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Thinking about the future, the past, and some of the bits in between.

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!

—————

Happy New Year!

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!

Read, read, read your books…

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 Ottessa Moshfegh

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.

scar culture

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.

black eye jojo

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 by Sarah Isaac

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.

History and Wisdom

Hi everyone,

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,

Kirsty

Foos yer doos?

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’.

mon then 2

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

Wooden-peg-clothes-peg-peg-dolly1

PEG

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.

detective

 

The lonely young man.

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.

Matt Richardson.

Hallowe’en And Personal Terrors

So it’s the last hour or so of this years Hallowe’en, did anyone get dressed up to go guising? I was dressed up in a suitably witchy outfit, but I’m now in a snuggly hoody happy in the knowledge that the ghosts and ghouls are off to bed – and I can lay almost sole claim to the chocolates. Nobody came to our door except my flatmate’s parents who were dropping her off after a few days at home. It didn’t take much coaxing to get them to take some sweets. But my flatmate and I will make short work of the ones left.

 

I interviewed Mairi Hedderwick of Katie Morag fame today. She was wonderful and a joy to interview. It felt more like having a really good blether and I hope she felt the same. It was fantastically interesting to hear about how she got into writing. As an illustrator she was told that she should write as well as paint, she loved the idea, submitted some pictures and through a few twists and turns, five years later she published the first Katie Morag book. I also learned a lot about the creative process behind making the books and while I was never likely to go down that path I think I will be even more likely to leave it to those with the patience for it! As great as she was I am glad I don’t have another interview looming over me, I just need to get the essay written for it . . . maybe I should save some of those chocolates as a reward? One every hundred words perhaps?

 

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,

Kirsty

My First Publication

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.Girls learning laundry work at Saltaire School in the early 20th Century

I’ve edited, couldn’t help myself.

RUBY FLEET

‘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.

A Review, Virtual Tides by Paul Casey.

This is painful for me. The initial draft of this was for assessment and it wasn’t well received. I have however worked with Beth to correct it a quite a bit and present it here now for you all. What happened to the original? You will find it in the ‘F**k it bucket.’ This version may even find it’s way onto DURA. I am not holding my breath though.

Virtual Tides

Paul Casey

(Salmon Poetry)

Pbk: €12.00.

This collection is prefaced by a Wallace Stevens quotation “unreal things have a reality of their own” and in Paul Casey’s poetry, to paraphrase the completion of that quote, as elsewhere, we have realities taking shape out of what can be perceived as the very unreal.

We allow those deep realities to form from concepts that seem intangible to the reader at first pass.Then, within the pause that seems to inevitably follow the reading of most of the pieces contained therein, coalesce.

Subsequently, with the mustering of all the benefit of hindsight, read back and you see the purpose and the meaning that Casey was trying to convey. Also as likely, or partially at the very least, is the meaning you wish to give with the poet as your guide because what is poetry without the imagination of the audience, of you.

Virtual Tides is the latest collection from Paul Casey and his third overall. He has been published in journals and anthologies worldwide in countries as diverse as his native Ireland and South Africa. The collection brings together poetry dating from 2013 to 2016 published originally in journals as diverse in subject matter as is the aforementioned geography of publication.

Whilst mostly staying with traditional stanza based verse Casey does foray into prose poetry and also, more occasionally, to the completely free verse where he indulges his more whimsical side. This last grated initially but once revisited and studied the echoes were quite different. I began to hear what was being represented and was simultaneously delighted to find that he had entrapped me in that whimsy. This was especially evident with the alluring Water Signs which needs to be seen as it cannot really be quoted abstractly here.

Whatever form the poet adopts, the now alert reader will become aware of a sense of literary cubism, confronted as we are with a many faceted examination of modern living, technology and the attendant remoteness and distance that seems to occur as a resulting symptom. For Pointing at the Sun illustrates this beautifully with its cityscape and its inhabitants viewed through this alternative lense.  The poet then involves us with an attempt to show how we could, and should, reconnect to the natural, the spiritual and the ancient. He asserts how the natural especially does already have a connection to modern life. A meditation on this can be found Inside the Bonsai where “Clipping around and around us precisely/ You whisper to me”

What particularly struck a sonorous chord in me is the sense, at times very obvious within Casey’s writing, of the relentless march of technology whether it be a beneficial thing or not. Virtual Companion offers this starkly with the opening scene setting line “this android I married.”

Whilst not averse to the straightforward rhyme and the one occasion of the alliteration that literally goes on alliterating for what seems like forever, with Bar Beings, these obvious devices lull the reader into a false sense of security about his far from obvious subject-matter. Casey is also unafraid of the interspersing of material that delights in what can be described I feel best as ridiculousness an example being matchbox where the poetry becomes ever more compressed along with our subject.

What we complete in an all too brief fifty five pages is a detailed character study of the poet.  From the perception of his roots in ancient Ireland to his railing against technology and the effect it is having upon us spiritually and socially. Virtual Tides is however designed to allow you to free your mind and imagine and therein lies this poet’s greatest gift.

Paul Casey, I have become an admirer. In dipping back into this collection I’ll be meeting you regularly inside the bonsai, that is watered fluoride free, as you would wish.

Matt Richardson.

I’m an Aberdonian in Dundee…

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.

book pile

The Unbearable Lightness of Stephen

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.

Today I read: Sonnets

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

 

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.

 

To be found in 40 Sonnets by Don Paterson.

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.

An Introduction to Sarah

 

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.

 

An Introduction to Poppy: ‘…my literary heart lies with women.’

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)

Guess who’s back…back again…

Conner’s back!… tell a friend.

Conner McAleese

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). Conniptionand 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.