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.