Monday, 28 September 2009

OCA Assignment 3

I have to write a character sketch of an invented person, even if he does resemble someone I might know. Easy enough, I thought, but I always find these exercises strangely remote and detached so I've been playing with the idea of coming to know this bloke through the opinions of others, expressed after his death. Naturally, being a crime writer, his death is just a tiny bit controversial. It's really about the tight communities that revolve around pubs. So I've gone from struggling with a few hundred words of dry analysis to a whole short story, complete with resident mystery!

The other part of the assignment is a piece of fiction including a substantial bit of dialogue - much harder to get inspired at the moment but I'm working on it. So for I've come up with a confrontation between two people, a child in a posh school who just doesn't fit in, and the deputy head teacher who is trying to keep them from getting expelled. The twist is the head came from a similar background, but the dilemma is, how much of your past do you share with a child or for that matter, anyone? I'm writing 'what I know' at the moment, as a similar conversation took place for a different reason at my school. I'm finding A215 is coming in useful everywhere, and the OCA course has really got me thinking. The deadline is 30th September, which is beginning to feel a bit tight.

The A215 course has a message forum but frankly, they are a lot less helpful than the facebook lot. I got told off pretty promptly for, after reading a dozen messages along the lines of 'can't wait for the course!!!', suggesting that they a) get on with the course and enjoy it and b) get a little ahead. I was spanked for 'making people feel inadequate if they aren't ahead' - even though my critic was herself doing the same thing. One thing I have learned about distance learning, children, is always, always get ahead if you can - in 8 months there will be 'flu, sick children/parents/pets, extra workload, holidays, birthdays and just moments of little motivation. These are not allowed for in the course!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Lost my passwords and found poetry

I love my children dearly, I usually love my husband, I have a soft spot for my cats and am kind to my chickens. But thanks to the generosity of my eldest child I can't find the essential scrap of paper which represents my passwords and logins, even for this humble effort. Two and a half hours later, I have managed to log in to my own blog. It took me 45 minutes to get on the OU site, despite doing it OK a week ago. Sometimes, life is just pants. Still, how lucky am I that eldest child not just tidied the house but sorted out the books, as well! I'll write the passwords down somewhere more sensible. (note to self: in the flowery notebook by the stamps - assuming you can find the stamps or the notebook - or the desk...)

That aside, I have been emailed some amazing poems from a friend of my son's, a lad I've known for many years. I am quietly astonished at the creativity of teenagers, then I look at my own efforts at the same age, and there it is again, all that amazing freedom and imagery. Sure, a few cliches and not much structure, but powerful words, from big feelings. How did my poetry get to be so pedestrian? If I let my emotions out I just get sulky or sentimental now - all my emotions were primary as a teenager. Full on hatred, joy, love and rage. Now I get pissed off or frustrated, jealous or disappointed. Did I die and no-one tell me? Maybe I just got polite. One of the poems I have written recently was about my sister, who died ten years ago. Actually, that did have a bit of life in it. Maybe there's hope yet.

My A215 course is progressing, I've actually done the first assignment and am now doing the OCA's third one. For A215 I had to write a freewrite about 'a search' amongst other things, and wrote about a rescue - from the perspective of the searchee. It had to be no more than 750 words long - and because I'm a bit perfectionist, I wanted a whole story rather than just a bit of prose. Pretty hard in the word limit. Now I have to somehow produce an insightful commentary on it - in an even tighter squeezed 300 words. As I'm most of the way through part 2 - writing stories - I can't help editing in the light of what I've learned about voice and perspective, dialogue and structure etc. But I'll have to comment on chapters 1-4.

The OCA one expects us to write a piece of fiction that is dependant on dialogue - and I'm absolutely blocked. I started writing a bit about when I was carpeted by the deputy head for using 'language unsuitable for a grammar school' and was made to do elocution lessons. I remember the moment vividly, standing on a desk screeching in a wide vocabulary straight from the big council estate where I was brought up. I remember she sneered down at me like I was an insect, but the threat of my parents being told was enough to get me under control. She hated me - I was always doing something I shouldn't and she just couldn't prove it was me who started the rumour/scratched her car/stole the syringes from chemistry. The last one got the police called in because syringes were in short supply for addicts then. I wanted them for an experiment I was doing with my home made chemistry set. I had hidden them in an outside drain, to be picked up when the coast was clear. I just don't know how to fictionalise it!

Anyway, the poems have started me thinking about my own poetry again. Next section in A215 is poetry, should get me going. I'm about 10 weeks ahead at this point - determined to have December off. So, thanks, Joe.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Starting A215

I had just come back from camping with lots of home educated children and their parents. I was sunburned (yes, in 2009!), ached from head to toe from clinging to a slowly failing airbed parked on a slope, and was grubby the way kids get grubby. Ground in mud, socks that had done 48 hours because I had to double up with the cold night, hair tangled in the wind. But warming me through the worst of the cold was the thought that my materials for A215 were being dispatched. Sadly, they arrived when I was away, so I found myself looking at a DHL card, on a Friday afternoon, with no real prospect of seeing the magic box until Monday.

Needless to say, in our house true love is defined by one of us as apple crumble, sex without the palaver of a shower first and always being allowed to take a guitar on holiday; and by the other as getting back into the car after a hot, slow journey with 5 children who haven't had a shower for days, and picking up a parcel from DHL. Anyway, he did, so I sat on the sofa, and we opened the box like the two OU addicted children that we are. We Ooohed and Aaahed at the study guide, the assignment book and the Big Red Book. They even smelled good. He's just finishing A214 (the music course) and has his last TMA, the really hard one that's compulsory AND you have to get at least 30% on it, and he has an exam 3 weeks later. The pleasure of leafing through an assignment booklet you don't have to do is intoxicating.

Anyway, two days on and smugly 7 weeks ahead on the course, I looked at the first TMA. And something in me just stalled. I went from having a writer's notebook for the first time in my life, full of inspiration and ideas, to being eleven years old and facing the old battleaxe that taught me English in my first year of secondary school. 'Learning to swim' was one of the first stories I had to write for her, and as she had no sense of humour and I was too young to realise that, I wrote a story about jumping into the pool, losing my swimsuit and so on. I got a C. It's from that position, clutching my shiny new maroon exercise book already scarred with a C and a lot of red ink that I am facing TMA01.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

OCA Assignment 2 feedback

I'm beginning to realise one of the reasons I'm so afraid of feedback is I'm afraid someone, at some point, is going to say: 'but you're not a very good writer'. Unlike most things I study, I'm emotionally attached to writing, I really want to be a good one. And while I recognise that lots of the skills asociated with these courses are useful if not essential, underneath it all there has to be some talent. So I was heartened by my tutor's feedback, that while she could find loads of things to improve my work, at least the basic imagination and voice were there. Cunningly concealed behind too many adjectives and adverbs, perhaps, but at least the story was there. It has enthused me for the next part of the course - describing people and groups. It overlaps with something in A215 so I'm doing both lots of exercises together.

Another thing that I found helpful was my tutor's explanation that she found describing places naff and difficult too, wanting instead to jump into action and dialogue. I hope my OU tutor is on the same sort of wavelength as me, a few former students have had experiences of not hitting it off with their tutors. Creativity is subjective, even if the tutor is marking the skills and techniques, some aesthetic appreciation is involved too. Hopefully I won't get a tutor who loves very modern poetry or clever literary obscure fiction.