Well, if you’ve time to moan about it, you can’t be that busy, right?
After four months of getting to grips with a new baby and working on edits, copy edits, cuts etc to Cold Light – all of which has taken place in the tiny, quiet (although fairly clean…) world of my own house, it has been lovely and strange and scary to get out into the world again. I feel like I’ve emerged from a really long sleep in a hot, dark room. Like I did when I got woken up at 11.30pm as a child and brought into the room where the New Year’s Eve party was happening. Rubbing my eyes and working up to joining in. I’ve had the shortest maternity leave known to woman-kind (nine days, I think, and for six of those I was in hospital) but never mind. I can sit about when I’m old.
So yes, I’ve been busy. There’s the regular teaching at UCLAN – the Introduction to Creative Writing module, which is a series of two hour workshops meant to, as it says on the tin, introduce the students to various forms and techniques in writing so they’re prepared to hand in a portfolio shortly before Christmas. It is an introductory level course (as you may have gathered) and there’s the difficulty – how can you do ‘character’ or ‘setting’ in two hours with twenty students? As always with short courses, I can only show the students some of the possibilities, let them practice and give them a place to get mine and each other’s feedback – most of their learning, I hope, is going to take place between workshops.
Then there’s the occasional workshops I do for other organisations – no marking, no pressure on me to make sure the students pass – the workshop isn’t a component of a course. The participants on these courses are often older, more widely read, less confident about reading to each other. The difficulty is establishing trust and a rapport with participants who don’t know me, don’t know each other and who usually have totally different experience levels and ambitions for their work. There’s no continuing relationship, so warming up to each other and getting to know each other gradually. You’re in at the deep end.
At the end of last month I did a three hour session on Creating Character for the Lancashire Writing Hub – I was supposed to teach this before the summer, but had to unexpectedly cancel all my work – it was great to pick up where I’d left off, see some familiar faces and deal with the ever-fascinating task of inventing imaginary people with increasingly tricky games and writing prompts. We got a few brilliant pieces of writing by the end of the night – the beginnings to some interesting stories about undertakers as accomplices to murder, commuting agoraphobics, and a monologue about cleaning a toilet before a hot date. Good stuff!
After that, two workshops for Salford Libraries about writing personal histories for the Pages Ago competition – library workshops are always so friendly and I love helping people turn real experiences, memories and settings into fiction. I get nervous when I teach, but never in libraries. I still feel at home in them.
Soon, a day long workshop for Litfest about blogging – I’m especially looking forward to this one as I’ve not done any work with bloggers since the Out on A Limb project. I think there may be one or two places left, if you’re commutable to Lancaster, free on the 6th of November and interested in learning about blogging from a writer’s perspective.
And finally, resuming my (small) mentoring practice, working with two mentees at various points along the journey of their first novel.Feeling privileged to be standing by and cheering on from the sidelines as writers wrestle with the difficult problems about tense, structure and point of view – weighing up the options, experimenting, dealing with the anxiety and the writer’s block. Talking about character and watching these imaginary people develop and make journeys of their own. It’s tiring and I should probably charge more than I do but I love it. Mr gets annoyed on my behalf when people ask me to do / write / teach things and add that they won’t be offering a fee, because I do if for the love of it, right – ‘only people who hate their jobs can get paid?’ (he says). I know what he means, but mentoring is something I could almost do for free, I like it so much.
Who’s Rocky’s manager? Mickey? I feel like him, hanging about very close to, but outside the ring with my sponge and bucket. *hit the one in the middle!*
I need to watch Rocky more. I’ve got the boxed set. Fine set of films. There’s very little you need to know about life that is not contained in Rocky 1 or Rocky 4. I’ve always seen myself as more of an Adrian than a Mickey, but everyone can change (boom!)
Funny, because some days all this peripheral work about writing, other people’s writing, feels too much – and drains me, and makes me wonder why I bother, and other days it can feel exciting and stimulating and as if I’m involved in a community of people doing just the same sort of things as I do. Just like some days my novel can feel like a wonderful, special, clever thing, and other days the dullest most inane set of words anyone has ever inflicted on the world.
The work doesn’t change that much. Sleep, and unceremoniously deleting a few emails, and getting to the end of a t0-do list and playing with clay can make all the difference.