Happy New Year!

So this is my first post in a while, but it’s great to be back!

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!

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

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.

‘Dividing the Spoils’

This is the sonnet I wrote for homework on the theme of Divorce. It was really challenging and I could redraft it forever. There are rhymes to be had that I haven’t found. In the process of getting from draft twenty to here I’ve rewritten it another six times. I think I might call a halt here.

‘Dividing the Spoils’

You can have the ponderous furniture,
The weight of that old, brown, inheritance,
And that absurd painting she gave to you,
That you hung above our marital bed
The oven is yours, the freezer my cold self.

I’ll cleft the kettle and halt that last brew.
We can chop the toaster and cleave the fridge.
Let us take a child apiece, the boy mine.
The girl yours to remind you of your wife.
Or will I  use your father’s fine toothed saw
To cut through hair, to rive from brain to groin?
My share will be where the mole marks her cheek,
And his grazed left knee with its star shaped scar

|I’ll tend to the beating of their bruised hearts.

The World Seems To Be Recommending Dystopian Reading

Hello all,

This week the news would inspire anyone into writing a dystopian novel and I’m afraid what I’ve been reading isn’t doing much to counter it.

An article that recently caught my attention was on a paper about ants that have created a colony in a disused nuclear weapons bunker in Poland. It turns out that they fall down a ventilation pipe from a more standard colony on the surface and once down there they cannot escape. They then make do the best they can in an entirely dark environment with minimal food and a temperature that doesn’t make it very far up the thermometer. The description is fantastic in both the article and the paper itself, it talks about the inches thick ant cemetery that borders the colony and the mystery of what exactly they manage to survive on. I’m sure this could be used as a metaphor in any number of novels and stories, in fact even the article acknowledges that the paper “reads like a dystopian novel from the 1970s”. You can read the article and get links to the paper itself at  http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/09/bizarre-ant-colony-discovered-in-an-abandoned-polish-nuclear-weapons-bunker/

 

One of the reasons it seemed to grab me was because I recently started reading “Constellation” by Adrien Bosc, winner of The Académie Française Prize. It is a biography of the forty eight people who died in a plane crash in 1949. So the idea of falling from one existence to another has been on my mind a bit this week. But then it’s a story seed that I imagine has grown into many trees over the years and I can’t imagine that it comes from a source that will have a famine any time soon.

 

I’ve also decided to have a bit of a reread of some Shakespeare plays, starting this week with “The Tempest”. Not the whole thing unfortunately, not yet anyway, but enough to remember how much I wanted to set Ariel free on my first reading of it. Next up should be a certain Scottish Play, but I’m tempted to save that for Halloween and instead skip to “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. At the moment the idea of mischievous faeries causing trouble seems a lot better than the idea that everything that’s happening right now is a purely human happenstance.

 

I told everyone last week about how I do a little “Dungeons and Dragons” and that seems to have caught people’s attention! Well believe me I am very happy to talk about it. D&D has pulled me in at the moment as it gives me the chance to build a world, populate it with characters and then dump my friends and family in it. It’s very performative, not only do I have to show my friends what’s been occupying my time, but I also have to describe the characters and settings, speak for the characters and sometimes use silly voices for those characters. You lose any preciousness fast, it’s very easy to see a beautifully planned piece of work go completely off the rails because someone decides to ignore the cross roads entirely and go hiking instead. Also, as I don’t want to kill off my characters too quickly I have to keep the foes to within allowed parameters. Much less hand waving of the Deus Ex Machina style is allowed when there are other people who can see the rules. I’m still learning to navigate those rules, but I think I’m getting better. Obviously I would recommend D&D to anyone that has the time and the chance to play it, but another narrative rich game I would point out to any readers looking for something to play is “Fallen London” which you can play online for free. The writing is great and the setting is wonderfully deep and rich.

 

I’m afraid I must leave you now, so good bye and I’ll see you next week,

Kirsty Mackay

A week late, but better late than never?

Hello everyone! My name is Kirsty Mackay and I am a writer, or at least I’m trying to be and I’m hoping this course will kick me into being one. I was supposed to post this last week, however there was unfortunately a bit of a technological snafu so you are getting this a wee bit late.

I write almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction, plus elements of game writing which frequently blend both into a strange and terrifying muddle. Almost all of my characters are women or non-binary, I love writing characters that would be, in more traditional media, ignored, villainised or “fridged”.* I think I write so many characters that usually fall between the cracks of modern media as a way of fighting back. Plus it’s much harder to fall into old clichés when you are actively writing against those clichés. Though sometimes I like to pick up clichés, steal them and give them a makeover. You know, give the bossy mother a war axe and send her after the ravening horde that’s ruining her vegetable patch, or make the nervous schoolgirl secretly a witch with terrifying powers or make the cheerful and pink best friend of the goth girl a vampire who doesn’t take kindly to people being mean to her BFF. Turning people’s expectations around on them is fun, though my friends have started to pick up on my evil smirk being a bit of a hint, so I might have to dial it back a wee bit!

I think that love of twisting people’s expectations partly comes from my love of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books. I adore those books, luckily there are over forty of them so I don’t have to worry about running out any time soon and I’m holding the last few in reserve for days in the future when I really need a good book with plenty of fantastic characters, humour and wonderful world building.

I’ve also been writing for games a lot recently, Dungeons & Dragons especially, as I’ve bullied a few of my friends into playing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, it has all the best bits of fantasy writing, gambling and dramatic improv. Though I might be a bit biased as I spent four hours last week leading some adventurers through a cave system, a very dangerous cave system it turns out as it was filled with Helmed Horrors and fungus that was both violet and violent. I’m hoping to post a better and more neatly written version of the adventure on the Dungeons Master’s Guild website. Once up there other people can download and play it themselves.

Anyway, I’m sure that’s all you need to know about me for now. Once I get a few more things up on the web I might come back and update this page with links to where you can find them, but I need to actually get things written for that to happen! Well fingers crossed and may your pens never run out and your brains never get the dreaded writer’s block,

Kirsty Mackay.

 

 

* “Fridged” refers to the cliché of killing off a usually female love interest to create DRAMA and ANGST in the usually male main characters. It comes from a Green Lantern comic where a female character was killed off screen and left for the main character to find in his fridge.

I’m Too Shy to Call Myself a Writer

Why am I doing this course? Simple. The late, great and lovely Jim Stewart told me to. I was sitting in his office, eating tangerines, asking for advice on some work. We got talking about my plans for after uni and Jim told me to go for the MLitt. Another year spent working with the uniquely amazing creative writing department? Go on then. I’m extremely sorry and endlessly sad that Jim isn’t here to guide me this year, but I feel his influence on the course in every session. I’m extremely honoured to have been his student for three years and that he pointed me in this direction.

I think that what I want to get out of the course is maybe a little different to what other students want. I’ve been talking to my fellow classmates and they all have these amazing dreams and goals, many of them have completed novels and other pieces of writing to be proud of. Sitting amongst them, I feel wholly inadequate as any finished short story I have ever written has been the product of my undergrad creative writing modules and I have used them for my portfolios. I’m too shy to call myself a writer, especially around people who are proper writers.

I don’t spend much of my spare time writing because I don’t have much spare time. In the past few years I have spent my summers interning at New Writing North, editing their online magazine for young writers, Cuckoo Review, and mentoring at writing summer schools. I spent my summer this year travelling Hadrian’s wall working on Mansio (a travelling writing project inspired by the wall). I have volunteered at Hexham Book Festival twice and next weekend I am heading to the Durham Book Festival to help out. Whilst I have been lucky enough to be paid for some of these experiences, I’m the girl who will happily work for free if I get paid in literary experience. One of my favourite things ever is that moment that you see someone has been touched by literature; eyes wide, chest full and mouth about to spill out passion. I love seeing people use writing as therapy, I love watching minds change and open, I love when someone gets it. I want to live a life where I get to witness that every day. I’d love to be a writer myself, I think someone getting it and ‘it’ being something I had written must be extraordinary. Already on this course I have been able to witness people being inspired by the reading list and I’m really enjoying being surrounded by such passion.

I’m too shy to call myself a writer yet, but maybe by the end of the year, I’ll be creating work I am proud of, even finishing some of it, and hopefully I’ll be able to call myself a writer.

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

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)