Thursday, 25 June 2009

Completing a Creative Writing Degree... What's Next? Masters Degree?

This is the question that is plaguing many creative writing graduates at the moment, myself included.

Creative writing is a very, very broad topic. There are hundreds of things you could do as a creative writer, which can actually be more confusing than if there were only a few directions to take.

To MA, or not to MA?

One thing I have learned from my three years at university is that being taught by writing professionals, as well as mixing and workshopping frequently with other writers, greatly improved my writing. Last week I read through my first year work, and then looked at my short story dissertation - I was actually quite shocked at how much I had improved without realising it.

Not only that, but I loved being around other writers, and having tasks and assignments gives me that extra bit of motivation to write. I would LOVE to do a Creative Writing MA. But is now the time to do one?

There are three main issues I think need to be addressed.

Finishing university with £20,000 of debt, no job, and with no government funding for an MA, £5000 is perhaps a little steep... There is no way I personally can afford to do an MA at the moment. Others may be in a different situation. However, I fear that the longer I put it off, the higher the fees will creep...

Is it the best idea to go straight from a BA to an MA? Much of our creative writing roots from personal experience. I don't mean all our stories actually happened to us in some way, but being in the world and experiencing it as much as possible adds richness to writing, whether it's through meeting lots of interesting people, to observing different cultures while travelling, or simply discovering a giant ant nest underneath your BBQ (this happened to me last week!).

As time goes on, your history of life experience inevitably increases. This is not to say that young writers have nothing to say - by no means! But maybe now is a good time to have a break from taught and assessed writing schemes and go and do something different. I guarantee your writing will benefit from it.

(In fact, I heard that Andrew Cowan, one of the directors of the UEA's Creative Writing MA, prefers students who have spent time doing something different between a creative writing BA and MA for exactly these reasons.)

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. If I had money to burn, I would do a creative writing MA at some point simply for the pleasure of it. However, since I'm having to scrape my pennies together, I'm wondering what the best education is for my career path. If I am one hundred per cent set on becoming a full time writer and author, then yes, I would probably do a creative writing MA in a heartbeat. However, the reality is that most writers don't make it big enough to live off their writing alone. And writing full time is a lot tougher than people think.

So, would I be better off doing a creative writing MA, or perhaps a business MA, or a publishing MA, or would it be better to spend my money on some other kind of education or course altogether? Right now, I have chosen the latter option. I am currently enrolled in a long-distance learning course to obtain a copy-editing qualification. This cost me about a tenth of the price of an MA, at £550. So, it's important to look at the bigger picture. I can still be a writer without having a MA in writing, while also increasing my job prospects in other areas.

If you would like to see what types of creative writing MAs are out there and where, Prospects has a great database HERE.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Fairies, Dying Swans, and Dancing to the Death

Last night my sister and I had a very cultured evening and went to see The English National Ballet perform at Sadler's Wells in London. I was quite looking forward to it, but a little unsure if it would be the type of thing I would enjoy. As it turned out, it was absolutely amazing.

We sat in the stalls, fairly near the back, but we could see everything fine. I was slightly worried that the dancers would just be dots flying around to us, but if I squinted I could almost make out their facial expressions, so the seats weren't too bad.

The red curtain lifted to reveal what I had expected of a ballet. A swarm of white-tutued ballerinas, and one man wearing a very, very skintight costume. This was Les Sylphides, and from what I could understand, it was about a man stringing along two fairy lovers, though he most definitely preferred the blond. The dancing was impressive, but so much shuffling around on tip-toes looked very painful. The set was very beautiful, all dark-leafed trees.

After the interval, we saw Le Spectre de la Rose. This was quite a short dance about a woman who falls asleep holding a rose, then dreams that the rose comes to life as a man and they dance together. The interaction between the two characters was very entertaining.

Then was The Dying Swan, which I recognised instantly. It was so beautiful and tragic it made me want to burst into tears. I still cannot get over how fluid the dancer makes her arms move at the beginning of the piece.

After that short performance was something much more contemporary. The first dancer started before the music, which looked very strange. Faun(e) seemed to be about two stags fighting for dominance (I have no idea if that is right, but that's what it looked like to me). The dancing was much more interesting and experimentational. On the stage were two grand pianos, and the set was very sparse, as were the costumes, which added to the sense of modernism.

Another interval, and last but not least, we saw The Rite of Spring. From the moment it started it blew me away. It couldn't be any more different to the first ballet, and nothing like I expected it to be. It was so colourful, but the movements and music and strange beats (a different time signature in every bar, my sister tells me!) made it very strange and sinister. It was very tribal, in a way. Half way through the dance, three skeletal looking Elders selected a sacrifice to the gods in thanks of Spring, and she had to dance herself to death. Although these photos don't capture the movement, they give you an impression of the performance: Patrick Baldwin Photography. It was absolutely amazing.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Rotten Foundations of Wonderland - Short Story Trailer

Ok, I'm jumping on the bandwagon here after seeing Catherine J Gardner (at The Poisoned Apple) and Aaron Polson (at The Other Aaron) create movie trailers for their short stories. I thought it was a great idea and, since I'm a lazy unemployed bum with time on her hands, I decided to have a crack at it (no pun intended).

I'm fairly tech-savy... well, I'm not too bad, and I thought it wouldn't take me long to get to grips with Windows Movie Maker (I hadn't even realised that it was on my computer), but this took me a grand total of six hours to make, including spending a fair bit of time looking for the right images! Plus I had to do a little photo-shopping. And then I kept getting all the text wrong. And then I had to try and make it last exactly as long as the music I had chosen... haha...

I just hope I haven't infridged any copyright laws...

So, here it is.

The Curse of the Horror Writer

To be a writer you need a good imagination. Sometimes having a good imagination is an absolute curse, especially if you are a horror writer. See, my head is often in the clouds, and I do lose sight of reality. Especially at three o’clock in the morning when I think I’ve heard a pulsing sigh at my ear, or felt a weight lower itself onto my feet beneath the duvet. In short, every now and then, I scare myself shitless.

There are two things I find incredibly scary. I don’t mind vampires or werewolves, and I’m not too concerned with mad axe murderers; aliens are a little scary, and I’m getting use to the idea of zombies. Ghosts. Ghosts scare the hell out of me. And the thought of going insane.

So yesterday I stumbled across a video on a horrorzine website that apparently shows real footage of ghosts. *Here* if you want to see it. Of course, my logical mind knows that in all likeliness these are fakes, set-ups, hoaxes. But it still freaks me out. Just because I have that kind of mind that always thinks anything is possible.

Last night I went to sleep at about 2am. I thought I was still awake. There was something in my room, but the torch by the side of my bed wasn’t working. I flipped on the lamp switch, but that wasn’t working either. I try my fairy lights that hang above my bed, but they aren’t working. I’m trapped in darkness, and I can’t tell when my eyes are open or closed, or if what I’m seeing is real or imagined. And there’s a fucking arm protruding from my chest-of-drawers-desk next to my bed, and it’s holding a book. There’s a book in my drawers somewhere that was written by someone dead, and they want something of me, but I don’t know what. I can see this arm, right in front of me. And on this occasion, I really don’t know that I’m dreaming.

I run into my sisters room, calling her name. I flick on her light, but it doesn’t work, until she wakes up and the room is only dimly illuminated. I ask her if I can stay in her room because there is something weird going on in mine. As I get into bed beside her, I wake up. Very confused, and still fucking scared. Thank god my lamp works. I don’t turn it off...

As I force myself awake for an hour between 3.30am and 4.30am, knowing that if I go back to sleep too soon, the dream will still be there. I think to myself: how the fuck do horror writers do it? How can you live through your worst nightmares in your waking moments, just to be haunted by them at night? I think about Steven King and all the scary stuff that must go through his head. How has he not driven himself insane?

I write horror, too, sometimes. But I’m not sure if I could really write what truly terrifies me, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make it make sense anyway.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Bits and Pieces of News in the Writing World

Twitter and the BBC website are probably the main sources I use that allow me to stumble upon tid-bits in the writing world. Over the past few days, here are some interesting highlights:

Salinger sues over 'The Catcher in the Rye' sequel
BBC article here
A Swedish writer is releasing a book later this summer (UK) entitled 'Coming Through the Rye'. Salinger is outraged that the protagonist of this book is a guy extremely similar to his own character, Holden Caulfield.

According to legal expert, Amy Cook, “If a character has a distinctive name and well-defined personality... they belong to the copyright holder, and you can’t use them without permission. Character names can even become well-known enough to warrant trademark protection.”

So this Swedish author cannot have stolen Caulfield's identity outright, but if it's got Salinger's knickers in a twist there must be something dodgy about it.

World Book Day to repeat flip books
Bookseller article here
I love World Book Day (though I always forget when it is... must remember it is on 4th March 2010!) and it seems next year will see the re-launch of the £1 flip-books to get people back into reading. This little gimmick has produced a 16% increase in sales per title over last year's totals. Can't be a bad thing.

Booked Up
Bookseller article here
The Booktrust charity "is to give away more than two million free books for every pupil in reception and Year Seven". Wow, that's a lot of books for one 12-year-old to read...

And last but not least, this is a really interesting article that any writer must read:

5 Writing Lessons Learned from Pixar
Go to article
Pixar are masters of story-telling. That is certainly reflected in their profits. (To see a mind-blowing pictogram of Pixar vs The Rest go HERE.) They make $540 million profit per film. This article breaks down the 5 basic reasons that Pixar make such good stories, and how any writer can learn from them. My favourite point is number 3, that a character's first interactions can often tell you all you need to know about them. An example given is the way Wall-E befriends a cockroach he sees rather than crushes it; this sets up his whole personality, and becomes the catalyst for the action of the film. Definitely worth a read-though if you have a spare five minutes.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Job Hunting

I've been job hunting for about eight weeks now. My plan at first was to get a local temp job to raise a bit of cash, then find a 'proper' grad job later. Well, it seems to be getting closer to being later rather than sooner. I had the advantage of finishing my university work early, and time is running out before graduates flood the market.

So... I've been up the town centre. The only advertised vacancies are for places like Weatherspoons, Sports World and ... Linen World... Sigh. I couldn't bring myself to hand my CV over to any of them. The thought of working in retail again, especially after working so hard for three years for a degree, made me feel more than depressed.

I've looked in the local paper. The only job that didn't require previous experience, ownership of a car, child-care experience, or to do with mechanics or factories... well, there weren't any.

I've been looking online almost every day for a job. There are so many sites, with so many jobs, that it is actually pretty hard to sort through it all and find something suitable. Made even harder by the fact that I don't really know what I'm looking for.

But alas, a few days ago I stumbled across a job that I think actually sounds good, and that I think I might be qualified for. So the past two days I've been re-writing my CV and trying to compose my first covering letter. Thank goodness for my lovely publishing tutor, Rachel Hore, who offered me great feedback on my CV and also agreed to be my second reference.

A few things I learned about
Writing a CV:

+ Start with a few short lines about where you are now and where you are aiming to be.

+ Keep it crisp and to the point.

+ Decide whether your education or work experience is more relevant to the position you are applying for, and put that first.

+ Make the layout clear and easy to read. Use bullet points, line spacing, bold/caps for headings (but not italics).

+ In MS Word, using tables can really help with structuring a layout (with aligning separate pieces of text on the same line to different areas of the page, for example). Simply right-click and find the table options, and select 'none' under the boarder settings so you don't have ugly lines all over the place.

+ Tailor your CV to each job you apply for.

+ Spell check and proofread.

I'll be sending my application off later today. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 1 June 2009

A Room of One's Own

As an unimployed bum who has just finished university and moved back into the parental house, I can't afford my own place. The only private space I have to write in is my bedroom.

I live in a recently built area which contains modern houses and appartments of all shapes and sizes. Every so often tour buses come round to see the innovative housing designs. I am extreemely jealous of the rows of houses which have connecting office buildings to them. How I dream of having my own little office where I can house shelves and shelves of books, a propper writing desk and a comfy chair.

I spend most of my time sitting in bed with my laptop burning my thighs. It's not practical. It makes me feel sluggish. I don't really want to spend all my time in bed.

My desk isn't very suitable for writing. It's more of a storage unit. In fact, it used to be a display unit in my dad's workshop. We replaced the glass top with MDF and painted it, and I've had it in my bedroom for about ten years. I considered removing some of the drawers to create an area I could fit my legs, or cutting the desk in two to make it easier to fit all my furniture in... but I couldn't bear to accidently destroy it.

This weekend I've mostly been sitting in the garden. I tried to do a little writing, and got a rough opening for a short story down, but the sunshine just makes me sleepy.

I read that a good writer can write anywhere. But I think that if you write a lot, for most of the day, a specific writing place can only be a good thing.

What do you think? Is it important to have a specific place to write? Where do you like to do your writing? (Post a photo of your writing area if you like.)
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