Writing back into it

I had a job interview last week, I didn’t get the job. It was a (very) part-time, temporary post, but I still would have liked it as the department looked ace. I did, of course, put a lot of preparation and thought into it. (Not going to whine: this preparation isn’t wasted as I can use it with my creative writing groups and future interviews.) This meant that last week the work towards PhD thesis completion was a little limited.

I have a month to go.

I’m so close. It’s nearly at the complete draft / rip bits up / rewrite problem areas – or at least flag ’em up for potential discussion / neaten and sort out the (blasted!) referencing stage.

‘Er, Jen?’ I hear you say, ‘If you’re so close then why the heck are you writing here rather than in Chapter Six 19.09.17.docx?’

Well, since you asked so nicely, it’s partly because I feel a little burned out and therefore moderately distractible/down, partly because of the time of year, but mostly it’s The Fear. The last two chapters were supposed to be the “best” chapters, the two I feel that I know most about. A chance to showcase some of my own creative work.

I open the document.

Know what I have to do.

Then stare at the cursor, it beats on the screen as if it’s constantly giving me the finger.

Flip, flip, flip.

I’ve built it into this impossible thing – where ambition outstrips ability (and time-scale). To evoke a simile involving the South Pennine fringe: it’s like climbing up the surface of the sheer gritstone face of Summit Quarry in the rain, with no carabiners nor any climbing nous. I’ve gotta climb this beast and the only way, for me, to do that is to write into it. Et voila, a blog post.

Hyperbole aside, while this piece of work, ultimately, won’t change the shape of the universe: ‘there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle’. Over the past few years, it’s taught me a few things about writing. In creativity, there is ‘a place for the genuine’.

Rather than a WOW! These Ten Writing Tips will BLOW YOUR MIND, the following is a list of things I find helpful (when I remember to put them into action). And I’m sharing them in the hope that it’s a helpful list! Would love to hear your thoughts too.

  1. That little voice, you know, the one that says ‘What the hell are you doing?! What right do you have to do that? You know that it’s going to be rubbish anyway? You can’t!’ may not go away but there are ways of coping with it
  2. You ARE good enough. And you CAN do this. Just gotta believe it – while retaining a sense of humility.
  3. Foster a resilience: learn it, remember it, put into practice.
  4. Locate your allies, they do exist. (In my case: my supervisory team, friends, family, fellow creatives.) If low, and feeling on your own, they will be there.
  5. Unless someone has something constructive to say, ignore the trolls. (I know, it’s hard, people can be gits.) As Taylor Swift sings: ‘Haters gonna hate, (hate, hate, hate, hate)’.
  6. Sometimes you’ve got to write your way in, or around it, to get where you need to go to. Or, if not, to take you on a wobbly, or even circuitous, route elsewhere.
  7. Your writing &/or research is important; there may not be many other people writing about, or looking into, this area (yet!).
  8. LOOK! You just made something up/wrote something down that wasn’t there before. That’s some kind of magic, yes?!
  9. If you can’t write, do something related to it. (I make stuff in a joyous amateur way, possibly not/never for sharing!)
  10. Nothing is ever really completed.

I think I might have written somewhere before about the feeling that when you make something, and then share it, that sometimes it is like putting your heart on a platter. And with that, I’d better pop off and get that organ ready for plating.

Flip, flip, flip off cursor.

***

In other news, this week marks 20 years since I left home for a tumultuous three years in Sunderland. If someone can go back in time and tell the tempestuous little idiot pictured below that, while everything won’t quite be all right, it’ll be more or less OK.

Red eyes! I think that I got an infamous Boots 'Quality Control' sticker for this one.

Red eyes! I think that I got a Boots ‘Quality Control’ sticker for this one.

Some plans & schemes & ‘better dreams’

Hello hello to the readers of these irregular dispatches. Hope all’s well in your worlds.

Wow, August was physically and mentally exhausting. Bit glad that it’s done with, to be honest with you! Phew. It’s the last month of pulling my PhD thesis together and I can make out some dim light at the end of the dark tunnel (is that an angler fish? Best not think too hard about it).  So, yeah, anyway, that was August and now we’re into the colour changing days of September. And writing writing writing.

And sometimes writing, thinking about writing, worrying about writing, feels frivolous. There’s so much else going on in the world – if, indeed, there is any world left by next week – so it feels a little futile sometimes carrying on in this  (mostly) introspective endeavour. But carry on we must!

In terms of carrying on, this means keeping an eye out for jobs during the final Thesis Write Up™ so that I don’t become a Calderdale statistic once I’m done. Although if I do need to go to the job centre I will do so in the biggest, flounciest dress that I own.  Mostly to cheer myself up, mind. In all seriousness, I have had to sign on in the past and it isn’t a big bag of fun but it is a safety net that I have appreciated. I will never grumble about contributing to it.

Anyway, I’m not here to give big grandstanding political statements, not at the mo.

Moving on.

I’ve been thinking about this Wild Writes website and blog. I set the site up as part of a project originally, but it’s sort of developed away from what that was.  I’d like to keep this to blog with because I really like using WordPress. My other “professional” website www.jenbee.me.uk uses Drupal which is a bit of a pain in the bum to use and I have guilt chills when I think about how much updating it needs (sorry Drupal fans). Once I’ve finished my PhD I’m going to have a bit of a think as to what to do with my social networks, websites & blogs as they’re a little unwieldy. I would like to keep a blog – to share practice and some blether on what I’m getting up to.  I’d like to just keep it even if it’s just to pop some of the gorgeous sights/sites of West Yorkshire, where I’ve moved to.  Oh, sharing some less salubrious sights too, of course.

tl;dr: I have too many online things, I want to rationalise them.

I think that I’d like to blog about making things; I’ve written somewhat on the writing process, but crafting feels different. Perhaps it’s because I feel that there is so little to lose in the process of making. Writing is important to me; it’s possibly one of the few things I love doing and know that even though I may get anxious about what others think of my work I do – most of the time – think that it’s something that I’m at least OK at! Crocheting, sewing, sketching, and baking I find fun and feel less emotionally invested in these endeavours as they are like a sort of release. Making is a kind of therapy (read that last term in your best Freud voice!). I have a load of sewing that I’m looking forward to as a reward for completing my thesis (including a compass-themed dress and pyjamas for my mum).

So yes, just thought that I’d share some thoughts and, hopefully, we’ll all be less worried about the threat of nuclear winter by the next update. . .

Here's to Better Dreams for all

Here’s to Better Dreams for all. . .

On anxiety, “procraftination”, and academia

Content warning: some of this blog post discusses anxiety, depression, still birth.

This is possibly the most personal – but hopefully helpful – post that I have done (and think I will do) on this site.  Over the last few years, I have changed and the Wild Writes project will change too. Here we go.   Continue reading

On not completing poetry and the near future…

So, didn’t quite achieve a poem a day like last year. Partly because I’m writing up, partly because of the onslaught of bad news, partly because I didn’t have a solid theme. I will do better next year!

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

All concentration is now focussed on finishing my PhD thesis – not as easy a task as it sounds. Writing up various notes, editing bits that – whoops – are currently ropey and need smoothing and/or expanding. And I’m thinking of the future. I was worried last September that time had zoomed by and that I would be unemployed/underemployed/unemployable by October 2017. Basically, I love this job. I love the mix of outreach which has incorporated teaching/tutoring creative writing, the research, and writing. Statistically, however, I may not be able to break into an academic role. I’m not as worried now, though; I’m sure that I can use this academic knowledge to share skills in different, possibly unorthodox ways! I am confident in my skills as a speaker/teacher, even with some “stage fright” at conference times. (Anyway, public speaking is just acting, like creative writing is acting.) While my research is niche, I do have publishing ideas with the work I’ve done so, hopefully, I can get that out there when I’ve finished. Finally, being “Doctor B” will be awesome (no, not that sort of Doctor but I can pop you in the recovery position if need be).

So yes, there will be more poetry/writing but it may be after I’ve finished this 80,000ish word document!

And with that – back to writing Rochdale.

Poem a Day #1: The April Fools’ Train to Manchester

_20170401_210350The April Fools’ Train to Manchester

It’s in the pen in the fist
coiled up in a list
or the twist of a fern unfurling.

It’s the sun on the Lune,
an upsidedown moon,
we’ll soon be in Preston (gods willing).

Watch the canal ducks,
drop the bag full of books,
get funny looks off the guard.

With slight passenger freight
speed past Galgate
(with a weight off the mind and the heart).

Follow the silvery line
in the dimming sunshine,
time slow as the trees in the field.

From the fenced hill
see a derelict mill
train still as the points switch back.

With a jolt and a whack
two trains are attached,
between tracks there’s golden gorse.

At Preston it’s busy,
lasses Prosecco fizzy
all dizzy with swearing perfume.

It’s months from Whitsun
but they’re off for some fun,
get spun-out in Manchester.

And so we all flock
to that city of shock
pulling in to the dock of Piccadilly.

The research rollercoaster – final year of phd

Second year turned out to be a mixture of doubt and epiphany, success and strife. There were many moments of joy; I won a couple of prizes, I’ve run workshops, I’ve developed a bond with the borough of Rochdale, and I feel like I know the shape of my thesis even though I’m struggling at times to find the words.  At the same time there have been moments of family illness, random events, relationship tension, that seasonal sadness that bites in November and will not unclasp its jaws until March.

Those elusive words, sliding along the tracks, their sounds captured in the clouds.

Those elusive words, sliding along the tracks, their sounds captured in the clouds.

And this summer too has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Not a smooth rollercoaster, more like a Blackpool rollercoaster; sometimes fun, sometimes whiplash inducing painful.  It’s been hard to summon up the “WOO!” at times. And often I feel like I’m falling or failing, the lap bar barely keeping me secure.

Negotiating the metal tangle: materials that endure, some have been there before and will remain long after.

Negotiating the metal tangle: materials that endure, some have been there before and will remain long after, all will be ephemeral.

The research rollercoaster is an intriguing ride – possibly white knuckle – but ultimately the aim is to not only improve my own skills (I love learning, a little unsure as to whether I’m any good at it but I love it) but also to add to an argument, to try, in my own small way, to make a positive difference. It seems that there is a common assertion, or assumption, that a PhD is an isolated experience. It’s really not. Yes you are becoming a specialist in your own niche of a niche, but you do so in collaboration. If it were not for the encouragement of Dr David Cooper and the rest of my fantastic supervisory team (Doctors: Rachel Dickinson, Julie Armstrong, Kirsty Bunting and Jane Turner) I think I may have given up, accepted defeat. And I owe it to a borough – messy, weird, wonderful, challenging, complex – and the people within it who have been so generous with their time. And I owe it to my friends, all those loved ones. The shoulders of many, many giants giving me that boost and view (and what a view). Yes, a PhD represents your hard work, your figuring out, but no: you are not alone.

OK final year, I’m ready for you. Bring it.

*Clanking up the lift hill, arms in the air, ready for the drop*

Clanking up the lift hill, arms in the air, ready for the drop.

Sunday Funday!

Click the picture to go to the MCBF website.

Click the picture to go to the MCBF website.

“Louder!” shouted the King of the Sea, “LOUDER!”. So Sadko plucked the strings of his gusli as hard as he could. Then the sea creatures joined in the party: the crabs started to pinch in time with their claws, the swordfish span and become a huge swirl of silver, clams cracked and snapped their calcified lips together. “Faster!” demanded the King of the Sea, “FASTER!” So Sadko played faster, and the creatures danced wildly. Suddenly, Volga Matushka shouted,”Stop! Stop! Sadko, can’t you see that the music is making a giant whirlpool and all the ships sailing across the world are caught in it? If you don’t stop they will surely be pulled down to the bottom of the ocean.”

In action: Sadko is seasick! Storytelling in the cosy Manchester Children's Book Festival Story Tent. Picture taken by Kaye Tew of MCBF. 17th April 2016.

In action: Sadko is seasick! Storytelling in the cosy Manchester Children’s Book Festival Story Tent. Picture taken by Kaye Tew of MCBF. 17th April 2016.

On Sunday, I told a tale based on a traditional Russian ballad of Sadko the musician and his unrequited love for Volga Matushka – the mightiest river of Russia, the longest river in Europe, one of the most beautiful of all rivers AND the daughter of the party-loving King of the Sea!  I was so chuffed to be invited by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester Children’s Book Festival Team to share this story and sing songs with the children (and their mums and dads).

We had some good sea sick wobbling, loud partying, banging of musical instruments by the audience as we all tried to make sure that the King of the Sea was obeyed!  Pinguino, the penguin from Antarctica, got a few hugs as well.  (He’s quite a daredevil penguin and told me in secret that he loved the cuddles from the girls and boys and their parents. So, shhhh, don’t tell anyone I told you…)

What a lovely day and such a fab audience!  The event was well organised and I’m looking forward to popping into the next ones as a punter and will bring at least one of my army of nieces along :-)

This event is one of many leading up to an absolutely marvellous and magical looking Children’s Book Festival for June.  The Children’s Book Festival Fun Day on Saturday 25th June looks absolutely super!

Look what I found drifting in the waters of the Volga...

Look what I found drifting in the waters of the Volga…

Huge thanks to James and Amy for being the river Volga and to Stu from Hobgoblin Music Manchester who fixed up Sadko’s gusli!  There are a few versions of this story and mine was a combination of the story retold by Aaron Shepard and snippets from Baba Yaga stories (in my story – it is the Baba Yaga who curses the King of the Sea).  The lyrics and the song I sang were based on ‘The River Flows’ by Coope, Boyes, and Simpson.

 

 

 

The “Art” of Book Reviewing

books

(I devised this back in 2013 when working out what my scoring system should be for reviewing books for Starburst Magazine.  I still stand by it!)

I love reading: getting lost in an excellent narrative, being swept away for a memorable trip in a short story, or emotionally moved by poetic lyrics.  Wandering around in fantastical worlds of words.  I also like book reviewing; I’ve been done this for a few publications where the word count often forces a pithy response. I do have genre favourites: poetry, plays, books on education, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction with a focus on social justice, short stories, and books which have an element of magical realism. However, I enjoy reading widely and WLTM exciting new books!

The thing that I’m not doing is true blogging on books; there are myriad good book bloggers writing sensible commentary elsewhere on the amorphous universe that is the Internet. Two of the best, in my opinion, are Juxtabook (solid reviewing and loads of links to everything book related) and The Book Stop (regularly updated with reviews, pretty and accessible WordPress site design, and excellent musings on the industry).

I believe that excellent book bloggers, like excellent literary critics, have the power to make or break a book. I do not hold the opinion that book bloggers harm traditional criticism. Instead, bloggers add another valid, and valuable, dimension to debate.

I seek brevity when reviewing, and try to approach a new, unread book with an open mind. However, book reviewing – like any art – is incredibly subjective; especially when it comes to scoring for a review. So, while I’m not a fan of quantifying a book with a number, I thought I’d explain my rationale when rating a book out of ten:

Top of the Pops!

5: Good storyline, entertaining with no intellectual engagement. I’d recommend that you get this book out from a library. Once.

6: Engaging book with some surprising elements. Original storyline and thinking. I’d get this out from a library again to re-read.

7: This book has a good narrative with a good ending or solid concept. I would buy this book.

8: Great book. Unique concept, good storyline (or fantastic verse). I would buy the book and recommend that others should buy it.

9: Excellent book. I would recommend it highly. I would buy copies for family and friends.

10: The book has blown me away. It is intelligent, engaging and exceptionally well crafted. I would hit the streets to hand out copies of this book. I will be wearing a sandwich board that says: “Read this book before you die.”

Any book receiving less than 5/10 was probably an endurance test for my eyes. I would not recommend it.

4: I made it to the end but it was a poor story with a weak ending. Why was this commissioned/self-published?!

3: Poor concept for a story with poor editing. Ow, my eyes.

2: Weak, poorly thought through storyline, hackneyed concept/s, weak to minimal editing. I never want to read this again.

1: Weak, poorly thought through storyline. The narrative is not dealt with in any satisfactory way. There is no evidence of editing. Reading this book made me feel like I had wasted precious hours of my life. I want those hours back.

0: Normally this would not be awarded – the book would have to be bilious, the writing unintelligible, and editing non-existent. I haven’t met a 0 rated book yet, there’s always a first time…

Poetry process and progress

Even when winter sadness nips, even when parents are ill, everyday I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. To be working with who I work with  – genuinely fantastic, intelligent, fun, and intriguing people  – and to be encouraged to write! 

Today here’s a short blog post about process – my current “pencil only” notebook* is, as a friend put it, the “under the bonnet” bit of writing. (* I have different notebooks for different writing purposes!)  Thanks to the University’s Poetry in Practice sessions, and a theme challenge from Dr Sam Illingworth, I’ve written a  new poem – possibly not completely finished – in the form of a Ghazal (let’s call it a “sort of Ghazal“).  I thought I’d share my writing process for it in order to demonstrate how a piece progresses.  Have a peek under the bonnet!

 First pass - spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.


First pass – spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.

 

Second attempt - hmm, still scribbles and changes being made but it's beginning to take shape.

Second attempt – Hmmm. Still scribbles and changes being made – but it’s beginning to take shape.

 

Third go - perhaps this is nearly it!  The closest to the final thing...

Third go – perhaps this is nearly it! The closest to the final thing…

 

So, what’s your process?!

 

A liberated battery hen. Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/72284410@N08/8567581815  (Creative Commons share license)

A liberated battery hen. Image from http://tiny.cc/freehen (Creative Commons share license)

Ghazal for the Battery Girls

No gilded life, still she tries to fly. Turn gold;

the sun is setting. Spark in her eye – turn gold.

 

Dusk is settling, her sisters: a feathered mass.

Hens compose a discordant cry.  Turn gold.

 

The liberators – silent shadows in black plumage –

snip razorwire in half-light, no one will die. Turn gold

 

when freedom is complete.  Battery barn empty of promises.

Re-homed as sunrise paints the sky, return gold.

Changing at Crewe: 2 years to go.

Crewe station, we've had times together you know...

Crewe station, we’ve had times together you know…

Today marks a year to the day since I meandered onto the Manchester Metropolitan University campus in Crewe, Cheshire. This friendly campus is a small place of green in Crewe with Valley Brook twisting past my office window and a soundscape of rustling trees, sparrowhawk bickering, and blackbird song. It’s the second year of my PhD study on the literary geographies of Rochdale. I still feel like there’s a lot to still be learned, however, I’ve picked up so much in the past year that it’s positively affected my creative practice somewhat; I’m a more confident in academic writing – a whole different beast to making stuff up or writing campaigning journalism – and I’m certainly a lot more confident when talking about my project. From an intensive three days of learning from a place writing workshop to presenting a paper with “Poo” in the title at the University of Idaho, it’s been a veritable whirlwind of a year! This year I’m hoping to learn about cartography and mapping literature (plus a little bit of coding while I’m at it), to being running those creative writing sessions mentioned in March and – all being well in getting prepared for it – get through that transfer process (that’s where you upgrade from MPhil to PhD level).

There’s still a lot of work to do in the next few months. So yes, I’m definitely changing at Crewe!