And I’m Back

And quite perky. Hello all, it’s been a lovely week, lots of things happening, very exciting, so although I have several books to talk about, I’ll bring you up to date today with other matters. It’s been an interesting week on the work front. You may remember I mentioned a writing course I was going to do? Well I have just started on it, receiving my first assignment today. It’s a ten-week online course for non-fiction writing. Last week I didn’t think it was going to come off as after waiting for almost three weeks I hadn’t heard a word from my tutor. In the end I contacted the administration officer to cancel and he was most apologetic; the tutor had been trying to reach me but the email kept pinging back. He’d been supposed to deal with it but hadn’t got around to it. So, these matters cleared up, the email address straightened out and finally I was in touch with my tutor, who is a journalist and a novelist and has much to teach me, I feel.

One of my longest-standing friends from school came over to dinner on Friday evening after a conference in Cambridge and said ‘Why on earth are you doing a writing course when you’ve been writing for years?’ It seems obvious to me because I live with my limitations. But I’ve been writing in a very particular style, and a highly constrained one, for the past twenty years. I can write stories about stories – that’s what I’m practiced in doing – and I can tell anecdotes, which is more to do with spending years on the planet. But now I want to experiment a bit as I have very little flexibility, as far as I’m aware, and each writing style is specific and requires tailoring to the material and the audience. How you write something that is 1,000 words long is very different to how you write something that’s 10,000 words long, and what you can say biographically is very different to what you can say in a personal essay or a literary analysis. To sum it up I suppose I know enough to know there is a very great deal I don’t know. And I thought that a course would be lots of fun. I haven’t stretched myself just for the hell of it in years and years. All the other writing courses I’ve come across are residential, and I don’t want to spend time away from my family. This ticks all sorts of boxes. Do you want to know what my first assignment is? Of course you do. I’ve been given a newspaper story and some additional information; I need to rewrite the story incorporating the extra material but I don’t have to quote it or even refer directly to it. It can just alter the outline of the story. It’s simple and yet fiendishly difficult at the same time. Oh and I’ve only got 500 words; now that’s the real killer.

So, I’m very excited about this course and curious to see what I’ll learn. At the same time my job in college is starting to expand too, and I had a very interesting meeting last week to discuss ways in which we can improve the quality of teaching across the board. I find I am fascinated by the problem of what’s called reception, in literary terms, or in other words, the way a message is received by another person. There is so much we say that simply cannot be heard by other people; because it runs contrary to their opinions, because it isn’t couched in a way they readily recognize, because it triggers defense mechanisms, because they are too busy listening to what they want to hear inside their own heads. I’m really interested in how to encourage people to hear what it is that they don’t know, itself a complicated formula, but I mean how to get them to expand beyond their comfort zone of understanding and to acknowledge their own mistakes without shame, anger or frustration (or at least with the minimum of negativity, or perhaps using that negativity in productive ways). It sounds feasible and it’s central to effective learning, but it’s extremely difficult to do in practice. Doubled in difficulty when the people in question are the teachers, and not the students, whose transmission of knowledge is just as much at stake in the learning interaction. Well, it’s a problem I’m going to be busy with for quite some time, but I think it’s an extremely intriguing one.
On an entirely different matter, I was the very happy recipient of a blog award for fabulousness from the most lovable Charlotte. I need to list my five fabulous addictions and then tag five fabulous bloggers. Here goes with the addictions:

1. Books – you don’t say. That surprised precisely nobody.

2. Reading – not exactly repetition as I’d like to point out that my obsession with collecting books is large enough to be distinguished from my obsession with reading them.

3. Blogging – yes, three years in and still addicted. Kiss, kiss, blogging buddies.

4. Email – please tell me I’m not the only person who checks ten times a day just in case some outstandingly exciting message has arrived and not just another call for papers or an offer for cheap viagra.

5. American Idol – with a new format for 2008. The judging panel used to be the perfect Freudian topology of the mind with Randy as the id (all instinct and drive, he likes, he doesn’t likes, he has no need or indeed ability to say why), Simon as the superego (nothing is good enough and he will take pleasure in saying so in the harshest of terms) and Paula as the embattled ego, trying to create some middle ground for compassion. Now with the fourth judge that delicate balance has been shattered and I’m not sure yet what has come in its place. As for contestants, my favourite so far is Danny Gorkey because I love his kind of voice. But the weight of favour is turning against him a bit at the moment and will continue to do so unless he stops dancing like that.

Well, that sums up my life at the moment.

Five fabulous bloggers – and as ever I’m sorry only to be allowed five as you are all mightily fabulous:


Finally, I have to share with you a local news story about two cat burglars living just around the corner from us, who have been caught with a stash of stolen goods. Fluff – ‘said to be the brains of the operation – and Daisy, the muscle’, have apparently brought home to their perplexed owners a toy skittle, a hairbrush, a doll’s hat, a Marigold glove, a collar and a fan belt. The owners, having jokingly declared ‘We are hoping they might bring back a wallet but that hasn’t happened yet’, were advertising in the paper to see whether anyone would step forward to reclaim their lost property. My first thought was to wonder whether either of our two cats had fallen in with the gang and was acting as a fence. They are sufficiently daft, bored and immoral. And then my second thought was – hang on a minute, a fan belt? How on earth did they manage to get that out of someone’s car? I mean, that’s impressive for creatures without opposable thumbs. So then I had a delirious fantasy that these cats were actually piecing together some form of catmobile in an abandoned garage nearby in order to ram raid the supermarket one of these fine days. If it happens, you heard it here first.

Okay, back with the books tomorrow, if I can get it together. Hope you’ve all had a great week – I’ll be catching up properly with blog reading from now on.


20 thoughts on “And I’m Back

  1. Delightful! I can’t stop chuckling at your cats being ‘sufficiently daft, bored and immoral’! Great words to sling together. and have fun with the writing course. There’s always something to learn, yes? I’ve only taken one writing class – a one day exercise but we were all laughing and crying by the end of that 6 hours and I have fond memories of it. Hey – maybe I should try another. As for Am Idol, I still don’t have a clear fave. And I like Kara but I agree that the balance is off for the judging portion.

  2. Even though you may have been doing something for a long time, it’s amazing how much there is still to learn about it, especially when you want to do it in an entirely different way than you’re used to. The online writing course sounds great–there’s so much to learn, isn’t there. I know all about knowing just enough to know how little I really know. Many thanks for the fabuolous award. Will share my addictions this week, though I’m sure no one will be too surprised by them! 🙂 And no you’re not the only one who checks your email several times a day. If only once one of those “you’ve won the Irish lottery” notices was correct I’d be home free. And I say let the cats keep their hobby until they bring something really good and useful home, though no doubt there is an unhappy little girl out there with a hatless doll right now.

  3. Loved the cat story. And also glad that your perkiness has returned. That writing course sounds challenging and I’m sure you’ll learn something useful for it. Also very interested to read your thoughts on getting people to listen without being defensive. Great to see a blogger with her Mojo back!

  4. Lilian – hello and thank you! It’s lovely to have you visit and the cats did make me laugh, too! 🙂

    Care – I tell you, everyone’s experiences at writing classes sounded so great that I felt I just had to try one! There are lots of good AI candidates this season, and I do like Kara, too. Hopefully that panel will settle down soon. And my cats thank you – they love any and all attention. 🙂

    Danielle – you’re so right. There’s always more to learn, and I really like the learning part! I’m looking forward to reading about your addictions, and I might put a little bet on that they are not too dissimilar to mine! 🙂 Lol for that remark about the cats – too funny! Oh and I have my fingers crossed for the Irish lottery – it’s too mean to tease us with those prizes…

    Pete – a little break is a great thing. So glad you liked the cat story – it did make us laugh here. If I ever find out how to get past people’s listening defences I’ll let you know – but don’t hold your breath! Any thoughts you have on the matter would also be most interesting to me, too.

    Jennifer – I’m sure I’ll keep tabs on how it’s going here. I’m looking forward to it, and am curious about the whole process at the moment.

  5. There is nothing like new projects to get one’s enthusiasm and energy level back where they should be. You sound positively radiant! Good luck with the writing course, I hope it is all you expect and more.

  6. Glad to hear you’re feeling better after your blogging break Litlove. The writing course sounds both useful and fun, so good luck with it.

  7. Oh dear Litlove, thank you! Your addictions are not surprising. I too check my email far more often than I should. I am glad you had a nice week off and very happy to have you back rested and perky! Your class sounds like it will be fun. I hope your learning will help propel your writing forward since I know how frustrating it has become for you. The cat story is hilarious. It sounds like something mine would do if I let them outdoors. As it is, Dickens likes to take mittens, and other small “finds” and Waldo hoards bits of paper. And everything eventually ends up swimming in their water dish.

  8. Welcome back! We all missed you. I share all your fabulous addictions, with the exception of American Idol, which never moved me. However, I am very ashamed to admit that I am addicted to Housewives of New York City – a true monument to narcissism. I watch to see if these folks can be any more shallow and still be…shallow…if you get what I mean. Wouldn’t there come a time when there is no depth at all? Anyway, it’s great diversion. Let us know how you fare with the first class assignment. And, as the proud possession of two “daft” and “bored” cats myself, I loved the cat story!

  9. Verbivore – I do love novelty! It’s a shame there has to be that dull middle section of any project!

    Devoted reader – how nice of you to drop by. I think breaks are good things and writing courses, too!

    Stefanie – you are so very welcome – hugs! Lol about your cats – the thought of everything ending up swimming in their water bowl is so true! I’m looking forward to the course, as it’s about time I took the writing by the scruff of the neck. 😉

    Grad – thank you – I missed you, too! I’ve never heard of Housewives of New York City before but I can imagine how addictive it might be. I will indeed send dispatches from the assignment battles and greetings to your cats. Mine thought the story was an aspirational parable – lol!

  10. Welcome back, and with such a delightful post! Just what I needed to enjoy with my afternoon tea 🙂

    I think your writing course sounds wonderful, and bravo to you for stretching your writing muscles a bit. It’s quite easy to become complacent, isn’t it? Happens to me with music more than writing, because I’m much farther behind on the writing bit than the music. But I can play along with my old familiar pieces and be happy as a clam, until something challenges me and I realize I’m not quite as good as I thought! And working with other talented individuals is always inspiring, I think.

    As for your obessions – I must say I share them all, although these days I might substitute Facebook for email, because I love seeing what all my “friends” are up to.

    Danny is one of my top favorites on Idol- the piano player (Matt Giraud) is from a neighboring town to mine, so I do rather like him as well. (I’m a bit partial to piano players after all 🙂

  11. Becca – I’m delighted to accompany your afternoon tea – is there a cup for me? 🙂 I can quite see the music analogy, and that’s just how it is. And I agree with you completely about the lift that comes from working with talented people. There’s nothing better. So glad you have similar obsessions. I am on facebook (and must try and find you!) but I only visit from time to time. It could easily grow into something bigger than that. And my husband is the big fan of Matt, but I also think he’s extremely talented. It’s a good bunch this year, isn’t it?

  12. Welcome back! Missed you so! I am LOVING the catmobile idea so much, it’s really making me laugh. I love everything about that little story – maybe you could write THAT up for your course! You do sound perfectly revivified, which is fabulous. Speaking of fabulous, gosh, I made it into your top 5??!!! You do realise, I hope, that this is quite honestly the biggest accolade of my writing career to date?

  13. Doctordi – oh the first of many accolades, I am perfectly sure! So glad you like the catmobile idea – I am living in fear of its arrival and can only hope my own cats will tip me the wink when it’s time to evacuate… the newspaper article was really entertaining. The best material the local rag has had to work with in years! 🙂

  14. Thank you very much for naming me, Litlove! That’s such an honor coming from the fabulous blogger that you are! It’s very nice to get some recognition, and I do appreciate it tremendously.

    Your writing course sounds great — it is SO much fun to be taking a class and getting assignments and feedback, isn’t it? I’m so enjoying even the little online class I’m taking right now — I miss being a student! And your project on improving teaching quality sounds intriguing. The longer I’ve been teaching, the more I’ve become aware of just how hard it is to really and truly get through to somebody, and I’m sure you’re right that it’s even hard to do with faculty than with students. I’m curious to hear how this will develop.

  15. I did miss this — how very kind of you! I tend not to be meme-y, but I am very flattered … not to mention slightly shocked that you are addicted to “American Idol.”

    The writing course sounds wonderful … and you’re lucky to be living in a place where writing courses useful to highly advanced writers are available. For example, I could totally use a course to straighten out that sentence I just wrote (clearly my copyediting persona is on vacation).

    Since my cat is building a thermonuclear bomb in my front hall closet, I’m not surprised at the stealing of fan belts. That’s small potatoes, really.

  16. You sound so wonderfully chipper and cheerful – nice to see you back! I will be very curious to hear about your findings concerning the problems folks have with “reception.”
    Yes, I check my email ten times a day, but I do not watch American Idol!

  17. Doctordi – lol! I feel a mini-series coming on!

    Dorothy – you are very welcome indeed. Isn’t being a student good fun? I loved the sound of your online course, too. Do you ever think that maybe we’re teaching because we’d really like to be on the other side of the desk? I’ll let you know how the study support thing develops. It’s all so new at the moment and it’s exciting but confusing for me, too. Hopefully all will become clear at some point!

    Baron David – well, I’m just glad you got to see it. As for AI, ah well, I have hidden shallows. My writing course is online and available to you if you wanted to do it – personally I think you write just great and don’t need any help at all, but being stretched a bit can be fun. And I did laugh at the thought of your cat and its thermonuclear device. Oh please, please give that cat enough recognition and sense of power that it doesn’t decide to set it off…

    Qugrainne – it’s lovely to have you visit, too! Thank you for dropping by. The study support is all so new to me – it’s sort of nice to feel bewildered again, but I hope that things will also come clearer as I get used to the role. I will certainly recount news as it breaks here!

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