Archive for the ‘library’ Category

Rabbit Hole

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I think a summer blog silence is becoming a bit of a habit. Last summer, I had a newborn and was busily finishing the edits and copy edits of Cold Light. The summer before I was writing Cold Light. And the summer before (I think) I was ‘on the road’ with a shed load of events for A Kind of Intimacy that didn’t leave much time or space for updating everyone on what I was up to.

A bit of deja-vu then.That’s all right. Except I’ve been teaching a few blogging workshops recently and keep guiltily overhearing my own voice talking about regularity of posting. As I say and not as I do.

I have finished a first draft of the Book In Progress and took June ‘off’ to do some more research, visit Utah (more about this some other time, I’m sure) and generally have a bit of a rest. The remainder of the summer will be spent on events, rewriting, planning my courses for the autumn teaching, working with my select and beloved set of Writing Smithy clients and waving at my offspring every now and again. Cold Light has been doing just fine without my interference, and is on its second printing already.

As I don’t have a lot of words for you today, here are some from others:

There’s a review of Cold Light from Book Munch by Amy Pointon and another at Jamie Fewey’s blog. A very recent one at The View From Here from the wonderfully named Grace Read (bet you a Polo she’s never heard that one before…). One more by Ben Myers at 3am Magazine and finally some nice words from For Books’ Sake.

And while I was away in Utah, a few appeared  in the print press too, which you can read here.

I also have some events booked. So if you wanted to see me reading from and talking about Cold Light or ask questions about writing, publishing, blogging or any of the other things that I do, then you could turn up at:

Hale Library at 7pm on Wednesday 29th June

or St Anne’s Library at 7pm on Wednesday 13th July

or Lancaster Oxfam Bookshop (Penney Street) at 3pm on Friday 15th July

or  at Bury Library at 7.30pm on the 18th July for the Bury Library Literary Salon

or Bolton Waterstone’s at 5pm on Thursday 28th July

Bye for now. I am booked for a very important engagement with a cup of tea and a piece of shortbread. Can’t be late for that.


Monday, October 18th, 2010

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.

Sophie Hannah at Ormskirk Library

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that things have been bedlam here in Preston. As well as racing to finish Cold Light (I’m on the dull parts of editing now… tweaking sentences and figuring out if it’s Woolworths or Woolworth’s or Debenhams or… you get the gist) I was out in Ormskirk Library at the weekend hosting an event with Sophie Hannah and Martin Edwards as part of the work I do putting on events for the Lancashire Writing Hub.

Martin Edwards unfortunatley found himself unable to join us, but Sophie read and talked to us all about her first four novels, her forthcoming novel and even her plans for her sixth – which sounds intriguing.

Sophie is a writer who I’ve been following for a while – I read Little Face when it first came out, and have since read the rest of her novels – as well as her short story collection (although not, to my shame, any of her poetry). I love the impossible scenarios that kick-start her plots and the way that mystery, secrecy and suspense are always the main narrative motors of her fiction. We read on because we want to find things out. As Sophie said in her talk, books that have mysteries in them are always far superior to books that don’t have mysteries in them. I also love the way she portrays motherhood in her work (truthfully, and without sentiment would be one way of putting it) and the fact that the women in her plots take centre stage without ever becoming crime-fiction stereotypes.

During the event, I got to ask Sophie questions and so did the audience. After hearing how she starts her novels – with an intriguing, mysterious situation she isn’t quite sure how to resolve… (what would happen if a woman insisted the baby lying in her daughter’s cot was not her own, and her husband insisted that it was… or this one here) I had to ask her if she’d ever concocted one of these opening conundrums and been unable to resolve it. Partly because I thought the audience would be interested in any bottom-of-the-drawer novels Sophie had not published, and because I wanted to know for my own writing. What happens when you get a great idea, but just can’t make it work?

She said no. Nope – no conundrums she’s been unable to resolve, because she doesn’t let herself consider that an option, and the rigour and limitations involved in writing a plotted crime novel that must resolve the situation evoked over the first few chapters is actually an aid to her creativity, and not a barrier to it. That struck a chord with me – both the confidence and the refusal to do failure, and the way that in my own experience of writing Cold Light and struggling, as I always do, with how to resolve the ending. Once I’d decided to jettison part of an idea that would not work, and concentrate on the characters and plot points that did make sense, resolving the whole thing became much easier and more enjoyable. I’ve given up a novel in the past – although in retrospect, this was because the characters and the theme quickly lost their appeal, rather than anything tricky about the plot getting the better of me. 

That’s all. I don’t do book reviews on this blog, or anywhere, in fact. What I do is recommendations. If you like dark, literate crime fiction, then you’ll probably like Sophie Hannah’s novels.

One Last Thing

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

I saw this, yesterday. Very tempted to make it into a poster for the prison library. Also very fond of my job, on most days, so decided against it.

Look at This

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

I’ve been looking at these a lot the past few days. Junk drawers, medicine cabinets. They made me feel extraordinarily happy to look at them. When I’m a lady of leisure, I think I will use these pictures to make stories.

I’ve also been reading about Mark Dion, who worked with Robert Williams and made his own version of a renaissance cabinet of curiosities called Theatrum Mundi: Armarium. It’s a kind of library cupboard, and I think it is a more deliberate and ordered version of the medicine cabinets and junk drawers. I saw it in real life, but a long time ago, and I wish I had paid more attention. Go here to look at some pictures.
I like the cabinets, and the library for the birds best of all.

I’d like my house to look like those library trees and cupboards and junk drawers. Lots of things, lovingly arranged. I’d like to have a collection. I enjoy saying ‘ephemera’ and ‘miscellaneous’ so I think I’m half way there.

The only thing is that I keep throwing things away. If I don’t know what it is for or if I have to clean it or curate it in some way, it annoys me and it often finds its way back to the charity shop.

I started looking at library cupboards and junk drawers because I was interested in hoarding, and I am interested in hoarding because I noticed how often objects and domestic articles and useless items crop up in my writing. There are lots of ironing boards, shopping baskets, telephones, remote controls, broken corkscrews and recycling boxes with their lids missing. Whole processions of household objects, and a lot of the time they are broken or in the wrong place. So I think I have my library cupboards inside my stories, rather than in real life.

That makes moving house a bit easier.

Library Assistant Wanted

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

As you know, I have been writing Sh with fellow librarian Emma J. Lannie for a few months now. (Full list of chapters here, for the ill-informed).

I need to take a bit of a break from it. Possibly until December. So I am looking for a stand-in. Someone to post alternately with Emma and continue the story.

Haven’t you ever dreamed of becoming my body double?

You don’t need to be an actual librarian in real life, although if you were, that would be good. Email me or Emma and we’ll set you up.

I need to take a break because I’m going to be working on another blogging project, collaborating with Tolu Ogunlesi. We’re still tossing around ideas at the moment, but we think it is going to be about doubles, identity theft, on-line personae, stalking and internet creepery. Hopefully, it won’t all be entirely made up either. All my favourite things.

You can read Tolu’s blogs here and here, and some of his short fiction here, here, here and here.

This is what the Litfest festival brochure will say about us:

Flax is blogging delighted to have commissioned writers Jenn Ashworth and Tolu Ogunlesi to collaborate on a fictional blog.

Jenn, based in the north west of England, and Tolu, currently in Sweden, will create one character, who will take you through the quirks and obsessions of their life, introduce you to new virtual friends, and unravel a fascinating tale of identity theft. The story starts as the festival closes, on Monday 3 November.

What I am Up To At The Moment

Friday, July 18th, 2008

1. Spending more time than I would like writing a portfolio about my last two years of being a librarian. This is so I can send it to the Real Librarian’s club and be allowed to be a Real Librarian too. Working in a library is not a pretend job I have until I ‘make it’ as a writer. I like it very much. So I am writing the portfolio and applying to join the club. I am going to put a bit in the portfolio about Sh. It is going into the section about new technologies. I like the Sh bit. It is a very different kind of writing. The prose is ugly, although I do like using bullet points and tables.

  • like this
  • and this

2. Practising yoga in my bedroom when no-one else is around to laugh at me. I used to go to a yoga class and I stopped because I felt daft doing it in front of people. Now I am doing it again to cure some persistent conditions. Such as

  • lethargy
  • insomnia
  • misanthropy
  • out of control imaginings resulting in anxiety
  • persistent borderline alcoholism

3. Writing a second draft of fishbook, adding scenes that should have been there in the first place, and trying to find a structure for it. This is hard and tiring but I like it better than first drafts.

  • I don’t have a relevant bullet point for this.

4. Working on a very short story commissioned by Flax.
5. Considering what I will read when I go here.
6. Getting ready to move house again.

What A Dick

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Ah yes, libraries: as if having to set foot in one of those sombre buildings full of flatulent, regretful people isn’t trauma enough, having to take a book home from one of them is always a defeating experience. It’s bad enough to think that one previous owner has pawed away at the pages of a book I’m reading. The thought that scores of people might have had their evil way with it is far too much to bear.

Had their evil way with it? Even crazy made up Sh people don’t fuck the books.

(Although, by the way, there is a chance for you to get some romance into the plot by voting here.)

I need a lie down now. I am going to lie down right now, murmuring ‘dick head’ softly under my breath.

I will read my library books.

I will think how wonderful it is to be able to read books for free. I will feel glad that I get to share books with other people and talk about them every day. I will look at my little collection of things that I have found tucked between the pages of library books. Little tokens and extra stories that have fallen unexpected from between the pages as I read.

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Bad. For so many reasons.


Monday, April 28th, 2008

I am very excited. I am working on something top secret (clues in the tags). The top secret thing will probably be available for your public viewing on Friday. It is going to be good. It is a story which will be free to read. And not just me writing it. And submissions too.

My lips are sealed until then.

This is me Drumming Up Interest. If you wanted to Register Interest you should post in the comments. Then when Friday comes I can spam you with plugs upon plugs.

Being spammed with plugs is less painful than it sounds.

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