Where Have I Been?

It’s been a while since I updated this neglected blog. There is a half-finished post in that I was going to spell out my writing resolutions for the year, but that remains unpublished – that post remains in to-be-published hell taunting me of my impetuous foolishness back at the start of the year. Especially when I knew I would be busy with other things. 

Other things you might ask? Well, there’s the day job. I moved from teaching freelance in several places, to a new full-time job in July. I’m enjoying that so far. 

My writing has been continuing alongside that and I have been overtaken by a project which I wanted to write about, but I have been quiet about while I got on with it. That is now coming to an end. 

The project is a published commission of a non-fiction book. It’s something of a labour of love and it is following one of my passions writing about music. The subject of the book is Tears For Fears. They are a band that I have been a fan off since the 1980s. The book is for Sonicbond Publishing, which produces the ‘On Track’ series. This is a book series that covers a band/artist’s career through their albums/songs. 

My timing was perfect. I pitched the idea in September and the next month Tears For Fears announced that they would be bringing out their first album, The Tipping Point, in 18 years. It was also a book that the publisher had been looking to commission. I had been procrastinating about pitching the idea, but my teaching workload (or reduction in it) gave me the opportunity and time to undertake this project. 

The new material from the band had long been rumoured and everything seemed to kick start after I had signed my contract to write the book. What followed was a flurry of media appearances, tour announcements and videos. The promotional campaign has been something else. From a fan’s perspective, it was great to read about the band. From a writing and research point of view, it’s been very helpful. There’s been a wealth of information has been published. A lot of it talks about the new album, but also a great deal covering the back catalogue. It’s been a fun process putting this book together. 

I have enjoyed the chance to review the new album which came out in February of this year. In a nutshell, it’s great. Also, I have been listening to a lot of their old material too – all in the name of research. I did get to see them live in London, in July. Although I was due to see them again in Lytham-St-Annes, that gig was cancelled due to a rib injury suffered by Curt Smith. The only negative in the band’s year. 

Today, I have completed the final edits of the book and the cover has been finalised. The deadline was due to be the end of September, but it has been put back. The book will be available to buy on 28th October 2022 and it is available to pre-order at Bookshop.org or  Burning Shed.

Unread Books

My Book Shelf
A shelf of unread books

It’s the summer, although it might not be noticeable given the recent weather, and it’s usually a time when the teaching and the marking subsides and I can do my own thing. Which is usually the more creative things; music and writing that I like doing. 

Before I can get on with doing that, I have had a sort out of the house. I have bought a few things to brighten up the place. I may even get the paintbrushes out and give the walls/ceilings a lick of paint. Needs must, as I have been come to notice the imperfections of the place more due to the lockdown.

I have also had something of a clear-out of a few things around the house. One thing that has not been culled is the piles of books and CDs DVDs that I own. The fact is that they have increased over lockdown. 

What is noticeable about the piles of books that I have is the amount of those unread. This almost accounts for three shelves worth of books to be read. I know I won’t be able to adopt a policy of not buying any books because as I type I know that I have a couple of books on the way to me via delivery. I haven’t got the willpower to not buy books. When I step foot in a bookstore again, I won’t be able to resist. 

 I’m slowly getting to the point where I am looking at the shelves and thinking that I will never get around to reading a lot of these books. 

Ulysses is on one of those shelves gathering dust. There never seems to be the time to sit down and read that. I know that it’s a big undertaking and I know that you have to be in the right mindset to able to do it. There are many others, that made sense to me when I purchased them, now I don’t have the desire to start reading them. I know I won’t get rid of them and the piles will keep on getting bigger.

You can follow what I have been reading over at Goodreads.

Here’s an interesting Radio 4 documentary on bibliomania

End of My Masters

There was me thinking that I would blog and tweet my way all the way through the final project of my MA. The best-laid plans and all that…Who knew that the whole business of writing a novel would get in the way. 

Well, it’s finished. There were times that it felt like I would never get to this point, but thanks to the support of friends and family I have managed to get over the novel completed and submitted. 

I’m happy with how the novel has turned out. It could possibly do with another read through, but time was against me to do that. I will edit it once more when I receive my feedback in the New Year. Then I will contemplate sending it to agents and publishers.  

So with the submission of my final project, I have come to the end of my MA (that’s presuming that my novel has not failed). Looking back, I have no regrets signing up for the MA, the three years have been eventful and have gone so quick. I have met some great people along the way. The tutors have all helped in getting me to this point in my writing career. A number of my fellow students have now become really good friends. 

There are plans for us all to work together and support each other when we get around to writing our next novels. That’s to come, but for now its nice not to worry about edits, deadlines and all that. Well the writing ones, there are plenty of deadlines with the day job.  

Arvon Writing Retreat

Lumb Bank

One of my resolutions for the year was to take part in a writing retreat. I looked at a few possibilities, one of which was abroad in sunnier climes. In the end, I plumped for an Arvon Foundation course. I had heard nothing but good things about them from people who attended previous retreats. 

There was a good choice of potential other courses in the brochure, some I couldn’t do because of timing and work. In the end I settled on the Starting to Write Short Stories course. It looked like an interesting one, with a wonderful setting and tutors with impressive backgrounds. It was also a good chance to develop my short story writing this is an area that I dip-in and out of when I am not writing my novel.

The course was at Lumb Bank, not far from Hebden Bridge and it’s the former home of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. It is a beautiful and inspiring setting. Along with 15 other participants we had a number of workshops with our excellent tutors Tania Hershman and Robert Shearman throughout the week. We even had the chance to have one-to-one tutorials with them too.

As well as the formal opportunities to write there were a number of opportunities to go away and write or to socialise with the other writers. One of the good things about the week was the lack of Internet access. For someone that is distracted by constant access to the web, this was a welcome novelty. It also highlighted what can be done without being constantly tied to the web. 

Sylvia Plath's Gravestone

Also, I don’t think I have ever eaten as healthily as I did during the week. We took it in turns to work in the kitchen to prepare the evening meals for everyone, using locally sourced fresh produce. My stint was on the last night Friday. I was tasked with making two fruit trifles from scratch. This was a first for me and surprisingly they went down well.

Each evening there were a number of themed events. On Tuesday Tania and Rob read from their work, I didn’t need a second invitation to buy their books. Wednesday’s event saw Manchester writer Zoe Lambert come along to read from her work. Friday was the participants turn and we all had the chance to read a piece of work that we had produced over the course of the week. 

I read my short story ‘100 Million Light Years From Where I Want to Be’. This was something I had written in one of the workshops. This was a serious piece but I don’t think that I set the right tone for reading it by tripping over my own feet as I advance towards the spotlight. I think my piece went down reasonably well despite the comedy interlude. It was great to hear what everyone else had been working on over the course of the week. 

It was such a brilliant and rewarding week and one that I didn’t want to end. There’s talk of us all meeting up socially in the future, which would be nice. For now, I feel very inspired and I hope to put into action all that I learnt during the week. I may even have a go at making another trifle. 

Here’s something on the Arvon blog that eloquently sums up the week from Colette, one of the other participants.  

Lumb Bank

Arvon Postscript

Saturday morning was the time that we all left and headed off home. Feeling inspired by all things literary during the week, I decided to stop off in Haworth to visit the Bronte House and the surrounding village as it wasn’t that far from Lumb Bank. It was also somewhere I had never been before. While there, I wasn’t expecting to be drawn attention to works of another Haworth-based writer especially one that was working on the car park. In return for free parking I bought the author’s book. His name is Edward Evans. 

Arvon book

End of Term Report (December 2013)

Well, somehow it’s December. Soon it will be Christmas. Even more significant than the aforementioned festivities, it’s also the end of the first module for my MA in Creative Writing. Back in September, when I wrote about my intentions to do an MA, I didn’t think that the first term would whistle by as quickly as this one has. I may be premature in writing and posting this about it being over. I still have a 3,000-word essay to write – due in January, but that’s all in hand…I think.

It has been an enjoyable experience. The staff and students that I have worked with have all made the Tuesday night sessions worthwhile attending. It is also inspiring (and daunting) to read some of the work from the cohort. It’s certainly of a high standard. 

The first module was not about the writing aspect as much; instead, it was devised to get the class to read from a selected reading list. Looking back it was an interesting and enjoyable experience to be given a reading list and told what to read, a few of the selections I would not have done so without being prompted. A few of the selections I was glad that I was, as I will now try and read other books from the authors. Some, not many, I think I won’t be going any further with the other works.  

The reading list for this modules was as follows: 

Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr Ripley.
Anthony Burgess – Time for a Tiger. 
Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin
VS Naipaul – Miguel Street.
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker.
Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Carol Shields – The Stone Diaries
Beryl Bainbridge – Master Georgie.
JM. Coetzee – Disgrace.

I enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, which was the first one that we looked at. This is the first in a series and I may investigate the others in due course, but don’t ask my opinion of the film. I have never been a fan of Jude Law, who plays one of the central characters Dickie, so that may explain my antipathy to it. I didn’t really enjoy the adaption from book to film. 

The Anthony Burgess book A Time for Tiger, was so good that it I will try to read further books by him (I had only read A Clockwork Orange previously). I am also in the process of reading through the second and third parts of the trilogy for my essay. I am enjoying them as much as the first book. The genesis of most of what makes up the trilogy has seemingly been drawn from his life and very loosely fictionalised. This doesn’t detract from the accounts on any level. 

I enjoyed Pnin, by Nabokov. I had only previously read Lolita. This was a book that provoked great discussion in class, some hated it, I quite enjoyed. It was hard work, but some of the exquisite writing that made the hard work worthwhile. 

Muriel Spark’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was enjoyable and not too dated. It was nice to read about the Edinburgh of the author. Beryl Bainbridge’s, Master Georgie, likewise, even though it was set in a different time frame from the time that she was alive, what could be drawn from this book was a sense of place. Her descriptions of her home town at the outset were so vivid that you were drawn so easily to her account of the Crimea that came later in the book.  J.M. Coetzee’s, Disgrace was bleak at times, but I could see why it received the plaudits that it did. 

Miguel Street was an easier read after Pnin, but it wasn’t one that I full engaged with at the time. I’m sure that I will revisit it in the future. The same could be said of Ridley Walker. I had a week to read it and I don’t think that was conducive to enjoying it. The theme was something that I would normally go for, but it’s densely written and not designed to be skimmed through. I enjoyed two-thirds of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, before it fell away at the end. The film likewise is equally baggy.  

The book that I enjoyed without reservation was Carol Shields’, The Stone Diaries, this is an episodic book that details the lives of a family over the course of a century. Though don’t do what I did and turn to the family tree at the back of the back first, as it acts as something of plot spoiler. 

From the ten books I would say favourites were; The Stone Diaries, A Time for Tiger, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Master Georgie and Disgrace. 

Here’s to the next year of The Workshop module, when we have to present our own examples of writing. 

MA In Creative writing

It had always been something that I had planned to do someday, September always came around and I managed to find some excuse for not doing it, usually that I was too busy at work or that I couldn’t afford it. This year I have put all excuses to one side and I have finally signed up for a creative writing MA. 

So why this year? One of the catalysts was the Pulp Idol Competition back in May where everyone who did well in the competition seemingly had done or was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores. This was an option as a place to apply to and I spoke to one of the lecturers about their course and he sold it to me perfectly well. 

There was only one place that I wanted to do it at and that was MMU in Manchester, given its good reputation and where it’s situated. Also what dissuaded me from doing it at Liverpool JMU was that I’d already previously studied there for my degree and masters. Though I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to experience working in a different academic establishment. 

The route that I am taking is part-time over three years, two years in class and one writing up the novel that forms part of the final project. 

For now, the first module, of the first term is Contemporary Novels, where there will not much writing to do, but we have been presented with a reading list of 10 books that we have to read in as many weeks. 

I’m genuinely pleased that from the list I have not read any of these particular books – I have read a couple of the author’s other works (Nabokov and Burgess) but this list will be a real journey of discovery.

First up is Patricia Highsmith’s, The Talented Mr Ripley followed by Anthony Burgess, Time for a Tiger. Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin. VS Naipaul, Miguel Street. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries. Beryl Bainbridge, Master Georgie, and finally JM. Coetzee’s, Disgrace.