Saturday, January 27, 2007


I am drifting now between worlds. My life is diverging along separate paths at the moment - at work I am pretending to support the computer systems whilst worrying over whether or not the corporate IT team will come and steal my work and boot me out (they're head of service is the evil cow I had several run in's with during my brother's case). On Litopia I'm feeling less and less inclined to join in, there's nothing happening, and I can't be bothered to invest my time in critting other people's work. Then, of course, there is the new course, the NAW... and I've been moodling on the uni's website quite a lot. But, that's because hardly anyone else is. I guess they're all hurriedly attempting to complete their portfolios!

Well, I've succeeded as far as completing my portfolio for the qualifying module - and I've just got to post it off next week. My ego is telling me, "Hey, despite your angst about getting it done, it was real easy." My problem is that unlike my usual writing, I've thought (deep in my subconscious) that the NAW doesn't need me to exert myself as I have done on Litopia and in pursuing an agent.

It's not that I'm great, as we all know I'm not. Certainly my mentor (Solvey) points out, I've managed to leap (finally) into good writing, but I've yet to distinguish myself by doing something that makes the difference, that separates me from other "good" writers.

After my crits in the NAW workshops I feel I let myself down by entering something I wasn't entirely happy with. I'd been told enough by the Litopians what needed to be fixed, and my NAW's said (amongst other things) a lot of the similar stuff. And there was me assuring myself I was going to stand out from the crowd. Don't get me wrong, it was nice of my tutor (Nicola Monaghan - author of The Killing Jar... I've yet to read it) to tell me that I've got great prose (in places), and the work was clearly highly polished, and also for Charles Bennet (Doctor and poet) to compliment me on my articulation and ability with critiquing my fellow students, but I was hoping to get a few more pats on the back from my contemporaries.

Argh! Curse the ego! I know, I know! It's a good thing to be cut short and keep us from spontaneously combusting with self-love.

I'm not really feeling the love at all - for the second time I've critted someone from the course and the response has been a pleasant: "Your thoughts on my work are nice, but I don't see what you're complaining about, and I'm not going to listen." Which is nice.

So here I am, having finished the portfolio 1 week early - yay - and I'm not going to invest any more time in it, because I somehow know that it's enough just to complete the work to get on the course. Though it'd be ironically funny if it didn't.

So, what must I focus on? Solvejg says I need to stand out, and asks:
  • What are you interested in?
  • Wonderful, precise characterization?
  • Peculiar, disjointed sentences?
  • Exaggerated violence?
  • Juxtaposed interactions?
Aiye! How do I do that? I'll be taking my "good" 1,000 word story used for my NAW portfolio and add in 500 words... of something... amazing... that'll make it stand out. Which just points to the fact that I'm not going to invest everything into the course! Which is crazy, but it's not going to give me everything I want. I'm heading in a slightly different direction.

Must concentrate, must give it my all... but I'm only going to be getting a little out of it - let's hope not.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NAW - Day 3

3rd day was a lot better - I've sat and chatted with most people now, and just got to know Sophie Ward, who's also on the course - actress in things like Heartbeat, Peak Practice and played Elizabeth in the Young Sherlock Holmes movie back in the 80s. I had real difficulty not blabbing, 'I fancied you when I was a kid... er... I still do... er...' Fortunately/unfortunately her partner is also on the course. Anyway - in the morning we had Barry Turner - writer of nonfiction and editor of the Writer's Handbook, and chairman of the NWA. He gave us a really uplifting discussion on how to go about applying to agents, what to write, market research etc... (He looks like Peter Ustinof's brother and wore a spangly bow tie)... I mean, it was all stuff that we've covered over and over in Litopia - like a lot of things we've done, but you can't complain when someone like Barry says: 'If you need any help, any questions, then please drop me a line.'Er... okay. How's that for networking?It's crazy in a way, when you consider how many creative writing courses there are across the country, and this is the one all the pro's want to support. The big thing is that other courses focus on a lot of English literature related dissection of text, essays, and the stuff that takes you away from writing. This one is geared specifically towards writing in some form or another.So, in the afternoon we had two people from Murdoch's News International - there was an almost audible gasp from everybody at hearing that news. Christ! News International is funding the course. We've sold our souls to the devil. Faust! Faust!But, again, the chief publisher for the Times was really interesting, and again offered her services. Everyone is under the impression we're going to be the almighty - the NGA - who did the press release that ended up in the Guardian came too to discuss festivals and funding for us to showcase our work in Birmingham. It's crazy and it's scary. I came to write my novel, not create some perfoming arts venture, floating down the river with banners adorning buildings and my words printed upon them!Between you and me. We're not all that special at all. Our writing really does shift between the good and the bad - the newbies and the established amatuers who just need that kick to sort it out.Blogs are good fun - I'm going to paste this text into mine - save me writing more. Maybe remove the bit on Sophie being gay though - she already said she scoured the internet for info on her fellow learners - which irked me! Seeing as I felt kind of guilty for doing it to her.

NAW - Qualifying Module

Day one was interesting, kept pinching myself - couldn't believe that I was actually on a course with 23 other people all wanting to do the same thing and actually discussing prose and mechanisms of it. We watched the second act of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (Hamlet within Hamlet - going from a father playing a ghost in a play to really becoming a ghost - and the whole family aspect of that - separating the children from the real adult world). Which has given us our first assignment - write 2000 words, encapulsating the 8 scenes in that 40 minutes, focusing (3rd person omniciscent) on the intense drama of it rather than dialogue or styleDay 2 wasn't so good - Birmingham author Jim Crace talked to/with us all morning, but he hadn't been briefed and hadn't prepared anything. The discussion really separated out the people - those of us interested in the mechanics of writing, an argument blew up over holding a contract with the reader (and I was surprised by some of the better/more experienced among us declaring that a contract between writer and reader was crap) - it's kind of like the colony in a way. There are those who want to write scripts, life writing (memoirs), stories, and of course the more social-impacting ones. There are a handful who have only written one thing and have no idea about anything and those that have been round the mill and learnt nothing.The course is kind of floundering with the tutors not having really worked out how it will all work, but well, we'll see.Day 3 is about to begin... I've still not made any firm friends - you know the ones you can go around with and feel attached to - so many of us, so many different objectives, but then I'm not sure who I want to attach myself to: the fun people with their sights set low, those prepared to ask the deeper questions, and push the extra mile but who ultimately I disagree on stuff with, etc.Very interesting.Anyhoo - the department head told us yesterday that the process for letting people on the course had the highest ratio of applicants to places that he's ever dealt with (he used to work at Oxford and this beats that), and that this is the hardest Creative Writing course to get on - so I'm doing something right.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NAW Begins

Well less than a week now before I begin the course. Still 500 words left to right before submitting to my course tutor and my mind is on other things... namely the lower back pain that I'm worried is the return of Shingles. I had an itch down in the empty pus sack on my back where I caught it previously some 13 years ago and it got me worried. I wouldn't be able to go do my course if I caught it. Suddenly I'd be Mr Infectious. Certainly, the friends I'm going to stay with would be in danger - their daughter and the unborn baby especially. Guilt versus my need to start moving my life forward.

Someone prodded my kidneys, got me to bend in different directions - looks like starting up ballroom dancing against last night is using muscles I don't normally associate with the couch - ow. Got to drink fluids and keep moving, suck in that gut and think about the next short story... and the last 500 words.

How do I keep motivated on that front?

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Return

Well, it's been some time since I was here last. The purpose of this blog was previously as a reflective log for my Counselling Skills course. That's now done and dusted: exams completed amidst my brother's tribunal - resulting in a pass and unfair dismissal. Followed by holidays in the Forest of Dean, the Lake District and Cornwall. Christmas has rushed by and now I'm on the cusp of beginning my new course in Birmingham at the UCE - National Academy of Writing - oooooh.

Am I nervous? I'd say. I've just spent the last two months writing and rewriting the same 2,500 word opening to my new novel in an attempt to get the style, substance and purpose right and ready to submit as my piece for crit when I start the course. (Up until the end of 2006 that 2,500 was a mind numbing 1,000 words).

Argh, self doubt, crippling poor vocabulary. I entered the Winter Kills competition and didn't win. Again I can appreciate why I didn't win, but it's still gauling - in the same kind of way that something out of your hands usually is. It's no one elses fault that I haven't won (or even come third), though the judge could have picked me (lol). It is my fault as far as I'm not that good - yet - and even then I can't afford blame to myself because if I'm just not up to scratch then I'm just not up to scratch. Must press on regardless. Learn and keep moving.

Anyhoo, I've got 500 words left to write on this opening before I submit it. Also, the new competition is up and I've got to start thinking about that - jeesh, I make it all sound like such a chore!