Thursday, July 27, 2006

Off on my travels for a couple of weeks. Happy writing to you all!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

There are, of course, many things for a writer to be jealous of J K Rowling for, but high up on my list is her public recognition as the 'number one' fan of Elizabeth Goudge's classic, The Little White Horse. This book made a real impression on me as a child, and I relived and tasted again and again the details in it - the way the orphan Maria got comfort just from knowing she wore beautiful shoes under her long gown, the iced biscuits left in the turret bedroom, in fact so much so that I deliberately laced oblique references through my own novel, Something Beginning With. I didn't expect anyone to pick them up, they were just there for my pleasure! Now I've just heard that The Little White Horse is being made into a film, and there's been a short story competition - for children and young adults - attached to it. One of the winning entries can be found here, and - oh my god - there's even a biscuit recipe up on the site. I should feel pleased, but I feel a little bewildered and plundered. It's happened before when I've really enjoyed a book - half of the time I want EVERYONE to love it too, but there's a little bit of me that wants to keep the experience private because reading it has been such a personal and transformational pleasure. Writing this makes me realise how bizarre this is - anyone else feel it though?
My writing prompt for today is going to be .... biscuits.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I love the book club I'm in with a passion. When I was new to the area and knew only one person, she was good enough to take me along. Can't remember what the first book we read was, but I do know I've made some serious friends. Move over Richard and Judy - our books to read for the summer are Jane Eyre (we did Wide Sargasso Sea last time) and Never Let Me Go. I was interested then in this report from my US publishers, Ballantine, of the first Book Club Conference. It would be great if they could do something like this in the UK.
And my belated writing prompt for today is going to be ... the babysitter's arrived. (that's my prompt not the reason for stopping writing this!)
Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn't writing, doesn't.
--Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Not sure quite what trail took me to this site, but there's something very beautiful about the plastics developed from recycled products on the Smile-plastics website. This one is from shredded banknotes, but there are others made with mobiles, bottles, carrier bags, cd's, stamps etc etc etc. The plastic is then used for furniture, interior design, exterior design, plates, you name it. Even - looking at the thumbnail sketches on the website - for a guitar.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I'm going to steal my prompt for today from the excellent 400 words website which asks for short non-fiction pieces (well funnily enough 400 words actually). There are two great pieces to read on the theme of compulsion, so that's what I'm going to write about today, and tomorrow I'm going to try a 400 word autobiography because I'm inspired by the ones that are up on the site.

Friday, July 21, 2006

As edition editor of the latest copy of Writers in Education, published by NAWE, one of the pieces that really excited me was an article on using science in writing by Ann Lackie. This wasn't just because it was interesting and well-written, but because it got me interested in science, something I'm ashamed to say years of school teachers never managed to do! So, I'm very pleased Dr Jennifer Rohn, editor of Lablit, has kindly allowed me to copy her favourite 'lablit' books on my blog. The site is well worth a visit, not just because of the interesting article by the novelist, Clare Dudman. In addition, news of 'lablit' (I'm going to keep repeating that, I love it!) publishing can be found here, and this list is constantly updated.

Dr Jennifer Rohn writes: Science in literary fiction occurs along a continuum, from passing references and peripheral scientist characters to a rich, full-blown experience in which realistic scientists feature as central characters and their research endeavors underpin the plot. What makes this latter end of the spectrum, which I call 'lab lit', so engaging is that while the delivery of the science is still subtle and unobtrusive, and human interest vitalizes the narrative arc, the reader is effortlessly drawn into a hidden world viewed from a scientist's eyes. Such a perspective is rare in today's environment where, despite the saturation of science in our media, non-stereotyped representations of researchers and their craft rarely see the light of day. I estimate that there have been only a few dozen pure 'lab lit' novels ever written; these are five of my favorites:

Cantor's Dilemma (Carl Djerassi)

A cancer researcher throws integrity to the wind in pursuit of the Nobel Prize. Immersed in my PhD research in the 80's, this was the first 'lab lit' book I ever encountered, and I was equally delighted to find a novel set in my beloved world and bemused that there seemed to be so few other examples.

Paper (John McCabe)

This black comedy/thriller features a disgruntled biochemist propelled from his tedious research rut by a second-hand laptop full of suspicious DNA code - 'lab lit noir' at its finest. When I read this in the 90's, I too was a disillusioned postgrad, and the experience resonated.

Mendel's Dwarf (Simon Mawer)

An intellectual, bittersweet story of a dwarf geneticist studying the molecular basis of his own condition; in the process, egomania and self-hatred mutate into enlightenment.

Long For This World (Michael Byers)

In this tense tale of love and hubris, a medical geneticist becomes so fond of his pediatric patient that he decides to treat the child in secret without going through the proper ethical channels.

Intuition (Allegra Goodman)

'Lab lit' hits the bestseller lists this year, giving the genre a well-deserved boost of popular exposure: Secrets, lies and scientific fraud threaten to tear apart a close-knit cancer laboratory in Boston.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Another student recommended the book, From Where You Dream by Robert Olen Butler, a series of essays on writing from his lecture series at Northwestern Unversity, and edited by Janet Burroway. It's been just what I need to kickstart both my writing discipline and inspiration, and somehow seems ideally suited to the weather. One of the many paragraphs I've underlined are these ones:
You know, it's easy to get caught up in the ambition of being a writer. It's easy to get caught up in loving literature and wishing to be the person on the dust jacket. This ambition, as innocent-seeming as it is, can very easily muscle out your deeper, more delicate, more difficult ambitions ... What I want to nurture in you is the impluse: "I'm ravished by sensual experience. I yearn to take life in. My God! I've got this sense that the world has meaning. Things roil around in my dream space, and I've got to figure out how to make art objects of them." That's really the best ambition, to be hungry for sensual experience in your life. Ravenous. Artists are not intellectuals. We are sensualists. The objects we create are sensual objects, and the way you'll know that you're writing from your head is that you'll look at your story and find it full of abstraction and generalization and summary and analysis and interpretation....

Mies van de Rohe said that God is in the details. Let's substitute: the human condition resides in the details, the sense details.

The primary point of contact for the reader is going to be an emotional one, because emotions reside in the senses.

So my writing prompt for today is a nice one: I'm going to allow myself to be ravished by my senses!

And, if like me, reading his thoughts on the writing process has sent you back to re-reading Robert Olen Butler's own creative work, a short story of his, 'Woman Struck by Car Turns into Nymphomaniac', can be found here. (Actually, I'm setting hundreds of sexy google searchers up for disappointment with putting that title there, but welcome to you all anyway - particularly those who combined Nymphomaniac with car in their search criteria, may all your motoring fantasies come true!)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When Messages was published, Lynne and I opened our own yahoo email account - - if anyone felt inspired to write a Message based on any of ours. Of course, we hoped, but didn't really expect, we'd get responses but I'm so happy that we are. It's as if the book, having started as an energetic collaboration between us two, has now opened itself out for other people to respond to the links. Someone's even suggested we publish Messages 2 of all the new 300-word pieces. I love that idea. Bob has even started his own Tuesday 200 project here.
So today's the anniversary of the first publication of Lord of the Rings. Here's what the Writer's Almanac say about it...

It was on this day in 1954 that the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was published—The Fellowship of the Ring. Seventeen years had passed since the publication of The Hobbit (1937), to which The Fellowship of the Ring was a sequel. The Hobbit had gotten a great review in The Times Literary Supplement, and it went on to become a best-seller. So J.R.R. Tolkien (books by this author) began working on a sequel, about the nephew of the hobbit Bilbo, the nephew being named Frodo. He decided that the story would center on the magical ring, which hadn't been an important part of The Hobbit.

Tolkien spent the next seventeen years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. The book became more complicated as Tolkien went along, and it was taking much longer to finish than he had planned. He went through long stretches where he didn't write anything and considered giving the project up altogether. He wanted to make sure all of the details about the geography, language, and mythology of Middle Earth were consistent. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of his story, showing dates, days of the week, the direction of the wind, and the phases of the moon.

Finally, in the fall of 1949, Tolkien finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy out himself, sitting on a bed in his attic, balancing the typewriter on his lap, and tapping it out with two fingers.

The Lord of the Rings turned out to be more than half a million words long. Tolkien wanted to publish it in one volume, his publisher wanted to divide it into three volumes and so the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, came out on this day in 1954.

Only about three and a half thousand copies were printed, but it turned out to be incredibly popular, and it went through a second printing in just six weeks.

And my writing prompt today is going to be .... half a million words (not writing them but just am image of them... although who knows how inspiring this may turn out to be!!!).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm me-e-e-e-l-l-lting here... but it could be worse. Just come back from London where a guy on the tube was reading a paper with the front page saying it was 52 on the buses, more than double the recommended temperature for transporting cattle.

And my writing prompt for today comes from my book of 52 Projects and is number 45, because however hot I am I can spend at least one minute writing! It is to write a one-minute autobiography and this is what the book says:
'Don't necessarily start at the beginning, and don't worry about the ending. Indeed, do not let any kind of chronological order hinder your effort. A good place to start is the first thing that comes to mind. Once you start writing, other memories will pop into your head. Go with them. The inneruptions enhance the flow. Once the minute is up, read over what you have written, and then immediately repeat the exercise. Keep going for as long as you can.'

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm not normally too keen on anti-men jokes, but this list made me laugh. A lot!

It is good to be a woman:

1. We got off the Titanic first.
2. We can scare male bosses with the mysterious gynecological disorder excuses.
3 Taxis stop for us.
4. We don't look like a frog in a blender when dancing.
5. No fashion faux pas we make, could ever rival the Speedo.
6. We don't have to pass gas to amuse ourselves.
7. If we forget to shave, no one has to know.
8. We can congratulate our teammate without ever touching her rear end.
9. We never have to reach down every so often to make sure our privates are still there.
10. We have the ability to dress ourselves.
11. We can talk to the opposite sex without having to picture them naked.
12. If we marry someone 20 years younger, we are aware that we will look like an idiot.
13. We will never regret piercing our ears.
14. There are times when chocolate really can solve all your problems.
15. We can make comments about how silly men are in their presence because they aren't listening anyway.
If you're submitting regularly, you may already have heard of Duotrope but it's definitely worth a visit. It has up to date information, easily categorised, of virtually every journal out there, plus a system whereby you can keep control of your own submissions. If you use it, consider supporting it with a donation too - part of the wonder, for me, is that it's free!

Friday, July 14, 2006

"It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does." --William Faulkner
So, what I was doing - literally - yesterday really!
OK, let's talk stalking, and my writing prompt mission yesterday.

Straight off the train, I followed a woman of about 40. Everything about her glittered, her dyed blonde hair, earrings, sparkly flip-flops, silver belt. She had no bag - that's what drew me to her, how can you survive with no bag? Even her pockets looked flat. She kept looking behind her, so at first I thought she'd spotted me, but then I realised she was just trying to catch her reflection in all the shop windows. I thought she must be going somewhere good but then she dashed into a coffee shop and I'd made a rule for myself that I would only follow in the street, so I left her.

Next up were two friends, about twentyish, both with those ballerina type skirts of many fluttery layers. Even the way they walked down the street was floaty and curvy but then I realised they were so busy talking, it was irrelevant to them where they were going and suddenly they didn't interest me any more.

So then I found suspect 4, a bald man with a huge orange rucksack and those shorts like babies wear that give all men the same bowed baby legs. Boy did he walk fast - dashing into roads, zigzagging round cars, I ended up running up streets after him. If someone I knew had stopped me, I would have ignored them. I could feel my blood race. And then suddenly we slowed down and I saw there were two policemen ahead of him. I wondered if policemen on foot were like those in a car, you just can't overtake them. But eventually we managed it, my heart thumping. This chase gave a whole new feel to Covent Garden, rarely have I been in such a hurry to get ... where?

And then just when I was wondering how much further I could run, he was gone. Completely. Between two cafes and a dead end. I gazed in one cafe window to try to find him and a guy waved at me, but he wasn't my guy. He was nowhere. I felt like a hunter must feel when he'd lost his chance of a kill. I just stood there. I really didn't know where to go, a wind up toy wound down.

But then I saw a stationery shop with a sale and the spell was broken, although I couldn't stop laughing for about an hour after. I felt mad but alive, aware of how much more I was noticing all the small details that might have passed me by before: a Chinese boy with his arms around his elderly parents, the teenage girl reading Jane Eyre as she walked down the street, how men who've obviously been fit in their youth put on weight from chest up so they have no necks, the couple flirting by the 'Fool for Love' poster.

And my writing prompt for today is going to be to ... write as if I'm following myself.
I'm counting the weeks now until my course at Ty Newydd - Exploring Fiction with Jim Friel. Apparently there are still places if anyone wants to find out more, and the centre is beautiful since its recent facelift - can't wait!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

When teaching writing becomes not just enjoyable, but actually a privilege, is when you learn as much from your students as you're teaching them. (You mean you get paid for that? Yep, life's good!) My best tutorials - on both sides - are those when we both come away bursting with scribbled names, notes and books to look up. So this entry comes with thanks to Brigitte who introduced me to the work of the French artist, Sophie Calle; Paul Auster fans might recognise her as the model for Maria, in his novel, Leviathan. Sophie Calle is the ultimate artist at transforming her life, and those of strangers and friends, into art.

Reading about her, she appears to be an obsessive who uses ritual to anchor her in life. The photograph above is one of a series of exhibits of birthday presents that were given to her every year - she stopped when she was forty. She decided to keep the presents she was given as a record of affection rather than to use them.

Perhaps her most controversial work was The Address Book where she found a stranger's address book and proceeded to contact names in it to build up a picture of the man; this was then published in a French magazine. Not surprisingly the man tried to sue for defamation of privacy, and eventually got hold of a nude photograph of Sophie which he demanded the newspaper publish!

My favourite though is The Shadow, where she asked her mother to hire a private detective to follow her, Sophie, one day. The text on the day is electric - as it progresses, Sophie sounds as if she's almost falling in love with her shadow, wondering what he'll think of her doing this, or that, and how he'll react to her. TO complicate things further, she asks a friend to shadow the shadow and provide a record of who he is. The difference between her account of the day, and the eventual technical report of the private detective is beautiful in itself. The idea came after Sophie came back to live in Paris after an absence and, feeling an outsider, started to follow strangers.

I've been feeling almost electrically inspired reading about this woman and although there's no copying her, my writing prompt for today comes from her... I'm going to London today to meet my friend Shaun for lunch and I'm going to take an earlier train than I would normally and meander round after strangers for an hour. And my 'living' prompt for today is ... not to get arrested!
Brave New Roles

Deadline: 30 September 2006

Sphinx Theatre Company is pleased to announce a new award for the playwright who creates the most interesting role for a woman in a new play.

This is a scheme designed to create a body of work containing stronger roles for women in contemporary plays.

The winning playwright will be awarded £2000 in addition to a commissioning fee and the successful play will be presented as part of the Brave New Roles showcase.

Five additional short-listed writers will also have their pieces performed as part of the award's lunchtime showcase. The winning play will be produced in 2007/2008.

The award will go to the writer whose play contains the most interesting and strongest role(s) for a woman. Merit will be given to characters which move away from the usual stereotypes of women, often seen in theatre.

Judges for the Award include: Gemma Bodinetz (Liverpool Playhouse and Everyman Theatres), Jack Bradley (National Theatre), Rebecca Lenkiewiecz, actress Tanya Moodie, Sue Parrish (Sphinx Theatre Company) and actress,writer and director Janet Suzman. Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Manchester Royal Exchange, York Theatre Royal and Soho Theatre are proud to be associated with this initiative and award.

To be considered for the award writers must be UK residents and qualifying plays must be previously unperformed and over 30 minutes in length. Submissions cannot be accepted by email or on disk.

Please send two typed, unbound copies with a covering letter and CV including your name, address, telephone number and email address to:

Brave New Roles
c/o Sphinx Theatre Company
25 Short Street
London, SE1 18LJ

For more information on Sphinx Theatre Company, please see their website.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My first ever creative fiction publication was a short story taken by QWF Magazine, and I was so excited I slept with the acceptance letter from the scarey sounding editor, Jo Good, under my pillow. Since then, I've had several other stories published by the magazine, spoke at the annual conference and, having got to know and like Jo, looked on with admiration as she's managed to enthusiastically keep her dream alive of encouraging other women writers, and publishing some of the best fiction around. All this probably to the detriment of her own creative work, because she's a talented writer as well as an editor. I've just heard today that Jo is stepping down from the magazine, although she's keeping charge of the excellent Phillip Good Memorial Prize, a short story competition named in honour of her late first husband. Anyway, just wanted to use this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to Jo - you never forget your first time! - and to wish the new editor, Kathie Giorgio all the best.
Voila! The beautiful cover design for my collection of short stories, coming in November from Bluechrome. I'm not sure, but I think I might even prefer gazing at this over the Johnny Depp pic.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.
Leo Tolstoy
Why do I blog? To note down ideas/websites/thoughts as much for myself as to share them for other people; as a form of discipline but mostly as a way of being part of a community of other writers I admire - there's a certain energy, enthusiasm, humour, openness about blogging writers for the act of writing that has nothing to do with publishing contracts, W H Smith placements or bestselling lists and I value that. I could just read them, I suppose, but I like taking part in it all too. John Baker has been asking bloggers just that question. Worth a look.
And my writing prompt today is ... the question why.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I LOVE browsing on the 43things website. At the moment, there's a campaign going on for cheering and being one of Sark's 'Succulent wild women', which makes me laugh - in the best non-cynical happy way. I'm inspired by the 'juiciness' and generosity of it all. Go girls - here's a big cheer!!!
And my writing prompt for today is going to be from the list of random goals put up by 43things:

The world wants to...
use age progression software on my picture finish what I've started go to medical school Send something to post secret Finish what I start see more live music create a personal travel map take up photography Skydive Be baptized See the Mark Ryden exhibit at the Frye Art Museum hike the appalachian trail get merried Become More Politically Active. Get more sleep Lose 10 pounds pass the bar Learn German fluently learn italian find the love of my life enjoy the moment Go check out the Cathedral Park haunting make my own clothes learn to install an electrical outlet learn french fluently become a surgeon stop buying things i dont need. have a house with hidden rooms and trap doors, and some kind of secret tunnel

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It's not often I stay in the car to finish listening to something on the radio, but I did yesterday with a really fantastic radio drama on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. It was the final slot in a drama that had been going on all week, 'Standing Still, Running' by Elizabeth Reeder, and I've just been online to track down the rest of the story. Hurrah for the internet, because it's all there. I recommend this one - it's a great example of multi-voiced storytelling with four women telling their stories after a shooting in Washington DC.
And my writing prompt for today is going to be to tell the same story from four voices.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Somehow the wonderful cartoons I get weekly from the wonderful Harolds Planet always sum up how I'm feeling. This is definitely a site worth exploring, and better than the horoscope I get daily. Mind you, today's horoscope for me (Virgo) says that I could be called on to be a teacher today, and everyone will be astounded by how much I know. As I'm just about to leave to go to my university teaching, I'm certainly hoping that's the case!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

To work, to work ... but first of all, how cute is this one?
It was the Paris Hilton 'Don't be Jealous' t-shirt that got me first interested in the brilliant named moretvicar site, but this is the one I want to order.
And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... jealousy.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I was going to try to think of a link to this picture, but sometimes it's good just to admire in silence!
Just read a poem that has made the hairs stand on the back of my neck in its chilling control. Divorce by Carrie Etter was published in the British Council's New Writing 14 anthology.
For my writing prompt today I'm going to take this theme - Ritual.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

“In order to create there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more dynamic than love?” Igor Stravinsky
Really good story here, The Clock and the Hamster by Donald Hiscock.
I suppose it had to happen - a website devoted solely to dog fashion-wear and called Desperate Househounds. Don't know why I'm surprised actually - we have a dog accessory shop in our town called 'Pucci'!
Fancy creating some really evil characters? The Seventh Sanctum website has a dark name generator to help you get started. I particularly like the names for pirate ships and am sure if I write something good enough, Johnny Depp will star in the film, so my writing prompt for today is going to be the wicked but strangely attractive pirate, SLYBURN, aboard the pirate ship, THE EVIL DEATH OF THE EAST. Phew!

Monday, July 03, 2006

A really extraordinary life-story here. I love the idea of her pupils watching Penelope Lawrence swim daily between the two piers at Brighton, so my writing prompt for today is going to be someone that swims outside every day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I respect the writer Amy Hempel so much that anything I can read about her, as well as her writing, is welcome. So am very pleased to find this new interview with her (good resource for other writers too). One question she was asked was what piece of creative writing advice would she give:
Not so much a piece of advice as a question to keep in mind, which is the most basic of questions: Why are you telling me this? Someone out there will be asking, and you better have a very compelling answer, or reason.

There are people who have been raised by loving parents to believe that the world awaits their every thought and sentence, and I'm not one of them. So I respond to that. Is this essential? The question might be, Is this something only you can say — or, only you can say it this way? Is this going to make anyone's life better, or make anyone's day better? And I don't mean the writer's day.

And my writing quote for today is going to be ... waiting for a storm.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

I've been using mind maps for some time for my writing - particularly with poetry to see the connections and links that I can use, but have always thought of them as something best done with pen and paper so I can scribble and colour as I want - see here for some particularly beautiful ones. However, I've just been playing with a computer based version that seems to work well. I love the little bombs and happy faces I can add, hours of happy not-writing ahead I can see!
And my writing prompt today is going to be ... happy faces.