Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Eating People

My OU work is really stacking up now with two assignments and the crucial end-of-course assessment to complete in less than ten weeks. I suppose the reason I’m feeling under pressure is because I want to do well. I’ve worked far harder at this than I ever did during my BA (the usual distractions) and I’ve been really chuffed with my results. Since I’d established some writing credentials before embarking on this course, a few people looked at me askance when I told them I was studying for a Diploma in Creative Writing, but I wanted to try new areas and push myself outside my comfort zone and that’s exactly what I’ve done. The poetry section was especially rewarding and even if my poetry never sees the light of day, I know it’s something I’ll continue with.

As for writing outside my comfort zone, well, the current module, life writing, certainly takes care of that. The furore over Julie Myerson’s, ‘The Lost Child’, which blew up just as I started the module, was a timely reminder of how easy it is to eat your own life. I think I’ve come perilously close to invading my daughters’ privacy in the past. They say not, and I’m grateful for that, but even so it’s made me think very carefully about the price of a good story.

The ingredients of my writing are inevitably taken from my own life and my own interactions, but, with fiction, they’ve been blended, filtered and left to develop into something that is not about me. The life writing module has felt very raw; Virginia Woolf writes about life being a bowl that ‘one fills and fills and fills’. With some of the exercises mine’s felt more like a leaky plastic bag full of water; every time I press it some horrid or painful memory gushes out! For the sake of my tutor, who has to read this stuff, I’ve been trying to find something a little more upbeat to write about for my next assignment, but so far it’s all very dark. The last time I looked I thought I’d had a very happy life, so why do I keep poking around in the depressing bits?

And finally...
Whilst my blog is a form of life writing, I do try not to devour everyone around me but here are some real-life achievements worth marking.

• Tom is now exhibiting with Real Artists, an online gallery who work with a small group of carefully selected artists.

• A friend, G, came to stay with us last week. Well, nothing unusual about that, except that G, who was put up for adoption shortly after his birth, has learning difficulties and made the long journey here by himself, as far as he could, on public transport. G has no family of his own, but, through Mil and Dil, has become one of Tom’s extended family. G has fewer people than most to praise or console him, but has just celebrated twenty-five years working for the same large supermarket. The occasion was marked with a posh award and a ceremony. No mean achievement for someone who started off so alone – well done, G, we’re proud of you.

• I’m also bursting with pride for my lovely Rose, who, after a bit of administrative to-ing and fro-ing after her original assessment centre disappeared, has finally received her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. Working through the awards took Rose to all kinds of places with challenging and demanding tasks and I know how much effort and determination it took for her to reach her goal. Rose has very kindly invited me to attend the award ceremony with her, we don’t know when it is but I do know I shall be a very proud mummy that day!

Image is 'Half a Mile Off' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Grand Tour

It’s five o’clock in the morning and I’m good to go. Notoriously grumpy outside my core hours, I’m making a big effort to be cheerful – and with good reason; we’re off on our hols! The only slight problem is that something is tickling my neck and further investigation reveals that I’ve put my jumper on back-to-front. Oh, and my Ugg-alike slippers are on the wrong feet. Well, maybe it is a bit early for me.

Since the cars ate our cash, the budget for our city break is even tighter. We shouldn’t be going at all but, sheesh, ten years of marriage has got to be worth celebrating, and Edinburgh’s been on our list of places to visit for ages. We’re going to make the most of our precious time away, hence the early start. The meander through Wales is slow but the scenery is so beautiful we don’t care and by lunchtime we’re drinking tea in a service station in Gretna in brilliant sunshine.

Craigmoss Bed and Breakfast provides us with the perfect base (and the perfect Scottish breakfast!) for our city break; and Isabelle and Harry are wonderful hosts. On the first evening, a crystal clear night, we walk round the city where all the architecture seems to reach up to pierce the sapphire sky; it’s just wonderful. The next day it’s up and away to cram in as much of Edinburgh as possible; the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the Dean Gallery (both amazing buildings) and over to the Royal Botanic Gardens and Inverleith House.

In the evening, courtesy of Stepson Two (thank you, dear heart) we go to see Noah and the Whale at the Queen’s Hall. Now me, I’d call putting all the focus on a series of short films and bizarre and sometimes grotesque vintage film clips, rather than the band, throwing in the towel, but maybe I’m just missing the point.

The following day we head for Glasgow to visit Kelvingrove and then GoMa, the Gallery of Modern Art. It’s strange though, that out of all the collections we’ve seen, the one that haunts me is the one that’s attracted the most censure. From the angry comments in the visitors’ book, you’d think Hayley Tompkins was up to something really dastardly. Her show, ‘Autobuilding’, which takes up two storeys of the magnificent Inverleith House, is like the pause at the end of a line of poetry. One room, for example, is devoted to a single exhibit, ‘Artificiel’, and comprises, well, a painted twig actually, dotted with squares of cut photograph. I don’t know why it works but it just does, although I’m less convinced by cut up paper and photos arranged on a table.

Having travelled so far, Tom and I decide that a few extra miles are neither here nor there so we come home via the beautiful Northumbrian coast. We manage to fit in a walk on the beach at Bamburgh and coffee and cake at Durham University where Tom studied at his OU summer school last year. Then back through Newcastle and my first glimpse of the Angel of the North. Brilliant! A brief, but truly memorable, break.

And finally...
Talented Stepson Two has responded to the slings and arrows of the music industry by doing what he does so well, writing melodic, catchy pop songs with a touch of wistfulness. Have a listen to them and catch up with The Pretty Critics here...

Image is 'The Way to Llyn Cau' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 9 March 2009

Breaking Point and a Break

Well, what didn’t the Llanelli half marathon throw at us? A severe weather warning, rain, freezing cold, hailstones and wind. By the six mile mark I was soaking wet and being pelted with hail and by the ten mile mark I felt as if I was running with someone else on my back. Then the sun came out and, for a moment, I thought it might be a fairly benign jog to the finish except that the wind picked up even more dramatically. A huge gust pushed me sideways off the track and sand, blowing up from the beach, scoured my face. By mile twelve I was finding it hard enough to stand up, let alone run. At this point a nasty little hill spikes the mix even further. I felt dizzy, disorientated and had visions of walking the rest of the course... and then I saw the finish!

Now, in my mind I’m flying at this point, although video footage shows Mrs Clumpy-clumpison hobbling towards the line. Anyway, I managed to find something in the tank and clocked up a chip time of 2:17:05, a personal best, (and 48th in my class, whoop! whoop!) before crying all over Tom!

Mrs Clumpy-clumpison attacks the line

Relief that it's all over!

Tomorrow we’re off on a short city break to celebrate our wedding anniversary. After years of holidaying on Veryan, our old wooden boat where the facilities were somewhat basic (sleeping bag, strip wash and sea sickness) I’m very excited about staying in a B&B!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Two Big Pushes and Some Crabs

Well, it’s not every woman who can say she got crabs from the man across the road for her anniversary. And straight out the sea at that! Mr Across-the-Road turned up at the weekend with a basket of freshly-caught crabs as a thank you for a couple of small favours we’d been happy to do. There was a worrying moment when Tom and I looked at the crabs in our sink and they looked up at us and waved little crabby claws and I thought we might have to keep them as pets before we overcame our unease and dispatched them with great respect. And, I have to say they were absolutely sublime with Tom’s homemade a├»oli and some chilled white wine. On our anniversary, St David’s Day, Tom brought me a cup of tea in bed and a bunch of daffs for every year of our marriage – how lovely was that?

Only four days to go now before the Llanelli half-marathon so I’m getting nervous. My training’s gone well but not without event. Honestly, you’d think that here on the west Wales coast I’d be able to run in peace but, no. Over the last week alone I have: (a) been a soft target for every boy racer that passes to jeer at; (b) been stopped by a van driver who actually pulled over in a lay by to ask me how I was getting on and what was I training for; (c) made new best friends with an old boy who I see on my runs – and I know I’m his best friend because he says, ‘Sut ti?’, ‘How’s you?’ – informal, and I am most certainly not a child or his sweetheart!

But the award for the worst close encounter this week though, goes to a farm dog. I’m not scared of dogs but I do treat the farm dogs with caution so when this one bolted out an open gate I stopped, let it sniff me, talked to it nicely and tried to carry on, but, no, it wasn’t having it. By the time I eventually got passed I was covered in mud where it had jumped all over me and slightly chewed from a couple of playful nips it had tried out on me. Hopefully Sunday’s run will be slightly less eventful!

The effect of FTT’s two near misses was to leave me with a lingering feeling that, for all the glowing comments, maybe I had, in fact, written a pile of junk. I was also feeling a bit confused about the apparently conflicting advice I’d been given and was almost ready to abandon the whole thing. There’s a moment after the white heat of finishing a novel when you can’t read it with any degree of objectivity, which is why the advice is always to put the typescript away for a few weeks, but, hey, when you know someone’s going to sit on it for months you just want to get it out there. Then the doubts start to creep in...

One of the many benefits of the OU course I’m studying is that it’s taught me to be a better reader, a more critical reader, so I sat down to read FTT and decide what to do next. Well, I’m actually really pleased with what I’ve written! FTT Dark is more interesting than FTT Lite, although, at 110,000 it is, as the publisher pointed out, a tad too long and, curses, the bit you send out, the first three chapters, are the book’s weakest chapters (probably because I rewrote them so many times). Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve nearly finished rewriting, FTT Dark ‘n Sleek, with all of the plot and none of the flabby bits, so now I can take it forwards with confidence.

And finally...
My race number has just arrived for the Llanelli half; I am a scarily low number, 46, but don’t worry if you can’t remember that because, looking at the hardcore field, I’ll be easy to spot because I’ll be the one at the back. Now, I’m even more nervous! Eek!

Today’s image is 'Welsh Landscape’ by Tom Tomos. Tom’s been trying out a new technique of drawing in 'back to front' colours on small cards, scanning the image and then making a negative version. They will either be for limited edition digital prints [at very reasonable prices] or for projection in a gallery display.

Tom and Chris scanning the horizon to see if their ship is coming in.