Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Fiction module

Ouch. That was much harder work for me. I like the tutor enormously, but the cosy little group from Mondays has been added to by the second year part-timers from last year, who are an established group and a bit territorial. Lots of group dynamic stuff going on, shuffling roles. We had to do a writing exercise from a prompt which was very tricky anyway. I don't work that way, I usually do a free write, come up with a conflict of a point of tension and work from that. Being started with a first person perspective and a song was tricky. I did manage to read without stammering so that, at least, was good. Next week we are all taking in work to share and then we are on a schedule to bring more developed work to have workshopped. I volunteered to go early in the schedule, partly to get it over with and partly because I work better with feedback for structure, pace and voice rather than language. I don't need so much dissection of the actual language. Apart from my lacklustre piece, there was a genuinely creepy piece which I enjoyed immensely and a rather funny, snappy piece from another. Anyway, the exercise broke the ice.

These workshops are for two pieces of work over the semester, and reasonable big (2-4k). They can be any fiction from beginning of a novel to short story. The tutor suggested we would need 4000 words to write a short story but I love really short short stories so that might be a problem. If you hand in something really small, I wonder if it would get put under the microscope. I've got time to work something out.

A363 came on line today. Having done most of the work, it seems friendly and easy, though the standard of writing it has pulled out of me is better. It's so structured. I found the drama fascinating but difficult. I'm still wrestling with film. That strict structure is a bit of a  straitjacket too, but this way I have the freedom to use anything that wanders off into a bigger, better piece of work for the EMA (end of module assignment) or the MA. I shall put A363 comments and reflections on my other blog, except where they are general writing observations. I've received a lot of encouragement to do this year, for which I am really grateful. It's a lovely thing to be able to do, and for that I have to thank my family who have given up the most. (Suddenly I'm at the Oscars, dazzled by the lights. I shall try not to cry.) Anyway, now I have completely befuddled myself as to what I have to do when so I'm about to go out and get a proper diary to keep everything in order. The rest of my whole life is in my Mslexia diary. 

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Started the MA!

Yesterday, I went along to my first class, called theories of creativity and writing. This module, which was the one I was mostly concerned about, turned out to be completely bearable! We are going to be exposed to various theories, and our assignment asks us to draw on that theory in a creative way. So we could have two characters discussing a theory, or parody a style, or do anything that draws on what we have looked at. The theory doesn't have to be something discussed in the course, it could be beyond it, so maybe a psychological theory will inspire a bit of creative writing. We are starting with the classics: Aristotle 'The Art of Poetry', a bit of the Iliad and Sappho's love poems (which I love). I love anything Troy and have read the Iliad and the Odyssey several times, and the Aristotle gets quoted everywhere. Lovely stuff.

The other module the tutor teaches is online, the Writer's Toolkit (which I think is a funny name). It's a series of weekly tasks we work creatively on. This week we have to pick a favourite author and research their theories about writing, looking for ideas on aesthetics and practice. Basically, what can we say about their aesthetic ideas from their writing? And how can I use that in my writing? Manageable stuff. Again, each week we are supposed to come up with a creative piece and at the end of the semester, submit 4000 words of the best/most interesting ones. The two modules complement each other, and he's going to teach them alongside each other so we can use them to inform each other.

The group was very quiet but hopefully will warm up over time. We did some writing exercises but didn't read anything (thankfully, I was so nervous!). Some of the time was taken up with people stressing about the assignment. The tutor is cool with it though - no rationale (unless we want to write one), no fussy formatting and presentation, just make sure it's neat and tidy and got your name on it! Fiction tonight. Plus I have week 6 off, so can go home for an extended break, which will be lovely because I feel disconnected with my other life, the one I'm going back to at some point. I ned to immerse myself in autumn and make jam and the solstice cake. I feel like the Devon house isn't mine any nore, I need to reclaim it.

I woke up full of a new start for the 'other novel', the grown up story I'm working on alongside the YA story. I wrote it down immediately and I think it does the job, introduces a lot of background without loads of scene setting. Here's a (very first draft) sample:

We went back to Chancel Hall in our funeral blacks, our shiny shoes. The police were waiting there. Tim stepped forward and put an arm around me. We hugged briefly, but I was conscious of his hand held in Samantha’s; her shiny new ring entitling her to share in even the private moments between us. Then the faces circling us, some tearful, some blank, a few accusing. As a policeman took my arm gently, murmuring something about time, my eyes found Rory. He was sitting under a table, already filling himself with the cakes my sisters had brought with them. And finally, Marley, eyes on my every move. Her eyes filled the world, so like Sorcha’s yet so alive, so intelligent. She lifted her chin, we had rehearsed this. But as people stared, it was me who broke down, sobbing in the arms of two police officers, at the thought that not only would I never see Sorcha again, but maybe Marley and Rory were lost to me as well.  

Friday, 24 September 2010

Looking at the novel (again)

This is brilliant, I'm sat down with sixty thousand words of previous writing without panicking / crying / or tearing of pages. I have written out a synopsis and chapter headings, and now I'm working through each chapter. What do we learn about the characters? What plot needs to be carried through each chapter? What conflicts and tension are present, and does that tension increase? What do we learn about the story world? Well, I'm trying to answer those questions, anyway.

I anticipate dividing the chapters up into scenes in the same way, then work on those scenes before writing the actual rewrite, using the ideas (but not necessarily the words) that I had before. My main characters have come into focus. The main scary moment has to be moved from the middle of the book towards the end, where it can be part of the main conflict. I need to find minor spookies to build up the threat to my main characters.

I've been looking at story structure in my books (Joseph Campbell's monomyth and Vladimir Propp's formalist analysis of folk tales). Me, looking at structure! My principal character is now the one point of view narrator, rather than the narration being all over the show. My teenage second character is less whiny, more consistent as a bit of a heroine. There are less incidental characters, and I've brought in a character from another book, who is fun to write. I'm trying to map my prospective structure into some sort of suggested structure from these two theories, because it does make me think in terms of what works. In many ways, the story is that of a fairy tale, with baddies and goodies and a couple of more ambivalent characters along the way. I'm also looking at Bell's book Plot and Structure. When I get stuck I'm going to have a look at the bigger project, the more serious novel. I'm enjoying writing again.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Starting the MA

I stood in line for two hours to enrol on the MA, after which we met the faculty. Everyone seemed very friendly, and it didn't feel like going on the MSc, which was barely a step up from a BSc, we were still students being thrown information and theories, just expected to write way better assignments. This was what I was looking for, a chance to work on my creativity and improve my skills, but one thing the programme leader said was 'don't stop writing.' Since I've been fairly blocked for the last six weeks from doing anything new, I was surprised to almost feel as if I was being unlocked, and I have written 1000 word synopsis of 'Borrowed Time'. (Look at me, writing a plan!). Can't wait to get back into it.
My partner is coming down to Winchester tomorrow, so I can't wait to see him, and tell him and show him everything (look, shiny ID card! Course handbook!) and hopefully I will get some work down as well to show him. My daughter is coming down on Friday for a night, so we will be able to celebrate my son's 17th birthday (mostly) together. Then they go back on Sunday and the course begins on Monday. I can't wait to get stuck in, to be honest, even if I have to read and understand Mrs. Dalloway, which I am strangely resistant to.... I'm rather enjoying the student life.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Starting to understand commentaries

OK, I haven't been blogging much but starting life in a  new town, looking after a couple of very apprehensive sons and missing my partner have reduced my motivation somewhat. However, I have been diligently working my way through a textbook by Amanda Boulter, and am now ready to apply myself to A363. In chapter 12, she talks about the commentaries we are supposed to write about the process of creating our fiction / poetry or whatever. This is the main area I fell down in in A215.

Anyway, applying my knowledge to 'Drowning', one of my short stories, I can deduce the questions I should, have been asking were:

  • Did a real life event or reading prompt this story? What was the initial spark?
  • Discuss the political / social issues around disability in children.
  • Analyse other fiction on the subject of euthanasia / childhood disability. What research did I do?
  • Discuss theories of narrative. How did they help me focus the story?
  • Reflect on any other theories (e.g. philosophical) that inspired the story.
  • Consider the planning and structure of the story, and the creative decisions I made e.g. POV character, tense, time.
  • Explain the motivations of the characters.
  • How did I anticipate the reader would experience / interpret the story?
  • What feedback did I receive and how did I use it?
  • What didn't work (also what did) and why?
  • What have I learned through writing and rewriting this story?

Having been on my university's mature student's course, I can now identify the library and the main buildings. All I have to do now is enrol on Tuesday and head off to my faculty's welcome meeting. I feel a tiny bit better prepared.

Friday, 10 September 2010

On the nature of love

Ten years ago I would have told you that the greatest love one human being could have for another was the bond between a mother and her young child. I know some people don’t experience that bond with one or more of their children, but when the bond is there it’s literally worth dying for. I had loved and been married and been widowed, and I can honestly say that I loved S. But I don’t remember ever feeling about him the way I felt about all three of my babies. I missed him because he was my best friend, my companion, my co-creator of these amazing three people. What I didn’t miss was the whole marriage thing. I felt diminished the first time I had to write Mrs so and so, hated the fact that he was the important one in the eyes of the world, especially as I was a stay-at-home mother.

Then came single life, and I started to date. I also started reading romances, mostly with a light touch. I missed sex, sure, and the intimacy of having a partner, but I wouldn’t swap that for my freedom, for the intense relationship I had with my kids. I had a career, I had my own house. I had freedom, for twelve years.

Then it happened. At a deeply unsociable moment, I fell in love with the newly widowed husband of a dear friend. I didn’t even know if I liked him, but it was there, just like in the poetry and all those romances I loved when I was younger. And I mean fell, there was definitely a sensation of falling and possibly crash landing. My perspective on love changed dramatically.

Take Elizabeth Barrett Browning and ‘How do I love Thee?’ for example:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

And Shakespeare’s sonnet 141:

In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,

For they in thee a thousand errors note;

But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,

Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.

Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted;

Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,

Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited

To any sensual feast with thee alone:

But my five wits nor my five senses can

Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee.

I get them now, I get the weird transformation from me, singular to us, plural. I did struggle with it, not least because he came with a lot of baggage (recently widowed, four kids) and I had to give up my hard won freedom as my kids grew up and go back to looking after a three year old. Not to mention that he was, and still is at heart, a very traditional product of a very traditional marriage. I looked at him, and really saw him, and still loved him warts and all (figuratively speaking, no actual warts).

After seven years I feel like I have discovered something amazing, that I realise I never had before, whether because I wasn’t ready for it or because that person didn’t connect in that way. Now I’m away, I find myself writing poetry and astonished to find that, much as I love my kids (and I do) and although their welfare is foremost while they are still kids, the person I love most is my husband. I miss him, not the everyday stuff so much (well, some) but the moments of real connection which are rare with kids and work and life getting in the way. I have started to write about love in a different way (well, all ways are different because I hate the gooey stuff normally, I’m the least romantic person). It’s like getting a new colour in your paint box. You had an uneasy feeling all along that there ought to be a colour in that empty space but couldn’t  imagine what it would be like… but now you have it it’s your favourite…

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Back to studying

In an effort to stop feeling homesick and get on with the whole writing thing, I have turned to a little book about the creative process called 'Writing Fiction'. My aim is to precis (no matter how thinly) ten pages a day until it's read and understood. This is to build my confidence in the 'literary' part of the course which I am less prepared for. The introduction makes an interesting point: the creative process is usually balanced by some critical reading, editing and reworking of the text. (Especially, in my case, in poetry, in which I can say that most words are replaced/moved/deleted/reinstated several times. I think you can edit poetry for ever). Amanda Boulter argues that we can use imagination and creativity in the editing process, as well as our critical voices in the creative process.

Anyway, I've done my first block and then I fell into the black hole of time and energy we call Facebook. The boys are jittery and emotional because their courses start on Tuesday, and I have to register on line tomorrow. We're all feeling like new kids at school. I'm using that to write poetry, partly about feeling vulnerable in a new place, and then a few lines about the difficulties of loving and parenting step-children came up. I look into the faces of my biological children and I know what they are thinking or can make an intelligent guess. No matter how cross we get with each other (such a soft word, cross! OK, furious), I know they love me and I will keep on loving them. You have no such reassurance with step-children. They accept you because their father loves you, but beyond that is much harder. You have no idea what's going on inside their heads. They don't let you help. They don't want to help. They keep secrets, not just private stuff but important stuff. I didn't get that let out, I love them because they hit my parenting nerve, and they are lovely people. So parenting them is a long line of rejections for me. I wish I didn't care so much. So I wrote about 'Alien Children', because they can do things or say things that I just don't recognise. At least they gave me something to write about!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Writers' block

…is something I don’t really suffer from, but apparently it’s my turn. I can’t think what to write. My usual fall back is my current course book – but it’s the one thing I didn’t pack (Freud sabotaging me, I think!). I have managed a few blog posts on the family blog and a few emails but anything more fiction is gone.
So, I’m falling back on the old idea of writing anything, to stimulate more writing. If all else fails, write about writers’ block.

I’ve been wandering around my new house, wondering what to do. Without all the distractions of normal life, I thought I would just write, or at least read, but actually, I just look for things to do. A cup. I’ll wash it up. I don’t go round and get them all, so I don’t have the satisfaction of having completed a task! The headphone wires are tangled. Five wasted minutes gaining two centimetres of wire. Maybe I should alphabetise my books… This really isn’t like me at all. I’m either full of energy and very focused or a complete slob watching whole series like Fringe, back to back, only getting up for essential breaks and short sleeps.

Tomorrow, I’m going to work from my writing fiction book and read 10 pages of my critical writing book. That at least will stop me wandering about. And I’ll clean the kitchen up properly, instead of just moving the crumbs around and watching the tea stains develop.