Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The death of sleep

I'm in a curious, reflective mood tonight. Ideas are literally clustering around me, jostling for space in my already overcrowed head. My notebook is fast filling up with things to be developed at a later date.

Recently I've noticed a return of the insommnia that peppered my teenage years. Too many thoughts, too little time. I guess that means I'll be burning the midnight oil again.....

But apart from the lack of sleep, this can only be a good thing. After all, this is what I came here for. I've been reading some more of my coursemates' Lady of Shalott inspired stories the evening, I'm impressed. It's fascinating seeing the variety of responses to the same exercise. Each is unique, and distinctive, offering up a different perspective. Every week, we are challenged to do something different, something outside our comfort zone. The best thing is that it doesn't matter if it doesn't work. You learn from it, and you move on.

This morning we had a session on writing for children. We began by looking at some examples of children's books, including one of my all-time favourites, The Hungry Caterpillar. It's amazing how a book can evoke so many memories and feelings. I can still vividly recall numerous books from my childhood that literally transported me into the world they created. It's the compulsion to capture that feeling, to create a world and characters that readers will become lost in, that drives me to write.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Welcome to the dark side

Recently I have noticed a change in my writing. I'm drawn to the dark side.

It's ironic, really, as I've always been a sucker for a happy ending. But the twist, now there's the rub. The way a story hooks you in, and then dashes your expectations when you least expect it. I'm beginning to see how to use this, to play with the emotions of my readers. It's not a nice, safe world out there. There are monsters under the bed (although they may actually be more afraid of you than you are of them) and things that go bump in the night. The latter is usually just me tripping over the crap strewn around my room in the dark.

I've also been reading a lot of Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman. I love the way they take myths and fairytales and subvert them. We've been looking at narrative and genre recently in our Writers' Toolkit sessions doing a similar sort of thing. The idea is that you take the kernel events from a well-known story and then use them as a jumping off point for your own work. It was amazing how few markers we actually needed to identify stories that everyone is aware of, such as Little Red Riding Hood. We are all so familiar with the story that it takes very few references to realise we are reading a version of this tale. It's a great way to start thinking about stories.

Carrying on with the theme of cannibalism from one of our Writing Structure seminar, this week I've created a dark tale based on the Hansel & Gretel story. By using well-known tales as a starting point, the challenge is to weave the references from the original into the new version. I was amazed by the number of very different, inventive and engaging versions of the Icarus myth members of the group came up with. Makes you think....

That's what it's really all about. Anything that makes you think, makes you look at things in a different way. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

A Visit from the Time Thief

This morning, as my alarm went off at some hideously early time on a Saturday I dragged my slightly hungover self out of the comfort of my bed and headed into Falmouth. It was a still, calm autumn morning, and dawn lit up Penryn harbour; everything was bathed in a soft amber light. I decided the walk would do me good, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a few photographs while I had the world to myself.

The Cornwall Film Festival kicks off in Falmouth 6-9 November, and I had decided to volunteer , partly because it is a good way to get a free ticket and pick up some useful insider information, and also because volunteering at festivals can be a lot of fun. This morning's meeting was a bit of an induction, a chance to meet the team, check out the venues and mingle with other potential volunteers (as well as we could at 9am without the benefit of serious amounts of caffeine).

Despite my good intentions to return home after the meeting and get on with something a) useful, b) meaningful or c) work that I actually needed complete, I still managed to spend rather a lot of time wandering around Falmouth where I bumped into a couple of friends and bought more stuff in Tescos that I don't really need. The rest of the afternoon disappeared in a blur.

I think someone out there is stealing time. It's the only rational explanation as to why this keeps happening. Several other people I know have reported the same phenomenon. Surely this can't be a coincidence?

Suddenly it was 6.30pm and as I was whipping up another culinary masterpiece, I became rooted to the spot. what strange enchantment was this? Luckily I managed to free myself by the time Strictly Come Dancing had finished, but I was so overcome by this effort that I had to recuperate by spending some time phone talking to one of my best friends.

It's now after 10pm, and I'm just settling down to get started. I think it's going to be a late one....

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Fiona is currently unavailable...

Earlier this evening I attempted to add today's musings to my blog, I got the message Blogger is currently unavailable. Strong language followed as I refreshed my browser window, only to be greeted by the same frustrating message.

I want to write my blog, and I want to do it now!

We live in a society where instant gratification is the norm. We have become a society of petulant toddlers; if our desires aren't fulfilled at once then all hell breaks loose. As fond as I am of the internet and the convenience of my mobile phone, I can't help thinking that being in contact with the world 24/7 is not necessarily a good thing. Our lives become a blur as we rush from one thing to another, rarely taking the time to savour the moment, the 'now' of our existence.

Stop the world, I want to get off....

Spending a year doing an MA is an opportunity to concentrate on the things that really matter to me. I think I finally got to the stage where I realised that I couldn't just keep squeezing my dreams into the ever-shrinking amount of time I had to call my own, the time that wasn't taken up by work, family, friends, updating my Facebook account and all the other tedious minutiae of daily life. A few months ago, I faced a choice. 'Now or never' sounds a little dramatic, but I'd reached a point where it was put up or shut up. After the first day of the course, I knew I'd made the right decision.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Random thoughts on a Wednesday evening

Why is it that when I can't actually physically write anything (for example, rushing into campus this morning, or standing in the shower) my mind is full of things to write about, but as soon as I click 'new blog' I find my thoughts scatter like a flock of birds disturbed by a sudden movement....

I have been known to scribble down my thoughts and ideas on whatever paper comes to hand when I wake at 3am. The only problem then is deciphering what appears to be the scrawl of a five year old. Inspiration will strike wherever, whenever it likes, without warning, invitation, or any sense of what is convenient.

Right now I'm thinking about cannibalism. I should probably explain that 'cannibalism is good' is the subject for one of my assignments this week, rather than a macabre and somewhat disturbing new interest I've developed. I'm intrigued to see what everyone else is going to write on this; I've yet to decide what angle I'm going to take on the subject. It has certainly provoked a lot of discussion, covering everything from the anthropological to the ridiculous.

Earlier today we had our introduction to business writing. For part of the session, we were asked to think up promotional slogans for a well known charity. Hmmm.... Cannibalism: 'I'm loving it' Perhaps not.

Food for thought......

Monday, 20 October 2008

What makes a good book?

I've just finished reading The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It's probably the best novel I've read in a long time, and I can't believe I've only just discovered it. Poignant, beautifully written and structured, I didn't want to put it down, and at the same time, I wanted to prolong the experience of reading it.

This has led me think about the experience of reading. What makes a good book? What do we mean by 'good'? It is a complex question that I can't easily answer.

There have been novels I have breathlessly rushed through in order to find out what happened, so caught up in the intensity of the story that I felt I had little choice but to read on. Some of these were little more than compelling froth, but that didn't mean I didn't enjoy them at the time. Other novels I have read more slowly, content to pick them up and put them down, reading a little at a time and savouring the prose like a fine wine. Then there are old favourites, books that I will return to time and time again, old friends I am delighted to visit (Lord of the Rings and anything by Jane Austen come into this category).

It is amazing how some books, particularly those we have loved and read over and over as children affect us. One of my most vivid memories from my childhood is of reading The Chronicles of Narnia. It was just before my seventh birthday. The magic of that time has never left me. For at least a couple of years afterwards, I continued on my quest to find Narnia whenever we visited my grandmother's house. As a child, her house seemed huge, and there were several wardrobes filled with fur coats. I remember thinking that if I kept trying, sooner or later, I would get there.

Although I never reached Narnia, it did not stop me trying. However, before long, I discovered I could create my own worlds, vast countries that I could access any time I liked. I'm still doing it now.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


For the past few years, I feel as though I've been on a journey, a voyage of discovery which has ultimately led me up to the point where I find myself now.

What I'm feeling at the moment is a sense of homecoming. I've only been in Falmouth for two weeks, since I started my MA in Professional Writing, but every day I am struck by the realisation that this is where I'm meant to be. Right here, right now, I am currently doing exactly what I need to be. Paradoxically, it's almost as if I had to come home in order to commence what may be my most ambitious journey yet.

Spending time in New Zealand and Australia last year in the company of other travellers made me realise the value of living in the moment. It's something too easily forgotten in the rush of everyday life; work, friends, family and process of just living takes over. All too often, we forget how to live in the moment, continually reminiscing about halcyon days or looking forward to the future.

Meeting, and working with other fledgling writers has been an incredible experience. There's an almost electric atmosphere here; the air is literally crackling with creative energy. My now is filled with a kind of slighly apprehensive excitement which is shared by most of the people around me. We're all in the same boat, settling sail on a journey into uncharted waters. I have no idea where I will end up; the only thing I know for certain is that it's going to be one hell of an adventure.