Saturday, 29 November 2008

The toil and the passion

Christmas is creeping up on us far too quickly. I haven't even thought about Christmas shopping yet as I've been far too busy trying to get through all the work I need to do before the end of term.

Of course, it didn't help that yesterday was spectacularly unproductive. I have no idea where most of the day went, and it didn't help that I had to go a buy two new tyres after running over a nail and then finding out my spare was cracked.

I'm now really glad that I turned down paid work over Christmas. The money would have be useful, but as we found out this week we have to produce an outline and the first thirty pages of our novel for January, it looks like it's going to be a busy 'holiday.' My dilemma now is which idea to go for? I have an existing novel I've been working on, plus a couple of new ideas which I'd love to take further.

A conversation with one of my flatmates helped to put it all into perspective. Living in a house with nine other people who are all in and out all the time means you don't necessarily see some of them all that often. So when you do run into each other it's good to catch up. He was asking me about the course (one thing I have discovered since I started the MA is that writers love to talk about their work, and I am no exception), and after I had talked for some time, he commented that I seemed really passionate about the course, and my work.

Afterwards, I felt better. Passion for writing is why I'm here - I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing right now. The truth is that sometimes we all need reminding why we're doing what we're doing. You can get bogged down in the details when what you really need to do is take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Monday, continued.....

So I'm still on yesterday.....

Instead of doing the sensible thing and getting on with my scriptwriting assignment, I decided to head into Falmouth.

It was a beautiful, if cold day. I went for a walk on the beach and then had a coffee in the beach cafe overlooking the sea. I felt very 'writerly' as I got out my Moleskine and continued drafting some ideas for a story I've been working on recently. I'm not sure exactly what form it's going to take, but sometimes that's half the fun. I don't want to say too much about the story at this stage, only that it's about a girl who is gradually going blind, and her encounters with an angel. I'm pretty sure it's going to have a happy ending, although I haven't figured out exactly which direction to take it in yet.

Various people have commented on the fact that you can often get inspiration for writing just listening to other people's conversations. On the bus on the way home, I overheard the funniest conversation. I almost had to stuff my scarf in my mouth to hold the laughter back.

A group of undergraduates was sitting in in front of me. One was commenting on the other's recent essay about 'Youth in Asia.' She had written a 15 page essay on the topic, misunderstanding the word 'Euthanasia.' I kid you not.

She had no idea what euthanasia was, and expressed her surprise that everyone else did, wondering why the term had the word 'Asia' in it, when in fact, it actually had nothing to do with Asia! She went to say that she'd thought it was a little strange - after all, what about youth in other countries? Weren't they just as relevant?

You couldn't make it up......

In which I discover I am a closet geek/nerd

The time has come for me to admit it. I am a closet geek.

Technically that should be nerd, but somehow geek sounds better than nerd. OK, I'll explain. I'm remembering a conversation I had with a friend not so long ago about geeks, nerds and dorks. I'm sure many will question the following descriptions, but here goes:
1. Geek - someone with an obsessive interest in a specialised subject area. The classic example of this is a computer geek.
2. Nerd - someone who loves learning generally
3. Dork - often clumsy, awkward and always doing/saying the wrong thing.

My earlier capering around the library would but me firmly in the nerd category. But nerd just isn't really a word we use here. Unlike many Americanisms, this one hasn't really caught on here.

I went over to Woodlane library today to check out the graphic novels and picture books - a little bit of research for something I've been thinking about. Most of the books I was looking at were reference only, however, I still managed to come out with four books to add to the growing stack beside my bed.

One of the great things about this course is that you can justify reading almost anything. Today I came out with a couple of books of short stories, Alan de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life and a book about Chick Lit that had an interesting cover and blue & pink pages. Whether it will be any good or not remains to be seen, but I'll give it a go.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Reading, writing & dreaming

Two blogs in one day? What's going on?

I ditched my earlier plan to go into uni and work on my website there. It kept raining, and I was nice and cozy at home with a cup of tea and a Penguin biscuit. I can't remember the last time I pppppicked up a Penguin. Unlike some things fondly remembered from childhood, Penguins haven't lost their allure. Clubs biscuits aren't nearly as exciting, and Creme Eggs have definitely shrunk (although they're still pretty damn good).

I've just finished reading recent Guardian Children's Fiction Prize winner The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. I raced through it, and now I'm left feeling slightly unsatisfied. The reason for this is that it's the first in a planned trilogy. Which is great, because that means there's more to come, but it also means I'll have to wait some time for it; I'm not sure the cliff's strong enough to support me.....

One of the things I loved about this novel was the strong voice of the adolescent protagonist, Todd. If you want to get technical about it, I suppose you could call it skaz - a particular way of speaking with a lot of slang and idiosyncrasies. This is enhanced by spelling some of the worlds phonetically, such as 'direkshun' for direction. You get the picture.

Without wanting to give too much of the novel away, Todd lives in a world where all men's and all animals' thoughts can be heard; a phenomenon they call Noise. Noise is represented visually through different typescripts on the page, giving it an almost graphic feel. I haven't seen that done before. It's an effective technique, which reminds me of some of the children's picture books I've been looking at recently and the way picture books are now starting to play with text on the page.

I'm quite drawn to the idea of combining writing with illustration or photography, or some combination of all three. I know they've got a good collection of picture books and graphic novels down at Woodlane, so I'm going to try and head over there tomorrow and see if I can find some inspiration.

Things are on the up.....

This weekend has been pretty productive; I'm feeling really positive right now.

After doing some story analysis on a couple of books I've read recently, I've got a clearer idea of the 12 point story structure. Reading Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey has also helped. It still took three tries before I found a story idea I felt comfortable with that I thought worked. Once I'd plotted the outline, actually writing the first two parts of story was fairly stress free.

But now I'm starting to think - was it too stress free? Am I missing some vital piece of information? I posted it online last night, so I'm sure I'll find out soon enough. Time to move on.

Before Tuesday rolls around again I really want to do some more work on my website. I've just started learning Dreamweaver. It's quite different from anything I've done before, but I'm enjoying the challenge. I have a vision of what I want to create; now I just have to realise that vision.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Decisions, decisions......

I'm tired tonight: it's been a pretty intense day.

As usual, my head is full of ideas, thoughts and random crap. This week, we've had taster sessions in Features and Non-Fiction writing. Pretty soon I'm going to have to make a decision about what I'm going to specialise in next term. I particularly enjoyed the non-fiction session - but now I'm more confused than ever as I hadn't even really considered taking non-fiction before. The whole process of coming up with an idea, researching and pitching it to the rest of the group was fascinating. It also sounds as though there is more opportunity to get published, which has also got to be a consideration. Hmmm.......

Highlight of the day was the session with literary agent Victoria Hobbs. Victoria was kind enough to give us some of the tricks of the trade (including what not to do when approaching a literary agent). I felt as though she gave us a realistic picture of the current status of industry and our chances of being published.

Interestingly, she told us it's actually easier to get published as a new writer than someone who has already been published. And the best news - everyone wants young adult/crossover fiction. Now all I have to do is finish the novel. Speaking of which.....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Stuck on the Form

I was writing this blog yesterday when the internet went down. Grr. So here's a completely different one.

I feel as though I've accomplished something productive today. And guess what? I actually left the house today! Admittedly it was only to go to the shop (about 2 mins walk away), but at least I made contact with the outside world. Sometimes I do feel a little like the Lady of Shalott, sitting here, typing away in my room. I digress.

So this week, I've been wrestling with a form of a different sort for our Writing Structure class. We've moved on from rhetorical argument to the story form. Strangely enough, I've actually found this more difficult. It was slightly depressing to see some of the beautifully constructive, creative offerings that some people had posted. I suppose it's just a different way of working. While I can see the point, the discipline sits uneasily with me.

I'm not much of a planner when it comes to writing. Generally I'll work with an idea, a theme or an image and see where it takes me. It usually comes out in some sort of organised structure, and then I can go back and tweak it later.

The other problem I've been having this week is that I seem to have so many thoughts jostling for space in my mind. But then that's another part of the discipline I'm trying to take on board - learning to write about what I have to rather than what I want to write about.

My notebook is filling up with ideas I want to come back to later when I have a little more time. Although right now I can't quite imagine when that will be.....

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Footprints in the snow

I've just put pen to paper for the first time on my Moleskine notebook. It's a strangely sensual experience that cannot be replicated by tapping away on my laptop.

I was given the notebook in question as a leaving present from my work colleagues. It has been waiting patiently for inspiration to strike me. It would have been sacrilegious to sully its pages with any old jottings; the simple elegance of the notebook demanded a worthy idea.

While most people have not used a fountain pen since their school days, I'm still fond of this rather old fashioned writing implement.

The ink glides across the page. It's the same sensation I felt as a child: the joy of being the first one to walk across a pristine snowy wilderness.

While sometimes I'll go straight to the computer and start writing, sometimes you just can't beat the feeling of ink upon paper. Thoughts flow differently, somehow.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Return of the blog

It's been a while since my last blog. There's been a lot happening this week, both in terms of actual events and stuff that's going on in my head.

The return of my teenage insomnia gives me way too much time to think, and that's never a good thing. The most frustrating thing is that I can't actually do anything productive with that time, but I can't turn my mind off. That's when doubt starts to creep in and I start stressing over all the the things on my list that still remain undone.

On Wednesday I went to see the fireworks with some of my housemates. I was slightly disappointed that there was no actual bonfire (Bonfire Night without the bonfire - something missing, perhaps?). The fireworks were really good though, although the choice of music was a little odd. Most of the songs they were playing were really popular in 1998 or thereabouts. As I reminisced about what I'd been doing back then in those halcyon days as an undergraduate, I noticed the slightly blank looks from some of my housemates. Then I realised they must have all only been about ten then.

I've spent most of the weekend at the film festival, volunteering and trying to catch some of the events while the opportunity was there. After working on numerous arts festivals previously, it was quite strange to see things from a volunteer's perspective. Generally it was pretty easy going; most of the other volunteers were good fun and I didn't really have to do anything more taxing than check tickets and make tea. Plus I got a cool t-shirt.

Probably my favourite event of the weekend was John Yorke's lecture about story structure, which was also attended by at least half of the people on my course. He was a dynamic speaker, and I could have quite happily listened to him talk for much longer.

I also went to see a silent film from the 1920s called Sunrise, which was accompanied live by Cornish band Wurlitzer. I'd never actually seen a silent film before, so I was intrigued to find out what it would be like. I found myself fascinated by the images on the screen combined with modern music. It was a slightly strange combination which really seemed to fit the mood and tone of the film.

Whatever else is on the list is just going to have to wait. I'm done for tonight.

Monday, 3 November 2008

It all depends whose shoes you're standing in....

Last week we were looking at point of view in one of our seminars. As I was working on the assignment at the weekend, it got me thinking. What would it be like if you could see something from someone else's point of view? I don't just mean from what you imagine their perspective to be, but what they actually think.

It would be an interesting superpower - just think of all the things you could do with it! OK, you can stop thinking now..... There would inevitably be people who would use it for less than honourable purposes. There's a big difference between wanting to find out if someone you're attracted to is interested in you and using this 'overheard' information to reinvent yourself as a criminal mastermind.

As a writer, you are in the unique position to know exactly what all your characters think about a given situation. I'd never turned a scene around before and written it from a different character's viewpoint. It was fascinating what changed; tiny things took on new meaning when seen through someone else's eyes. I had fun with the scene, looking for ways I could play with the meaning. It made me realise how much of everyday life is open to interpretation. Each of us makes our own interpretation of everything we experience. Perhaps it's good to step into someone else's shoes once in a while......

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Remember, remember....

It's been cold today, much colder that it has been lately. Proper bonfire night weather. It reminds me of going to fireworks displays as a child, getting all wrapped up to huddle around a huge bonfire, eating sausages as the anticipation builds while you wait for the next set of fireworks begin.

It's pure magic. With sparklers.

I've been to a few fireworks displays as an adult, and have always been faintly disappointed. It wasn't as cold (I've found myself leaving half my layers in the car), the fireworks weren't as spectacular and sometimes there weren't even any sausages!

The weather is making me feel rather nostalgic. I may have to hunt down some sparklers and track down a fireworks display to see if the magic has returned.