I like this piece by Damien Waller [see link below]. Particular what he says about structure; like it or loathe it, ‘it’s bigger than we are’. Of course it is but what kind of structure you use and how is not entirely sewn up with the classic three act structure form that has come to dominate our narrative appetite. Stories are fractal and for them to work on many levels, as the best stories do they must be written with this fractal structure firmly in mind. I think this idea is given more credence in our digital times where gaming narrative structures continue to challenge the classic three act, narrative arc form. And i think that’s a great thing. It’s a fee paying online course promotion post designed to whet your appetite but still…interesting read.
apologies if you hoped for a good cactus read: This post has nothing to do with cactus ; ) but they’re lovely right?
So just like all PhD students I fretted about Upgrade. When you embark on your PhD it seems a long way off and a monumental milestone to reach in the behemoth that is THE PhD. As you sweat over the minutiae of your application wording, wondering by the end if this is really something you want to do, you cannot imagine yourself standing up in front of a panel of experienced academics talking with authority about your work. But by the time you get there, certainly by the time you leave the room of your oral examination, you find yourself wondering again. But this time it’s: Why was I fretting about this so much? Sure, these academic know their stuff but it’s not your stuff, and in fact you know quite a bit about your stuff and what you have to say about it isn’t too shabby either.
And this, my friends, is how to win at academia. Know your little corner of the universe and know it well. Whereas in life we must all be generalists, skilled at many things – parent, friend, child, employee, etc. in academia we must be specialists. Even as creative practitioners, who tend to like to pull the world into their orbits of [re]production and [re]telling, certainly writers do [and certainly this writer], this is not how to win at academia.
I am pleased to report that I passed fairly resoundingly, no doubts as to my ability to conduct PhD level research whispered anywhere by the panel, in person or in the report. In fact the feedback was unilaterally positive, praising the clarity of my statements of research purpose, the conceptualisation of my aesthetic intentions and practice, my focussed writing methodology and ability to discuss the work. It was overall a resoundingly good experience. Something I know it is not for everybody. For a plethora of reasons.
If you can make Upgrade a good experience it is extremely worth it. Not just because you can tick that particular assessment hoop off your to do list [a nice feeling BTW] but because then you will embark on the final push to PhD completion with confidence and renewed energy. This is kind of where i feel I am now. The process of Upgrade validated some of the approaches I have been exploring and allowed me to see how I could/should foreground certain aspects of my work and minimize, or cut completely, others. It’s been a really useful experience, one that has deepened my understanding of just what creative practice research is.
My advice to anyone reading this who might be approaching Upgrade or even thinking of it as a distant mountain to climb, is don’t fret. Be diligent, be clear on your line of research inquiry, especially perhaps with creative practice research. it’s easy for your panel, if not practitioners themselves, to see a lack clarity of research purpose where you see creative exploration. Foreground your research questions in the presentation and stick to responding to the answers and issues those questions provoke.
So. It’s been a while. How many blog posts start like that?! Well. A lot. I nearly thought of quitting this but even though my presence here feels more documentation than communication it has a use. Since my last post back in October my mother’s health deteriorated fast and finally she died in early February, 5 days before I was due to present the oral part of my Upgrade examination. I can’t really say much about the loss of my mother except it has effected me strangely. Grief is a complex thing, with many dimensions you can never hope to grasp fully. I am writing now, at nearly the 6 months anniversary of her death and am only beginning to …what? There you go. Words fail. But then here comes some more…It’s summer. I’ve completed a busy semester of teaching followed by an intense period of assessment and marking. I postponed the Upgrade examination for 2 weeks and passed, delivered a paper at conference, and submitted my completed novel manuscript to my supervisors.
I am going to post separately about the Upgrade, completing my novel and the paper i gave at conference earlier this month, so if you’re interested in any more detail about those things it’ll be coming right up.
Looking forward to co-presenting the Good, Girls, Bad Girls creative writing workshop this Saturday as part of a brilliant and packed programme at NAWE’s annual conference. The workshop will explore how to write distinct female characters, ask what makes a memorable, relatable protagonist and, just as importantly, our antagonists. Although we’ll dip into a few examples from fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural as writer’s our interests are focussed firmly in contemporary realist YA fiction.
We’ll begin by discussing what moves us in a YA fiction heroine, which characters make an impression, stay with us and why. Identifying key traits and thinking about how to develop the internal and external world of our characters; then we’ll think specifically about the challenges of writing convincing, relatable YA characters and focus on writing exercises that will engage these discussion. Who knows? One of those little exercises might just be the beginning of a beautiful new relationship between you and your new YA heroine. Join us!
My co-presenter is the generally fantastic, experienced workshop leader and YA author Liz Flanagan. Liz’s PhD novel Eden Summer is already published and nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2017 no less [too impressive].
Two of my favourite contemporary girl heroines…
Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli 
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell .
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.
Writing Exercise: Write a Selfie
Screenwriters often have actors in mind when they write a screenplay. Even if it’s only a wish list actor it can help take the character idea in the mind to something more three dimensional on the page. If you find the idea of a particular actor to pin your writing on too remote, why try a selfie as a visualiser?
A Selfie’s disguise as much as they reveal but they are a great starting point to help a writer flesh out their character idea. Selfies are posed photographs that give us a sense of how a person wants to be seen but who is the real person behind the selfie mask?
Thinking of your characters Selfie immediately puts her in the real, digital world. How would she choose to present herself online? What does it say about her? How does it reveal her character?
Choose 1 of the following selfies and write the moment around the taking of that photograph. Put us in the place where they are – physically, geographically, emotionally. You can include what happened before and/or after. Show us the real person behind the selfie image.
‘The horizons of personality always recede before us.’ Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse.
Writing Exercise: After The Camera Stops Recording…
Another potential source to mine for creating contemporary relatable characters voice and action is to use online video to conjure an authentic voice, appearance and action.
There are thousands of Youtubers many with a pre-chapterised lives via their own channels with hundreds of uploaded video waiting for your pen to draw out the drama and detail that might make a meaningful and lasting story.
Who is this person? What has led her to make this video? What happened after she made this video? Something ordinary or extraordinary? You decide.
Not sure if we’ll have time for that last one but you get the idea.
The future of writing is now. Smartphones, interactive storytelling, stories that take us right into the future…now. Writing and technology have a long backstory: from Guttenberg’s press [and beyond] to today’s digital smart phones humans have explored ways of communicating using tools of one form or another and these tools have had an impact not only on how we communicate but what we choose to say.
Join us at The Cambridge Festival of Ideas for 4 events will get you thinking and writing about digital writing, future writing and what the future may bring…
This semester I have research leave in the form of teaching relief awarded by my department. Thank you Anglia Ruskin. Without weekly teaching schedule and only minimal student contact time [still supervising 6 x Level 6 major projects] I have time to plan for a conference workshop presentation, pitch to two more and prepare for my Upgrade to PhD [formerly know as Confirmation of Candidacy] which involves writing a report of what I have done so far and submitting an indicative thesis. The latter seems a little far off realisation but hopefully it will have taken shape by my December 20th [self imposed] deadline. Which will give me up to 25th January 2017 to edit and polish before I have to hand it over. I have nearly completed a second draft of my creative writing element – a YA novel -so all in all feeling like for the first time in a long time I am getting on top of things. Amazing what a little gift of time can bring. Long may this feeling last. More about the upcoming Cambridge Festival of Ideas events and NAWE writing workshop very soon.
I should have written about this weeks ago but i have had a difficult personal time this past month with my mother falling seriously ill and my initial post impetus became defused before completion. Despite this lapse in time the warm embers of what i already refer to as my first YALC still glow strong. The Young Adult fiction world is a unique community where readers, writers, publishers and characters co-exist in a seemingly utopian literary democracy. Of course there are big name writers and the less well known but everyone is hugely supportive of each others work and passion for reading. It is like the usual rules of literary festivals don’t apply. Maybe because this isn’t a literary festival [although it kind of is with it’s book market and signings and talks] It’s a convention so it’s full of fans. Writers and readers alike with a huge appetite for an exciting still growing genre that’s redefining itself all the time. It surprises me that the UK is still behind on the US when it comes to taking YA seriously in academia. Perhaps it’s time for me to organise a symposium. Time for more serious YA literary criticism. Watch this space.
Ottie, I say, sitting down and offering you a biscuit. Some weak recompense for the toy you so want so badly but I have no money to buy. I love you so much I can barely think about how much I love you. When I do I have to sit down. [I sit down]. I have to stop everything, including breathing. I literally can’t do anything or think about anything else. Thinking how much I love you makes my heartache worse than any break-up and my feet numb as if I’ve run ten marathons. When I think how much I love you I worry about everything because anything could be something that impacts on your happiness. How much I love you makes me want to fix the world beyond any reasonable hope. It makes me want to banish the bad guys, save the good guys and protect every new born and promise them a happy, pain free, love filled life because every child reminds me of you.
I knew children before. I knew how they lived in the present, delighted in simple things, laughed like they meant it and how that laughter went on forever. I knew that they ran with a love of running I have long forgotten and how that ability to love without boundaries said everything anyone could ever say about what was good about living. I knew that children imagined the impossible and dreamed of beautiful things and that the monsters of their nightmares could always be slain.
I loved children before. But you’ve taught me more. You taught me children aren’t archetypes for adults to gaze on for their own consolation. You are noisy and challenging and subtle, surprising and free. You have not only transformed my life entirely but raised me to a new way of living I could never have imagined before you came into my life.
Ottie looked at me, slowly munching on the biscuit and thinking about what I’d said. I smiled, unexpectedly nervous, and waited. He pushed the last crumbs into his mouth and said, the small one is nice too. And it’s half the price.
You went too far this time. You took yourself to the edge and yes it was going to be an amazing shot. A 3,000 instant likes on Instagram shot. With who knows how many more as it went viral. Shared by friends of friends of friends. You with your hair blowing upwards like someone had turned you upside down. Floating as warm winds from the thousand foot drop beneath buffeted the cool air higher up, carrying each strand on its turns. Silky corn locks in the performance of a lifetime. Your smile. Those eyes. Centre stage. Spot lit by canyon sunshine. The world your back drop, adjusted to fit the frame. This would be the one that would get you noticed above all the rest. The one that’d get you the following you deserved. I can see you stepping up and over the safety barrier. Anticipation of the soon to be experienced outpouring of praise drowning out any thought for what hazards the real world might have in store.
It was going to be the best shot ever. A selfie that now no one will ever see. Your camera phone smashed to pieces at the bottom of the ravine. It’s parts all mixed with yours. The sun sets and a shadow creeps over the rock. Far below I can see your SIM card twinkle. Your hair splayed out around it.