Thursday, 30 December 2010

Kafka and Freud (still rowing that boat)

At the point where Kafka and I were about to part company (which would have been a pain because he's part of my theories assignment) I realised something. Kafka has weird categories of people that pop up in his stories. OK, there are the powerless leads like Gregor Samsa and K. who just experience unfairness without resistance. But there are also women (a strange breed in Kafka, very often unclean, deformed and promiscuous). There are a lot of talking animals, who function better than the people. And 'happy' people, almost inhuman people, like the ones in The Next Village, who don;'t have to sleep because they don't get tired, and all the 'assistants' in his stories who seem to just run and run. They are almost angelic (if I can use such a religious term with Kafka), creatures created but not quite human, who are musical, tireless and contented. They are part of the system without being victimised by it. Interesting. So I'm coming at it from that angle. What is the nature of these characters in Kafka's world? Hmm. So I feel like I've got an 'in'.

Meanwhile, I'm playing with the book, because I had to do a workshop I handed in chapters 3 and 4 but actually, missed out an earlier chapter which I think can go back in. That means I'll have a good chunk ready to work on back in Winchester when I get back. I'm so enjoying being home in most respects, but I won't miss all the interruptions!   

Monday, 27 December 2010

Having fun (when I ought to be doing an assignment)

Just when I weighed up what I had for my various assignments (265 lines of poetry for one, 4000 words for fiction, 100 lines for theory, one radio play and the very beginnings of a short story) I gave into an impulse to do a design to fit a poem. I do think poems should stand on their own words, but there's some fun to be had playing around with words and pictures, especially for a front cover.

This is my draft. A bit of fun! I am always amazed by the ravens that live above our house, and fly down every day. They are such graceful birds, even if the other birds often mob them. In fact, the first sign is often the noise the smaller birds make. It's still very amateurish, but I really enjoyed doing it and I rewrote a few lines of a poem today. I'm really enjoying writing at the moment, especially since I reassure myself just how much I actually have already done.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


I have loved this year's solstice celebrations. The tree is full of birds being treated to a better quality of bird food, including a slab of Christmas cake that they have fought over all day. Magpies, Jackdaws and a jay have been enjoying the cake and leftover sandwiches, a squirrel legged it with a tummy full of nuts and the top of a piece of cake, woodpeckers have been down all day with the usual bunch of blue, great and long-tailed tits. Blackbirds have been rooting in each of the holes in the snow for bits of bread and softer foods along with a fluffed up thrush. We have nuthatches hanging off the nuts and pinching bits of fat ball. Everyone is fed and happy and has presents. The garden looks like a Christmas card dotted with robins. Lovely.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Trying not to be blocked

I don't want to believe in writer's block but I suppose we all have experienced it. So when I feel a bit of a waver in the force, I get nervous. So I'm trying to push through a freewrite every day. This evening I watched a snippet of James Rhodes blasting his way through a Beethoven sonata, amazing, especially since I don't really enjoy Beethoven. Anyway, I watched his hands, which seemed almost sculpted by the practice he does and especially each movement of the sonata, which seemed to change the shape of his wrists as he played. So 400 words and I put it into poem form for the fun of it, and actually I love it. Someone (amyg) suggested Erica Jong and I'm so enjoying her poetry! Thank you for's keeping me writing.

I think I'm a bit blocked by the whole solstice/Christmas thing, days and days of 'just' being mum, cooking, wrapping, organising etc. Today I refereed and lost a tournament of card games (I came last, pretty well), made a lunch for eight trying to remember who hates Stilton and who won't eat cucumber, watched the final Shrek film with most of the kids and then enjoyed my daughter's cooking. But it is the first meal I haven't cooked at all for a while, except for pizza night, which I am exempted from because I don't eat the stuff. It's hard work, being Mum. And in the back of my head is a constant stream of information about the amount of milk we have and whether we are going to be able to buy meat for Solstice as it only hits the shops on the 20th... So I'm going to try and ignore the mental distraction and at least write something each day. 

The other thing is I normally break out of this 'Mum' thing and start a novel which I usually finish about March/April. I'm getting jittery, as I want to write something new but am still a bit haunted by my last year's two novels. I'm wondering, if I come bursting out with something completely new if it will enthuse me and then I'll have to write it up into the dissertation. I'll have to try and find some time to think about character and plot.  

Saturday, 18 December 2010


If I have one gripe with the MA I'm doing it's the workshopping. Not that people haven't worked on each other's writing and given masses of useful advice, they have. But right at the beginning, I would have liked a few minutes of suggestions about structuring the critique. 'One thing working, one thing not' seems to mean different things to different people. Now, on A363 we had a load of suggestions from the tutor and ideas and examples on the forum as well. The whole point of workshopping is to look primarily at the writing, and whether the plot delivers what the writer intended. Not to argue with the story itself. Imagination is, in my view, a matter of taste. I don't like to read stories set in the holocaust, for example, but I have no issue with other people writing them and readers enjoying them. We have a wide range of writing styles on our course, and a range of strengths and weaknesses. It's exciting to be in a group of writers whose individual skills are stronger than mine, but I wish the tutor would add a bit of guidance to the feedback. If one student is heavy handed about something there is no argument from the tutor, and we tend to give much heavier weight to criticism. On our very first week I had a student state, very loudly, that she couldn't believe in my character at all because she couldn't believe that anyone wouldn't have heard a certain song. So the whole of my piece was trashed, despite maybe having (I think) a few neat descriptive moments. I then realised that the same student doesn't cope well with criticism herself. I want to say (to anyone about to critique a piece) be truthful, if you don't like something, say so BUT remember, it is just your opinion. And if you dish it out, remember you have to be able to take it. I'm fairly robust because a) I am pretty confident in my work and b) I know I make mistakes and am happy to learn as much as I can. And, like most people, I often pick up when other people make the mistakes I make! So the whole experience is a great educational one, but is diminished if someone is coming from an emotional and not a critical perspective. Rant over.

All this is relevant for me at the moment because TMA03 is all about critiquing someones work on the forums. I have found the A363 tutor group a bit intense and led by relatively few people. I put work up and didn't get any feedback, but then the same piece went on to get a very good mark. I've more or less got TMA02 sorted and TMA04 is already mostly written (it's formative anyway, you just have to send in a bit about what you intend to do for the end of module assignment, now confusingly called the EMA. So 3 is all about working on someone else's piece and how they adapted it and improved it etc. That would have been a helpful exercise on the MA, for us to get feedback on our feedback!

Creatively, I'm having fun with poetry still, though I feel the urge to sit and write something like a short story, something stand alone which might be adaptable for TMA05 but also just for fun.

Having all the kids home (including daughter's other half) means the cooking takes a lot longer and even breakfast is a big deal. Who would have thought 6 'kids' could consume so much porridge and then play in the snow for so long!

This is the girls fighting the boys. Rosie got her hat knocked off a few times!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Assignment work

I'm on a roll with creative work at the moment, I struggled to try and get a lot into a single poem and then my tutor suggested that it could be a sequence of poems, linked by prose. That worked. Well, I'm wrestling with it anyway. But another project I started has been terrific fun to write: twelve prose poems arranged as patchwork on the page, each describing the fabric and the history associated with it. I love patchwork and fabrics and especially old fabrics that hold history. For example:
flannel from an infant’s nightgown, baby that grew up into Uncle David and Uncle James and maybe even Dad until the flannel was soft like a baby’s skin and fragranced with dust and the heat of thirty years of airing cupboard, creamed by time and laundry soap and the mangle and drying in front of a coal fire, softened by big hands holding small bodies, cutting around the stains
This is very first draft but together they (randomly) tell the story of a woman and her marriage and affair and divorce. I though it was interesting and it's fun to write without line breaks, instead considering the words on the page as blocks, some orientated on their sides. I'm enjoying thinking about words as shapes and marks on the page not just the sound of the read out loud words.
I'm also thrilled to be able to sit in on a third year poetry class next year. That should be great fun, especially as I don't have to produce an assignment for that. I have a short story to work on too but I shall enjoy looking at other people's work for the next few days. Which will give my back a rest! 

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Helene Cixous and white ink

I've found the theory readings have started a lot of creative work. The whole idea of the language we speak having been so shaped by men we women struggle to exactly explain our experience was really illustrated for me when I recalled an occasion on which I was surrounded by naked women. This hardly ever happens, not to me, anyway! I was one of those kids who looked away at school and dressed under a towel. But suddenly I was surrounded by arms and legs and breasts and...whats? I didn't have a word for you know and down there, not that I would choose to use in a creative writing piece. Of course I'm familiar with the vulgar and/or childish words, but these aren't the words I would choose. And many of them are very derogatory to women. So I looked up a fascinating article called:   "Snatch," "Hole," or "Honey-pot"? Semantic Categories and the Problem of Nonspecificity in Female Genital Slang by Virginia Braun and Celia Kitzinger in 2001. They looked at words that both genders use for genitals looking especially at the difference between male and female nomenclature. Women do not label their genitals. Nor do many of the words used by either gender relate specifically to anatomical features in a commonly agreed way. 'Pussy' means one thing to one person and another to someone else. I read somewhere else that gynaecologists don't name names either, and if they do the words may sound stilted and impersonal. So, I'm trying to write a poem about my becoming aware of the whole world of feminism and the most emotionally striking feature is all know, down theres. In class, we discussed the problem and I've been left thinking, here is the actual heart of the problem. As Cixous says, we need to write in white ink, rediscover/co-create a language specific to the female experience to describe and explore female issues. This theory stuff is amazing. It's really made me think. I've even had to look (reluctantly) back at Derrida, at least, books about Derrida, who says something along the lines of words don't really mean what you think they mean. Words come with baggage.   

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Positive feedback and bad backs

I came back to Devon with a sheaf of copies of my third and fourth chapters, all annotated with helpful suggestions from fellow students and many positive comments about the story etc. I was heartily relieved, they are a tough audience but so helpful! It's inspired me to get on and rewrite chapter 5, especially as I want to divert the story from its previous trajectory and make it go in another direction.
Then I really trashed my back. In a garden centre, reaching for something. For goodness sake! Anyway, I managed to avert the whole kablooey but I am now extremely sore and can't stand upright. My checklist for a really bad back includes: have i got control over my bladder (yep); and can I still feel my feet (yep). So it's not as bad as it could be, but I can't sit at the computer for very long. About 500 words at a time. This is forcing me to do a bit more thinking between bouts of writing, which is probably a good thing, as I can easily write for 20 or 30 thousand words - before I realise that train of thought isn't going anywhere. 
I'm wary of letting any kind of relationship goo sneak into my books because I'm a sucker for a romance and it takes over, but this time I'm attempting the fine line between sexual tension and giving in to it. Tricky. In between painkillers and cuddling up to my new microwaveable heat pad (thanks to my husband, who is a genius!) I am wrestling with the vivisection of innocent bystanders and the historical research I have to do lying down. 
I'm going to miss a week of lectures, which I hate, I'm one of those nerdy people who like to go to everything I've committed to. But I have read all the theory and followed up with a fair amount of research, as well as having completed almost all of the toolkit. that just leaves the fiction stuff, which I will work on tonight. Meanwhile, the same husband has had to go down to Winchester to help the boys out, work, and will be back later in the week. Which gives me the centrally heated bedroom and king sized bed all to myself...lovely after the cramped and cold quarters in Hampshire!