Sunday, 5 April 2009

Good mark, book launch, shame and 'Tis. Wednesday 25 March 2009.

I am pitifully driven by marks and this week I clawed up to my first proper result for a pre-portfolio (non-assessed piece). Yay! As I’ve learnt to say. The module is stylistics so it’s a commentary rather than the story that’s being measured – I’m far too shallow to mind what I got a good mark for.

In the commentary I’d fretted over structure at the level of whether to use ‘an’ or ‘his’ in the text - and then finished off by saying that, despite several iterations, the story still felt like a shitty first draft to me. One friend said he’d felt a bit mad with me when he read the commentary; wondered if I pretended to be tough on myself. I know just what he means and I do agonise over whether I’m being disingenuous in what I say or write, as in: “oh this is so awful”, so everyone will assure me: “no it’s not – you’re great you”. And of course there’s a big-bit of that because doing an MA in creative writing and giving people your stuff to read is hubris. I told one of my daughters how he’d felt and she said she thought that about me too; so that’s three of us. I'm really glad he dared to suggest it because it feels less like a shifty secret now.

Attended Jenn’s Manchester book launch; Blackwell’s were selling A Kind of Intimacy and Jenn signed copies and read an extract. I was so giddy and thrilled that I left my spectacles in the car. It seems my camera was on the take-a-baby-picture-without-startling-it setting. Consequently the photos of her reading are all enigmatic silhouettes; well, at least she wasn’t startled. Emily the good-blogger (author of My Shitty Twenties) set my camera back to Auto so I’ve got that one good photo of her left signing a book.

Also Saw Ray Robinson, author of the excellent novel Electricity, at the launch. But of course, because he didn't have his name rubber-stamped on his head I didn't know it was him until afterwards. Here's his back.

My blog was intended to track my MA progress but I feel it’s become a bit lightweight lately; partly I’m losing steam, partly because stylistics is hard. Stylistics suites me because my thinking is pretty jelloid and I appreciate being taught order; but it can be a bit dull to write about - so I’ve cravenly resorted to fancy dress outfits and Morris dancers and the like. When I first wrote about the Morris dancers I joked about fertility rituals; adding that the display was a grand example of the triumph of hope over experience. Then I took that out. For several reasons; many of the women were actually young and clearly fecund and (as I know) being over fifty isn’t something you have any choice about. It was great fun to watch the dancing and the dancers were happy and uninhibited and doing something crazyplucky and I was just cynically taking photos and writing about them so I could make a joke. And I’ve don't believe in the supernatural but I’m so quick to mock people that I’m starting to worry a bit about my karma. So, if you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody come and sit by me – well, not any more.

Transpires we have to submit 3 genres with our stylistics commentary; fiction, poetry and a dramatic piece. Thought I’d drawn a line under poetry. I’m trying to relate everything to the short story I’m writing for fiction so my poem’s based on a studio photo of my grandma and grandad and some other relatives taken around the time of the First World War. They’re very young and not yet married, my grandma has exactly the same eyes as my daughter. Nobody in the photo is beaming; in fact all the others in the assembly look positively glum. My grandparents are on the left end of the group; she seated, him standing behind her with his hand resting on her shoulder. They both have little faint half-smiles - as if they know a secret. I’ve been asking my dad Jim about them. My grandad was a slater’s mate and hefted a handcart with iron-rimmed wheels around cobbled streets in Liverpool. My grandma soldered cans in the Fray Bentos factory; the factory girls worked with rags wrapped around their fingers because of all the cuts and burns they sustained. The couple went on to have six children; first out best dressed. Jim was their youngest son and he never remembers not feeling hungry when he was growing up. My grandma was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis when she was still young. The skinny young Jimmy had to heft his mother’s wheelchair across those same Liverpool cobbles that his dad manhandled the cart over; he still feels ashamed of how mortified he felt doing that. She was in pain a long time; I remember her sitting in a wheelchair crying with agony when I was a small child. The girl in the photograph with my daughter’s eyes has no idea of what she had coming. As my grandma was dying my dad was at one side of her bed and her neighbour, Mrs Cowan, at the other. Mrs Cowan said: “she’s gone Jimmy” and he was glad, because she’d had such a hard life. So that’s going to be my poem; sounds queasily 'Tis-ish when outlined here.

All my stories are about Jim in one way or another. I want him to tell me stories about heavy handcarts. A handcart with iron-rimmed wheels for goodness sake, not and olde worlde cart festooned with ribbons or piled with chutney, but a beast of a heavy duty handcart that weighed a ton to push up and down steep roads in the Vale. I want him to tell me about Warehouse men with pockets full of Brazil nuts from the docks and poor-sod shoeless children who were sent home from school because they weren’t allowed in school without something on their feet and about the time he was mocked because he pronounced each ‘eee atch’. But I drift off when he starts telling me that he thinks someone is siphoning off his heating oil or his take on immigration or that he doesn’t understand the letter from United Utilities. And I feel ashamed now.

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