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{Sun 11 January 2009}   Story and Story of Story

Story and Story of Story

After submitting work to an Online Workshop for the Methods module of the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media (MACWNM) at De Montfort University, students were asked to write a critical commentary describing their creative process in making the work and in responding to feedback on that work. Throughout the Methods module, several models and tools helped us understand the creative process while engaging in it. I was fascinated by the two different kinds of writing, storytelling and commentary, arising from one starting point. I determined to learn to do both well.

This response attempts to showcase this learning.

Fruit and Veggie Stall by Monique Jansen
Fruit and Veggie Stall by Monique Jansen


{Fri 5 December 2008}   Who needs New Media?

Who needs New Media?

I haven’t blogged for a month, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, studying the vast amount of course material for my wonderful new MA and writing bits and pieces for creative and critical exercises. I’m doing the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University in Leicester.  The experience has been really positive so far, with hugely experienced course leaders (Sue Thomas and Kate Pullinger) and a really talented and intelligent bunch of fellow students. The last two weeks have been a bit of a strain, though, because DMU has just announced that they intend to close the course due to the credit crunch. They say (but can we believe them now?) that those of us currently doing the course will be able to complete it.

Even in this dire economy, it’s hard to believe that they would contemplate axing this one – a true flagship programme for educating people for the online world (where there are more and more unconventional opportunities to make money when normal jobs fail).  As an online course, it also must surely be one of the courses with the fewest overheads and therefore the least expensive to run and to promote.

As Course Rep for my year, I’ve spent a lot of what should have been study time collating and representing to the university administration students’ expressions of dismay at their betrayal and questions about our academic future. Of course, I don’t mind doing this, as I really believe in the course, but I hope all the effort will prove fruitful and they’ll decide to revive it. Well, if they don’t, someone else must, because the electronic universe won’t tolerate that vacuum, but boo hoo! then for those of us who were silly enough to give our precious credit crunch cash to DMU!

If you’re interested in the future of new media education,  you might want to see what some experienced voices have to say about this closure at Chris Meade’s bookfutures blog. Chris is a director of The Institute for the Future of the Book in London. In two articles (so far), Chris speaks of his own surprise at the closure announcement, and heavyweights like Howard Rheingold who has taught on the course have joined in to label it incredibly shortsighted.

Sigh… we’ll see. In the mean time, at least I’m writing again, after such a long dry season. See my next posts for a couple of the creative writing exercises that have turned out okay, I think, or at least offer potential for further development.



{Thu 22 November 2007}   Shining Chandelier

Shining Chandelier

Inspired by a light-fitting at the Geneva Press Club

This little poem is whimsical and light (in all senses of the word!). It came to me last weekend during a writer’s workshop led by Alison Chisholm, hosted by the Geneva Writer’s Group. Alison gave us the fairly challenging exercise of writing in ten minutes a poem “about anything, except the view outside, or the difficulty of writing a poem!”. I knew instantly that I had to find a focus and a frame immediately, otherwise the nightmare of my creative writing exams at school would return… two and a half hours gone of a three hour paper and still staring blankly at a sneering white page…

The modern chandelier in the middle of the room at the Geneva Press Club provided such a focus. I noticed that its many bulbs created a concave meniscus as they seemed to yearn towards the floor, reminding me of Le Corbusier’s marvellous human-friendly wooden ceiling in the chapel at Ronchamps. My first thoughts about it were simple, and the frame that suggested itself for simple thoughts was haiku. What emerged then was this:

Shining Chandelier

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Reflections in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Glow echoed in me.

Shining chandelier
Strains downward hoping to see
Light sources in me.

See a Wordle version of this poem



More on fine energies and fine thoughts in poetry

About my essay on The Temple by George Herbert

During my ongoing review of ancient scribblings by myself, I came across another essay that I very much enjoyed writing. Its subject matter, George Herbert’s 17th century anthology The Temple, is a wonderful example of “fine energies” being examined and released by “fine reasoning”, albeit inside a worldview that is entirely circumscribed by a belief in received interpretation of Christian scripture.

Rereading it, I feel myself again seduced by the beautiful internal consistency of Herbert’s argument, won over by his sincerity, awed by his skill and respectful of his courage and his humility in facing his God.

The power of a tiny poem

It seems amazing that I wrote a 3000-word essay on a poem of just eight simple lines! Well, it was on The Temple as a whole, but as Dr. Ron Hall’s original question indicates, the themes of this great work are succinctly encapsulated in the tiny Bitter-sweet. A good poem can powerfully stimulate and feed meditation on huge life-changing subjects.

Thus it should be no surprise, if one views the Bible as a poetic work (as argued in my previous posts Fine energies and fine (if erroneous) thoughts and Poetry and creativity in the press and in the Bible), that it has had the power to mould and move individuals and nations both to heights of achievement and, sadly, to depths of repression, as they reach for the perfection at which it hints.

I think that, as in the best poems, some of its power comes from its universality. Although I do not believe the Bible to be an accurate historical or empirical record of, nor a blueprint for, human development, I do believe that, along with many other writings of similar poetic power, it contains universal truths which attract those who experience their lives as a meaning-making journey, whether their medium be primarily that of the emotions or that of the intellect.

My encounter with Bitter-sweet and The Temple

Taking the poem Bitter-sweet as your point of departure, discuss the methods used in, and the effects achieved by, Herbert’s blending of “complaint” and “praise” in The Temple. (Dr R. Hall)

Bitter-sweet

Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.

George Herbert

After an oppressively didactic introduction in The Church-porch, Herbert opens the heart of his work with a series on the Passion of Christ. Despite the Judaeo-Catholic legalism of the preceding section, it is clearly these poems, with their Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace, that are intended to set the context for the major part of The Templei. The remainder of The Church is a meditation on the nature of the relationship with God exemplified in, and made possible by, Christ’s Passion. When Herbert imitates his God, as suggested in Bitter-sweet, he clearly has in mind the Christ who could complain to his Father, “…take away this cup”, yet in the next breath say, “…not my will, but thine be done”ii.

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{Thu 22 July 2021}   Too long without a story

Too long without a story

A white quill pen is poised as if to write a story, but no hand holds it.

There’s writing and there’s writing

Ah, the power (and responsibility) of the quill! I pick it up gingerly again after too many years. Why “quill”? And why now?

Naturally, I only type these days, and quite a bit faster than I did after a five-day touch-typing course at the London Keyboard Training Centre so many, many years ago! But the quill reminds me of Shakespeare and other creative writers I admire. The difficulty of writing with a quill makes careful contemplation more likely before committing ink to paper. Also, there is a sensation of art-making in the physical calligraphic act.

Perhaps my fed-up-ness has finally reached boiling point? I don’t know. In 2013 I posted my Pyrenean poem. Today I realised that despite reading and writing every day of the eight years since, this was almost all wage-work. Nothing that I wanted to share with anyone except the target audience (and often not even then, I confess).

All I know is that I’m starving internally due to neglecting the types of writing that give me the greatest pleasure, use my true talents, and might be key to making meaning in my life.

Fascinated by story and storytellers

During all these years, my fascination with story has never left. Communicating for businesses and business people involves hearing and telling stories… of quest, discovery, failure and success.

And since completing my MA in Creative Writing and New Media in 2009, I have hung around the edges of story in fiction as well as non-fiction, playing a part in facilitating the journeys of friends and clients who stuck stubbornly with the craft and produced books and poems worthy of audience.

Often, the vulnerable, courageous truths in and behind these stories demanded more will than I had while battling the awful personal impacts of Brexit, the pandemic, and my inner demons. To cope, I’ve left some good books superficially-scanned or half-read, or tried to control them by analysing them minutely. Anything to avoid more challenge.

But even these reactions of mine fascinated me… they proved beyond doubt that stories are the opposite of Nothing; their rich, mysterious power creates, terrifies, inspires, feeds, and unifies.

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{Mon 23 November 2009}   What is Transliteracy?

What is Transliteracy?

Well, theoretically, I should know the answer to this question as this is what I studied in my MA over the past year. I have now graduated (with distinction) with an MA in Creative Writing and New Media from De Montfort University… but I’m still asking!

The term was introduced to the UK by Professor Sue Thomas and she and some other new media gurus have worked long and hard to refine the following definition:

Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

Prof. Sue Thomas

It’s a good definition that covers a lot, but its implications and ramifications lead to further questions. See my post on Transliteracy.com for some of these.

I ended the post with a link to a video about a fascinating artwork that future generations may hold to be a significant transliterate artefact.

I’d love to discuss all this, so please feel free to comment either here on TiaTalk or on Transliteracy.com.



{Wed 10 December 2008}   Apostrophising the apostrophe

Apostrophising the apostrophe

“Oh, great squiggle in the sky, insert yourself into our empty spaces,
Deliver us from plural confusions and possess us with your graces!”

Tia Azulay

No, I’m not starting a new religion, or being lewd, but I confess that this is a shameless grammar and punctuation plug, as well as a plea for the improvement of our reading environment. While I’m sure that none of us at Master’s leveli would ever dream of intentionally inflicting on others a piece of work for reading or review without running it through MS Word’s spelling and grammar checker first, the simple truth is that this less-than-beloved software doesn’t pick up everything, so we simply have to learn a few rules if we want to be writers.

Of all the errors that grate on my reading nerves, the misuse of the apostrophe definitely tops the list.

Good and bad (use of) apostrophes

I love apostrophes, because they’re really useful. However, they’re pointless when used in the wrong places. In fact, they’re worse than pointless then, because they actually interfere with smooth reading. A bad apostrophe is not neutral, it’s negative! In the worst cases, it alters the meaning, but even when the context tells me that it just can’t mean that, just one bad apostrophe in a paragraph, even in an entire page, makes whatever I’m reading seem unprofessional. I immediately find it difficult to focus on the content, even if I’m really interested in it.

I’m very lucky in that I was well-drilled in spelling, grammar and punctuation at my school (we were always a backward lot out there in the colonies, so we didn’t “benefit” from educational fads like the “grammar inhibits creativity” one that has betrayed recent generations of UK children), but I still come up against the occasional grammatical situation where I have to think twice about the apostrophe.

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{Sun 7 December 2008}   The meaning of “home”

The meaning of “home”

Another recent creative writing exercise for our course (the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media) was also based on a popular trAce project, now archived at http://tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk/home/

It asks several questions about the meaning of home … here are the questions and my responses.

Q. What does the word “homemean to you?

“Home” conjures images of open spaces, blue skies, trees, grass, animals; freedom to walk barefoot when and wherever I wanted to, room and time to run, play, think and read, read, read – this is not my present home, but one of those that I believe I knew and for which I yearn. There was also much, much aloneness, but I did not call it loneliness then.

Q. Please describe the home of your childhood.

I lived in South Africa until I was thirty. There were many homes, but one stands out in my memory, particularly from the period before I went to boarding school at the age of eleven. We moved to Bryanston, Sandton, when I was eight. It was a three-acre property with a lovely farm-style house that my mother had inherited from my grandmother. As a younger child, I had visited her there a few times before her death, and had even stayed with her for a week. Then, I had found the house strange and cool, musty and lonely, because grandmother herself was strange to me. However, once we had moved in, it very quickly became our house.

I remember the whole property as beautiful, and I remember the additional delight that each new beautification brought to all of us, but especially to my mother, who energised each change – the extension to the lounge that brought light in everywhere, the oregon pine floors that I proudly helped my father to lay, the enormous new main bedroom with built-in cupboards lining its entire length on one side, big enough to hide a built-in sewing station and to give access through a cupboard door to a magical en suite bathroom with a huge picture window.

I loved my father’s study. It was lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases that he had built himself from golden pine. The lines of books were broken with staggered double volume frames that gave space for lamps and objets d’art, so the small room was never oppressive, even with its thousands of books. There were good science fiction from Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and bad science fiction from Andre Norton, good romances from Georgette Heyer and bad romances from Barbara Cartland, good westerns from Zane Grey and bad westerns from Louis L’Amour, good thrillers from Graham Greene and less good thrillers from Ian Fleming; there were adventure stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard, encyclopaedias and dictionaries and Greek myths and fantasy novels and children’s stories, including the complete series of Biggles, Just William, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton. All of these, and more, he and I devoured. From that study, I took my heroes out to the garden to become them there. I was Tarzan (my brothers were the apes), I was Lord Greystoke, I was John Carter of Mars, I was Hiawatha, I was Robinson Crusoe, I was Peter Pan… I was never a girl, because they were seldom heroes, although Georgina from the Famous Five was alright, because she was a tomboy and could climb trees, like me.

The garden was not manicured like those of our neighbours, but it was a wonderful wild space for me and my younger brothers. Pretty Jacaranda trees lined the boundary with the busy main road. There were also two huge Acacia Elata trees, with dark brown bark and dark green leaves, that were easy to climb all the way to the top. Unlike our neighbours, we had no wall or fence along that road, although my parents had created inside the line of trees a row of grassy hills from building rubble and soil to act as a sound barrier. I loved to sit at the top of the tallest tree, alternately playing my recorder and singing my heart out, sometimes for hours. Inside the main garden, there were a syringa and a willow and a yellowwood, and many other trees. My favourites were the small Chinese oak that turned brilliant shades of red and orange in Autumn and the huge tree down the slope from the patio which my brother called the helicopter tree because of its winged seeds. From its huge branches hung our car-tyre swing and the birdhouse for the twenty or so white doves that my mother had installed on a determined whim. As they were not caged, the population, inevitably, did not remain pure white, but we loved to see them coming and going about their bird business.

The other animals were our beloved dogs, including Juno the boxer who had been with us ever since I could remember, and a succession of others — Buster, a black pointer, who ran away, a bulldog called Belinda who bit my father, at least two gorgeous Bouviers, Casper and Gigi, from whom my mom bred a few litters. Watchdog duties were performed by the geese. I also always had a cat — Mischief, Peculiar, Malkat (mad cat) and then Afterthought, a pure white, blue-eyed, deaf albino who always came late for everything. For my eleventh Christmas, my best Christmas ever, my parents gave me a cremello-coloured, sweet-tempered gelding called Butterscotch. My younger brother, Ian, received a cheeky cross-Welsh pony called Prince, who was black with a white blaze. We would ride them for hours, bareback, in the garden, or saddled, through the surrounding countryside. They lived in the stables and paddock that my father and my uncle had built and fenced in the acre to the rear of the house. Every so often, we would wash the horses with apple-scented shampoo and set them free in the garden to graze on the greener grass in front of the house as a reward for their good behaviour under the hose.

Q. Please describe the scent, taste or feel of home.

As I look into that word-picture, I smell new-mown grass, wet dog, apple-scented horses, brown bread baking, my mother’s Lanvin perfume, and the fresh air that I took absolutely for granted then.

Q. Which object most evokes home for you?

A purring cat.

Q. Where do you feel you ‘properly belong’ now?

I do not know. But my cat is purring.



{Sat 6 December 2008}   Dawn-Noon-Midnight Quilt

Dawn-Noon-Midnight Quilt

Based on the Noon Quilt by trAce

One creative writing exercise we were set for our course (the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media), a few weeks ago, was to experiment with the Noon Quilt idea.

Prof. Sue Thomas, who sets the exercises, told us that this was originally a trAce writing project which assembled 100-word patches from writers around the world to create “a quilt of noon-time impressions”. Apparently, trAce was later commissioned by the British Council to make two similar quilts—The Dawn Quilt for South Asia and The Road Quilt for Russia and Eastern Europe. Our exercise was: “Look out of a window on three occasions during the week, at Dawn, Noon, and Midnight, and describe exactly what you can see. If you find a story there, feel free to tell it. “

Timing my patches

Living in London, I’m never usually up at either dawn or midnight, (or I don’t notice when I am because there’s usually not much clue from the sky!) but for the sake of this exercise I made a special effort, even going so far as to get the exact rising and setting times for the Sun from http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=136.

I found that doing it all in one day made for stronger links between the patches;a sense of a continuous narrative.

So this was the day:

Date: 4 Dec 2008
Sunrise:
07:48  Sunset: 15:53
Length of day: 8h 04m 53s  Difference from the day before: − 1m 46s
Solar noon: 11:51  Altitude: 16.2°  Distance (10E6 km): 147.428

Patch impressions

07:48

Through rain-spotted glass I see, no, feel, a grey sky. I see the white-rimmed eyes of human habitation staring across grim gardens. Here and there, a few glow with manufactured morning warmth. The sun is a secret. Inexplicably, the cloudy canvas lightens slightly. Stark winter trees stand against the grey, shivering in the meaningless wind. The flesh sags from my cheekbones as I imagine the cold wetness of the bark. I look back to the rows of neighbouring windows, but now all are dark and empty. The people inside have also become secrets.

11:51

The rain-spots have dried into dusty acid traces on the window panes. Beyond them, the dawn-dark trees are now shades of green, an eerie moss climbing high over their bare limbs. The day is undecided. Bemused grey clouds scud eastward in ragged retreat, like an army desperate for refuge. Between their broken ranks, blue sky flashes. Sunlight reaches through to caress our creamy walls, but will not stay to be touched. Cayenne chrysanthemums leap with the wind, but the evergreen jasmine next to them clings to the wall, stubbornly still.

23:59

All is still now. With little light behind it to highlight imperfections, the glass seems clear now. Peering through it, I see a calm sky, its starless blackness softened by the urban glow that horizons our silent mews. Nightlights gently bathe the courtyard’s high cream walls and peaceful plants. Some shadows linger, but they do not dart about or threaten. That invisible city beyond our nestling house seems benevolent tonight. It has vanquished the rain. The secret people have lit some lights again. Their warm windows tell me of throbbing hearts and Christmas hearths. Tonight, I can sleep.



{Thu 2 October 2008}   A Fish Does What A Fish Must Do

A Fish Does What A Fish Must Do

Well, at last the long silence is broken… After some hectic months of much travelling and visiting, some ill-health and some hosting of guests, I’ve started the MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University in Leicester and I am now required to write again (regularly, eek!).

This little poem is my offering for our first Creative Exercise which involved responding to a picture of a small, ugly fish balanced in the palm of a hand…. a fish out of water, presumably chosen as an image to reflect the anxieties of most students new to a course. I expect that this poem will change and tighten up a bit—it’s unusual for me to post such a fresh work for public view—but I wanted to make the statement that I’m back in the blogosphere.

A Fish Does What a Fish Must Do

This fish brings water with it;
Poised, vicious and delicate,
It rests lightly on the hand,
Fin repurposed into stand.
Not flapping-frantic-fitful,
But cool as primeval chill,
Awaiting opportunity:
Body taut, eyes alert to see
And seize translucent breath;
Its vast life or tiny death,
Suckled in swim or gagged by air,
Potentials beyond this now-where.
The moment balances with the fin:
Before and after stretch out thin
From here where nerves intensely
Immobilise magnificently.
There is no thought of why or how,
Instinct is all — its soul is now.

31 July 2009 – And here’s the image itself (don’t know why I didn’t add this before, as it was made available under a Creative Commons licence. From http://www.flickr.com/photos/16866037@N00/1386243643/
Creative Commons License: Some Rights Reserved http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_GB

Lizardfish by Jennifurr-Jinx UpoadedToFlickr15Sept07


et cetera