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Translating classic children’s books into feminist blank verse

(Honestly, I’ve never been more on brand).

I am no translator. My French is passable, in that ‘I cannot remember the precise word but can vaguely approximate the sense of what I am trying to describe to you’ sort of manner, but it’s not up to translating prose. My English, however, is and so over the past few weeks I’ve been translating a classic children’s book (which I won’t name just yet) from prose into feminist blank verse. It’s one of my more niche experiments, and yet also something that’s thrilled me deeply because it touches a lot on the things that interest me.

My MPhil thesis, for example, partially discussed the notion of the Golden Age within children’s literature, that is to say the conceit of referring to a particular time of publishing as such – and viewing all since in relation to that Golden Age. I argued for Golden Ages to run on thematic distinction as I did, and still do, view the temporally discreet idea of periodization as something inherently complex. (“I’m sorry Mr Smith, but the Golden Age finished last Sunday…”).

I looked at the school stories located within the first Golden Age, and argued for subsequent Golden Ages to run more or less contiguously. I looked at the school stories, and stories of schooling, for they are my jam, but I also thought a lot about that wider context. The idea of how the quality of children’s books is always assessed by adults, and how popular fiction rarely plays a part in such a thing. (Perhaps we can call this Blytonphobia I don’t know.)

I realised that girls and women don’t often get an easy ride within these Golden Age stories, and I started to wonder what does it mean for our discipline, our sector, to cleave back to these books as gold standard. What do these choices reveal about ourselves and our idea of childhood? How do these stories fit in the contemporary rebel girl phenomenon sweeping children’s publishing? What part do they have to play in contemporary discourse?

So that’s the what, and here’s the why; I decided to rewrite one in blank verse because it gave me the leeway to answer those questions and to redress the balance. I don’t ever argue for the suppression of books, but I do argue for the considered reading of such. The questioning of standards. Challenging the absences.

And here’s the first line:

This is the story of a girl

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The allure of forgotten notebooks

I am one of those people who has legitimate and primal and fundamental personal needs for stationery. Good stationery is a human right. Notebooks make everything better. One of the first bits of advice I will give anybody beginning a research degree is to buy yourself all the stationery that your heart desires.

The only problem with this is that some are too pretty to use. And of those that you do use, you reach a point when you do not wish to break their backs nor rip pages out of them, and so let them slide towards the back of the shelf to the fog of forgotten things.

The one benefit of such a loosely functional system is that you tend to recover them at some point, and find the work of the once-you inside these pages. These are photograph albums in their way; delicious little snapshots of the thoughts and feelings of a time once forgotten, and that is the allure of the abandoned notebook. They will always be found again.

I am opening up a brown notebook today, unlined, and with a slim purple ribbon to mark its pages. I found poetry and bare, sparse pages that sang to be used.

I shall.

1.

to be

the other

is more powerful

than you’ll ever know

2.

the butterfly

that lands

with the weight of bricks

3.

to be selfish

is an affirmation

 

 

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Fanfic : M*A*S*H / Chalet School

I had one of those days recently where I wanted to write something different. That different turned out to be fanfic and, in particular, the oddly specific pairing of M*A*S*H and the Chalet School. I was interested to see if I could make it work, if I could scratch that odd little tingle of an idea and turn it into something else. Fanfic has always had that appeal to me of being a stretch in language; and this proved to exercise some peculiarly distinct muscles. I’ll add it in at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a link as well to an appropriately seasonal, and somewhat fanfiction-esque, story that was in the news this week. Turns out JRR Tolkien was also Father Christmas in his spare time.… If you’re in Oxford, between June and September next year, I suspect this might be an exhibition to visit. If you do, please tell me ALL about it.

Here’s the piece I wrote:-

‘And all around me, they die’

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So I found my first subject

So I’m currently down in Cambridge, working on the #a14stories project, and I spent much of yesterday outside. The grounds at Madingley Hall are free to enter to the public, and the gardens are beautiful. There’s influence here from Capability Brown, but also from something rather distinctly English; topiary hedges, and striped lawns.

I wanted to spend some time outside in paticular because true writing, for me, doesn’t always come from staying inside and being locked up in a room. That’s where the words come from, don’t get me wrong, but the story, that comes from experience. From watching, waiting, listening and talking to people. It’s about finding that headspace where stories can happen and then, later, remembering that and punching out the words when it’s just you and the computer, that’s the work.

One of the things that I’m starting to come across in this project is the impact of the road upon the immediate, local landscape. It’s one of the first things that people tell me when I mention the project. They tell me that the redevelopment and works have gone on for so long that, in a way, they don’t ever think that it’s going to be finished. I’m not here to promote the redevelopments nor to take a side, so it’s important for me to listen and try to understand these perspectives.

And so I went to the trees.

I started to map the treeline.

Capture.JPG

And after a while, I found my first subject to write about…

Capture.JPG

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Listening to the wind

I’m writing this with the windows open; a rare thing in England, even during the Summer, but it’s one of those nights where you can’t not do such a thing. It’s cold, don’t get me wrong, but in a way that’s perfect. I don’t want to be warm. I don’t really want to be inside, and in a second I won’t be. But for now, I have to tell you this : it’s my first night at Madingley Hall, as the A14 Writer in Residence

Birds! A shadowy wheel of them, one of those huge dark swarms that black out the sky, swallowing the blue with their wings –

(Oh, I wish I could write quicker to catch this, I wish words could fall from me quick as breath, because the birds have already gone, they’re distant, and the world has stilled again.)

Madingley has air like glass, clean and clear and sharp. It breaks, sometimes, and refracts, letting something through before sealing up again.

I am going to write here. I am going to hear stories from people.

My favourite one today has been from a gentleman who drives 400m along the A14 every day before turning off. I rather love the idea of being so familiar with one, tiny, precise piece of landscape.

My own story has been fifteen minutes of mild panic when the junction my satnav wanted to take me down was a junction no more. A friend has told me about a murder mystery game she had which was set at Madingley Hall (trust me, I’m going to find out more about this). And as I sit here, staring out of the window. I know I’m going to go for a walk in the grounds tomorrow and figure out the connections between this place and the villages behind it and the shifting, sinuous line of the A14 that lurks beyond the line of the trees.

Tell me your A14 stories? Memories? (Murder Mystery Games?)

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I’m going to be a Writer In Residence at the University of Cambridge

I’m trying to be coy but I rather think that title has given it away a tad. So without further ado, I have some rather exciting news to share.

I’m going to be working with the University of Cambridge for six weeks this Autumn, as the A14 Writer In Residence. 

I’m going to be based for three days a week at Madingley Hall, near Cambridge, where I’ll get the fantastic opportunity to work with users of the A14 and help them develop their creative writing, alongside developing my own writing in response to the area. During the residency, the wonderful team at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education will also be leading several creative writing courses and pop up events. We will also be launching an anthology of all of the best work written during the residency, including a special piece by me.

What all of this means is that if you’ve ever driven the A14, or connected with the landscape around it, we want to hear your story. 

(We really, really do.)

I’m going to share as much as I can with you throughout this process, whether that’s writing, interviews, or behind the scenes information,  because that’s incredibly important to me and also, because, one day you, or your kids, are going to see an advert for a wonderful opportunity and wonder if you can or even should apply. (Here’s the thing. You should. The world needs your voice. I want to hear what you’ve got to say.)

I’m also going to talk a lot about children’s books. 😉

So now’s the time to let me know if you’re in the area, or have connections to the area? Are you a business owner? Do you fancy getting you and your employees on board? Are you a parent? Would you like to get your children involved? Do you commute – work – live anywhere near the A14? Do you work with children in the area? Have you always wanted to write but never known where to begin?

Are you none of the above but know somebody who is?

Please let us know! You can make contact with ICE and myself on Twitter, leave a comment on this post (please let me know if you’d like it to stay private and I won’t publish it), and we’d love to hear from you!

Now, let’s get going .. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing outdoors

Sunshine makes me want to write outside. 17498869_10158391832070371_2801967951944888519_n.jpg

I remember the first time I figured out that writing did not have to be bound to the page, hunched over in ink and pen. I was at university, at a course I did not quite understand, and we were asked to write.

We were asked to write in anything other than pen and paper.

The liberation of it! The terror, too, because when pen and paper are nearly all that you know, to step away from them is hard. Illegitimate. Writing  – important writing – consists of paper and rules. Ink. Capital letters and full stops and precise nuance thought.

Writing is craft. Precision.

Writing is about knowing the rules – and knowing that you have the right to break them.

Maybe that’s it; really, that’s it right there.

Learning to write is about learning how to gain legitimacy for your practice.

17499518_10158391832075371_2478436796866356456_n (1)

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A lyrical emptiness

(Something slightly different today. Normal service resumed shortly!)

The words are too much to bear.

He turns and runs out of the house and begins the climb up the hill towards the castle. Once he hits the woods, he slows down to a walk. He is breathless. Raw. There is an unfinished edge to everything he does. He has walked here for years; a path trod by his feet as a child, as a teenager, and now he walks on the edge of that time with every step. But then he thinks that maybe edges are for jumping from and maybe this is his jumping point. Maybe this is his moment to stand and hold his arms aloft and to take that step forward into whatever may come. Whatever may be. Whatever he may be. Wherever he may be.

He cannot leave this, he thinks. He cannot leave.

The boy climbs. He lets his foot slide on the mud and drag one of his legs back, even as he pulls the rest of himself over it. He remembers how to walk; he has done it forever here. And he has bought others, briefly, painfully, and he has tried to share this space with them. They came here once. Together. They told each other of their fears and dreams, and he pledged to the moon that he would keep her safe but now none of that matters for he is leaving and nothing matters, but nothing at all.

Silence now in the world; a silence split by the tears of twigs and trees at the boy’s clothing as he pulls himself out of the edge of the wood. There are no trees in this castle space. They stop at the edge, a breath of green between them and the stones, and they come no further. They dare not.

But he does. He keeps walking and leaves the trees and he pulls himself up onto the wall, pausing only briefly to dash the tears away from his eyes. He is not crying. He just needs to see. He tells himself this, even though he knows that he would be able to climb the wall in the dark. In his sleep. On the coldest of Winter days with one arm tied behind his back.

No matter. Still the chattering voices inside his head for he is here and it is deserted and it is perfect. He takes a moment to stand, to watch, to just stand, so still, so silent.

He could stay, he thinks. It is Summer now and he is used to camping and nobody comes here. He could stay. He could live in the nook of the wall and in the shadows, and he could fall from the world and be forgotten. He could stand on the wall at the keep and he could watch them leave and he could stay, he could stay, he could stay. He could stay.

He does not know how long he stands there, but he knows that it is not long enough. It will never be long enough.

He lets the sun start to set around him. He lets it. This is quite clear to him. The sun would not set if he did not let it, the trees would come closer if he was not here, and the world would come and raze the castle to the ground. He was the guardian of this space. A king, really, the king of all and everything and he could not leave this how could he how could he?

A bird wings in his throat and he cries out; his words clatter against the walls and echo back at him. “I won’t – I won’t!”

The light, red and thick and fat and heavy, overwhelms him. When night comes, when it rises around him, he stands up once more and holds his arms up to his kingdom,  The sky seems to shift around him; looking, watching. Waiting. Everything is so very still for everything is centred on this boy.

He nods, understanding everything even though he does not want to. “I’ll come back,” he says softly. He says it to the wind and to the grass and to the pigeons asleep in the tower. He says it to the stars and moon and world. “I’ll come back, you mark my words, I will come back to you. I will always come back here.”

He bites his lip. He turns, he walks away.

He does not look back.

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Interactive storytelling – two resources of interest

Just a quick one today to share with you two resources I’ve found recently which may be of interest to anybody having a think about interactive / alternative models of storytelling. Both of them are free (well, they do offer paid versions but the free is more than adequate).

1. Pixton is an online comics maker that allows a *lot* of flexibility with the medium and is rather great. The big issue is that you can’t download your comics without paying, and there’s a weird little option to be careful of in the settings which grants Pixton the right to use your comic for paid merchandise (when you click publish – check settings and uncheck this box if that’s not your thing, it’s certainly not mine). Despite those fairly substantial caveats, it is still a lovely thing – I made this and spent way too much time on it, etc, etc 😉

2. The second was pointed out to me by the estimable Dr Matt Finch, and is called ‘Inklewriter’. It’s a programme which allows you to write interactive fiction – you know, those choose your own adventure type stories? Them. I’ve not had as much time to play on this one, but what I have discovered has been excellent.

I love anything that helps people realise that stories and narrative are flexible, bendable beasts and can be shaped to tell the story that you want. Mastery over and the confidence to engage with a medium is a great gift to give yourself and the kids you work with. Break the rules. Write a story in the mud with a stick. Chalk words onto bricks. Arrange fallen leaves into haikus. Make the stories your own and make stories. That’s pretty much all I’d ever tell somebody. Be brave. Find your voice. Use whatever you can to help you find your voice. And once you’ve found it, own it. Hold onto it tight and stubbornly and don’t let anybody take it from you.

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“Language is a skin : I rub my language against the other”

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” – Roland Barthes

Barthes was one of the first people I found who said what I wanted to say about language and who said it how it needed to be said. And this quote, oh how I am stuck on it, how how I am always stuck on it, how I do not look away from it with heart nor eyes.

It makes me think about viewing. It makes me think about relationships, about sight and about point of view. We engage with everything we read on a personal nature, we push ourselves up to it and frame ourselves against it, in opposition to it and in conjunction with it.

We are not what we read, we are anti-what we read, we are and always will be what we read.

Reading is about viewing, about a relationship so specific, so tight, so focused and yet, it is a relationship that we do not control. We are controlled by An Other, an unknowable, un-quantifiable other who has pulled our focus, who has turned our head and made us see what we want to see.

Books lie. Books tell the truth that you want to see. Books tell you the truth that you need at that point in time, for who and what you are. Come back to them later, come back to them never, and they will change and they will meet you for what you are at that point in time.

I love writing. I love the shifting, feckless nature of it and the way it can lift its hands up to the hills and stand silhouetted in the setting of the sun. I love the way that it is, the way that it exists and then does not exist, the moment that I change a sentence or edit a word. Language is art and art is language and I love it , I love it, I love that it is. 

And I touch it. I rub my hand against it and I bathe in it and I look at things and I remember and I want to do it all over again.

I finished a draft of the book this week. It’s a book that I have ached for ever since it began inside my head. Finishing it has left me drunken and content and so, so pleased. It’s almost there. I hope you get to read it some day soon.

 

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Words, wording, writing, making : thoughts on authoring

Before we get into this post, I’d urge you to go and read this by the estimable and muy excellente Clara Vulliamy. It’s a really interesting post on the terminology of writing ie: do you call yourself an author? A writer? Or a … something else? 

And it is the inspiration behind this post. 

I don’t know what I call myself. Some days it shifts, really, like the sky on a storm-driven day and other days it’s as clear and as bright as the untrod snow. Sometimes I can say it quite proudly: I am a writer, and then other times, when I fold up inside myself and forget how to do it, I known I am anything but. Those days I am hopeful, mainly, in my efforts to get the words to do what I want them to do and conscious that they will very rarely do so. 

I find that contradiction towards my writing fascinating (infuriating, too!) and often wonder about the behind the scenes process of many a writer. I remember reading Enid Blyton’s autobiography and being fascinated by the quite astounding artifice of it. I’ve never really read anything quite like it, and haven’t since. In my eyes, Enid Blyton was An Author, a stiff-backed, slightly terrifying, terribly conscious of it Author. This may be far from accurate (though on the other hand..), and yet, it is the impression I have of her for good or for bad.

I think a lot of that impression comes from the books I read, so I wonder, I truly do, what people who are going to read my book are going to think? I find that so exciting. (I also find it thrilling terrifying nuts and much more besides). For me, the writer is their book and their book is the writer. The book may not be who they are now, but it is a part of them, as they were, as they were at one point and that part has been shaped into the book. 

And yet, as I go through this process with my book, I now know that the above isn’t accurate. Not really. It’s hard to define, but I think the best way is to say that I am now learning how to write a book and as part of that process, I am learning how to treat the book critically and as An Other. I don’t think I knew that before. Writing this book has been an evolving, organic process where you wallow inside it and push at the edges and discover what they are. Before that, I knew how to write moments, I think, but not how to shape them into a glorious, soul-swallowing heart-breaking and heart-making whole which can be captured in print and on paper and held between your hands. 

And I think it is, because of all of that, that I am most comfortable with the concept of being a maker of stories. I don’t think I’m an author, not yet. I don’t think I’m a writer, not yet, though sometimes I think I’m almost there. When I can, I will tell you about my belief in stories and how they shift and slide and how they are human led and human centred and human ended, and I will tell about my belief that we all have them inside of us. That we are all makers and shapers and we all have our story to tell. 

I must tell you about that, sometime. 

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Structurally speaking

Structure in children’s literature, heck, literature in general, is an odd tricksy beast. If I think of structure, one of the first examples that come to mind(though everything is an example of structure, this one comes first) is Tristram Shandy. Though it still remains not the most readable of books for me, and nowhere approaching children’s literature, I am always fascinated by the structure of it. Sterne’s book, madness, flirtation with order and sentence, is something quite extraordinary. That, coupled with Enuonia, remains one of my great reminders of what books can do and what the form of a book can be.

And to be specific with an example in children’s literature; that flirtation with form, that embracing of what is, is something that Room 13 by Robert Swindells does quite brilliantly. It is a gothic story set in the heartland of gothic-onia, Whitby, and the book itself possesses no chapter thirteen. Chapter Twelve exists. Chapter Fourteen exists. Chapter Thirteen does not.

I can’t tell you how much this thrilled me when we had it read out to us at school. I still remember the way that the entire class let out a low, stunned, “Ooooooh” when the teacher showed us the blank pages. It’s such a brilliant, clever stylistic touch which adds so much to the story. It is the story inhabiting itself (lord, how I hope this makes sense) and being more than the words on the page.

And that’s what we want, as reader, as writer, we want these stories to live and to burn in our hearts. We give ourselves when we read, when we write, and there’s nothing more pained than finishing something and feeling – nothing. Just the turn of a page and a blank, emptiness inside you.

I don’t want that. As writer, as reader, as big old book nerd, I do not want that. I want literature to mean something. Art should give you something, whether it’s something you understand or don’t, you should be able to recognise (lord, not even recognise, just feel ) something different about yourself at the end of it. The closeness of reading is particularly potent. You are in somebody else’s headspace for the entirety of that encounter – and that’s amazing to me. It always has been, it always will be. The transformational power of a text.

That’s why structure’s so important. It is the shape, the framework of that encounter, and it has to be accessible. Every book wants you to unlock it and to be part of it. There’s no fun in something which doesn’t want you to be part of it. I am a selfish reader sometimes. I need to be needed. I want to feel like I am actualising this story and if I sense that it doesn’t need me, that the structure is too tight and too dense to let me in and doesn’t care about that, then I feel like I’m missing out.

(And I think, I think I have found my structure for my book. It is not what I expected but if I had expected it then I’d have been eating chocolates and watching DVDs for these past few weeks rather than slash, slash, slashing with my red pen. What can I tell you about it? Well. I will tell you this:

Every book is a performance, I think, and mine is no exception).

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Editing, reshaping and a sneak peek of things to come

Hello! How was your Christmas? I hope you had a lovely few days and are enjoying the weirdness of ‘That Bit Between Christmas and New Year Where Everybody Doesn’t Quite Know What To Do With Themselves’.

I thought I’d share with you an update of what I’ve been working on over the past few months and in the process show you a little bit of my book. Do excuse me if I call it ‘my book’ rather than the actual title. The title it has at present is a working title which may change and if it doesn’t, then, it’ll be a cool little shenanigan to share in the future with you all. (As a special treat, you can try to predict how many exclamation marks I will use in that post!).

The big thing that I’m doing with my book at the moment is editing it. Editing is something that you all probably know and understand as part of your own life either at school, at work or with your kids. It is, to be very simplistic, the bit where you have something and you start to make it better.

I’ve never been able to write stories with conscious beginnings, middles and ends and if a teacher tells you that that’s the right way to write a story well, (and say this next bit very tactfully to them) that’s wrong. It is a way to write a story but it’s not the only way to write a story. The following is my way.

My editing process is based around the terms: thick and thin, and firstly I think need to tell you what thick and thin means when we look at a story. Here’s an example (and do note, my book isn’t about any of what follows, for it is an example wotcha geeza innit): The girl walked into the cave and found the treasure chest. Now, that, as it stands, is thin. It’s spectacularly thin. It’s a sentence which does nothing other than join the sentence before it to the sentence after it. It is words that connect the dots. It doesn’t tell me anything about the girl or the cave or the treasure chest (which  I’ve called ‘the treasure chest’ instead of ‘a treasure chest’ which suggests the treasure chest is the destination of the story), and it doesn’t do anything other than fill up space and get me from one point to the next.

And that’s okay in a first draft. Sometimes it’s more important to keep going and thicken the story on the second pass at it. You can have these sorts of moments as long as you come back to them and make them earn their keep.

So I’ve come back to that sentence about the treasure chest and I want to change it. The first thing to do is to understand the state of the story at that point. Maybe the quest to find the treasure chest is being told by the girl’s grandmother who’s all “Ohhhh this quest is so hard, you’ll be eaten by dragons and zorsacorns*” and the kid’s all “er, I just got it, get a grip yeah?”. So it may be that a bit of thinness in the story is what’s required at this moment to undercut the histrionics of her gran. Think of a piece of music. There’s light and shade in it, delicate moments and powerful, heart-stirring moments in it. That’s what I’m aiming for. A book that can pull you in and make you breathe with it.

The second thing that I need to do is to take the text out of where I’ve been working with it. I need to be able to look at the words objectively and sometimes that’s not possible if I’m editing on a laptop that I’ve been writing it on. I print out the book and do a paper edit, working through every page (double line spacing is your friend) and pulling it to shreds. I doodle, I draw and I write on it with felt tips and pens of every colour. I make that manuscript something lived in and something that I know I’ve considered every word in**.

And the other thing I do is I abandon it entirely and pick up a different something. In the case of Unnamed Book With A Working Title it’s been paint. I doodle, I paint, and it helps me to start figuring out the heart of my story. The big moments. The, if I was making a film of it, DVD front cover moments.

(And here’s one I made earlier with an actual, almost maybe staying in the story but definitely sorting out those commas sentence!)

DCIM100MEDIA

*zorsacorns = Zebra Horse Unicorns (blame my nephews)

** It takes FOREVER but it’s proper worth it.

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Exciting Times

It’s been a bit of an exciting few months at DYESTTAFTSA Towers.

Exciting is the right word. Exciting.

I am now in a different stage of my writing, one that has me Out and Public with it. That’s exciting. It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time. It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time. So that’s, well, to understate it spectacularly, pleasing. But what’s been more exciting than that is the chance to work with people who make stories happen.

When I’ve written before,  I’ve written whatever it has been because whatever it has been has needed to be written. And it needed to happen in the shape that it needs to happen in, be that poem, prose, or tight-cramped diary entry on the smallest of pages. Sometimes writing sort things out for me in a way that speaking never can.

But now, my writing has shifted upwards. I’m learning a whole new skill. I’m learning how to write a book. That’s exciting. It’s a whole new skill – but more than that, what I’m realising already, is that it’s a team effort. I’m working with people now who see what this story is, who see what it could be. That thrills me to pieces so much. The way that there are people who are invested in making this happen and making it be seen, be heard, be felt. There’s that word in my head again. Exciting. It’s so exciting. All of it.

The other thing that’s exciting is that I’m getting to see behind the magic curtain as it were. I’ve chatted with people and visited places and I’ve been left in a sort of place of joyous faith in what’s going on in the way of children’s literature. There are amazing people out there doing amazing things.

And lord, I know it’s repetitive, but my word it’s exciting. We’re living in exciting times, and I can’t wait to share more of this journey with you.

 

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Creation : a tribute

It sort of stuns me sometimes that things happen.

That  if I write ‘I’,  a simple bold stroke down the page, that that mark could mean – well, you. Or me. Or somebody mythical and magical and pulled from a story told a long time ago. Or somebody who, until the marking (making) of that I, did not even exist. That that line, that line can be the sum and the whole and the everything of what they are and what they can be. And a second ago it did not even exist.

That stuns me, you know, it really does. That there’s a way to just simply – create.

And that people can see that creation and interpret that and come together and make it mean.That they can touch on the meaning at the heart of it and through that touching make it live (live, live, live). That so much can come together for them (that everything can collide and let them come together) and that they can make something – else. The spiralling of creation. The mark made bold. The mark remixed and painted, sewn, shaped, baked – that it can and does happen – it’s amazing.

So here’s to you, you readers and makers and breakers of things. Here’s to you.

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The Storm Born (A Story)

So I’m always a bit nervy of posting a story of mine, but here’s one that is particularly appropriate for a night as inky black as this.

The Storm Born

Wind came, and with it, the children. They had been there for weeks now, clinging on the edge of the trees, bordering in the senses of all those who saw them. They were the flick of the branch in the corner of an eye, the shadow that moved when you looked at it. They were the children who waited for a night like this to be born.

And this night was perfect for them. It was the darkest of nights, the thickest of blacks. It was the sort of night that swallowed light and sound and people. People walked in it and when they got further than three steps away from each other, they disappeared. A hand stretched out and was grabbed and a breath exhaled with tense relief.

It was the blackest of nights. The car headlights picked up the outline of the trees on the common as it turned down Pennyhedge Lane. Mr Thornton hunched over the wheel, tense, and ignored his daughter who was sat by him on the passenger seat.

Jessica pressed her face to the window and fancied she could see outside. She could, she thought, if she squinted hard enough, almost see their house Oak View, right at the end of the lane. It was miles away if she thought about it and yet it felt as if they were already there. “Are we there yet?” she asked, “Dad? Can’t you drive any faster?”

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Children’s Literature – why it matters

The thing is, every now and then, in mainstream media, we see mention of children’s books. They’re usually rather intermittent mentions, reminiscent of birds caught on a pocket of hot air. They spiral fleetingly, gorgeously, temptingly, and then they wheel away. Children’s books don’t get covered in mainstream media, not easily, not comfortably. Julia Donaldson talks about it here. And she’s right, in so many ways.

The other thing is, as the comments on the bottom of that piece show, children’s literature is mis-perceived. Often foolishly so, because to disregard this genre is to disregard work being written for one of the great tribes of our time.

Children are wild, unfathomable creatures. For a long time they don’t talk, they don’t verbalise their feelings. They are the great unknown, the last great tribe of humanity that could, quite easily, turn the world upside down if they wanted to.

And they’re great; wondrous, passionate, funny and smart, being shaped every day that sees them progress through childhood. How can you not see the literature that guides, aids, abets and challenges that progression as being worthy of import?

Everything comes from children’s literature, everything comes from stories. Your words that you write now, the way you look at a teddy bear in a window, the way you suddenly long to fly a kite on a windy hillside, the need to hold somebody tight when you feel sad. It is all part of our humanity, and our humanity is built on stories and storying and the undeniable need to understand who we are. And we do this through words, through questions, through throwing our belief against the world and seeing if it sticks.

We do this through stories. We do this through expressing what we are, who we are and what we want to be. And children’s literature does that, does that and more. It holds our hands through the darknesses and it brings you towards the light. It tells you that things can be okay, that things can be sad, that things can hurt, and it gives you a power through that telling.

It tells you that you are not alone.

How can you even begin to say that that does not matter?

(Edit: I wrote this to explain why I studied children’s literature. It still stands.)

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The Complications Of Being Merely Whelmed

I am going to make a statement. I think we are in a golden age for children’s literature. I genuinely do think that. I think the provocative, brave and brilliant books that are being published right now and over the past few years are wonderful things. I think if you grow up now, you’ve got the world at your fingertips in a way that has never really quite been so before. 

But here’s the second part of my thought process, and this is the bit where it starts to get complicated for me. If everything is – so – overwhelmingly good, then – do we have books that simply – ‘whelm’ ? Books that just – occupy – us? That when we finish them, we have nothing but a rampant sense of indifference? Of time fulfilled, time passed?

I wonder this because I wonder if it’s a by-product of the outstanding quality that’s out there. That when we get a – quieter – book, a book that’s less feted and awarded and exposed, that somehow it gets lost in the torrent? There’s a lot of books in this world. There are new books coming every day. And as a reader, your expectations are dictated by what you read. You compare, you contrast, and you rate (explicitly or implicitly) and you contextualise your reading of the ‘now’ book against the reading of the ‘then’ book. And maybe that’s a contributory factor to merely being whelmed, because your expectations of brilliance are coloured by the life-changing book you just read? 

Maybe it’s less of a question of the book being ‘bad’ (which is such a loaded term itself), but rather the fact that you met the book at the wrong time. Maybe it’s because you meet the book after your world has been changed and you want that high again. Maybe it’s something to do with the bias that we bring as a reader to each and every textual encounter.

Maybe it’s not the books that are whelming. Maybe – just maybe – it’s me.

“Overwhelming? How much more than ‘whelming’ would that be, exactly?” Anya, (Spiral : Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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The Dictionary of Made-Up Words

The Dictionary of Made-Up Words

Excuse the self-promo moment, but I have a poem in this (“Clamberquick”). Moment over 🙂

 

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Sunday

Sit, sat, sitting, being, the garden and I and a book. It makes me think how – perfect – this transaction, this offering is – this presumption that these words on this page were made for this moment and me. Though the author does not know my garden, they do not know the way the washing line never gets light til right in the corner of the day, the way the conservatory next door peaks, just over, the fence and the way my lemon balm crazy grows in the corner, the author knows this: their book will be read. And the moment, the reading, that point when I look at their crafted chiselled, sobbed over words, that moment is – will – always happen. And that is a wonder to me. A book will always be read – it finds people – it holds people to it – you are married – lovers – friends for that period. It is wed to you and your thoughts and your life. It fits, it fits with you and beside you and around you and in you. It fits in your space. It fits – here, it fits where the grass is too long and the verbena has over run. It fits. It always, always fits. 

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Love

Love

The sky spins overhead

and I think –

is this love?

 

For I am fairly sure

I have never experienced

It.

 

I do not struggle

to breathe

The world – does not stop.

I do not fold – or fall –

I do

not forget and

lose

the ability to speak –

I do not fall mute with shock

at such beauty.

 

I –

I feel sick, mainly.

 

So.

 

Is that it?

– is that – all it –

it?

 

I wonder

if you are not allowed to love

until you have lived the purgatory.

 

I wonder

if that’s all it is.

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Rediscovering writing

In the halcyon post MA days, I’ve been able to devote a lot of times to my own personal writing. It’s been very weird to come back to it as it’s been on the backburner for a fair few months as the shift between academic and creative proved too difficult to manage. Trust me you don’t want to discover a high-faluting conjoined adjective in the middle of some elaborate in depth discussion on the affect of speech tags on character construction.

So now I creep back to it; it’s tentative, nervous work as I push words together and feel out the connections until they click and work together. I’m rediscovering a lot of things. How much I love circling a story, touching at the edges of it with a sentence or two before finding the one that breaks through the circle and connects with what I want to say.

And I’m rediscovering how much I adore collective nouns. HOW AMAZING ARE THESE? The precision and the genuine beauty of language continually blows my mind.