Thursday, 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015

This has been a challenging year. I have gained so much after a long struggle and a lot of work. My degree certificate has been safely gathered in.


 I am grateful that I started on this path, fulfilled a dream of working with supportive and encouraging Tutors like those at the Open College of the Arts. It has been fraught, difficult, challenging and wonderful.

It is that time of the year when, with the cold securely locked outside and the fires piled high with fuel you begin to look back; trouble is the path I chose is much longer than just this year. But in that spirit I have been thinking about the degree and those moments when I thought I couldn't do it. The poetry course was the main challenge - I find writing poetry restrictive and terrifying. There were moments (entirely of my own making) that I wanted to walk away and just take the qualification (HE5) that I had achieved at that time. How I got through that I am not quite sure but I remember thinking about advice from my Grandfather who always told me that when facing a hill you put you head down and so long as you take one step in front of another, regardless of pace, you have to get to the top. I think that is what I did - and when I couldn't move forward fast enough I read as much as I could.

Since the end of the final course and confirmation of the degree I have been exhausted, physically and emotionally. I never realized how much the studies had taken over my life until I got home one night and (my partner being on call and therefore not home for the night) I found myself wondering what to do.

The loss of my Dad in March was the emotional side. I feel the cliches of wanting another conversation, another (bear) hug or another bout of laughter with him as heavily as beast of burden. There is his voice in my head and I know how he would have reacted at my getting my degree - punching the air with his big right paw while laying in his sick bed. Then after a hug and a well done etc he would have fixed me with sparkling eyes and asked me "what now?" or "when you going to write a book then?". He always had his eyes on the future especially for his children.

So I am asking myself, as if he was still here, what would be my answer?

I have an outline to a novel for children (and even the idea for the second book) which made the majority of the project course. There's the title of the memoir of my life as a child growing up with an epileptic father, which has been in my head since I was around 15 years old. There is also a promise to be kept and a plethora of ideas, notes, half-ideas and scribbled observations which litter the papers/notebooks and files from each course.

My problem now is knowing where the start, what to start with; essentially putting my foot on the path again and starting in another direction. Now the creative life really begins - I said to my partner that I would like to get paid for a piece of writing in 2016. It was a joke...but then maybe not. Maybe that is my goal - not the payment - but the courage to get on with it and put my voice out there. Another hill, head down, one step, half step...

Monday, 7 September 2015

On Hold...but not blocked...paralysed possibly.

So here I am. Degree finished, awaiting the piece of paper and in true introvert fashion, not at all contemplating going to the graduation in 2016.

Every time I say this to friends and colleague I get besieged with complaints about how I should, the work involved, the journey and such like. I find myself having to justify over and over again why I do not want to go and stand in a room with people I don't know, who do not understand my personal journey (in the sense that we have not been friends etc) and are not on the whole interested in this bearded little man from Dorset. I am sure they would clap and I would, in turn, clap them; but the congratulations and smiles are meaningless to me. So I find myself defending my position and winning - of course.

Even my partner and his University educated friends have had to concede that their experience of gaining a degree differs from mine. Theirs of student flats, lectures and shared clubs (mostly drinking) and mine of emails, reading, working full time and battling through the night guided only by bloody mindedness and a Tutors encouragement.

What I cannot defend is this is the first real piece of writing I have undertaken since the final assessment of the final course. I could say it was because of my Father dying in March, or work stress; but the only real explanation is moving house and the unsettling effect that has had on me and my writing.

It took me a long time to create my writing space in my current home and to feel comfortable - to bed in the act of writing as a ritual which suited me. Now we await exchange of contracts, searching for the moving company and all the phone calls to the utilities and authorities before we land in the next sanctuary. It is hard to sit and wonder about a characters reaction or what he/she thinks about another character when you are thinking about whether you have enough boxes or you are (as I am right now) surrounded by boxes of books securely packed and labelled.

So I am on hold; my characters in FADE are frozen at the bridge awaiting the play button to be pushed. I am not blocked because every now and then there is a whisper or change of temperature around me which hints that something is nudging, trying to break through. The tiredness I am feeling is partly down to holding it back and partly to the tooing and froing or estate agents, contracts and whether the shrubs at the front of the house breach covenants placed on the land before I was born....(sigh!)

I keep telling myself it will happen. We will move, unpack, redecorate, settle in and then, in an office much bigger than the one I am currently in, I shall shake off the paralysis and begin again. But at least for now I have posted...which is good.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's over...relief and remorse...

It's over, the long road, the great personal journey; my degree is finished. The credits are attributed and I have a Creative Writing Degree qualification 2:1 from the Open College of the Arts.

I am relieved that this journey is over and I have what I set out to achieve in my hands. There is nothing greater than looking back down the mountain and seeing the difficult and treacherous path you have walked. You don't remember every stumble or triumphant plateau but at the top you remember the highs and the lows in a fuzzy euphoria of arriving.

Contacting my Tutor, Nina Milton, was the first thing I did; sending her an email thanking her and hopefully making her blush (again) by telling her that she is the teacher I needed at school.

My partner arrived home and there were cheers, cuddles and glasses of Prosecco and then an indulgent dinner.

There was a moment when holding my fathers gold wedding ring which hangs on a chain around my neck I choked up at my Dad not being here. He would have loved it and I can see him punching the air from his bed and grinning. But this warm memory does not replace the feeling of loss entirely and I miss his open enthusiasm and delight at others getting their hearts desires.

Today, twenty four hours later, I wonder about this blog. Should it continue? It was for my Tutor(s). For them to read and to see my trials and experiences but it's over now. I was going to leave it. To let it hang here in cyber-space. But I think I cannot do that. I think I shall revamp the header - mission statement - and change it into a journey of writing. After all, it might have started with a Tutor and a degree pathway but my writing has not ended. So I need to turn around on the mountain top, enjoy the view and then climb higher or at least find a higher peak to climb.




Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A post of two halves...one sorrowful, one grateful.

On the 15th March 2015 my Dad, Alan Arthur Edward Goddard born 30 July 1936 Swindon, Wiltshire, passed away in Dorchester Hospital.

Our family was gathered around his bed, the nursing staff had prepared us over the previous four days and we knew once the oxygen had been removed he would slip away. This was his third bout of pneumonia in nine years and the two previous attempts to kick in the door of oblivion had failed.He used to joke that he just couldn't kick it hard enough.

The first bout was on my fortieth birthday and the second a few years later. He proved how strong he was despite his being disabled. But this time it wasn't to be relief and convalescence. A chest infection had brought the old lion down and it was only the nurses and doctors hard work that gave our family time to gather, understand and prepare.

At the last I stood by him and held his head in my arms and spoke to him about all of us being there and that things would be okay and he could rest now. I felt him slowly slip from me over the thirty five minutes it took once they removed the oxygen; for that great heart to slow and stop. I have not taken it all in yet. It's nearly twelve weeks and HE is gone. There is never a moment where I can fool myself that he's still here and we can have one more conversation but I can only think about it in little bits.

As a writer, there is a terrible feeling of always being an observer. That tool that allows you to take it all in, to gather the snippets, the atmosphere, the smell and taste of the air and slip it into some recess of your mind. You secretly never quite give in to the moment, not even when that moment is one you have been dreading since you first understood that the great ancient ones would leave you behind. Even at the moment he had stopped breathing, his face showing a restful expression, when the family began to cry I was the observer. I halted them; "His heart," I said. "It's still beating." Feeling the powerful pulse under my fingertips as I stroked his neck, cradling his head in the crook of my arm, my lips close to his ear. I then told him how much we loved him and how it would be alright, everything was alright. His heart didn't falter, stumble or fade - it stopped, in one crushing stillness.

The details of when, what, who etc. are for another time and place. The tightening in my throat is becoming in-swallow-able. I must wait to write it down in full, to bring is out and purge the loss in words when there has been enough distance between that hospital bed and my heart.

**********************************************************************************

It took a week after his passing that I realized. I said it out loud like a petulant child.

"Dad won't be here when I get my degree."

It was a truth. He won't. The man that always asked how I was doing and what I was working on; who showed the most enthusiasm for especially my autobiographical writing and the writing for children courses will not be here to see the end of the journey. It breaks my heart....my selfish, childish, arrogant heart. As if my accomplishment should make him stay when he cannot! Ridiculous. But what makes the lump in my throat rise again is knowing he would have been proud and, if he'd have known he wasn't going to be here, he would have been genuinely sorry - and my petulance shames me; a man of 49 years old.

So I am grateful. The strength he showed all through his life, his example to all his children and grand children, allowed me to help my Mum and family go through the funeral, to start adjusting to life without him and to gather the final course submission together and submit it for assessment and submit it weeks after he left us.

I have finished. I await the completion mark for the course and the degree; constantly wondering what he would think. I know what he would do. He would punch the air from his bed and tell me well done. He would be "chuffed" and ask how long has it been and gasp etc. Because it has been a long time with a lot of hard work.

But then, after a few moments and probably knowing him, over a large cup of tea, he would look up and, with a twinkle in his eye, he would ask "So, what's next then?"

I am grateful to him, for him and his strength.



Sunday, 8 February 2015

“It was just like reading a book by a real author.” And “can I have the next (chapter) one please?”




So the five “chapters” came back from the 11 year old son of my colleague.  As he is in the age group of my target audience I was scared to death and excited in a hopeful kind of way. His dictated comments were written out by his mum.

He was enthusiastic and said it “hooks you in and makes you want to solve it”. He said the strange elements were “No cars on the Avenue and the stone not rippling the water” – the latter being the gateway of the mystery.  He and his mum noted that his eight year old brother didn’t think the lack of cars in the Avenue was anything odd. My colleague commented that she thought he was too young for the piece, to pick up on the nuances – it is intended for 9+.

Also the “chanting (Branwen), Aggy as a winged figure”. The latter comment about Aggy being a winged figure brought me up short – I re-read the section and realised that the crow passing over Aggy while she performs a ritual to protect the scene had not been clearly enough described. He had obviously read the words and clamped the two images together – which is very attractive but Aggy is no angel, or winged in anyway. 

He then went on to ask questions and postulate that the only living person was the boy Luan and that all the other characters were dead and the Avenue was possibly the waiting place before passing to the “other side of the curtain”. He is at a Catholic school and describes his ideas with this telling phrase “A bit like St Peter who lets people into heaven.”
He then goes on to equate the tragedy of Adams family being lost as being the event that brings all the characters together. 

I was disappointed that he’d gone down the wrong road (they are all very much living, somewhat) – but my initial feelings dropped away when I realised he was thinking, speculating and using his own knowledge and beliefs to reason out what was happening to Adam. 

He stated that he could close his eyes and see how each character “looked, walked, behaved …imagine each one” and he liked it being so descriptive as this made the story “more eerie”.  He wished me luck with my degree, thanked me and then asked “can I have the next (chapter) one please?”

I was utterly flattered, shocked and pleased that my experiment had been a success. It shows it’s is pitched for the right age group (something my Tutor had stated over and over to me) and had engaged him. It also showed in the 14-15,000 that I needed to refocus the scene where the elements had confused the image of Aggy and the protecting crow in flight over her as a single winged entity. A wonderful learning point.

This opportunity was another organic “happening”, something that just fell into place during the course and I seized it with both hands and held on. I feel so very lucky that I didn’t let my fear turn my back on this. 

My original fears were:-

What if "he" hates it? Phew! He didn’t.

What if it bores him? Phew! It didn’t bore him.

What if they all hate it? Not pitched for the 8 year old but the colleague and the target liked it and want more.

Was it worth all the apprehension? – OH YES!

Will he get the next chapters? Yes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Audience...

Fifth Assignment completed and assessed (in record time) by Nina Milton, my Tutor. Spent a few evenings re-writing with her suggestions in mind and then saved ready for assessment. Now I am working on the essay and the final course commentary, to be finished by the end of February.

So last week I put the final piece of my course plan into action. I created a single document, split into chapters the same as the assignments, without all the paraphernalia of the requirements of the OCA (headers with Assignment identifiers and student number etc). I thought a more normalized view would make my target volunteer feel more comfortable.

Yes! I was about to turn over the first five chapters of FADE to my colleagues eleven year old son. I was fine, in principle - in a detached way. I printed it off, placed a front sheet - blank, of course, so that other colleagues would not see what I was handing over - and waited for her to come in. Being a busy single parent she arrived at her usual time, flustered and in a flurry that only arriving almost late to work after being up for hours trying to organize and entire household can produce. The usual "good mornings" exchanged between work mates and I sat there silent. She noticed. She smiled. I smiled, my tongue cleaved to the top of my mouth and I got up and walked to the coffee point to get a glass of water.

I returned. I waited. The office settled and there was a general "getting on with things" atmosphere. I got up and stood at my colleagues side and slid the 14,000 plus words onto her desk. She stared and then looked up with a grin. I instantly wanted to run and hide.It was then that she dropped the bombshell that not only would her son be reading it but so would her older daughter - "well it's coming into our house" her brilliant justification, which made me smile - and she ("of course") would read it with them.

Now I REALLY wanted to run and hide.

"That's okay isn't it?"

Not really an open question, I thought and a little unfair having been thoroughly ambushed. I shrugged and said "Yeah" as casually as I could. I sat down - panic flooding through every corpuscle and nerve ending.

I drank the glass of water.

This was good. An almost twelve year old (target audience), a fifteen year old and a work colleague of forty would be reading it; "more the merrier", surely? Yes, of course - get on with your work.

What if "he" hates it?
What if it bores him?
What if they all hate it?
This felt like the nerves I had going in for my abdominal surgery five years ago.

I realized that I had not put any questions for him to answer on the blank front page; I asked for the piece back. Reluctantly, it was placed on my desk and I stared at it, suddenly I was unable to think of three perfectly leveled questions that would give me perfect feedback.I picked up my pen and wrote "Comments?"

Then I handed it back.

The following day my colleague rushed in beaming. The usual good mornings and I tried not to look at her, her desk, anything around her; in fact I was accused of staring at my own computer screen and looking furious about something. I was embarrassed and scared.

Then she leaned over, still grinning.

"He's hooked! He had to be forced to stop reading it last night and go to bed. Well, we both stopped at the same place, end of chapter two," she said. She was beaming again, she leaned forward and added "You HAVE to publish it!"

I laughed - quite a bit more loudly than I envisaged - then I replied "I have to finish writing it first."

It's been five days so far. Five days of thinking about them reading it, wondering, wishing and being generally scared to death that I have made a mistake.

I thought this was a good idea. It is. What I hadn't bargained on was the feeling of being exposed. I feel completely at their mercy - an eleven year old, fifteen year old and a forty year old could crush and devastate me.

Am I proud of FADE? Yes, what there is of it. Do I want to finish it? God, yes. Did I think this would be easy. No! But I thought the easy bit would be handing it over (to the target audience) and getting feedback.

Another learning point - scary or not.


Thursday, 15 January 2015

Whisperings changing to "Get on with it!"

Usually I am racing for the end of a course. Usually there is a whispering in my head "on to the next, on to the next!". This time, however I am stalling and not for the usual reasons of life's distractions, fatigue or a drying up of momentum. I am simply at the end of the course, the final course, in my path and, although this is what I have been working towards - the completion of a degree in something I love doing - I am a little sad...and scared.

A friend told me recently when I said I was about to submit my penultimate assignment of my final course "Wow! It seems only yesterday that you were starting it!" But it wasn't yesterday...it was a while ago when I was talked into writing a letter to the OCA asking for details and clarification and wondering about doing "just one course, just to see whether I can do it...if it's for me" and secretly being scared to death and wishing for just one chance to have a go!

So I stalled. I had written all four chapters of the assignments in one go and then stopped - thinking that to leave the fifth chapter, the fifth assignment, open would be allowing me to be flexible with how I wanted the narrative to end (as far as the course is concerned). But now I wonder if that was actually true, I think I may have been a bit scared about the end of the creative element....the final creative part of the long path -seven courses!

I gave myself a talking to and decided to do exactly what I intended - so, I sat down and began being flexible with the writing of the fifth chapter. I plunged into the post fourth chapter, the main character is waking in the mud of a water meadow having been apparently hit by lightning (along with his friend) and is surrounded by people who are helping him (in their way) and one other.....not a friend.

I was there! Back where I wanted to be, running around in my own little world, seeing it, feeling it and, god(s) help me, smelling it! (I knew that rancid bog on the edge of that wood, waterlogged and fetid all year round, would come in handy one day -  I can still smell my socks after getting my boot stuck and stepping out unintentionally).

The first part splashed onto the page and I could see it all....

...the next part was tricky but again I walked around picking out what to show and how to phrase it and then I read out the first draft to my partner. It caused frowns and polite coughing as I corrected and re-wrote while I was reading and half way through I realized that I was stalling in finishing the chapter. It wasn't ready to read out....so I waited and thought about how I needed to be brave and push on.

I knew there was an idea coming, a way of getting some very important information into the story without an information dump and the worst of it was that this information is a red herring of the mystery and I was fearful about getting it wrong. I stopped reading the chapter and walked away for a few days.

When I returned, it flowed and in one sitting I allowed the characters to lead me to the place where they would learn an important fact and allow another character to think out loud on the page....reasoning out a clue which will pitch him into madness and make him a danger.

I sat back and actually said out loud (post midnight and only to myself and my screen) "Yes!"

Over the next weeks I rewrote and edited and corrected. I am at that before-Tutor-assessment-happy stage where I know I am too close and to invested in what I have written to see it in an utterly objective way but not feeling so precious about it that any suggestions made by my Tutor will have me spitting fire. A good place in the path.

My wall is covered in post-it notes of snatched conversations between characters, names that will/could be important and plot tweaks that will reveal themselves and yet I still worry that despite all this (serial killer type) wall, the maps of the area and the notes of the main characters (who/what and how they are) I might lose them; that they will escape me somehow while I am finishing the degrees non-creative requirements and vanish to someone else.

I know this is silly because they are in my head but that nagging voice is there again, only it's changing it's tune a little; now it's saying "get on with it, get on with it!"