Monthly Archives: November 2015

Sunday photo(s): 29th November 2015

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Arthur hasn’t been very well the past couple of weeks. Nothing serious, but high fevers and sleepless nights and general grouchiness that made the days all melt into each other whilst we hunkered down and waited for him to get better. It was Wednesday before I realised I hadn’t posted last Sunday’s photo, so here’s a catch up one now.

Having spent the first two years of his life sleeping in or next to our bed, it had been months since he’d joined us for anything other than morning cuddles, but I found myself wanting him right there so I could check on him – besides, when he was alone he was waking up every hour or so whimpering and that was rather hard to bear. There was something very special about snuggling up with him again, and it was almost even worth the lack of sleep – though it’s amazing how hard sleep deprivation is to cope with when you’re not used to it!

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Fortunately this weekend Arthur was back to his usual cheeky self. Which was handy as there was some serious getting into the festive spirit to be done! Yesterday was Brixham’s Christmas light switch on with lantern parade and fireworks which we braved the wind and the rain to enjoy with lots of other hardy locals, and today we went to get our tree.

We went up to Ashburton where my sister in law’s family has a Christmas tree farm. The wind was still blowing pretty hard, but that didn’t deter us from our mission. It was magical to be able to romp through a field of trees to choose our perfect one, and Arthur was so excited as we cut it down, wrapped it up and put it on the car to take it home.

I have a feeling this Christmas is going to be very special.

 

Linking up today’s post with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Inspiring teachers, inspiring change

When I was teaching, one of my favourite parts of the job was writing resources: designing activities, constructing lessons, developing whole schemes of learning. In a profession that regularly came under fire from different angles, it was a way of maintaining some semblance of control. And I enjoyed the creativity it required – the challenge of fitting all of the different external requirements into activities that I felt were genuinely a good use of my – and my students’ – time. Above all it was a way of ensuring that I could be the teacher I wanted to be – both in the content I taught, and how it was delivered.

As well as offering plenty of opportunities for developing different skills, the subjects I taught – English, Media and Drama – lent themselves well to exploring ‘issues’. I felt that a vital part of my role was engaging students in the world around them; opening their eyes to things they might not otherwise know about, and challenging the status quo. There was something very political about it, though not in the sense of trying to impose my views on others. What I strove to do was to get young people asking questions, to present them with a range of resources but equip them also with the tools they needed to find things out for themselves.

Though I’m extremely busy not teaching at the moment, the burgeoning refugee crisis we are currently facing has made me long to be back in the classroom. It really bothers me that the mainstream media presents such a narrow (often heavily biased) range of views, and that depending on the online circles people move in the (mis)information on social media can be even worse. And it bothers me too that with the avalanche of new demands teachers have faced in recent years they might struggle to find time to tackle these issues with young people.

So, as the most recent draft of my novel neared completion, I found my mind wandering to a scheme of learning I’d been involved in writing some years back. We called it ‘Refugees and the Media‘, and the focus was on trying to uncover the truth behind the headlines which were – at the time – often extremely biased against refugees and asylum seekers.

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It needed updating, and reining back in after various evolutions, but I thought it might be one thing I could do to attempt to make just a small difference in the lives of the people who are affected by our misconceptions.

The title of this blog post might be ambitious, but it is this that I am attempting to do: to inspire teachers to use some of their time in the classroom to open up discussion around the way in which meaning is constructed in the media, particularly around refugee issues, so that they might inspire their students to think differently, and that through them we might begin to inspire change in our world.

I’ve decided to share the resources here on my blog. They’re not especially groundbreaking, and they borrow from a range of different sources, but they are comprehensively researched and tried and tested in the classroom. So if you are a teacher and you think you might be able to use them, then please do. And if you know anyone else that might find them useful, then please pass them on.

It’s hard to know how to make a difference these days – sat here at my keyboard rather than stood at the front of a classroom – but I’m hoping that this might just be one small way I can.

 

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Letting go

Yesterday I got to the end of my manuscript for the third time this draft. I’ve been trying to be systematic about it, giving myself plenty of opportunities to pick things up that need work: the first time I went through looking at my agent’s notes, then with those of my most recent beta reader, then back through again interrogating every single word trying to make sure the ones I’ve picked say exactly what I want them to.

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I know that I’m coming up to the point where I will have to let it go, to send it back off into the ether with everything crossed that it might this time contain the magic it needs to take it to the next stage. But I can’t, not yet. And I’m not sure how I’m going to know when it’s ready.

I’m feeling pretty positive about all the changes I’ve made. Overall it’s ended up 89 words longer than it was before, but given that I’ve written loads more in – bringing conversations to life, taking the reader a little deeper into my protagonist’s mind – that’s meant a lot of cutting too. The opening has changed, bringing in a darker tone from the beginning – one which I think I’ve managed to weave through the novel as a whole, making it much more in keeping with the story I’m trying to tell.

And I think I know what that is now. I’m much clearer on what’s going on than I was, anyway. But I’m still having trouble with my elevator pitch – fumbling around for a concise explanation whenever anyone asks me what the book’s about. I need to work on that.

But whether I can do any more work on the story itself I’m not so sure…

The fact that this is draft number four is not helping my resolve. I thought it was ready last time I sent it in, but it so wasn’t. That took me months to realise. And whilst I’ve sorted out the problems that held it back then – I hope – who knows whether there are new ones that are evading me?

I do still have time on my side. I’d set myself the deadline of the end of November to get this draft completed and sent off, so I still have twelve days. I might just let it rest for a little bit, mull it over in my head, dip back in every now and then to make sure it really is the best that it can be.

It’s almost tempting not to go past this stage – there’s a warm fuzzy feeling that comes with finishing a novel (even for the fourth time), and right now I like what I’ve written. I know that once I send it out into the world again there will inevitably be things I’ve missed, and I’m quite enjoying the blissful ignorance that comes from it just sitting on my hard drive.

But novels are meant to be read, right? And not just by the person who wrote them…

So if you catch me procrastinating for too much longer then I might need a little push – it might just be time to let it go.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Sunday Photo: 15th November 2015

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Today saw the beginning of the festive season for us with a Christmas Market organised by Humanity Has No Borders as part of their fundraising efforts to send aid to refugees.

There was something incredibly poignant about watching everybody have fun given the global events of the past few days, but at the same time it felt particularly important to be standing in solidarity with those seeking refuge from precisely the kind of terror that suddenly feels very close to home.

The outpouring of sadness on social media that followed the Paris attacks has, predictably and frustratingly, been accompanied by a fresh wave of fear and hate – calls to ‘close the borders’ by people who are ‘not racist, but…’.

I imagine this is precisely the impact that the perpetrators of such horrific crimes hope to have: to stir up negative emotions, break down natural human bonds and drive wedges between people and nations.

I hope for something different. I hope that my beautiful son might grow up in a world that recognises all humans as equal, wherever they happen to be born. I hope that his future may be filled with compassion and generosity, not with fear and greed.

Our Town Hall was filled with hope today, and the compassion and generosity of our community shone through. Already local people have donated enough aid to fill approximately one thousand boxes with supplies that could make all the difference to people struggling to survive in refugee camps in Greece: now we just need to get it there.

If you would like to help you can find more information at www.humanityhasnoborders.org.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

                                Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Linking up today’s post with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Wanted: a cave, no wifi

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You out can tell that winter’s setting in because it’s all about hibernating in our house: hiding away from the world, feeling the comfort of a small space to cosy up in. We made a sofa fort one particularly rainy day last week, but Arthur’s just as happy with simpler residences: cardboard boxes, suitcases, laundry bags… Especially laundry bags.

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I can totally see where he’s coming from. And it’s not just the chill in the air, or the increasing amounts of rain, or the fact it seems to get dark soon after lunchtime. As I watch Arthur taking such pleasure in climbing or crawling into tiny spaces, I find myself longing for a cave. Preferably one far away from anywhere with no phone line, and most definitely no wifi. Somewhere I could block out the world, work on my novel uninterrupted, and get this redraft finished.

I’m still managing to snatch an hour a day – sometimes two. And it’s going pretty well. Very well, even. So much so that it’s an an almighty wrench to tear myself away when my time is up. I find myself clinging to the keyboard as Arthur tugs on my jumper after his nap, desperate to finish my train of though, or at least one more sentence, one more word…

It’s not really Arthur though, if I’m honest. He is so much fun at the moment, and it’s hard to begrudge time spent with him. But all the other demands on my time seem to be piling up, just as I want to hunker down and write!

Council meetings, securing the future of our local lido, researching education provision for the Neighbourhood Plan, deciphering the impact of the mayoral budget, Governor meetings, presenting certificates at prize giving, helping to raise funds for refugees. Then there’s all the normal household stuff. And December, with Christmas and Arthur’s birthday, rearing up over the horizon.

All that has to be dealt with too, but as I try to focus on it I have the niggling voices of my characters in my head, imploring me to decide their fate, to put them out of their misery, to free them from the conflicting prose that I am in the midst of untangling.

I’m not complaining, not really.

I know that I’m privileged to have so much going on – so much that is stretching me and challenging me and (hopefully) making a difference in my community.

But still sometimes, selfishly, I just want to shut it all out. To lose myself completely in the world of my novel. To write.

And it is then that I hanker after that cave – with no wifi.

 

Muddled Manuscript

 

Sunday photo: 8th November 2015

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Arthur very much knows his mind at the moment. I like it, but it’s challenging.

We went for a walk in the rain this week: I had a couple of Council meetings in town that I couldn’t miss so we donned our waterproofs and headed in. By the time we came back Arthur was overdue a nap. We got to the beach, and he lay down on the rocks he loves to climb and closed his eyes.

I kept going, walking up the steps towards the road. I’d had more than enough drizzle for one day and I was sure he’d follow me.

He didn’t.

Linking up today’s pic with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. Check out their blogs for some fantastic photography from across the blogosphere!

Setting the tone

I came across an article this week which really resonated with where I am right now with the novel. It was outlining Zadie Smith’s perception of the two kinds of writers, quoting from a lecture she delivered in 2008. Aside from making me realise that I really should read more of what writers I admire have to say about what it is we do, it got me thinking about the thorny issue of tone.

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I’ve really struggled with the tone of this novel. I’ve known the main characters pretty intimately since they first appeared in my mind, and the plot – though it evolved in the writing of it as they so often do – has remained basically the same since my earliest outlines. I thought I knew what the novel was about too – on a big, important, thematic level – but that has all changed recently. And as it has I’ve started to see the cracks in my manuscript that had somehow remained invisible up until now.

According to Smith’s ideas, I am pretty solidly a Macro Planner. Not entirely – I can’t quite conceive of starting to write anywhere but at the beginning, can’t imagine flitting around my plan and shifting the structure as many writers apparently do. But I do need a roadmap of sorts – I couldn’t plunge into writing without a fairly detailed plan. At least I don’t think I could.

But there were elements of Smith’s description of her process as a Micro Manager which really appealed to me – not least her assertion that when she finished writing a novel she was actually finished, with redrafts being unnecessary. For her, everything begins with setting the tone – making the first twenty pages a crucial and lengthy process:

“Worrying over the first twenty pages is a way of working on the whole novel, a way of finding its structure, its plot, its characters — all of which, for a Micro Manager, are contained in the sensibility of a sentence. Once the tone is there, all else follows.”

This is pretty much the opposite of where I’m at right now. Four drafts in, I have a structure, plot, characters – but the tone which seemed to come so naturally on first writing (so much so that I didn’t really think about it at the time) suddenly doesn’t quite fit.

I think perhaps part of the problem is that I’m only now really beginning to understand what tone is. That might be a bit of a bold admission for an experienced English teacher to make, but for all of my ability to recognise tone, to use it effectively, to explain it through examples, I’m not sure I really got what it is all about. Now though the definition, borrowed here from Wikipedia, suddenly seems to make a whole lot more sense.

“Tone … shows the attitudes toward the subject and toward the audience implied in a literary work.”

It is here, I realise now, that everything starts to come together. My attitude to the subject (my characters, the story I’m trying to tell) meets my attitude to the reader (where I’m positioning myself in relation to them, the genre in which my novel sits). As I type this it seems far too obvious for me even to need to say it at all, but then it is sometimes the simplest lessons that are the most powerful.

So I will hold those things in my head as I make my way once more through my manuscript, creeping forwards through the words and sentences and paragraphs whilst darting back from time to time to tweak details that no longer fit. There are a lot of words to get through, but I believe it will be worth it.

And what of my initial approach, of the type of writer I am? Could I have avoided this quandary by micro managing, by manipulating the tone in the creation of those first twenty pages until everything else fell into place? I’m not sure, to be honest. So much of Grace’s story only became clear when I could see it from the outside – and actually crucial elements of her character were only revealed to me once I had taken her through her journey.

I guess like everything there is no black and white: whilst the two approaches Smith describes seem on one level to be mutually exclusive I suspect that most writers embrace elements of both.

As for me, I think I’m still working out what type of writer I am.

And I think that that’s ok.

 

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