Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Grinding my nose

And so the academic year has started up again. I'm teaching 6 different classes - more than many full-time lecturers - but, hey, it pays the bills. For the practise of writing the start of the new year has two effects.

The first is the one you would expect. I am now busy with all kinds of teaching related activities. Preparing seminars and lectures, planning ahead for the term, reading the texts I shall be teaching, reminding myself of the theories I need to cover and, oh yes, teaching the classes themselves. As a result, the time I have to dedicate to writing has been vastly truncated. Where, in the summer, I had the luxury of time, now, if I want to write, I have to squeeze it in around my work. You would think the result would be less writing.

But that is where the other effect comes in to play. Over the summer, the vast endless tracts of time sucked up motivation and urgency. There seemed to be so much time that nothing had to be done right away. I did get a lot done, but not as much as I wanted, and probably not as much as I could. Now, with time short, the urgency is back and so the motivation is there to work on writing when I get the chance.

The other effect of teaching starting is like having my brain jump-started. A summer of reading and occasional writing and, let's face it, growing lethargy, didn't help at all. But now that I have to get up, have to get my classes ready, and have to go out and teach, my energy levels are up, my brain is firing again, and my motivation is returning.

I have had to devote the last couple of weeks to preparation for the new term. New courses meant new books to read and new concepts to get my head around. But now that it has all started, I can see how to fit in all the things I want to do with all the things I have to do.

So, more stories have already been finished off and submitted, and my head is once more bowing over my novel. Penguin are accepting unsolicited manuscripts up to the end of October, and I plan to get my book to them within that time. And November is time for Nanowrimo's 'write a novel in a month', and I'm already planning for that.

So, despite the new teaching load, I will carry on with the writing, and let the stimulation of teaching feed into it. And you'll be hearing lots more from me about all of this and more. So, all together... 'Hi ho, hi ho...'

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Words, Words, Words.

You will hopefully be pleased to know that at the weekend I learned that another of my stories, "2o Words" has been accepted for the Bad Language anthology, to be published later in the autumn. Beyond the obvious pleasure at having a story accepted, I am pleased that this story in particular has been picked up as it is one of my personal favourites.

It has this position for two reasons. First, it was the story which broke my creative logjam and led to a productive summer of writing. From Jan to Nov 2009 I wrote nothing creative at all. After that, although I started writing again, the pieces I created came from prompts rather than internal inspiration. Ideas were not swimming around in my head, but the desire to write was still there, so I would sit down and jump-start my brain with a trigger-word, phrase or image. I've written about this process earlier when talking about Flash fiction, so check back if you want to know more about that.

Anyway, "20 words" simply came to me one day in late spring, when I wasn't thinking of anything much. I was in the shower, actually, and suddenly the opening line was in my head. I then got the chance to do the thing which had eluded me so long, that thing which makes writing so exciting, which was to hurry up what I was doing so I could get to the computer (still dripping!) and start to write because the story was coming, like a premature baby, forcing its way out ready or not.

The other reason I like the story is that it aims to the core of what I feel writing is about. It shows rather than tells, it asks the reader to make their own decisions and to provide their own input, and it concerns the importance of words in our lives. The story tells, in only around 300 words, the story of a life through the important words uttered by a man over the course of that life. What is key for me is that these are not large, long, important words, but the simple building blocks of everyday transaction and communication which, in context, can change everything.

As such, this story, the first product of my recharged battery, shows how important words and language are in describing and changing our lives. As you can tell, I like it

If you're intrigued and want to read the story, the Bad Language anthology will be out later in the year. I will put a note up here when it's out, or you can keep a track at their website:

Monday, 6 September 2010

Beautiful Baby Competition

Please tell me it's pretty, please don't tell me it's ugly. Look, the ears are symetrical and the eyes are such a pale blue. The hair is so fine and blonde and the skin so soft and pink. The sentences are balanced, the words well chosen and the plot finely honed. Please tell me you like it.

For years I have been telling my students that sending out short stories for publication is like showing your baby to the world and asking for kindness. Your writing is so personal, and so close to your heart, that sending them out is like leaving your baby at the creche for the first day and hoping the other children will play with them.

Okay, maybe I'm going a little over the top, but it is nerve wracking!

In the last couple of weeks I have had a story I am particularly fond of rejected. Entitled 'Palimpsest' it was written as a flash fiction, but then honed to make sure all the layers could be read, one through the other. I sent it out in Februrary and it has only just come back, so - with so long to dwell on it - I had innured myself to the possibility of disappontment. It still stings, as all rejections do.

However, at almost the same time the lovely people at Bugged - the eavesdropping project I have waffled on about in previous posts - have accepted a different story, also written as flash fiction and entitled 'The Four' for publication in their anothology which comes out in mid-October. And that eases the sting and warms the heart. They liked my child enough to put his photo in the gallery!

Surrounding these two events I have been researching and reading and editing and rewriting and sending out stories to a variety of places. Over a dozen have gone out in the last week. I know most of them will come back to me to be sent out once again for adoption. But some of them - I hope! - will find good homes where they can grow and prosper. I will, of course, keep you posted.

In amongst all this story work, I have also been working on my novel. I have re-read it, and given it to my girlfriend to read and comment on too (Thanks, Kath!). If you think it's bad having someone read a story, ask them to read a novel. This is far more personal than asking for compliments for your baby. This is asking for your soul to be evaluated. Thankfully, it seems to pass muster (the book, that is, I can't comment on my soul), and now I am onto the work of rewriting and reworking into the second draft. After that, and maybe some more tinkering, it will be time to send that out into the world too. You'll know when that happens as I will be online every five minutes, sharing my worries.

Sometimes I ask why I put myself through this torment, but it's the age old thing. If I write a story and show it to no-one then it might as well not have been written. Only when a story is shared and read does it really exist. And so, it's not so much sending the child out into the world, having a manuscript accepted is the very act of birth itself, giving life to something new.

So, I shall go back to my gestation and let you know as and when the brood increases. I shall push and I shall do my best to remember my breathing. If you'll just hold my hand, mop my brow, and ignore the screams, I think we can get through this.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Stardom at last!

I haven't blogged for a little while - I've actually been getting on with some writing and rewriting - but was going to sit down yesterday and talk about the recent spate of submissions I have been sending. That post is still to come, but the day kinda got away from me. At midday I got a phone-call asking me if I would do a radio interview later in the afternoon.

The call came from my head of department at Edge Hill. They had been approached by Radio Lancashire who, prompted by the publication of Tony Blair's memoirs, wanted to talk to someone about Life Writing. Well, as that's the creative writing subject I teach for EH, they came to me. The idea was to give the listeners some ideas on the role of life writing - biographies and memoirs in particular - and also what they should think about if they were going to write their own.

I have never given a radio interview before and so was pretty nervous. It didn't help that it was going to be live rather than a pre-recorded interview, but I figured it was exactly the stuff that I know about, so I was happy to do it. The process was interesting.

First I spoke to the presenter of the programme, to introduce myself and he then proceeded to ask me what would be good questions for him to ask. We agreed them between us and I gave him some quick sketchy answers and that was that, I just had to wait for the radio station to ring me at about 5.15 to give the interview.

Butterflies took up residence in my stomach as the time approached, but the time was usefully spent refining what I was going to say. The flutters multiplied when the phone went and they asked me to wait another 20 mins. Finally, they called and I was patched through to the studio. I listened to about 5 minutes of the programme and then, with a rather over-the-top introduction, I was live.

It went pretty well. There were a few ums and ahs, and I changed tack at one point. I also managed to be really snobby at the end, but in the main I feel I got the information across in a concise and interesting way, answered all the questions as asked, and didn't sound too much of a prat. The interview finished, he thanked me, the line went dead, and that was that.

Thanks to the wonders of the web I was soon able to 'Listen Again' to the interview. I scrolled the slider through the programme to about the point where I thought I would be. A voice was talking and I presumed it was the item after me, but then I recognised some of the words and realised I was listening to myself. I didn't recognise my voice at all! Still, I listened back and was quite pleased with it. I sounded rather posh - a combination teaching/phone voice - and there was a trace of my father's tone in there, especially when he used to give interviews on radio or TV, but I sounded confident and like someone who knows what they're talking about. So that's not so bad, eh?

And that was that: my brush with fame. It was only 3 minutes, so if Andy Warhol's right then I still have another 12 minutes to have some other time. If it's like yesterday, I think I might just be looking forward to it.

The interview is available to listen to at until 7th Sept. I'm on at about the 1 hour 37 mark. Let me know what you think, either of my performance or what I had to say. All feedback welcome.