troubled by what’s occurring, we can only take each day as it comes. Keep your distance. Wash your hands, often. Don’t forget to breathe. One day soon, our minds will be less consumed with crisis and ready to document our experiences into words. Hopefully with a little more eloquence than I’ve shown here. Words don’t come easy in times like these.

Stay safe.

Highs and Lows of the Writing Life

River Deep Mountain High pretty much sums up how I feel from day to day whilst navigating through the MLitt Writing Practice and Study course. I can go from feeling complete deflation at momentary lack of creativity or inability to respond intelligently in tutorials, to feeling on top of the world when that once tricky poem begins to flow or that short story finally gets a decent ending.

So the University Archives exhibition that myself and my fellow students recently contributed to was aptly named, River Deep Mountain High, as although we were all thrilled to be included in an actual exhibition, that people would actually see, that would even have its own *gasp* launch night, we were all also feeling rather apprehensive and weird about the prospect of our work being on display for everyone to see. At the end of last year, we had been invited to view some of the University Archives that related to the natural landscape- bridge models, mountaineering photographs, botanical artefacts etc- and to produce a creative response to any that gave us inspiration. The exhibition is currently running in the University’s Tower Building and it is a stunning collection of super interesting archives on display alongside the hugely varied creative responses of writers and artists. Such a diverse mix of poetry, prose, essays, sculpting, jewellery, paintings and drawings that offer something for everyone. Go see it!

In the exhibition you’ll see a poem I wrote, ‘The Bothy’, inspired by the visitor book from the Scottish Highlands’ Corrour Bothy. I was feeling rather chuffed and excited before the exhibition launch, my first one, but when I got there and saw my poem on a large board at the far side of the room a strange sensation of vulnerability made me want to turn on my heels and run away before anyone could figure out that it was my poem. I still can’t figure out what I was feeling; nerves, self-doubt, a wish that I’d spent more time on it? I did stay for the duration of the launch, and gulped down a glass of red wine to calm the jitters, and I did actually make it close enough to my poem to check for typos (too late anyway but luckily there were none). When asked if I wanted my photo taken beside my piece I politely declined and edged away (all the while inside I was screaming, ‘Nooooooo, never, don’t you know how mortified I am that people are reading my poem??’). Hmmm. What was going on there then?

Writers are funny folk. We write to express but some of us shy away from the sharing of our expressions. Perhaps some of us feel imposter syndrome more than others? More of that in my next blog in which I will pretend I am a blogger and blog about pretending.

When Creativity Runs Dry

I’ve long known that artistic inspiration comes in waves. One day you are being swept along on a tsunami of creativity, riding high, euphorically smug about the abundance of ideas crashing onto the shore (or, erm, blank page) before you; the next day you are parched dry, shrivelled up and flaking on a vast sandy beach, the tide is miles out and pathetically spitting its way back to meet you, in no hurry whatsoever, with complete disregard for your deadlines.

Today is a dry day.

I woke up with a humungous ‘to do’ list including finishing a piece for my Studying Writing class, generating inspired ideas for a very exciting V& A Dundee project and putting together an article to pitch to a magazine. The only thing required of me today was to be creative. Get the creative juices flowing. Pour out my creative genius on the page. Unfortunately, I’m still working on the genius part (fake it til you make it) but today I can assure you that nothing, not even a teeny-weeny bit of writing brilliance, or even competency, has made its way from my brain to paper.

Aah the writer’s life! Writing to demand is a tricky task. I did scramble together a piece of sorts for my homework and tentatively sent it to my tutor (I’m hoping my 748 words aren’t edited down to 30- it really was a dry nib day) but the V&A project will have to wait until that creative tsunami gathers momentum. I’m wondering what advice established writers would give to wannabes who are a bit stuck. I hear the best thing to do is write regardless. As a ridiculously busy person (aren’t we all) it is so frustrating to be at the mercy of when a notion or thought or idea might grace me with its presence. When inspiration doesn’t strike it just feels like wasted time.

But write regardless they say and write is what I did! Sadly, reading back what I wrote today made me question my right to be on the MLitt course as imposter syndrome reared its confidence crushing head. Sitting at my desk I drummed my fingers repeatedly so much that at the end of the day they needed a lie down. As did I.

But something happened as I wrote, no scribbled, actually more like scrawled my way from dawn until dusk. Through pages of dross and embarrassingly amateur similes and metaphors, shameful attempts at poetry and a severe absence of big words, there on my pages were a few, just a few, little ideas that might, might, just lead to something. Not the tsunami I was banking on but rather a sporadic trickle, that will perhaps be enough to get tomorrow’s ink flowing. When creativity runs dry, write regardless.

Lothian’s Adventures at Luath (Day 3)

A view to inspire travel writing…

Having had a break from Luath to attend a creative writing workshop at Dundee’s V&A, I felt refreshed and eager to get back to the world of publishing. The creative energy that was flowing at the museum was incredibly inspiring and put a real fire in my belly for all that is to come my way in the next few months, including more placement adventures. Day three at Luath did not disappoint. My morning was spent tidying up pieces of work from my first two days (Advanced Information Sheet, the Book Blurb and Press documents- writing is rewriting, and rewriting is writing) and drafting a list of errors I’d found whilst proofreading a manuscript. I then spent a bit of time writing a summary of the activities I had undertaken at Luath which was really satisfying to see on screen- I’d been a busy bee and learned enough to be suitably chuffed with myself. Throughout these activities I had a sense of anticipation as I waited for Ralph Storer, renowned and respected mountaineering/hillwalking author extraordinaire, to arrive for the author interview I’d been invited to sit in on. I felt like a gushy school girl waiting outside a concert to catch a glimpse of some teeny bopping heart throb, but, erm, it wasn’t exactly a crush I felt for the not so teeny bopping Storer, but rather huge admiration for his vast hill climbing experience and knowledge of the Scottish mountains that I love so much. And let’s not forget, he is brilliantly precise and charming on the pages of his many books. What a pleasant surprise to be asked by Gavin if I’d like some time with Ralph after they went over a few book issues. While they discussed typesetting, justification of text, photographs and had an almost uncomfortably animated exchange over two imperceptibly different fonts, I sat super thrilled thinking of questions I would ask Storer once I had him all to myself. And then it happened. I conducted a completely impromptu interview with a skilled and revered author, flying by the seat of my pants, proper winging it, living the dream. I was not expecting to enjoy this process as much as I did. But Ralph was gracious, charming and thankfully very accommodating as we shared stories of Scotland’s finest hills and the writing life. I managed to keep the conversation flowing and buoyant and got a lot of useful information and advice to keep to myself and perhaps share with those I like. Maybe. Perhaps his greatest gift to me was his response to the question, ‘What advice do you have for aspiring writers?’. He glared at me, incredulous, and simply said, ‘Write’.

Lothian’s Adventures at Luath (Day 2)

The Luath office view of Edinburgh Castle is okay, I suppose…

My enthusiasm for Luath hadn’t dwindled through the night and I woke fresh and keen to start the day! Having completed proofreading yesterday’s rather challenging manuscript before setting off for the train, I felt prepared for the day ahead. Arriving in the office I found Lauren and Gavin deeply engrossed in whatever was going on in their PCs, so I quietly set myself up and got on with working through the tasks I had assigned for myself. First up was to create an Advanced Information sheet for the manuscript I had just read. This involved collating relevant information about the book onto one informative sheet that can then be sent to potential booksellers. Included in the info is Cover Image, Title, Subtitles, Author Biography, Publication Date, ISBN number, Price, Synopsis of the book and a list of other competitive books on the market. I felt rather accomplished once I had finished albeit a little frazzled with the detail overload. Following on from this task I wrote a Press Release in which I made full use of my hyperbole skills to attract the attention of weary journalists. This required finding a ‘hook’ on which to draw in the reader. Quite a fun task. But best of all was my next task of writing the Book Blurb. I thoroughly relished gathering all the best bits of the book and summing it up in the most glowing, positive and concise way I could think of; it was a happy creative process. Unfortunately my next task was to enter information into an Excel database, an energy sapping task for a flaky creative, but I wasn’t doing that for long before Gavin called me over and asked if I would like to sit in on an author meeting on Thursday. Yes please! But most exciting is that the author is Ralph Storer, master of hill walking in the Highlands and full time writer of incredible books about the Scottish mountains. In a strange case of serendipity, Luath Press are about to release Storer’s new book ‘Corrour Bothy’ of which I have just written a poem about for the University of Dundee Archives Exhibition. Isn’t it funny how things link together? So I spent my last hour at Luath today researching Ralph Storer and skimming through the manuscript for ‘Corrour Bothy’. Another fine day. Back at Luath on Thursday for more adventures!

Lothian’s Adventures in Luath (Day 1)

Train journeys thrill me! The very act of sitting still (a rare treat), of not having to drive myself, to be alone with my thoughts and to ooh and aah at the Scottish scenery as it whizzes by are all a very pleasant way to start the day. But this wasn’t an ordinary day for me… this was an EPIC day. It’s been a long time since I entered an office as part of a workforce and today I travelled to Edinburgh to begin an internship at Luath Press for what promises to be a highly rewarding experience. I was, true to character, super early but that was just as well as the Luath premises are tucked away down an alleyway, only a stone’s throw away from the castle, but extremely difficult to find. Once I had figured it out with the help of the Castle Gift Shop staff and two helpful workmen, I was off marching up the many many stairs to the elevated position of the Luath Press office with its clear views across a super sunny Edinburgh. Wow. NOT what I was expecting at all. In a small cramped but cosy and relaxed room sat piles and piles of papers and books, which in itself is a thrilling sight but a little intimidating, and also the loveliest staff I could have wished for. Much to my delight there is another intern, Kaitlyn, working alongside me this week and her presence took the edge of any fleeting nerves I felt. Gavin gave us a brief chat about the publishing world and the work they do there and then gave us a check list of very interesting things we might like to accomplish through the week. Then we were sent over to sit with the super attentive and kind Lauren who was very accommodating and reassuring. Kaitlyn and I were told to have a look at Luath’s upcoming releases to familiarise ourselves with the kinds of books they publish (I had done that already so felt I was being eased in gently) then Gavin presented us each with a manuscript. An actual manuscript. To proof read. Yes, that’s right… big job. Eeek! I was simultaneously excited and anxious but quickly got down to business. The only problem was, I had been given a highly detailed factual book and there wasn’t one single page of it that I found easy to read. However, that’s publishing. I am aware that my personal taste is of no relevance whatsoever! Reading it did hurt my brain though. I still hadn’t finished it when it was time to go home but it will be my bedtime reading tonight. Pretty sure I’ll fall asleep no problem. Apart from the taxing text in today’s book, today was wonderful and I simply can’t wait to return to Luath tomorrow. Once I’ve completed proofreading the manuscript I will be compiling its book blurb, press info, marketing plan and much more. What a privilege!

Victoria Writes

It’s with enormous anticipation that I begin my first blog as an MLitt Writing Practice and Study student but I can assure you it is nothing short of an utterly thrilling moment. I am Victoria, lover of words and the power they wield, and I have thrown myself into this challenging course with the purpose of compiling and refining a portfolio of my own writing to present, with confidence, to the publishing world claiming, ‘Ta-da! Here I am!’. Or something like that.

My home is Dundee where I stay with my husband, four children, two dogs, six fish and one hamster, and my interests are reading, writing, reading, writing, reading some more and a little bit more writing. The writing I love to read and explore is writing that plays with form and delves to emotional depths. So I’ll leave you guessing about my book collection for now! I do also have a little life outside of the written word where I run, hike, practise yoga, enjoy hockey and pretend I can play the guitar.

But in case you hadn’t guessed, my passion is writing and my style is yet to be defined. I’m a wannabe poet, short story writer, song writer, novelist and magazine features writer. Is it wrong to want it all? Perhaps not at this stage in my development when there are still so many writing routes to explore. So far on the course I’ve discovered that I’m permanently confused, easily distracted and prone to excitability- there’s much to get carried away by! But I certainly feel like I’m in the right place at the right time and to quote published writer Clare Hunter, who graduated with the MLitt several years ago, she felt she had, ‘died and gone to heaven’ when she began her studies. She beautifully articulated what I felt on my first day, although I do still feel like a rabbit in the headlights, particularly when put on the spot in tutorials!

So today heralds my arrival as anxious but putting-a-brave-face-on-it blogger! I shall endeavour not to waffle but rather to provide insight into life as an aspiring writer and how this exhilarating course is shaping my development and taking me off on all sorts of wonderful tangents! Watch this space.