Monday, 29 July 2013

Editing, critiquing, marking fiction: similarities and differences

Some common points

All three activities involve looking at a text and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. There will be the larger general problems:
  • Is the general structure sound?
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Is there enough story?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is there a good mixture of slower and faster pace?
  • Is there enough tension? 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Summer School

Those words can fill you with horror or with joy, depending a little on who you are. Possibly the happiest person to go to summer school is the Open University student. Typically, this student is fitting their studies around a day job and a family life. The summer school represents a unified chunk of time dedicated to their studies. It’s also offers a chance to meet like-minded people. And maybe also an opportunity to meet the tutors who have up until now just been an email address.
For others, these two words bring less happiness. For tutors it may mean extra weeks teaching after an already busy year, at a time when they should really be preparing for next year and also doing some research.
For students it may imply failed modules and a need to resit. More coursework must be produced, more exams must be sat and revision classes must be attended. It’s an anxious time, too, for course leaders. Life has happened to some of these students and we want to help them to get through. The hot weather saps energy, though, and we need a break too.
I’m currently supporting my resit students as much as I can. I’ll be sending emails and making phone calls again tomorrow. It’s rewarding, though, when you get a response and everything seems to be on schedule.            

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Joys of Being a Creative Writing Academic

Simon Holloway, University of Bolton, gave a very good presentation about this at the final session of the 2013 Great Writing Conference, held at Imperial College, London.  I do hope he will publish this somewhere. His prose was elegant, and although he read what he had written, he engaged with the audience and he was absolutely spot on in what he said. This wasn’t really an academic paper but it deserves to be out there. Yes, he was right: we whinge, we find it hard to squeeze in our writing aka “research” and we’re very reasonably paid so we should be beholden to our employers.
One particular part resonated very much with me: even if we publish a book that threatens to do well we don’t have the time to get behind it to promote it. That very day Crooked Cat Publishing, who have published my young adult paranormal romance Spooking, were having a lightning sale. My duty was with the conference. I couldn’t get behind my book to promote it.
I disagreed slightly with some of the other delegates who saw little relationship between marking students’ work and their own writing. I actually see a very strong connection here. It makes me a more skilled editor of my own work. I almost approach my marking with glee, even though the pressure to turn it around in a relatively short time creates some tension. I learn as much from this about editing as I do about writing when I read.
Yes, of course, some of the admin can seem onerous. This week, for example, I have a meeting every day and that really fragments a chunk of time that would have been useful for research. But it is what we’re paid to do.
Yet we are so lucky to do this job. There are so many aspects of it that we’d probably do even if we didn’t get paid. Hand on heart I can say I never really stop working. Sleep and food hold body and soul together. As I swim I think about my characters and swimming is keeping my body healthy… so that I can write more and give the university more of what it pays me to provide. My activities with a local choir are good for my mental and physical health and help to make me a better writer and teacher.
What counts as work is extraordinary: visiting the Ministryof Stories, chasing a 1940s’ character to a local primary school and telling the students there that we need stories to fuel the time machine to take her back … , evaluating responses to Fibbin’Archie and conducting an Interim Examination of a Ph D    all in a day’s work.
Maybe watching the news counts as relaxation? Hardly: there’s always something there that could be made into a good story.