Tell me what you’re reading?

23 02 2009

Reading this partly as research for my end of term piece.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway.

Janice Galloway is one of the few Scottish writers who truly captures what it feels like to be a working class woman. I will finish this book tonight and to be honest I’ve had to reluctantly put it down a few times already, lest I devour it all at once.

The narrator gives an unnervingly honest account of her inabilty to manage her life as it disintegrates around her. This really sturck a chord with my own circumstances a year or so ago. I’m rooting for her now to recover, as I did.

There is a wonderful feeling of familiarity in the setting too. A book that describes the characters and scenery of my own place in the world.

Though I love the escapism of reading about ancient Egypt or uptown New York, current UK fiction often seems to miss out “my” view of the world.

Decent female writing, is so often either set in London (which may as well be a world away) and/or written to a middle class audience.

Male UK writers seem to have more freedom to explore the sense of place and class, but few, if any, capture womanhood, in a way I can relate to.

But Janice…

…she’s got the lot.

I’ve a feeling I’ll be treating myself to just a wee bit more “research material”.

But once her books are all read, then what?

Suggestions anyone?

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Writing Sestinas and Pantoums (and other mathmatical challenges)

22 02 2009

Part of me really enjoys the pressure of a deadline.  It’s too easy sometimes, as writer to find other things to do with your writing time.  I love writing but sometimes when it’s not coming out the way I hope I find myself fixating on “research” or playing online scrabble.

Having assigments to hand in by a certain date keps me on my toes.

For the next one, due 13th March, I have the option of submitting either a 2500 word piece of fiction/biography or 80-100 lines of poety.

I planned on writing prose but after diving into the section on poetry I’m becoming fascinated by some of the forms used.

For example, the Sestina is a highly structured piece of poetry.  For the best explanation see here.

The way it interconnects and seems to repeat itself is clever, and it’s clever because actually, the secret in writing a good one seems to be to find ways to use the identical ending words in new ways.

There are a load of Sestinas on this page

Some are great, some, not so great.

Myfavourite though has to be

How to Build a
Sestina Template
in Microsoft Excel.


from McSweeney’

Have a look, it does exactly what it says on the tin!

Given that I’ve already enjoyed trying out the Pantoum (another of our optional taught forms) I’m thinking I may have a go at submitting poetry.

But it’s a big 20 % part of our overall mark

And the tutor is a poet.  I don’t know if this means she’s more likely to “get” what I write or more likely to see my lack of experience.

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Welcome to my blog

10 02 2009

Having had a few stories published here and there, I gained a place on the University of Glasgow’s Creative Writing MLitt.

This blog charts my progress as a fledgling author and mature student.  Feel free to have a nosey around…

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Time is a wasting

27 10 2008

..and I’ve my first TMA due at the end of this week.

Luckily though, after a slow start, my muse has been working overtime and I’ve been blessed with a pile of stories. The trouble has been trying to decide on which one is good enough for the TMA.

For instance, we had an activity on using research as a leap-board. We were asked to choose from a selection of subjects to look up. I chose rat-catching. (Why? I don’t know…it just sounded kind of interesting.)

After trawling the Net I found a wonderful book through Project Gutenberg. If you don’t know already, Project Gutenberg is a website dedicated to making the printed word accessible via the internet. It has loads of out of print and out of copyright works available to download, or browse via the site.

Anyway. On with my rat-catching research. Detailing the 25 year career of a Victorian Ratcatcher, it was a surprisingly good read. And short too. With my attention span at the moment its 28 or so pages fitted nicely thank you.

So here’s a wee excerpt of a story I came up based upon it…

The places near the Clydeside docks had it worst. We did a lot of work in big warehouses there, catching what the local cats couldn’t keep up with, but I liked working in peoples homes best. I got to set foot into the homes of the Tobacco Lords and other grand merchants. Houses filled with more beautiful objects than I’d ever seen if my life. A less respectable man might have been tempted to pocket a candlestick here or a brooch perhaps, but not me. Mr Macintosh said he hired me because I had an honest face and because my ma had raised me a good Catholic boy and I knew stealing was a sin.

Mr Macintosh said the rats infected the houses of rich and poor alike except in the rich houses you’d often only be called in after some eejit gent had tried to poison the rats himself.

“Stupid, stupid wee man.” Mr Macintosh would whisper under his breath once the man of the house was out of earshot. “Jim”, he’d say, “What’s the first thing I taught you about catching a rat?”

At which I’d repeat,
“Never lay down poison in an enclosed space.”

Because the rats take the poison but then go off to find somewhere dry and warm to die. Mostly they end up under the floorboards or down inside the wall cavity. As a ratcatcher I worked in some unpleasant places with smells that would choke you blind; under floors, beside water-closets, in the drains. But the stench from a decomposed rat has to be one of the most stomach churning of all, as though death himself has caught the back of your throat.

The story goes on…Jimmy is somewhat naive and tries to help Mr McIntosh, but in doing so he nearly ruins the man’s business. How will he make amends?

One of the problems I had when writing it though was trying to make sure I kept up with telling the story rather than just describing the work. But the grimness of the work made for an interesting background. In my revised versions of the story I worked harder at trying to keep a balance.

Now I have to decide which story I’m going to use for the TMA.

As much as I love the rat-catcher, I think I’ll develop it for use later. I’ve a much better one up my sleeve.

Keep your fingers crossed for me when my marks come back.

Jumping right in

12 10 2008

For this exercise we were given a starting paragraph and a list of possible names for the piece.  By using the name we could create a piece in a variety of different styles. I had to look up what Peyote was (duh!) but once I did I imagined a Hunter S. Thompson style story.  The crying baby was a side-note in the original starting paragraph but (perhaps because I’m a mum) this stood out to me and so for my story I was thinking Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Three Men and a Baby. Obviously it’s not a finished piece of work, I might develop it for later use in the course though.

My Problem with Peyote

The church clock struck eight, so those villagers who were awake knew without checking that it would be six. I think there was a cock crowing somewhere far off and there was me, strung out across the church doorstep, fedora over my face. Everything was peaceful, my world still same as it ever was. Alls I remember was a whiff of someone gliding past the church wall and then the silence broke hard by the baby crying.

I didn’t see him at first, just heard that noise. I read somewhere, or maybe Frank told me, when they worked out the noise for them ambulance sirens, well it’s exactly the same frequency.

Wheeah! Wheeah!

The sound felt like a truck roaring into my head. I sat up and adjusted my hat; squinting into the Texan sunrise. As I did so my hand caught on the edge of some sort of basket and I saw him.

Tiny purple face, all mouth screaming, “Wheeah! Wheeah!”

Now, I’ve woken up in some strange situations in my life. I mean there was that time me and Frank ended up in Fort Worth with them oil-baron heiresses. We guzzled champagne and hoovered coke like it was an end of the world party. Serenity or something she was called, peachiest ass in all of Texas but we’d went for a walk, you know how these things go, and in the morning she was gone and I was naked, surrounded by red-necks in her daddy’s oilfield. Never ran so fast in my life. But this… This time I knows I’m in proper trouble.

The little fella finally stopped bawling. I’m still only guessing at this point that he’s a he. Babies all looks the same don’t they? But he was looking up at me with them big blue eyes and his tiny hands all balled up into fists. That’s when I saw the note…

Dear Edgar,

I’m sorry to do this to you but I’ve got no choice. I’ve had to leave town for a while, just until things calm down. Please keep Dylan safe for me. There’s a bottle and all his diapers and things in the bottom of the basket. You’re the only one I can trust, and also, I should have told you this before now, but Dylan is yours.


Starting/finishing or not knowing ones arse from ones elbow

21 09 2008

I finish  AA310 Film and TV History in two and a half weeks. Exam is 8th October.

My next course, A363, the brand new all singing all dancing, yes you’ve all been waiting… ****Advanced Creative Writing**** starts in just over a week and I’m DESPERATE to get started.

But I daren’t. What if my muse sets off with gusto and I end up with no brain space left and then fail my AA310 exam? Can’t let that happen.

Instead, I go through the motions of revising.

And all the while the various characters and storylines congregate impatiently at the gates of my mind. Set free via my early reading of the A363 coursebook (not a wise move but how could I not?). I can hear them, coughing and spluttering and occasionally banging on the gates wanting in.

What if they won’t wait for me?  They all give up and go home?  And then I’m left with a big shiny piece of blank paper and nothing to put on it?

If I fail my exam I blame the OU…

Practice activities

10 03 2008

In this exercise, write about a trapped character but show this through the setting rather than to name the feeling.

She’ll be home from work soon. I look around at the house and try my best to assess the damage. In the far corner of the sitting room the brand new TV lies on it’s side but it hasn’t even been dented. The plant pot’s contents are poured across the beige carpet and the Aspidistra is lying down in the tipped soil as though the wind has been knocked out of it. There are shards of glass on the other side of the room. The angry remains of the mirror that scolded me for questioning the face looking back at me.

I don’t know what came over me. She’ll be home soon, looking for an explanation. I could tell her we’ve been burgled. I’ve lied so much already. What harm will one more do? Or I could try my best to tidy up. But it won’t be enough. She’ll notice the stain. She’ll know that something is out of place. She always does. The books will be in the wrong order or the plant won’t be sitting the right way round.

I know she can’t help it. Mike says I would be better of out of it but how could I leave? Everything looks so bloody perfect. The outside world see us, see our home. The pristine white of the net curtains. The kitchen with it’s sparkling sink. She’ll come home from work. Her hair and make-up will still be perfect; she’ll carefully cook a nutritionally sound meal. Her mouth will make the shape of a smile and we’ll pretend to make polite conversation and then, long after I go to bed, the cleaning and the scrubbing will start. Only her hands give her away. Her nails are brittle and her fingertips worn out from three years of bleach and chemicals. The angry red mark around her wedding ring.

I want her to come home and find the mess. Maybe that’s what she needs. To see the way normal people live. Mike’s house is so comfortable. The cushions are never straight. The kitchen sink is often full of dirty cups. The sheets are only changed once a week. He doesn’t have to worry if he leaves his dirty socks by the bed or forgets to rinse out the basin after brushing his teeth.

I step over the debris through to the kitchen to get the dust pan and brush from under the sink. The cupboard is stacked full of cleaning products, neatly arranged with clinical precision. I need to remember to wipe it down after I tidy up the plant and I focus on exactly where everything is sitting so I return it all just so. She’ll be home soon.

I remember we used to have fun. The house was warm and the tidiness a comfort. But then she never stayed up cleaning all night. That only came after the accident. If Dad hadn’t died I’m sure things would be so different.