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 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!

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!

Old Books and Found Objects – Vaulted Marvels

Hi all

Been rather busy with my interview out the way and have visited London on Friday 25th January for the Impress Publishing day. I got some interesting insight into Kickstarter and will be writing up about this to pass on to you all. I also helped Rhoda finalise the social media and if you see her post all the links are working and the facebook link is active for those who love to FB.

I updated my older blog entry https://blog.dundee.ac.uk/wps/2019/01/21/vaultedmarvels/  to show the move to “Vaulted Marvels” as we are covering a range of books in the archives and not the Brechin Collection only. Also, this morning I donated to the PayPal link as it is active to take any amount large to small! Paypal to me is the best option because 100% of the money you give will go to the project.

Rhoda is fully set as the social media mogul and my job is done in that area. I will now focus on my role in Caithness in March.

Rhoda’s update can be found here: https://blog.dundee.ac.uk/wps/2019/01/27/reshuffle-or-re-shuffle/

Michele

 

Book Archives Project – Found Objects

Image

Well, it’s all rather exciting as small tasks start to bring together the pieces that will eventually make the whole.

Having helped Rhoda set up Twitter and PayPal, please look out for the facebook link to soon follow from Rhoda. Already the marvels this book collection holds will begin to start the transformation of the old into the new and I am rather excited to see this as I have loved working with the few images provided to me to set up the basics for Twitter. Speaking of  Twitter this can now be located at www.twitter.com/VaultedMarvels. Also, if you have a PayPal you can be one of the first to donate any sum large to small via the PayPal portal at www.paypal.com/VaultedMarvels

 

Paypal is very easy to set up and once you have it you will wonder why you never had it all this time!

Rhoda is looking after all the social media and PayPal from now on, so follow on Twitter/Facebook for more up to date details on the Brechin Project.

Even more exciting for me, is that I have to now leave you and start to prepare for my writer’s interview on Wednesday with Alastair McIntosh www.alastairmcintosh.com

Michele