Thursday, 31 May 2007

Happy Days

Yesterday I had an impromptu meeting with my poor PhD supervisor. She is wonderful. She sits and listens to me while I snivel on and on about how hard it all is, and then nods in appreciation. "It is, it is," she says. She passes me hankies at appropriate moments, and doesn't try to fix anything. She just listens, and sometimes, all you need is a good listen. I told her the Joyce story. She liked that. I tried not to swear too much - I'm going to have to start telling people I've got Tourette's!

Today I wrote 500 words, and didn't give myself a hard time over them either. I wanted to write more, but it wouldn't come, but you know what... it's okay.

I went to aqua aerobics too, and then took miss 7 year old swimming - and she learned to swim! Hurrah! It wasn't me who helped of course, but my friend's kids, but hell, what joy!

And when I got home, I have an invite from Caroline to her launch for In Search of Adam, and it's in the evening, so I can actually make it! How fab is that!

And all the marking is done. And I feel... so relieved... and free...

All in all, happy days!

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

PhDs, habits, and horse shoes

Apologies for the sickly moans and complaints of earlier posts - I am just struggling a bit. I'm doing a PhD for chrissake. Apparently, I am assured, this is normal. You see it is all a bit of a roller coaster - and I don't like roller coasters very much. Not even little ones like the one John Ivers has built in his garden (see below).

Homemade Roller Coaster

So it's about improving one's mental habits, and habits take a long time to develop. It takes time to carve behaviours into our psyches - long hours of soul searching and worry, of telling ourselves repeatedly how crap we really are - letting the demons win. Like smoking. Long hours of coughing and spluttering and feeling decidedly green before eventually it tastes quite good, and before long you can't live without it. But habit forming can also be a solution and a cure.

Henry David Thoreau, who was always rather good at coming up aphorisms, puts it like this;

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.
To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.
To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

So I am going to work really hard on all these new habits, like getting up and having breakfast instead of smoking three cigs and drinking 6 cups of tea. I am going to write and not look at it, because after three months in a drawer, it isn't half as bad as I remembered.

I am going to tell myself that doing a PhD is a bitch, and if it weren't, if it were easy, everyone would have one. And that if writing novels were easy, everyone would also be a published author instead of just telling me at parties, that they too, have a book in them! And I am going to tell myself that if I must insist on being such a pain in the ass as to want to try to do both a PhD AND a novel in one hit, then I must stop crying and whinging about it, and crack on! Without nicotine.

Which - if you are still with me, leads to the happy stuff that's been going on in my life!

1. Finished the marking for this semester - YAY - YIPPEE - what a load off!
2. Finally cracked the canter transition and am riding better and better.
3. My little one got to meet the farrier and see how a horse gets its shoes put on. He also gave her a shoe to keep (which is sitting on my desk).

4. We put the trampoline up. A good bounce does wonders for the soul!

Does my bum look big like this?!

5. I haven't smoked for THREE WHOLE WEEKS and have been exercising! No wonder I am so crabby! But there is life after tobacco, and the cravings have stopped. I used to smoke and write, you see. The two went together so well, and I daren't replace the fags with a glass of wine or I'll end up in rehab quicker than you can say Chardonnay - those north American genes don't respond well to fire water you see.

Monday, 28 May 2007

If I were truly anonymous... (caution, contains foul language)

I would write a very different blog about writing...

Magic Pills don't exist, there's only Cinnamon Hearts

I would write that in all honesty I doubt if I will ever get this fucking novel written. I would say that I am blocked - utterly and hopelessly blocked, and that it is not laziness, or unwillingness, or fear, or any of the other reasons the writing self help books provide me with.

I would write that despite getting a stupid and unwarranted distinction for my Masters in Writing, I still feel shite. I have tons to say only can't seem to say it very well. Not as well as I'd like. Not like Sandra Cisneros, or James Joyce, or Toni Morrison. Hell, I can't even say it like Barbara bleedin' Cartland - and you gotta admire her productivity, eh. But there is no magic pill, is there.

I would write that I am not a writer because I choose to be. I'm not one of those lucky bastards who finds writing the most fun they can have alone - like Stephen frigging King, or Terry bloody Pratchett. Like Red Smith, I find writing is like opening a vein, only unlike self-harmers, opening a vein is not something that brings me any relief or pleasure whatsoever. It only hurts a lot and makes one helluva mess. It makes me cringe when people read my work. I have a student who feels like this and I would say, if I were anonymous, that I know how you feel dude.

I would write that the thought of having to write every day makes me feel physically ill, and I spend most of my writing day, writing about the fact that I can't write the thing I'm supposed to be writing. No blockages there then. In fact, I think my conference paper is going to be all about the fact that at the moment, I can't write a bastard thing. And it isn't because I'm short on ideas, or too lazy to put the hours in. It's because everything I write is crap. It does not do what it says on the tin. The words fall short and the dialogue is a pig's ear. I can't get to the re-writing because I can't get to the first effing draft. I want to hang my head in shame, or maybe just hang myself.

I would write about how much I hate writing, how much I despise every last scrawl I feel compelled to make. I would explain that I wish I had never had a writing lesson in my life (although of course I am lying). I would tell you, with hand on heart, that I wish I'd had a normal, boring, ordinary life so that I had nothing to make sense of, nothing to feel compelled to write about (but, ah, I am being the mistress of untruth once again). My husband said, just the other day, how it would be nice if I would go to bed when he did, just once in a while, but that he understood how much the writing meant to me. I sat up that night and cried all over the empty bloody page. Hating it. Hating it. Hating it. I can see why Van Gogh cut his ear off, but at least he was a genius, and I am most definitely not, because if I were, I would be producing something. Anything other than rants and raves about how miserable writing makes me.

If I were, truly anonymous, I would write all this without fear of my supervisor reading it - and maybe worrying her that I won't finish the project even though I'm sure she can see me writhing like a wildcat on a leash. And I do hope I finish it, and probably will, because I felt like this all through my Masters, and I finished that. It will be finished. It will be utter bollocks, but it will be completed, and then, after it, I'm going sit down and seriously consider my options for the future...

... knowing that it will most likely, involve writing something else :(

odd little meme

Just been trawling the blogs - following links from Caroline actually, and ended up at Badger's site where I saw the Google meme, and given the mood I find myself in this week, I thought I'd give it a go. You type in your blogger name followed by 'needs', to Google. So in my case it was "Hesitant Scribe needs" and this is what I need!

Hesitant Scribe needs Tea Stains
Hesitant Scribe needs Tipperary Institute
Hesitant Scribe needs Scribe's Notes
Hesitant Scribe needs Organised Chaos

Hmmm. I think Hesitant Scribe needs to get a life!

Saturday, 26 May 2007

First Rose and Garden Life

I got the camera out yesterday - inspired by JJ and her wonderful textures but found it far more difficult to get a decent shot despite the marvels of modern digital technology. I switched it to manual (virgin territory) and it gave me billions of options (argh!). Ended up with loads of duds and a few okayish flower shots... still working on the textures though!

Hurrah! I grew a rose! Usually they eaten by green fly while still in bud, but a tip from my mother, to spray them with water and washing up liquid (Ecover environmentally friendly stuff of course), has worked a treat! Not a bad shot either, even if I do say so myself!

Cute - like little bearded people. Love the colours in this one.

Pink things. Lilly leaves eaten by snails if you look.

Thumper and Ginger enjoy a bit of a la carte lawn. Not content with still life = had a go at the pets. Thumper is a touch camera shy!

The two boys, Misty and Ginger

Righto. Off to write some more so that I can add to my static wordcounter later today!

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

8 random things

I've been tagged by Harriet Devine and so am compelled to provide you with 8 random things about myself. Hmm. And for those of you I'm about to tag when I'm done... these are the rules as posted by Turning Pages

1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Have just realised that I have been tagged before for 10 things about me so now have to come up with another 10 - eek.

1. I now have more letters after my name than I do in my name, but still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.
2. My favourite colour is red - that deep bloody crimson colour you get when you cut yourself - the colour of claret.
3. I once had a job as a giant teddy bear in Regent Street for Sock Shop - I lasted 2 hours and only squashed one small child.
4. I want to live in a massive house with a library (don't we all!) with - you guessed it - stables. This has been my dream since childhood.
5. I studied Goju Ryu karate until I was 17, did weight training, cycling, running and ice-skating. I was superfit. Suffice to say I am not anymore.
6. I have given up smoking 3 times with the longest stint lasting 18 weeks. The most recent attempt was 2 weeks ago - and I intend to be successful this time!
7. I, er, want to be a writer...
8. I'm adopted.

Right... so tagging Nichola, liz, jj, and that's it - pass it on cos I'll be here all day otherwise!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Lunch with the Girls/Aging Beautifully

Nicked from the Oprah Winfrey Show

left to right: Norah Ephron (65), Diahann Carroll (71), Geena Davis (50)

More on those lovely ladies in a moment, but firstly, I just want to say that instead of sitting indoors marking all those glorious essays yesterday, I went to have lunch with the girls. We met up at work because a) it's the easiest place for us all to get to, and b) we all had marking to collect, and c) town centre parking is a nightmare. Still, the SCR is most pleasant and the coffee is passable, although what was up with the white rolls is anyone's guess!

We spent a little time moaning - as you do - and a lot of time considering the merits of the PhD. Three out of the four of us are doing PhDs, with the fourth shortly to join us on the rollercoaster (after all, why should she get away with it!). I'm only doing it because of all the wonderful and gifted women who've been there and done that before me, like Amanda (in Oxford you brain box), and Anna (who I used to work with - another brain box): Women who set the standard so high, and then said to me, "You can do this, so do it!"

Of course it simply isn't fair that I should have had to meet these bloody women, because I could have settled into a life of childcare and felt that to be sufficient. I could have been a wife, and mother, and worked part time in the corner shop, read Take-a-Break and Heat magazine without pining for something more challenging. I can't complain that I have kids and a hubby, a house to run, a kitchen to stock, and bed linen to change because so do they. I can't complain that I have to teach and mark assignments either, because, yup, they do too. I can't even moan that my supervisor wants me to deliver some bloody conference paper because guess what, these women are already doing it!!! I'm on catch up here, dragging my heels in a bid to maintain academic obscurity and yet knowing that just as these brilliant women have done before me, I'm going to have to stick my head above the pulpit at some point. So to those marvellous examples of what can be done,and what I should be doing also, I salute you!

Now - Oprah and Aging. Can you believe those women are that old?! OMG as my daughter would say. Diahann Carroll - 71?!!! It's criminal, even if she does say she's had lots of surgery. So what was their advice about aging? What have we to look forward to?

1. Anything you hate about your body in your 20s you will long for in your 40s. Yup.
2. If you don't use it you lose it - brain, muscle, sex-life. Good news is that you can, with the right stimulus, get it back - brain, muscle and sex-life. (Brains: MIne are knackered from all this education I've been giving them. Muscles: Two years ago I could do the splits. Last week I discovered I can't anymore. I could also do a handstand a few years ago, but last week, when I tried to show a load of kids in gymnastics class, my arms very nearly snapped in shock and protestation! Thankfully I can still do cartwheels although something went ping in my shoulder the other day. My stomach used to be like a washboard but now it is like the washing. Sex-life is fine thank you and not something I'm prepared to discuss on a blog, at least not until I'm in my 90s and am wearing purple.)
3. For your 62nd birthday you will get a moustache. (Can't wait)
4. The neck never lies.
5. Hair dye is what helps us make 40 the new 30, and 50 the new 40. (I've already discovered this one!)
6. The menopause: hot flushes and vaginal dryness. (Again. Can't wait. And they discussed this on daytime telly!!! Ew!)

On the plus side - well, I have to say the ladies were not as vocal here. More confidence was cited as a benefit, and not caring what people think as much, was another. Diahann said she had more patience, but I feel I've got far less. Is there a patience dip in your late 30s I wonder?!

For all you wonderful ladies out there, we do what we can, eh. Watch that Gok bloke on Channel 4 (How to Look Good Naked), drink lots of water, go for lunch with the Girls, and don't do a PhD!!!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Rate Your Students

Oh this has cheered me up no end!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Late holiday snaps - Meet Ghengis

Some late holiday snaps arrived courtesey of my in-laws. It's like it used to be before we went digital because we have to wait until they arrive home after us and pop their pics on a disc for us. Oh the suspense! Plus, my mother-in-law takes much better pics than me!

Anyway, these were taken on the last day in the Valley Bouchee. Meet Ghengis. He's lovely. And for those of you who don't like horses, scroll down and see what other folk were getting up to on their last day of skiing!

Down The Valley Bouchee

Meet Ghengis

What have you been sitting in?

Er how do I do the girth thing again, and what's girth in french?!

It's this way...

And off we go!

And for those of you who don't want to look at horses, I did promise to show you what others were doing on their last day of skiing over the hill...


Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Hourly Paid - Okay - Not giving up just yet!

Colleagues have been very supportive since my last post - telling me to hang on in there. Also, looking around at other jobs and having a reality check. For example, I could work in a meat packing plant, or on some other conveyor belt for minimum wage and then I really would have something to complain about.

I love teaching. No really, I do. I just want some job security more than anything but realistically, there's no job security in anything these days. My hourly rate is very good (okay - just forget the extra time spent - it's par for the course I guess), and my summers are free (well August at least) to spend with my kids...

My supervisor caught up with me today too. I apologised for (accidentally on purpose) missing the deadline for abstracts for the conference in July but she said, no problem, there's loads of time! So am going to do the conference paper after all despite the stage fright etc. Bugger. Bugger. Damn.

So, off to complete the marking (which is a joy when I get a good essay, or even one that's an improvement on a student's previous work). My mind is itching to get stuck into the novel but the marking has to be done first. Let it itch. Let it stew. By the time the marking's done I'll be raring to go.

On a lighter, note - I'd just like to share with you one of the sights I see on my way to work. Even in the rain I love it - miles of fields and farmland, and of course those gorgeous (semi) wild coloured horses. Makes everything worth while!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Hourly Paid - So you wanna be a lecturer do you?

If there is anyone out there who wants to be a lecturer, might I suggest you have a read through the responses to Pity the students. But pity the lecturers more. It's an old post but still as current as ever. If you are seeking a profession that makes you feel valued, appreciated, and fiscally rewarded - forget it!

There are 2 posts advertised at my institution, and yet I am not qualified to apply for either of them because I haven't been publishing academically and am still in the process of gaining my PhD. Never mind the fact that I've been lecturing for 3 years now, and have been writing and leading modules from day one. Or that I have a PGCE, am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and am 2 years into my PhD.

I have been studying at university level for 8 years. I could have been a doctor by now - or a vet - earning a living. Yes - long hours, but long hours that are paid for, not to mention that feel worthwhile. Instead, I am still an hourly paid lecturer and likely to remain so, earning around £6,000 a year. Okay - so I have the summer off (except I don't really, because I have to teach summer schools to make my income up to that princely sum of six grand). I only teach a few hours a week... fine, but what about the hours I spend at home researching, improving my lessons, re-writing lectures? And there isn't any thanks either. The students leave at the end of the year with a small wave if you are lucky. When I left primary education after teacher training, I couldn't get out the door for hugs and little gifts. I'm not expecting hugs off my students in HE, or even gifts, but hey, would a card be too much to ask for?!

Hourly paid lecturers often teach a new course each year, having to teach it from scratch, write lectures, devise seminar activities etc., only to have it scrapped the following year or given to a full time member of staff. When I complain to my mentor I am told it is like an apprenticeship, that this is how it is. What other profession makes you work an apprenticeship after you've qualified? Makes you feel that you haven't qualified when you have? Keeps you from professional development and increase in pay each year? We are supposed to be given fractional posts now, but oh my goodness, would you believe that while I worked enough hours to qualify in years one and two, I haven't in my third year! Bloody great.

We don't find out what we're teaching until September either. So that's all summer hanging around to see if you've got any hours, and when they'll be so you can arrange child care. Then there's the feeling that you can't cope as you work every evening and all weekend, every weekend, just to stay on top, to get the marking done, the reading... whilst husband and children complain they never see you and the house degrades around your empty fridge.

I don't know where am I going anymore. All I have is a love of literature, language and writing, and the desire to share that passion with others, passing on what I know whenever I can, and hopefully inspiring people. It isn't enough obviously. I'm not going to be publishing loads of academic papers in the near future, not if I'm ever going to get this novel written. I don't want to present papers at conferences either. I just want to earn a living and be appreciated. I think I'm in the wrong profession.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

trampolines, conferences and canter

I have been a tad ill. Missed the conferences I wanted to go to - caught the first one (CTLR) about teaching and learning, which was good - am on the right track when it comes to assessment and feedback at least. Missed the one on e-learning - instead being tied up at home with stomach ache which still hasn't altogether gone away.

Marking furiously - or rather I should be - but the kids are bored and hubby is away climbing mountains, so am going to take today out for entertaining them. The little one has just mastered handstand over into bridge on the trampoline, so am incredibly pleased for her and jealous in equal measures! I am, after all, just the coach, and much less bendy than I used to be! So spent a couple of hours today coaching on the trampoline with little miss 'won't be told'. On Tuesday I had a go on the asymmetric bars and did an upward circle with a bit of help, a flat back off the spring board, a cartwheel, and a fair attempt at the splits for a 37 year old!

Trampoline has been fun. No garden left but hey - who cares - we have 13ft of pure pleasure! Bouncing is much more fun than sunbathing, and when totally knackered, it's quite good to sunbathe on too! Am making a determined effort to get fit. Ha ha.

Riding going well too. I had a different teacher who talked me through my canter transition issues. Turns out no had thought to teach me the correct leg aids before so no bloody wonder I was struggling! Once I knew where to put the old legs we were away!

Writing - ah... well. Hmm. What can I say? It is coming along in dribs and drabs and really am at the point where I need a trip to Spain so am working on combining a research trip with a riding trip to Andalucia. Plan is to hack out/school all day, and then go out and gather research in the evenings. Then to write it all up.

Reading Horse & Hound and wanting a horse sooo much. Wonder if anyone local has a horse they need a hand with, from an inexperienced but willing hand?!

Hope everyone is well and writing a damn site more than me!

Saturday, 5 May 2007

moving again in small steps

1,000 words added to novel count. It isn't much but it's a start. It is flowing between the marking and the end of module admin, coming to me in small flutters in the middle of the night, sentence by sentence to be captured, plucked from my dreams and caught on the page in purple ink, longhand scrawl. Oh thank God! I was getting worried!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Write on track!

A slightly rushed post - just finished work and preparing for tomorrow's teaching but...

Today our Edge Hill writing students (and therefore me too!) were privileged to have a 3 hour workshop with the author Toby Litt. He worked with us on dialogue, and I found it most useful. The first exercise he gave us was to write down on a piece of scrap paper, everything that is "pissing you off" at this moment. Write with venom. Get it all down. And then, rip it up and throw it away. What a great idea! I think I'll start every writing session with that little gem from now on - a way to eradicate any distractions and prepare mentally for a positive writing day.

We also quizzed him about his writing life - how he worked, his thoughts on writing, and so on. He was a most knowledgeable and accessible speaker, very open and honest about his experiences, and I came away feeling truly inspired, safe with the new knowledge that the fact that I don't know what I'm doing is a positive thing! That the writing is about discovery - going on a journey that excites the writer as much as it does the reader. He advised us not to worry about the market, to just write whatever it is that we can write best.

He also had some interesting tips on writing the first draft - that getting it all down before editing is the best way to write an 'even' novel in terms of its voice and construction. He talked about writing in double spacing, leaving large margins, and thereby giving yourself room for corrections, an assumption that means you give yourself the space to write material that will be improved, crossed out, re-written. It was very liberating as I normally write longhand and don't leave room for corrections, instead re-writing the entire page over and over again.

So a whopping great thank you to Toby. I am drafting again with a new found sense of freedom. And what a lovely man!!! If you get the chance to see him, I can highly recommend him!