Tag Archives: Norah Colvin

On-Line Writing Course #2 in-progress

So this is how I’m getting on with the course on-line, focusing on 5 responses to my experiences so far. In my post about learning aims, I left you as I was about to enter the on-line site. Immediately I experienced something that was familiar but unexpected:

1. Disorientation

Remember when you first went to school, college, university? You found the building and stood in the hallway looking at all the signs, the many doors and the other people who all appeared to know what they were about. It was like that. I got onto the site, which looked just like a Facebook page, by which I mean lots of possibilities with no clues about how to proceed. So what to do? I hadn’t expected to feel so lost or uncertain. Where do I go? How do I find out? Have I time for coffee? I don’t want to be here.

145 writing keyboardI was surprised by my own sense of powerlessness, and of the familiarity of these feelings of disorientation from all the occasions when I had begun courses in the real world. And even more surprised because I have sat on the other side of the screen, as it were, and done some on-line tutoring. Hah!

I like the idea that being intelligent means knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. I had been emailed some joining notes. First find your group.

And now, after three weeks I know exactly where I’m going and I go there. I ignore all distractions, invitations to chat, linger and discuss the writing ideas of other people. I go straight to my course and do my stuff.

Note to self: remember you always feel like this when a course starts. Just get to the right place at the right time.

2. The seduction and distraction of praise

Praise is such a difficult thing. I’ll be honest, I’d love people to be stunned by my writing, exclaim over its brilliance, its depth, the imagery and characterisation etc etc. But I notice that when I am praised (and I have been!) it gets in the way of reading the other bits that will be more helpful in the longer term. This is, after all, a course about self-editing and my intention is to improve my novel with the skills learned.145 emoticon

Feedback is a wonderful thing and I am getting a great deal out of both receiving it and giving it. But if there is praise I have to steer myself past it to see the stuff that I need. I have discussed praise in other places (see Annethology and Norah Colvin’s blogs for example) and its relevance to learning.

Note to participants: please don’t stop the praise if you think it’s deserved. I will get to that useful stuff.

Note to self: it’s about time you ditched this childish need, it is in danger of inhibiting your learning.

3. Disadvantages of being on-line

In a classroom I would hear all the contributions of every participant. As we make our comments on each other’s topic lines this is not quite so easy. I would have to check 14 lines every time I entered the site, as well as checking the Wall. It’s permanent so it has advantages, and it’s not that difficult. But I have to make the effort, which is challenging when I’m in a hurry.

4. Advantages of being on-line

On the other hand, we are freed from the restrictions of all turning up at the same time, in the same place. Suits me. And the comments wait until I’m ready.

5. Learning

And I’m learning lots. I wanted to develop some skills, and some insights into my novel and the work I need to do to take it from a first full draft to a better crafted second draft. I am beginning to see how I could do that. I’ll say 145 inkwell noun projmore about this in a later post.

A major issue for me now is that I also want to steam ahead with another writing project (non-fiction) with a March 2016 deadline. The three authors had a 3-day write-in last week, so I’m brimming with ideas. How will I manage both?

 

Any comments about on-line writing courses? Anything from my fellow participants? Or tutors?

 

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Filed under Learning, My novel, Writing

Books for Prisoners

I saw that every night that I read I was being cleansed of my sins, and that if I didn’t read I would rove the narrow, basalt-stoned, dank streets of the Castle of Sinners. I learned that not reading was to summon one’s sins. I learned that reading was the thing that tied me to life and rendered me sinless. As I read I saw that six-square-metre cell transformed into the world’s biggest centre for hermetic seclusion: a sanctuary, a colossal temple, a school where wise sages sat and debated.

As I read in prison I became myself, I returned to being myself, I added colour and harmony to my stagnant life. As I read I became myself.

(From Reading in Gaol, by Muharrem Erbey, translated from the Turkish by Erda Halisdemir. Published in The Author in Autumn 2014.)

Why does the Minister of Justice in the UK, Chris Grayling ignore the impact of the Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (IEP), which limits prisoners’ access to books. And why does he ignore the effects of staffing cuts on prisoners’ access to prison libraries? Access to books in prisons is part of a dubious behaviour control policy. I have written about this before, in March 2014, see Books in Prison.

Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Steve Daniels, from Wikimedia

Dartmoor Prison. Photo by Steve Daniels, from Wikimedia

And why do Conservative MPs (my MP anyway) not engage with the issues? Actually I know the answer to that question, but it’s still frustrating! And why is Simon Hughes, Lib Dem minister at the Justice Department openly challenging Chris Grayling about so much of his prisons policy, including limiting books to prisoners (reported in the Independent on 7th November 2014).

Why does it matter?

Cover of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, in Russian, from Wikimedia

Cover of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, in Russian, from Wikimedia

I care passionately about books and education. In Norah Colvin’s phrase I am a meliorist. They are civilising influences in a world where powerful forces seem to want to revert to the worst of human nature. This government seems to represent the view that a prisoner forfeits all rights to be treated decently, as if the person is the crime.

I do not believe it is wise to make prisoners resent their treatment. Rather we should provide all possible opportunities for them to read and learn and reflect on life, their own as well as their victims, and the lives of others – in short to return to their best selves. Everyone can benefit from reading about the world, how it is, how it could be and how people live in this world.

Muharrem Erbey kept his best self alive and provides the eloquent vindication of reading in prison quoted above. He was in Diyarbakir High Security Prison for more than four years as a result of his Human Rights activities in Turkey. He determined to turn his situation to advantage by reading.

In the new worlds open to me by the books there was beauty beyond my wildest fantasies. I was free in that world. And everyone was equal. There were no walls. There were no doors that shut on people.

I wrote to my MP

Channing Woods Prison, Denbury. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, from Wikimedia

Channing Woods Prison, Denbury. Photo by Roger Cornfoot, from Wikimedia

I try to take action when I adopt a strong position on an issue. In this case I did what active British citizens can do – I wrote to my MP – Anne Marie Morris. I complained about the reduced access by prisoners to books and libraries as a result of staffing cuts to the prison service. And I asked some pertinent questions about my local prison – Channing Woods.

In February 2013 an inspection report suggested that some prisoners were spending up to 20 hours a day confined to their cells. Since then there has been unrest among the prisoners. And this summer staff voiced their own worries about staffing levels.

I would like answers to the following questions:

How often can prisoners visit the library at Channings Wood Prison?

Who runs the library at Channings Wood Prison, and what is its budget?

From which outlets can prisoners buy books in the prison?

Can prisoners get specialist books from the library if they have a hobby or are doing a course?

I received no answer to these questions, no reference to Channings Wood at all in her letter. Rather my MP responded to some points I had not made, including this statement.

There has been a considerable amount of misinformation on this issue recently. Books are not banned [this I know] – indeed all prisoners have access to the professionally run prison library service.

That’s why I was asking about access to the library at Channings Wood, especially in the light of the prison staff’s own concerns about staffing levels.

I shall have to write again.

Can you take some action?

See what writers and others concerned about this issue have been doing:

  • Salman Rushdie, Jacqueline Wilson, Monica Ali, Mark Haddon, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Maureen Freely and Joanne Harris have called for the justice select committee to consider the impact of the IEP scheme in November 2014 (details from English Pen here);
  • There was a silent protest during a House of Commons justice select committee hearing in June 2014;
  • Leading writers (Mark Haddon, AL Kennedy, Rachel Billington), protested at Downing Street, also in June 2014;
  • Publishers led by Pavilion Books organised a fundraiser event called A Night in the Cells in May 2014.
Bedford Prison. Photo by Dennis Simpson, from Wikimedia

Bedford Prison. Photo by Dennis Simpson, from Wikimedia

Campaigning has brought a small concession: prisoners will not in future be limited to 12 books per cell.

See also The Howard League for Penal Reform and English Pen for details about the campaign activities.

Follow the hashtags on twitter #BooksForPrisoners and #noreadingingaol.

 

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Filed under Books, Libraries, Reading

My Writing Space

Have you read the advice to find a quiet spot and develop regular writing habits? Does it suit you? It is not what’s needed by all writers.

I am lucky enough to live on my own, so every room is potentially a writing space, including the garden and my summer house. And I write in both of these from time to time, as well as in the kitchen – as close to the doings for making coffee as I can get for my morning pages.

I mostly write in my studio. The Guardian did a feature about David Hare in which he referred to his writing studio. Ah – good name. The word studio lends an element of work, creativity, and older works propped against the wall. I call my loft space, my writing studio. What’s in a name? It also gets called office, study or writing room.

123 studio

My studio

I like to control noise in my surroundings, quiet at times, radio or CDs playing at others. Nothing incenses me so much as the barking of my neighbour’s dogs.

I’m not a very tidy writer. I sit at a much-marked Habitat pine table which I have owned for more than 30 years. It holds up piles of papers, pots of pens, my lap top, a light. I preserve my back with an ergonomic kneeling chair from the Backshop.

123 Writing wall

The noticeboards

In front of the table is my noticeboard, which I use like a notebook. On is for photos. The other holds the schedule for reading, blog posts, some photos, and the odd inspirational saying.

Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

(Mary Oliver.)

There are several postcards, one of Cornelia Parker’s exploded shed, another some books by Rachel Whiteread. And an annotated post card from a Berlin museum:

Of all the worlds created by wo/man the world of BOOKS is the most powerful.

(Heinrich Heine.)

I’ve pinned up several copies of the Guardian Bookshop bestseller list, in which our book Retiring with Attitude has been featured for several weeks. That spot used to be occupied by encouraging e-mails from our editor. The most recent is a month old, however. I don’t think I even notice these things anymore. I’m not much of a believer in motivational notes to self.

123 viewMy view

It’s a loft room and the view is divine – out over the roofs and trees of my village. On a fine day you can see Dartmoor. But this is Devon, so it rains a lot. I know it’s there. Sometimes when I am walking on Dartmoor I look back and imagine I can see the windows of my studio. ‘That’s where I write,’ I say to myself.

 

Links

A blog: TanGental The place where I write. It’s a personalised desk.

And see the advice by Irene Waters Writing Tips: Starting the flow about the undisturbed place in which to write, quoting John Creswell’s book Research Design.

There is an interest in where writers write. The Guardian ran a series about writer’s spaces, and these appeared now and again in Nicholas Royle’s novel First Novel.

This blog was a response to a suggestion by Norah Colvin. Can you learn anything from this? Is your writing space important to you?

 

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The Liebster Award and the craft of blogging (4) … Why do it?

Some time ago Norah Colvin nominated Bookword (among other blogs) for the Liebster Award. Many thanks Norah. But I have delayed in meeting the obligations of the Liebster Award: answering some questions and then nominating others and asking them questions in turn. It’s like a chain letter, and it promotes less well-known blogs.

88 liebster2I have decided to delay no longer, and to flunk the Liebster test. Instead of the normal nominations I am identifying a few blogs that I enjoy and inviting them to answer the question of this post: why blog?

Please visit these blogs and see what you think:

  1. Jon Stein – a writer and musician and fellow member of a writing group. Jon wrote a guest post for me on being a writer in Andalucía. He also makes interesting comments on my posts.
  2. Norah Colvin – already recipient of Liebster Award. Such a lively blog about life, education, writing with added antipodean perspective.
  3. Annethology – for a great mixture of reflection, comment, and original writing. Anne is also the recipient of the Liebster Award, also nominated by Norah. Both Norah and Anne are frequent visitors to Bookword. I feel as if I know them, like members of a reading group!
  4. Anna Lodge Consulting – this is my daughter’s blog. She encouraged me to start with social media, being experienced through her consulting business. I like her human approach to setting up her own business. I wish she would post more on her own blog! Go Anna!
  5. And finally two for all booklovers, although they are probably too big to qualify for a Liebster Award I am sure – Vulpes Libris.
  6. Shiny New Books – a new blog subtitled what to read next and why.

 

Why blog? My answer

Citizens’ publishing, that’s what blogging is. Micropublishing, that’s another phrase I have heard used. It’s so hard for writers to get anything published in the traditional way these days, so doing it yourself is an obvious response. But also because the internet makes this democratic behaviour possible. There is an associated challenge in that there are few quality controls (unlike traditional publishing), so we have to hone our discriminating faculties. So the first answer to my question, why blog? is: I can publish my writing, so I do.

But this is far from the full answer to my question, why blog? I began because I planned to pitch for a blog to promote our book* (see below). The submission required familiarity with WordPress. At that time I had rarely read a blog, and so started it to gain the necessary experience. Another part of the answer is: to learn something new.

But as I have gained experience I have learned some of the additional pleasures that keep me posting every 5 or 6 days.

Connections

25 Stone AngelI love having connections with people who share my passion for books and read the blog. The most read of all the posts on Bookword is my review of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. I read it because I had asked for ideas read older women in fiction. Litlove, from Tales from the Reading Room suggested it. I hope I have encouraged a few other people to read it as well. I’m glad I didn’t miss that one!

 

Improved writing

A number of people, including my two writing collaborators say that my writing has improved since I began the blog. They should know. I think revising the book* with my co-author and with the guidance of editors, has helped. You can argue that in reverse, so I guess that I can conclude that writing helps writing. Or, as many people have said (according to Google searches), all writing is rewriting.

Persistence and achievement

I have recently posted for the 100th time. I began about 18 months ago, and I have kept going at a regular pace. (Guidance on blogging always says you should be consistent. I don’t know if readers respond to consistency, but I am pleased to have achieved this.)

The number of visitors has risen steadily, along with the number of subscribers and those who add comments.

I’ve got a schedule with 20 ideas pencilled in, and a file filled with further ideas. And people keep publishing books. And I keep reading them. Why stop?

So finally: I blog

  • above all because I can share my love of reading and writing, and
  • to publish my writing
  • to learn new things
  • to improve my writing
  • and because it’s an achievement.

*And the book I refer to will be published on 24th July: Retiring with Attitude, by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell. Published by GuardianBooks. (See also previous blogpost.) Much more in subsequent blogs about this book and the process!

101 RWA fan

So I’ve said why I write my blog. Why do you read it? Comments please!

 

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Filed under Books, Publishing our book, The Craft of Blogging

The Liebster Award – paying forward

Thanks to Norah Colvin for the nomination for the Liebster Award. I’ve been very slow to complete my responses, partly because I have been busy with things but also because I haven’t yet found the nominees that I want to promote. But I’ll do a separate post rather than delay any longer.

88 liebster2

The purpose of the Liebster Award is to:

  • provide encouragement for new bloggers with a following of fewer than 200
  • promote communication between bloggers,
  • recommend blogs to others.

Nominating others for the award is like paying a compliment forward.

Norah’s blog – live, love, laugh, learn – is one I visit frequently and I leave comments there sometimes. I am enjoying her flash fiction, for example, at the moment. She asked me some questions, and since Bookwood is a book blog I shall try to answer bookishly. Despite everything being transparent on-line, I prefer to keep quite a bit of my life private. I have adapted Norah’s questions somewhat as she allowed. Here are my responses:

  1. What do you value most in life?

No question – my daughter. Since her childhood we have shared books and responses to books. And now I am reading with her children, and the older one is at the point of reading for himself. Exciting. He has been enjoying Roald Dahl. The younger one enjoys ‘reading’ the Aybeeceedee book with me.

88 ABC

  1. What activities do you enjoy and why?

Reading and writing, and talking about both with other enthusiasts. Not only do I belong to a reading group and a poetry group (but do not intend to write any) but also at least two writing groups. My published writing tends to be collaborative, and that too is a joy. Writing with someone else means I go deeper than I would on my own. Plus we laugh a lot.

  1. What is something you wish you had more time for?

Reading and writing fiction and non-fiction. Actually it’s not so much time as ability to fit all the things I love in my life. I can’t spend all day reading and writing. Well I can, but I have other things I like doing as well.

  1. What is one change you would like to make in the world?

World peace. Seriously. Or in bookish terms, access to books for everyone. I blog about how books and writing change lives. Access to books, not just to the internet would make so much difference to people in less developed countries, as well as to those in poverty and depressed area in this country. We must save our libraries. World peace and libraries. One of the delays to this post was the need to draw attention to a new policy making books conditional on good behaviour in prisons in the UK. I did this through twitter and on my previous post. Books, I know, are a force for good in the world.

  1. What surprises you most about your life – something good in your life that you hadn’t expected, dreamed of or thought possible?

That it goes on getting better, that I go on learning, that there are so many amazing people in the world and I know some of them. There are so many books to read. I can read and write about this, I can talk and tweet and blog about this, and other people will respond. And make recommendations.

  1. What “big” question do you often ponder?

How can articulate and intelligent people inflict direct and indirect suffering upon others?

  1. What sorts of things amuse you?

Unintentional meanings in things like the sign “uncontrolled pedestrian crossing” in London.

  1. What sorts of things irritate you?

There are lots of things, and one of them is the pervasive idea of favourite books and writers in tweets and blogs. It’s such a simplistic, reductionist concept that I try to avoid it. I added this question, just so I could indulge in a favourite whinge.

  1. What is something you can’t do without?

See answer to question 1.

  1. What is your earliest memory?

Someone threatened to steal my little sister. It was an early experience of a quandary: if I went to get adult help she might get taken, but could I make sure she was safe on my own. I was scarcely 3 and she was newborn.

44 diarey

I can’t remember my earliest book. I can’t remember the earliest book I wrote, although it might have been the ‘diarey’ I found when I moved last summer and featured on a blogpost She’s leaving home. Books and writing have been in my life as long as I can remember, thanks to my parents.

I don’t know what anyone will have got from these answers, but I have enjoyed writing them. Thanks Norah. And my own nominations for the award will follow shortly.

 

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Filed under Books, Reading, The Craft of Blogging