Thursday, 31 March 2011

It's almost the end of term. I've marked all the assignments and caught up on all the paperwork (I think). I've even finished proof reading a brilliant novella by James D Quinton which I very much enjoyed. 

Now it's time for me to get back to my own writing. 

I ought to feel excited, enthused and full of anticipation. Instead I feel trepidation, anxiety and a little bit of fear. 

I know the rule is to just write; forget about the inner critic, where the work is going, who will read it, how it's going to develop...all that stuff. Just write. That's what I tell students and anyone else who sits and listens to me for long enough. Just write. 

Set aside time each day. Switch off your mobile phone. Disconnect the internet. Close the door and tell everyone you're not to be disturbed. Do this every day for one hour or two. Write without thinking. Write with freedom. Write for fun. Put the writing away afterwards and move on each day. 

Six weeks later take out what you wrote. Read it with a critical eye. Begin to redraft and develop. Finally show it to a trusted reader. Redraft again. And again. Keep at it until you have something worth reading. Keep at it until you have something which is polished. Proofread it. Ask someone else to proofread it. 

Then submit it. 

And repeat. 

So I need to stop whining about my work being crap and just get on with it. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Book launch and anniversaries

Yesterday evening we launched 'Slantways' an anthology of prose poetry written by a group of MA students at the University of Kent. Their tutor, Patricia Debney had been teaching them about prose poetry two and a half years ago when her son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Patricia took some time off but the MA group carried on writing and then decided to put together a book to raise some money for JDRF - the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. One year ago just as they were beginning to formulate what they'd do and how to go about it, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Patricia and I already knew each other as I'd graduated from the same MA course some years earlier. She was also the first person I contacted when R was diagnosed because I knew she'd been in the same place eighteen months before when her son was exactly the same age as mine. Within a couple of months I'd also been asked to contribute to the anthology - I'd already had some prose poetry published and it didn't take long for me to sort out some other pieces to add to it.

Finally last night we had the launch at Waterstones in Canterbury. The plan was to read one poem each and we'd go in alphabetical order - making me first up.

So far so good.....

Except that 22nd March 2010, exactly one year before to the day my son received his diagnosis and instead of me going to a reading of Scarlett Thomas's latest book I was in the William Harvey Hospital on the Children's Ward with him. In the past year R has been in hospital three times - the first on diagnosis, then six months ago he was readmitted because his blood glucose levels were so unstable and then he was transferred to UCLH where he remained for another few nights. He has gone from being a normal boy who plays rugby, enjoys meeting his mates, goes mountain biking, rock climbing and swimming to a boy who has only had about two weeks of school attendance since September and whose life has temporarily taken a back seat to this horrible condition. There have been two big positives in the last year - R was given an Insulin Infusion Pump which means that he no longer has to inject at least five times a day and we found a wonderful website and email list called Children With Diabetes and through that we've all met the most amazing families whom we're proud to call friends.

So, back to the book launch....Patricia said a few words to 'open' the reading and launch and then I was up. I'm used to standing in front of some very unfriendly groups - I've taught Ritalin repressed primary school children right up to hung over undergraduates. An audience of supportive poetry lovers should have been a breeze. I'd planned to explain how I'd come to be invited to contribute, how pleased I was to see everyone there and then finally tell them how the poem I was about to read, 'Beachboys' was written all about my twin sons who were both in the audience.

What actually happened was that I walked up to the front, faced the audience of about forty people, said thank you to them for turning up.....and then completely lost my nerve and almost began to cry. I turned not to 'Beachboys' which I knew would now make me blub like a hormonal teen in front of Justin Bieber, but instead I went to 'The Seahorse' and was about to begin to read before someone pointed out that I hadn't said who I was....
I read 'The Seahorse' despite my voice, my hands and my legs shaking. I didn't cry but I did look terrified, I didn't feel terrified, instead I felt very sad.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Stuff, nonsense and Fern Britton

What a horrible week! Actually, what a horrible month...R broke his arm three weeks ago so his blood glucose levels have been high, high, high. Monday saw R and I off to our local hospital A&E to get it all checked out - further blood tests and examinations. Of course everything came back as normal so it's just the arm that's making him run so high.
Then this morning I set off to work in our car which was only returned from the repair shop yesterday (did I mention I crashed it when exhausted a couple of weeks ago? I was only doing 10mph but had a collision with a cast iron barrier which isn't good for tyres or suspension). One mile down the road the car became very noisy and I discovered a flat tyre. Hooray. I swapped cars - we still have the hire car so I took that to work.
And then two miles down the road there was a hold up - a crash.
I reached work half an hour late. The first seminar of the day was a write off.

I did what any writer ought to do and turned it to my advantage - I headed off to one of the University cafes and had a large mocha. I also got out my notebook and began to worry that I've forgotten how to write. It's been so long since I've simply sat and thought about things other than Diabetes, family stuff or my teaching jobs.

Feeling like I've forgotten how to write makes it feel like a bit of me has gone - lost somewhere in the mess of my life. Now like all good stories I've got to pick up the threads and find my way back to me.

How dramatic!

Next week sees the launch of an anthology of Prose Poetry entitled 'Slantways' three of my poems are included. It's in aid of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and I'm really pleased and proud to have been a part of all this. But it's also reminding me that I'm no nearer to completing a collection of poetry or finishing the novel.

I need to set myself a series of goals - a timetable. I must finish the second draft of the novel by the end of the summer. I plan to hide myself away in the University library where I'll get some peace and quiet and just write. I know I need to map out each chapter, review what I've got so far, make some decisions about the plot, the story and character arcs, genre....oh, the big plans I had for it. What happens when, where and why. I need to get back into the story. Maybe I need to do a little research, or is that just procrastination? I need something to make it.....zing
What a terrible word - zing.
Okay, so I need to.....
1. Re-read the entire manuscript.
2. Map the manuscript - what happens where, the order of events.
3. Identify plot holes, points of development and so on.
4. Identify themes, motifs - what needs to be drawn out, ditched, tightened up.

And I'm reminded of The One Show the other night; they had Fern Britton on to plug a novel she's written. She explained how as part of her publishing deal an editor came to see her every month and essentially held her hand throughout the writing process. She was given guidance on how to map her story, what to put where and in short, how to write a saleable novel. Of course because she's already a celebrity she has an audience and a guaranteed readership. She's also not stupid so her novel hasn't been ghostwritten but instead just helped along the way.
I was still jealous listening to how much help she received. I am only human after all.

But I bet Fern doesn't break cars like I do.