Spider in a Glass

I have caught many spiders with a glass. Usually one of my husband’s pint glasses.  The spiders have meant no harm, they’ve just come from the nowhere of their world and into the somewhere of my world, suddenly appearing and scaring the life out of me. I trap them in a glass, slide a piece of paper underneath, go outside and set each one free.

It’s a great way to have a good look at a spider. Their bodies are covered in tiny hairs and I think they use these hairs to perceive their environment; they have a lot of eyes but I think their vision is blurry and used only to pick up the movements of their prey.

The spider becomes still and is probably wondering what’s happened to it; one minute it is meandering along and the next it can’t progress, it can’t get moving. It seems to just sit and accept its fate, until it gets bored or frustrated with the inability to fulfil its purpose. It starts to use its feelers and gently taps the glass. It tries to get some leverage to climb up the glass but the surface is too smooth and it slides back down again. I wonder if it feels cheated? Disoriented? This barrier has just come down out of nowhere and stopped it in its tracks. It can still see everything that is familiar to it until it finds itself dumped outside in an alien landscape.

I’ve never really given much thought to how it survives once I have “rescued” the poor arachnid, but I have wondered if spiders are introverts. I think they probably are.

I’m an introvert and so is my husband, although I am further up the continuum/spectrum towards extroversion than he is. I can behave like an extrovert when the mood takes me, but I need to spend a lot of time on my own to recharge my batteries and think; I am someone who reflects, and I take a lot of time to reflect, but I have struggled with reflecting during this lockdown, and about this lockdown; trying to think clearly, I’m finding, is a challenge.

The other week my husband pointed out that the lockdown was having a greater impact on me than I realised (he felt). I asked him to explain:

“Well, you gave up your job to do the MLitt and you were anxious but excited about it. You were throwing caution to the wind and taking a leap into the unknown. You said you wanted to immerse yourself in the whole experience. And that is exactly what you were doing. You were going to classes, you were taking part in different projects, you were churning out creative work like I have never seen you do before; you, have never seen you do before. You made new friends, you were meeting them for coffee’s and lunches and chats about each other’s work, you were spending time in the library reading books you didn’t know existed. Your whole world had opened up…”

And all of a sudden it ground to a halt. Everything as I knew it, stopped. Everything as everyone knew it, stopped.

We are unable to immerse ourselves in the experience of university. It’s all still there but we can only access it in certain ways. The world has become virtual; Email, Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Microsoft Teams: faces framed in technology, tinny voices and frozen screens.

I’d give anything to meet friends for a coffee and a chat

volunteer to discuss a poem with a class of art students

spend an hour figuring out what a gerund actually is

participate in an excerpt of a stage play at Livewire

attend a masterclass or the launch of an exhibition

give feedback on a piece of prose or a poem

have a round table discussion

book a room in the library

help out at a book launch

meet my writing buddies

eat a burger

eat chips

 

But I can’t do any of that.

 

All I can do is empathise with a spider in a glass.

 

 

 

 

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.

Sleeping with the Imposter

So, here I am, cosied up in my aparthotel room in Edinburgh listening tae storm Dennis blawin a hoolie at the windae. I was pleasantly surprised with the budget room, it has all the mod-cons that I need, even a dishwasher! I decided to stay for the week rather than commute because I live semi-rural and thought a week in the big smoke would be a novelty–the long lie was also a no brainer.

I’m prepared to start my  internship at Luath, but I have to admit, the imposter syndrome is clagging in. It fills me with doubt about my abilities and, if not managed, impedes creative flow.

I first learned about imposter syndrome during staff training when I was a community psychiatric nurse. The facilitator discussed the syndrome, “we all experience it” he said, “it’s that feeling when you’re saying your piece at the team meeting, at the same time thinking that you’re talking rubbish, you don’t have a clue and your colleagues know that you’re at it.” I was stunned. I knew exactly what he was talking about and thought it was just me being me. Well, it was me being me, but I was comforted to know that I was not alone.

And… there are five different types of imposter syndrome–who knew?

This is something I have chatted about with my lovely classmates, writing buddies, even published authors. It doesn’t seem to matter how much positive feedback, constructive criticism, success or general comments of loveliness we receive about our writing, Imposter Syndrome sucks the self-belief right out of us and makes us terrified, makes us run away from our exhibited pieces–I cringed as my esteemed fellow student and Imposter Syndrome compadre shrunk into the shadows as my mother-in-law ordered me to stand by my piece at the River Deep Mountain High exhibition, so she could take a photograph to show her friends–just as Victoria Lothian writes.

I don’t think the issue will magically disappear as our confidence grows, but I do think the voice might fade or, we might feel strong enough to tell it to hud it’s weesht!

I wonder if I’ll be exposed tomorrow… I’ll sleep on it.

Pipe Dream

Organisation is key to managing a busy workload and all things stationary are required to facilitate organisation–as all stationary fetishists will understand. Yesterday, after accepting delivery of the eight hexagonal cork boards I ordered a few days ago, I ran upstairs to my writing snug like a kid with a new toy at Christmas, peeled off the sticky backs and stuck them to the wall beside my desk.

I sat for around thirty minutes thinking about how to organise the information that I need to organise my busy writing and studying schedule. As I deliberated it dawned on me that I was procrastinating and I don’t have time for that!

Semester two of the course is proving to be exhilarating. I was fortunate to be involved with the University Archive’s River Deep Mountain High exhibition, and I am currently collaborating with my wonderfully talented and creative peers–both writers and artists– on a project with the V&A Museum in Dundee.

On Sunday I’ll be packing my suitcase and heading down to Edinburgh for a week-long internship at one of Scotland’s leading independent publishers: Luath Press. My nerves are jingling in response to this but I’m excited by the prospect of learning a few things about the publishing process.

Funnily enough, on this day 17 years ago I was already a few weeks into my first placement as a student mental health nurse. I simply put my dream of writing down to being nothing more than a whim, a fantasy…

Short And Sweet! – My Internship With Saraband

I’m a bit late with this one because there has been a lot going on, but I can finally sit and write about this great experience.

I realise I’ve been very fortunate in my internships and have done and learned a lot of exciting new things.

A couple of weeks ago, I made my way down to Manchester for a few days of work experience with Saraband.

Although not quite a full week, I was surprised at how much we managed to fit in.

 

Proof Reading

As a bit of a warm-up before getting to Manchester, Sara Hunt had given me a manuscript to proof. This was a good way of getting a feel for the type of books Saraband (and its crime imprint Contraband) publishes.

Proofing was something I’d done a little bit of before, but not professionally. So I had to take extra care that my attention to detail and my knowledge of grammar was on point.

A lot of the skills from uni came in handy; attention to detail, being thorough in my work and analysing the text. I was glad to get the practice and found it really enjoyable.

I’m realising that I enjoy working closely with the text and can see myself as an editor in the future.

InDesign

Another thing I’ve come to love doing is working on InDesign.

I got a chance to practice those skills again here in a few different ways.

Similar to updating the catalogue at Peepal Tree, I was responsible for updating Saraband’s Highlights sheets, making sure all the relevant information was there.

Working on InDesign is great  because there are so many things you can do  really easily and really quickly.

For example,  Saraband has a new book coming out called The Boxing Diaries which needs a cover design. Using InDesign, I was able to be quite creative and use my own boxing experience to come up with a mood board for the cover.

I put together a few images and example book covers for the boxing book and another book. I loved doing this because it was a chance to get creative and excited about the new books.

Marketing

This was something new and a lot of fun!

The title I had proof read needed a marketing plan, so we brainstormed and thought of different ways to make the title, a historical-fiction creative, appeal to people. Based on the themes of the book, I had to come up with ways to promote it.

This was a very collaborative task where I had to think outside of the box and use my knowledge of social media.

Together we came up with the start of a social media plan, some ideas for events and even an idea for a promotional video.

All in all, it was a busy few days packed with lots of interesting tasks.

If only it had last longer!

 

 

My Big Break

So, I’ve deliberately held off on the blog update this week until tonight, because I wanted to see how one particular predicament shook out.

Things were going as normal in the internship; I was continuing to sit in on rehearsals for the 13+ kids, and had also joined in the 9-12 year old classes. But then an unexpected favour was asked of me yesterday afternoon. As it turns out, one of the boys in the 13+show (who joined late) is getting cold feet. As of writing he’s still wavering, two hours before the show starts, so I am waiting in the wings, script-in-hand, as understudy for Lysander!

This is it folks, I’ve finally made it.

Peepal Tree Press – Another Internship Ends

Unfortunately, my time here in Leeds and with Peepal Tree has come to an end.

How do I feel?

I’m sad that it’s all over now and wish I had longer. But I’m also looking forward to going home and seeing family and friends again.

My internship has been so enjoyable for several reasons:

Working with great people

I have to say, that working at Peepal has allowed me to meet some great and inspiring people who love the same things as I do: books and everything to do with them.

From Jeremy and Hannah, who have been so welcoming, to the visiting writers and other interns, everyone has brought something unique and memorable to the experience.

 

Learning the business

Of course, one of main things is being able to get real in-house experience doing all the things I have and learning as much as I have.

If you’ve read my previous posts you’ll know that I’ve covered a lot of things. I think my favourite things to do were editing and typesetting.

 

A wider reading scope

The major perk of working in a publishing house is obviously the free books.

So, being constantly introduced to new writers, picking up names that were repeatedly mentioned and discovering new texts I may not have come across otherwise was very exciting.  There was always something/ someone know of interest everyday.

 

Creative stimulation

I don’t know if it’s just being at Peepal Tree or if every publishing office is like this, but being in the office was very stimulating for my own creative writing.

I’ve come up with dozens of ideas that I can take home with me and make something of.

I found myself returning home from work most nights, despite being tired, filled with enthusiasm to write, whether it was my own creative work or ideas to include in my dissertation.

This is linked to the point above, but also because of Peepal Tree’s open door attitude in which writers drop in and out all the time.

 

Overall, I’ve learned that moving to a new setting, even for a short while, can be so beneficial both personally and creatively, for all the reasons I mentioned and more.

Thank you to Peepal Tree for having me and making me feel welcome.

Hamzah

P.S. Now to write this dissertation…yay (!)

 

They say that teenagers scare the living – wait, no, no swearing in front of the kids

Bad news first. I’m back on the network at Cumbernauld Theatre , but all of my work from the past two weeks has been deleted. In between redoing that work, I’ve been sitting in on the Summer Youth Academy classes.

The good news is those classes are really fun! As I stated in an earlier post, there’s lots of familiar games to play. I’ve mostly been sitting in on the 13+ group. We seem to have the same sense of humour and taste in musicals – I don’t know what that says about me.

As it turns out, the 13+age group is apparently the hardest to work with. They’re very determined to devise and perform a play entirely written by themselves, and to them there’s no such thing as too ambitious an idea. Or too angsty an idea. Or too cliché. As such, I haven’t been called upon for any actual writing or writing  advice; the kids all want to go their own way, and the adults would rather put on a polished production of Midsummer Nights Dream than rush the writing and rehearsing of an entirely new show. The real shame is that, given a lot more time, some of the kids ideas could develop into something quite impressive (they’re a frighteningly precocious bunch).

On the other end of the spectrum is the 6-8 class, who’re putting on a 15 minute show that was already 90% planned out by the tutors before the Academy even started. So once again my writing skills don’t come in very handy.

Next week, the 6-8 year old class will be replaced with the 9-12 year old class. I’ve been told they’re more willing and able to structure their own stories than the 6-8 year olds, but much more “malleable” than the 13+ group. Hopefully this means I will finally have the chance to prove myself as good for something other than a game of Splat.

As for my own writing, I’ve finished a first draft of my play. My main concern just now is making it more “theatrical” than “conversational”. We now have more physical comedy, voice overs, imagine spots and a musical number.

Splat! You’re out!

Kai

Progress and Setbacks

You could say I rolled a 7-9 and scored a mixed success on this week,  if you were a nerd.

Things were going well on Monday. I’d been working on my archiving task, while also getting to know the staff better. Having compiled a good collection of “interesting visual memories” – i.e. photos – from the theatre’s past, I spent the day writing the text to go along with them (75 words per page, and I’m likely to have 4 or 6 pages to play with). I’m essentially going for a series of words and images illustrating the variety of performances Cumbernauld Theatre has produced and hosted over the years; the ways they engage with the Cumbernauld community; and  the interesting history of the cottages, without getting too sentimental before the move to the new building.

Tuesday and Wednesday offered a break while I returned to Dundee for a flat viewing and a job interview. Thursday I returned to the office, ready to start compiling my text and matching images into a document to be sent to the graphic designers to prepare for publication, but disaster struck! Long story short, some electrical problems have resulted in me being locked out of the theatre’s servers, which means for the past two days I haven’t been able access any of the files I was working on!

My supervisors seem confident I’ll be able to catch up on the missed work once I’m back online, so, rather than sit and worry, in a rare show of proactive reasoning I’ve been using this unexpected time off to write more of my play.  So far it’s coming out…strange. A vague plan, loosely inspired by the set of Kennedy’s Children, to have a piece set in a gay club (and featuring characters based on people I’ve observed in my own local gay club) has (de)volved into more of a 20 minute angry monologue about LGBT+ issues that tend to be put aside, offering no solutions, but at least some acknowledgement. It’s a departure, but we’ll see how it works out! Don’t worry, there’s still jokes.

Next week the Summer Youth Academy starts, so wish me luck!

Getting Stuck In

The theatre from the outside still looks like farm cottages

The original studio theatre, now used mainly for classes and workshops

Today was day two of my internship in earnest at Cumbernauld. I’ve been going through their collection of archives, looking for interesting stories and visuals that could go in the Autumn brochure – or, as Ed, the artistic director, puts it, I’ve been indulging in some “creative archaeology”. I’m not going to give everything away here, but did you know that Cumbernauld Theatre once took over the local shopping centre, transformed it into a medieval street and performed a morality play of Noah’s Ark?

And, as promised, here’s some pictures!

Some boxes from the archives

The 250 seat auditorium, as seen from the stage

I always told mama some day I’d make it in showbiz

I have an office desk but the dressing room makes for a pretty good workspace