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!

Read, read, read your books…

This week has mostly been about reading.  Some writing has occurred, but lately, I have just been stumbling from deadline to deadline scribbling away furiously in notebooks and typing like a demon possessed.

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.

 

 

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

 

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.

Five Finger Death Punch

I smile when I hear the ‘five finger exercise’ mentioned in class.  It makes me think of the band ‘Five Finger Death Punch’.  At first, that is what I was silently cursing these exercises as, a death punch to the brain.  It is meant to be difficult, making you think and reflect, like weights for the mind.

Before I embarked on this course, people would ask ‘Oh, what do you write?’  The defence was always ‘short stories and crap poetry’.  This course is making me realise that I am capable of writing poetry.  I borrowed a book from Gail, meant to be for reviewing on DURA, but on reading it, knew instantly that I’m not knowledgeable enough to write an academic review.  It would have been an opinion piece.  Instead, I used it as inspiration.  I flicked the pages and let the universe decide.  Poem 8 from Beneath by Simon Perril it is then.

my sister went first

we’d a pact

that after crossing

she’d show she’d left

by gripping a weft

of unspooled wool

white-nuckle tight.

In the event she swung

and I saw the slug

of her tongue

and wept

at her outstretched palm

Point of view

She had always been the braver of the two, living up to her elder sister title.  There were two extremes with her, the best and the worst.  Anything in between was unacceptable.  Demanding and telling at the same time, ‘I’ll go first.’ she said and promised to tug on the wool that was meant to hold them together on this latest daredevil adventure.  A discussion seemed pointless to the outside world, Shelley would always go first, but this ritual always persuaded her brother, making his second place bearable and justified.  She reeled him in with this tactic flawlessly every time.

Voice

I was fed up of being played around with.  These damn kids had their fun with me, I’ll tell ya.  I was meant to be a cute little bootie, or maybe a Christmas sweater, or a goddamn tea cosy for some a these English types, who like to drink tea in weird shaped pots insteada coffee like regular folks.  Instead, whadda I get?  Tossed over to a girl that shoulda been a warden.  She had dictator stamped all over her, I’ll tell ya that for nuthin’.  She turned my life into hell, twistin’ and knottin’ me around into cat’s cradles, passed along into her brother’s filthy hands and gettin’ God knows what all over me.  Here I am, all outta shape and dirty and whadda them two do? Takes my sister, a nice red number all new and unspooled outta the bag and takes her on some stoopid secret mission.  I’m still waitin’ for em to come back, they been gone a long while.

Rhythm

The jagged rocks jutted

from their hiding place

clawing with their points

for a leg an arm a face

 

The jagged rocks hungered

many an empty hour

sharply slowly waiting

poised  to devour

 

The jagged rocks rejoice

she enters their domain

woolly lifeline falls with her

ripped by the strain

 

The jagged rocks are sated

sporting bloody smiles

the hunger will return to them

in a short while

Place

The cave was a palette of grey and black.  Nothing shone or twinkled here, as if the darkness had sucked the beauty from it centuries ago.  It stank of death.  The jagged rocks hid the floor, sentinels poised to attack.  The air was thick with icy nightmares bristling your skin with wrongness.  Every fibre of human being screamed GET OUT, but the two children swept fear aside ignoring those instincts in favour of burning curiosity and took another step toward the entrance to Hell.

Gorgeousness

The unspooled wool twanged and snapped under the strain of her white knuckled grip.  Mark stumbled backward as Shelley fell in an un-choreographed surprise dance.  Open mouthed in horror, the silence of her scream conveyed her fate as the rock sentinels grasped for her flesh.  The head struck first, giving birth to crumbs of stone that rolled into the abyss.  The mother, a grey pyramid surrounded by a moat of blood protruded from Shelley’s right temple, her slug tongue reaching for her shoulder.  Her wide disbelief eyes stared at the roof of that terrible place, palm extended upward pleading to an unseen God.

I know none of these are perfect.  I know I am well over my word count.  Sometimes you have to take a few hits to get to the title fight.

beneath

Networking and Community

When I started this course, I had to admit that a huge reason was to do some great networking. I’ve been networking in the literary stratosphere since I was about 15. I started going to creative writing classes on Saturdays, then went on to volunteer my time to culture events, book festivals, writing workshops and publications. As I got older, the volunteering turned into interning and is transitioning now into bits of paid work. However, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I’m the girl who is happy to be paid in literary experience. I am not at all adverse to doing more volunteering, so that is what I am doing. I am a volunteer at the Dundee Literary Festival. I haven’t exactly done much this far as the two events that I was supposed to cover the roving mic both boiled over with interesting conversation, meaning that one only had time for two questions and one had no time for questions at all. Nevertheless, yesterday, whilst doing the latter of ‘working hard or hardly working’, I got to see some events which were extremely important to me.

The first was a conversation between Kirsty Gunn, Ron Hay, Lindsay MacGregor, Eddie Small and Gail Low, discussing The Voyage Out, a publication celebrating ten years of Writing Practice and Study (WPS) at the University of Dundee. The book is an international anthology of fiction, poetry, essays, art, film and science, all about voyages. For me, having been an ungerdrad WPS student and now an MLitt WPS student, I felt proud to be in my fourth year with the department. There was a lot of talk of the lovely, sorely missed, late Jim Stewart. Kirsty answered ‘Jim is behind so much of what we do on the writing program,’ when asked how much input Jim had on the publication, and I wholeheartedly agree. There was no us and them at this event, just one group of people listening to another group of people discuss something everyone in the room was excited about. I cherish my copy of The Voyage Out, given to me so kindly by Eddie, whose name is just above Jim’s in the credits.

The second event was Livewire! If anything could assure me that I made the right decision to take the journey onto the MLitt course more than The Voyage Out event, this was it. I won’t go into too much detail because I’ll be writing an essay on the event, but I have to write a bit… On the MLitt last year, the students were thrown into the deep end of performing and were asked to perform around this time in their first semester. They performed in what used to be Shrink to Fit, an offshoot of Superstore which has now evolved into a different pub for about the 7th time since I moved to Dundee. I remember seeing a lot of nervous performances but being absolutely amazed by the talent and the utter balls they had, performing with a mic so early on in their MLitt course. (Be careful what you wish for…) But the performances I saw yesterday was not comparable. I saw six calm, confident writers take to the stage and read eloquent, considered pieces which were refined and performed so well. I was working the roving mic and the last question was near the back so whilst I waited to retrieve the mic, I allowed myself a moment to stand at the back of the room and look at the whole audience and the six accomplished writers on the stage. I don’t think there’s a better feeling than feeling like you belong somewhere, and I felt it yesterday.

My point is is that I’ve been ‘networking’ for seven years, never turning down an opportunity to meet new people in the field, to help out if I can. I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. This week has felt like a tidal wave of things to do, life and class are at a crescendo and I barely have space to breathe, but I couldn’t resist putting myself forwards to help at the Dundee Literary Festival. Peggy, who runs the festival and Literary Dundee, is incentive enough to volunteer. She is a fireball of energy, enthusiasm and friendly personality who definitely spoils her volunteers in amazing literary experience. Yesterday, although I was technically working, although I tried to introduce myself to as many people as possible, yesterday didn’t feel like networking, it felt like I was part of an amazing community.

Assessments are coming…

…see what I did there? #GameOfThrones

 

It’s week five. As in, we’ve been doing this for five weeks already. And something peculiar has happened. An extraordinary, miraculous thing has occurred. I feel confident in my writing. I feel different to my undergrad degree, I feel like I am paying attention and learning. My exercises in class are not always spot on, but I never feel a need to preface it by saying “I don’t think it’s good.” That’s not to say those that do should be herranged in the foyer of the Dalhousie Building as faux writers deserving only humiliation. All it means is that, in a room full of people I admire for their talent, I don’t feel out of place. And as someone who always feels out of sync with those around him, that’s a big deal.

I’ve just submitted (well, Poppy handed it in for me as I was working and prescribe to an “oh sweet Jesus that’s for tomorrow” method of handing in my work, despite doing it days before) five pages of rough draft work that may or may not evolve into a 6,000 word portfolio for the end of semester one. I’ve chosen to work on the two areas I hope to develop on this course: horror and historical fiction. Although my novels are Young Adult Fantasy works, the daily five fingered exercise of Kirsty Gunn’s division and the in-class exercises, I feel, are helping me in leaps and bounds better explore my worlds on the page – instead of merely describing them. I don’t just want to be a fantasy writer though; I have many ideas that don’t quite fit with that genre. Ideas I want to explore.

My horror piece is perhaps more ‘creepy’ than horror – for now. It’s about a manic depressive boy who lives alone and spies on his neighbours to feel part of something other than his own illness. He doesn’t do it for perverted kicks, simply to feel included. But when he is confronted about his behavior, he is told that he and “the dirty old man” he lives with better stop it before the neighbours call the police. “But,” the boy says, “I live alone.” Chilling, right? I’m unsure whether I’d like to develop that story further, or look at a short story collection in which the ‘dirty old man’ and his ‘dirty family’ all stalk different people. Initially, when I first looked at this course, I hoped to develop this idea of the boy who lives alone into a play – but maybe that will come at another time.

The second piece I included I think I would prefer to keep for my dissertation at the end of the year. It is a fictionalized account of Eva Braun in which I work to tease out the woman behind Hitler’s empire. Her ambition, her fears, her normalization of her boyfriend’s evil, her exclusion from the other Nazi wives and, ultimately, the extreme power she held over her boyfriend’s decisions right in the last throes of his terrible war. I definitely think this would work well as a novel, and it’s something I will keep on the back burner, ready to cook through when my time comes. When my proficiency at writing is higher than it is now.

Lastly, a quick little scribble at the bottom of the page, I am thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year. I did it last year (though in Oct for the extra day) and got 57,000 words done of a novel called Cetilla. I flat lined at the last hurdle, but I wonder if it would be worth trying again this year? Maybe. Whatever I decide, I’ll keep you updated.

 

And so, for now, au revoir and goodbye for another week!

I have no control over what comes out

I am sometimes afraid of my own writing.  I fear that I will reveal too much of myself to the wrong people and this (my crazy head tells me) is guaranteed to result in an event of apocalyptic proportions, of exactly what I have no idea.  Except that it will be monumentally bad.

I allow this fear to prevent me from writing.  This course has been a catalyst for ‘blootering’ it and giving me the freedom to just write, but in non-class situations fear can still rear its ugly mug and laugh in my face, becoming a block once more.

I was interviewing today in what I like to describe as my main job, the one that pays the bills, my bread and butter so to speak.  My ‘other’ job is not exactly work since it consists largely of watching people, shows and gigs, with a bit of ice-cream selling in the middle.

Thomas Truax

This is Thomas Truax.  He is an American musician, but I’d add performance artist and sound artist to that description.  I am also a little in love with this Victorian Gothic vibe he has going on, playing instruments he has made himself from a range of materials.  The Hornicator is made from a gramophone speaker, a mass of wires and (at a wild guess) the mike from a megaphone, whilst Mother Superior is a programmable drum machine made from what appears to be bicycle wheel parts.  Truax’s material shape-shifts from the hysterically funny to the oddly spellbinding to credible post punk riffs  – all delivered with an infectious familiarity that you feel compelled to pay rapt attention to.  Despite being paid, I do not view this as work.  It was an absolute joy of a shift.

However, I digress.  As much as I would like to fritter my word count away on Thomas Truax, and yet another obsessive musical journey, I was talking about my main job, which I hardly consider work either because I truly love it.

We were interviewing for a support writer for one of the projects I manage.  A section of the interview was a writing activity, so we could get a taster of how the candidates would deliver a session with our participants.  This is where the fear kicked in.  Cue lots of inner monologue expletives.  We did three separate activities from the interviews, so to fulfil my blog commitment, and to avoid typing up the five pages we are meant to write for Kirsty for a little longer, I will share what came out.

Interview 1

dark day colours

masquerading as her true self

midnight black and muddy white

exposed

Interview 2

The autumn leaves dance around her face as she gazes up in wonder at the man who seemed like a giant.  He shows her how to make a sycamore seed into a helicopter, his diamond blue eyes twinkling with mischief.  Rubbing the stalk between his palms, the seed spirals off into the rain grey sky.

Interview 3

Don’t give me the whole truth

But don’t feed me no lies

Don’t give me flickered glances

I want to remember your eyes

Don’t fill me with heavy sorrow

And don’t you dare cry

Don’t give me a wave, love

When you say goodbye

Writing

I have no control over what comes out, but I’m learning that isn’t a bad thing.  I’m starting to get what Kirsty is trying to teach us about not discarding the scored out lines and words.  I’m learning to let go.  I’ve even used a little bit of what came out today for my five pages.  It isn’t finished or polished but it is becoming something.  I think.  I need to let myself colour outside the lines for a bit so that I can get the best picture and remind myself that sometimes, the best picture is outside the lines.

 

 

Today, I finished…

We read an extract from Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter in class.  The words leapt from the page and slapped my face.  ‘Read me, read me! You know this!’ they cried.

I bought the book.

DSC_0060

I started reading.

I cried, several times.  I laughed, so loud on the train that people were staring at me.  I did their thinking for them.  ‘Look at that sick weirdo, reading a book about grief and laughing. Tut, tut, tsk tsk.’  I smiled and kept on reading, lost in the words and the feelings once more.

I finished the book today.

I am afraid to write about it.  I am not ready.  I look at Facebook.  I make a cup of hot, sweet tea – writer’s fuel, that is.  I look at Facebook again, mindlessly scrolling up and down, minutes dissolving into the ether of useless information.

I finished the book today.  My blog post is due tomorrow.   I must begin writing.  Just write.

Music will help.  I make a playlist.  I take a photograph of the book for the blog.  Break up the text with pictures.  I capture another image, of the book I have finished on top of the other books I have yet to finish, but would find easier to write about.

DSC_0059

It is 10.47 am and I haven’t eaten a thing.  I grudgingly make brunch, accompanied by yet another cup of tea. I look at the writing table I have set up.  Maybe I should hand write it first I muse, and rummage around for my notebook and pen.  Is everyone’s writing process like this?  Maybe there’s an image for that?  I google ‘the writing process’.

Writers pie chart

Twitter distracts me further.  I throw my phone down on the table in frustration and consider taking a hammer to it.  Instead, I pick up my pen and finally begin to write.

So, here we are.  I finished the book today.

Max Porter artfully uses dark humour in his description of looking out from a maelstrom of grief, setting the scene with a series of detached observations.  I have been a central character in that parade, surrounded by family, close friends, part-time friends, strangers, wannabe friends, and drama-by-proxy addicts, tripping over themselves to dole out advice or share personal experiences that have, frankly, fuck-all to do with anything you are feeling.

Porter shares the circus of it all with stark honesty, harnessing the spaced out feelings of the first few days perfectly. Grieving feels like being ripped out of your own life and plonked on an empty stage in an empty theatre, to star in an absurd play.  The audience float around outside the theatre, whilst the you that everyone sees smiles weakly, nods, croaks thanks.  The unseen, simultaneous roles of you respond quite differently, often with a great deal of swearing and, an occasional punch in the face.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a fractured account of shared experiences written from multiple perspectives in a myriad of ways.  The writing style achieves the feeling of making complete sense, whilst making no sense at all.   Crow, our antagonist and hero rolled into one is invited in, yet invades the remains of this family.  Throughout the narrative, Crow hops and darts around the boys and the father, tormenting and saving, hurting and healing.  He pecks at the darkest parts of humanity and is the father, the boys, grief, anger, hope, the past, the future  – a black mirror in which to view ourselves as we truly are.  I found this book easy to read, drinking in all its darkness and light.  Heartfelt honesty and clever imagery paints an emotive masterpiece that is accessible to all, whether you have been cast in the death show or not.  You may finish this book, but it will not be finished with you.

Books end.  Grief does not.  I finished my blog post.

ENDS

DSC_0061

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.