Friday, 27 May 2011


It was my last MA lesson on Wednesday and I have been too grumpy about this to write a blog before now.  Don't get me wrong, the grumpiness hasn't magically disappeared, but it has reduced in size sufficiently for me to think that I might be able to write a post which isn't entirely full of whinging.

As you can see, I'm off to a cracking start.

This last lesson was quite interesting.  We had a guest speaker: the biographer and art historian Bevis Hillier.  He had plenty to say - some of it useful, some of it amusing - and certainly knew what he was talking about in terms of biography, not only from the technical point of view but also due to the fact that he has an (I think on-going) feud with rival biographer A.N. Wilson.

This seems to be some sort of rule in academic-writing-land - that there has to be an all-out word-war between biographers or historians on the same subject.  Some even came up when I indexed the TLS last year - Orlando Figes anyone?  (I can't hear his name without giggling like the big nerdy moron that I am: alas that no-one else I know finds it funny.)

We spent the second half of Wednesday's lesson going through rationales, leaving me with a moderately better idea of what I'm suppose to be doing.  This optimism is likely to disappear once I actually start writing the bugger but it's nice while it lasts.

But that can wait for a few days.  The focus of my little brain is now switched to the Publishing Project assignment, which is due first.  I seem to have written a couple of thousand words and yet have not really described anything.  I'm rather bemused at how I've managed to do this but I plan to rectify this issue forthwith.

Again, with the optimism.  Note the use of the word 'plan'.  I really wish I could have used the past tense for that sentence ('I have rectified...') but unfortunately the motivation part of my brain has gone to sleep and throws a pillow at me every time I try to wake it up.

So I figured writing a blog was half-way between doing something constructive and wasting time.  Wake the motivation part up slowly, like wafting a warm cup of coffee under its nose until it crawls out from under the duvet.

I'm going to stop waffling now.  Well, on here at least.

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Titanic and Me

We spent a good portion of Wednesday's Non-Fiction session discussing our assignments.  I was grateful for this use of the time because, while I wasn't feeling particularly anxious about this piece, I felt I hadn't quite cracked it yet.

My problem lies in that, unlike the rest of the class, I haven't chosen to write about something which involves my own personal experience.  I chose to write the last ten minutes of the Titanic.  I'm more obsessed with the ship than any normal person should be so I figured I might as well pick it as a topic rather than something I'm only mildly obsessed with.

In the criteria for the assignment, however, there seems to be a significant emphasis on 'the personal'.  There's the obvious issue that the Titanic sank 75 years before I was born, so I can hardly give an personal account of it without wandering into the realms of fiction.  And then there's also the thing that stops me from updating my facebook status more than twice a year - I barely even care about what I think, so why should anyone else?

I've therefore decided to change the structure of the piece a little.  Rather than having just the creative (yet factual) description of the sinking, I'm also adding something in about my interest in the Titanic as a whole.  I'm slightly concerned that the two styles won't marry up but I'll have to see what everyone else thinks.

Either side of the piece's main body, I go on a mini-rant about museums and how I find exhibitions underwhelming.  (Basically, I unleashed the grump.  That'll teach them to ask for my opinion again.)

And yet even this added bit hasn't really explained why I'm so interested in the Titanic because, quite frankly, I have no idea.  I can't tell you why it intrigues me so much.  The idea that it's some sort of morbid fascination doesn't quite fit because there have been plenty of other historical events since with far higher fatality rates.  I don't think there's some sort of conspiracy attached to it.  I don't see it as a symbol of western complacency destroyed.  I don't think it was signalling the beginning of the end of the golden times, with WWI just around the corner.  Any of these would be reasonable explanations, but they're just not mine.

So no, university-criteria-writer, I'm afraid I don't know what this piece means.  I don't know why the Titanic enthrals me.  Maybe I'm just a bit odd.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Return of the Workshop

Yesterday's Publishing Project reverted back to its afternoon slot for this week and we spent the majority of the time workshopping three pieces of work.  I have to say, this is probably the best Publishing Project lesson we've had all semester.

I understand that the whole purpose of this module was supposed to be learning about publishing and marketing etc but it has been, quite frankly, utterly depressing for the most part (with the exception of Lorella Belli who was so delightfully positive in comparison to the previous harbingers of doom).  I don't blame the speakers for their lack of cheery forecasts because what they said was simply a reflection of the market itself - all in all, it's pretty bleak.  No-one knows what will happen and they don't know how to prepare for these ominous changes which are sweeping in on the wind.

So it was lovely yesterday to actually get back to the writing.  It rather reminded me why I was there, doing this course, and paying all that money.  Writing is what drove me to quit my job and while this was financially an imprudent decision, I can't say that I regret it.  I would have gone wacko by this point if I had stayed.  As pleasant a company as it was to work for, my tasks were hardly very intellectually stimulating (I spent the last month of my full-time employment checking spellings).

Regardless of what happens at the end of this course - and how quickly that milestone is looming! - I really hope I continue writing.  I don't know what the market is going to do but, as Candy Gourlay said last week, in whatever form stories appear in the future, the world will always need storytellers.

Unless technology becomes self-aware and rises up against us, forcing us into a state of mindless servitude.  In which case I will have break free using my natural aversion to all things technological, join the resistance and fight using my awesome computer-destroying-error-creating-static-skills, which have already claimed four laptops to date.

Then, if I survive, I can tell that story.  Sounds like an excellent life plan to me.

Somehow, I doubt the university careers advisors would be too enthusiastic.

"Have you ever thought about teaching..."

Yes I have and my conclusion is: give me a techo-war any day.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Author vs Hermit

For the Publishing Project session yesterday evening our guest speaker was Candy Gourlay.  I wasn't sure what to expect from this talk.  I'm not really interested in children's fiction - but not through some ridiculous elitist viewpoint that somehow children's fiction is less worthy.  I am, in fact, rather intimidated by the idea of writing children's books.  I was nonetheless concerned that I wouldn't get much out of this session if that was her area of expertise.

I am happy to say that my fears were groundless.  Candy gave an informative and entertaining talk, with a lot of focus on marketing and self-promotion.  Her point of view as both a website designer (she was 'webmaster' for the SCBWI) and as an author who has really embraced the idea of self-promotion, made for an interesting combination.  She showed us numerous examples of her websites and blogs, all of them looking so swanky that it made little dinosaur-me despair somewhat.  Writing a blog on this here site is one thing - anything more than that is rather beyond me.

One of the main things I took away from the evening was her belief that authors have to draw attention to themselves.  This thought has been enough to lodge that sickening wad of fear right into my stomach, where it has set up shop and now refuses to leave.

I was rather a freakishly tall child but fortunately slowed down the whole growing thing when I got to my teens.  But certainly habits remain from junior school, one of which is to try and be as small and unnoticeable as possible.  Now I suddenly have to start leaping up and down shouting 'LOOK AT ME!!  LOOK AT ME!!'

Hmm, maybe I don't want to be an author so much after all.  If it weren't for the writing I really don't think I would bother.

There must be some caves around here somewhere.  I think I'd make rather a good hermit.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

*Hangs Head In Shame*

I'd known that my blogging frequency was bad but I hadn't realised it was this atrocious.  One blog in the whole of April?  ONE?  Seriously?  Ugh, I'm rubbish.

So here I am again with fervent apologies to my non-existent readers and will once more pledge to do better next time, all the while wondering whether I actually will manage to be anything more than useless.  Just at blogging, obviously.  I'm sure there are things in the real world that I can do ok.  Like baking cookies.  Although I haven't even done that for a while either.

The Easter non-holidays have now disappeared and we are back to university lectures.  I had a bit of a fright yesterday at the start of the Publishing Project session when I wrote 'Week 9' at the top of the page.  Only three weeks to go... cue panic attack.

The Litmus anthology is still ongoing and causing a fair amount of stress for those involved.  I just thank my lucky stars that I'm not overseeing the whole thing or I would have gone utterly round the metaphorical bend by this point.  I'm part-way through my current allocation of copy-editing and will be muchly relieved when I can send it off into the world and never have to look at another full stop in such detail ever again.

I've now got to start thinking more about the assignment for Publishing Project.  I've known what I'm going to be doing for a while - since the start of the module, in fact - which is the second chapter of my newly-started novel Hide and See, the first chapter of which I submitted for last semester's Advanced Fiction workshop.  I know what I want to do and I'm quite happy with the story overall, so motivation hopefully won't be a problem.  I guess my only reservation is that I won't get the same level of feedback from everyone that I had last time, something I found very useful.

Welcome to the real world, I guess.

The real world was never something I was a fan of - hence this fiction writing malarky.

I've got Advanced Non-fiction this evening.  We talked about our assignments last week so I don't feel quite so at-sea with that one.  I'm chose to do the Titanic, because I am both lazy and a massive nerd.

(I’ve just re-read that paragraph and noticed the pun.  Apologies.)

Right-ho, I've ranted enough.  I think I sound like a right whinger in these bloggy-babies but I promise you, imaginary readers, I am not.  I'm really quite a cheerful fellow.  Honest.