Thursday, 1 December 2011

entering the asylum, then...

 "One of the things you notice is that when you switch on the television and a student has gone mad with a machine gun on a campus in America, it's always a writing student.The writing courses, particularly when they have the word 'creative' in them, are the new mental hospitals. But the people are very nice" Hanif Kureishi.

While my last blog saw me moaning about rejection, this one is tentatively optimistic (hence the foreboding quote), as I don’t want to get too cocky and curse myself/shoot anybody else.

Firstly, I’ve been accepted onto the MMU Creative Writing MA (after a lovely telephone interview with author/tutor Sherry Ashworth, whose praise of my work was a little over-whelming, albeit in a good way), and have opted for the part-time distance learning approach, starting in January. This means that I’ll begin in the middle of a ‘writing’ module, rather than a ‘reading’ one, and that I’ll have to go into an established group as the “new girl”, introduce myself… and then proceed to criticise everybody’s work, whilst forcing them to read my own. 

I’ve been faffing about for ages with regards to being a postgrad student (mainly put off by the financial implications, and the onus on dreaded literary criticism) and while I did begin an English MA last year, I couldn’t shake the feeling during seminars that I was in some kind of skit that was parodying academia, with Foucault and Lacan and Kristeva and Derrida being chucked about wily-nily, irrespective of the question in hand. Needless to say then, I didn’t last long, and while this short stint was enough to make me reassess my ideas about eventually undertaking a PhD, the other option, the “eye-rolling-isn’t-it-about-time-you-faced-the-horrible-reality-of-being-a-grown-up and got-a-real-job” road, was even more unappealing.

With both options though, I’d find myself thinking things like, “well, after I’ve finished my MA, then I’ll focus on my writing, once my safety net’s in place” (voice of reason?) and stuff  like “I’ll work full-time, get some experience for a few years, then maybe save up enough cash to be able to run off to a Mediterranean island and write a novel in the middle of the countryside and wear a headscarf and ride a bicycle with fresh baguettes in the basket and twinkle my bell at the farmers…”(voice of...something else); but with the goal –“writing”- the only constant in my indecisive mind, I have now decided to chuck all my eggs in one basket (albeit a rusty wire one nicked from Tescos rather than a Provencal hand-woven one) and attempt to combine it all, and begin a Writing MA. 

There’s a lot of criticism about whether or not creative writing can be taught, and the idea of some tortured artist, coughing up blood and ink and penning out their dying thoughts in a freezing garret is the romantic notion of authorship that a lot of people still hold dear (apparent in the undeserved criticism too frequently directed towards creative writing courses), and while I must admit, there is a part of me that does still want to embrace that “ I-WILL-make-it –on-my own!” ethos, and get somewhere without being associated with a specific “programme”; I can’t see how implanting myself amongst a community of writers, and authors, and being given the opportunity to get feedback on my work in progress; and the chance to meet agents and publishers, can at this point be anything other than beneficial. Plus to pass the MA I need to submit an ENTIRE novel, and if that doesn’t force me to finish the one I’ve been working on forever, then nothing will. 

Of course, January is a long, long way away, and my fickle mind may chase itself down another avenue, but for now, I’m excited.

In other news, a short story of mine has been accepted by Mused: The BellaOnline Literary Review, which will be published in December, a cheery tale called ‘Tadpoles’ which is all about catholic guilt, abortions, banshees and childhood gangs.

After months of waiting, I also had two short fiction pieces published on the same day, 'The Day the Merry Go Round Broke Down' at The Pygmy Giant, and 'Tantalus' at For Every Year.

The first one was my attempt to disrupt a narrative by using a jarring refrain to reflect the woman’s inner state (the Looney Toons tune, the title of which is the title of the story); to produce a discordant effect, and to turn the familiar and the homely into something sinister.  I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, but I had some notes scribbled in a notebook about canaries in coal mines, and after writing it I was reminded of the Curb your Enthusiasm 'Nanny from Hell' episode; the one where the nanny has completely lost it after working at Disneyland on the Looney Toons ride for too long. Odd the way that things sneak into your subconscious...

'Tantalus' is part of Crispin Best’s project, For Every Year, where basically you pick a year, and write something about it.  It’s still ongoing so any writerly types (or even if you're not) get scribbling! (I think it’s up to about the 1670s now, so there's plenty left to choose from). I went for 1669, the year when Mt Etna erupted most magnificently, and where the lava flow apparently stopped at the gates of the Benedictine monastery. This bought to mind ideas of culture vs nature, male abstinence vs female sexuality, the demonisation of female sexuality; fate and desire and repression and liberation, but the story is basically one of a monk getting his face blasted off by a volcano.

As for new writing, the last few weeks I’ve mainly been re-writing the same few pieces that I can’t quite get to work, but my most recent google history includes: sobriety medallions, gothic names, Grand Guignol, the Song of Solomon, Mark Anthony, Roman baths, ghost trains and paper dolls.


  1. Loved your story at molotov. I'm the guy that wrote the thing below yours that looks bad by comparison. Anyway, I'd like to get to know some writers, so I figured I'd drop off my e-mail address in case you ever need a beta reader, or someone to rant to about wherever you're at on the confident/self-doubt spectrum, or if you need a little literary devil on your shoulder encouraging you to do all the wrong things.


  2. thank you very much! And as for making your story look bad, pssh, it was excellent, I loved the use of the colours throughout and the claustrophobic mix of loathing and compassion. It seems the editors decided to run with the theme of bodies and their breakdown for this issue, all very...festive. And cheers for the offer, much appreciated! it's always good to have a pair of writerly eyes cast over your work as friends are often way too polite, or just too vague. So I shall add to you to contacts for when I need a rallying chant/pair of ears, ha! And good luck with future publications...and the gambling.