Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Remember, remember, the 5th of November . . .

One of my favourite radio programmes is I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, in which Marcus Brigstocke invites celebrity guests to try new experiences. For example, Ian Hislop went to buy a pair of jeans for the first time ever. That was funnier than it sounds. Trying different foods is popular, most memorably jellied eels and, another time, tofu. So, I wondered, what would my list of ‘never done that’ consist of? Here's what I came up with.

I’ve never:
  • Eaten sushi or oysters
  • Seen Mama Mia
  • Read War & Peace
  • Driven on a motorway
  • Had a tattoo
  • Been camping or skiing
  • Published a book

These will all probably remain undone. Except that last one. Yes, this is a roundabout way of announcing that from November 5th 2013 my first novel, No Stranger to Death, will be available on Amazon as an ebook and a paperback.

I’m excited and scared in equal measures. 

I'm planning a party too . . .
Pictures courtesy of

Thursday, 4 July 2013

On no longer being a student

So, farewell Open University. It’s been great, even though sending off the final assignment of my final course was an anticlimax. That’s the trouble with living miles from the nearest shop and working from home: no easy way to buy cakes and no one to share them with. Now I have to wait until August to find out my final mark for A300 Twentieth Century Texts and how good a degree it’s helped me achieve. I’m lucky that nothing but my self-esteem depends on this outcome, but I’m still anxious to have done well.

I’ve written before about how I ended up doing an OU degree so I won’t repeat that. Here are the modules I studied (a year at Edinburgh University saved me two OU ones):

·         A207: From Enlightenment to Romanticism, 1780-1830. This wide-ranging course covered music, philosophy, science, poetry, drama, art, architecture and social history. The essays I wrote included ones on Goethe’s Faust, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Turner’s depiction of the Battle of Waterloo, and Robert Owen’s social experiments at New Lanark.
·         A215: Creative Writing. This course included, as the OU website puts it, ‘exercises and activities designed to ignite and sustain the writing impulse’. As well as short fiction, we produced poetry and travel-writing. Each piece of work submitted had to be accompanied by a reflective commentary, providing details of how it was conceived, the process of drafting and editing, and how difficulties were overcome. Quite a lot more than answering that old chestnut 'where do you get your ideas from?'.

Monument Valley
·         AA310: Film and Television History. This was by far my favourite course, not least because it necessitated watching lots of DVDs! I studied, among other film genres, westerns (which inspired our visit to Monument Valley in 2011), British war films, 1960s spy thrillers and post-WW2 European cinema. The TV element included sci-fi and soaps. I did my end-of-course project on the classic serial on British television, writing about the adaptations of I, Claudius (first shown in 1976, and again very recently) and Moll Flanders (1996). 
·         A300: 20th-Century Texts. This was my final course and I’ve blogged about it in some detail already.

The benefits of studying with the OU have turned out to go far beyond interpreting texts, remembering facts and getting good grades.  Here are just a few of the things my studies have taught me about myself:

·         I can take on a huge commitment (both in terms of time and effort) and see it through to the end.
·         I work best with deadlines.
·         Few tasks are insurmountable. I’ve lost count of the occasions when I read an assignment title for the first time and thought ‘I can’t do this’. But I did. With one exception (see below).
·         I discovered I can’t write poetry to save my life, although I do enjoy reading and studying other people's.
·         I may be a pantser when writing fiction, but when it comes to academic writing I’m a planner through and through.
·         I enjoy reading ebooks for pleasure but when I’m studying, a physical book wins every time. 

I'm now familiar with words like palimpsest, hypallage, scotoma, hermeneutic, belleslettres and more –ologies than you can shake a stick at. And I learnt other lessons too, like always prepare for the unexpected, especially when a deadline looms. I managed to cope when a virus rendered my computer inoperable a week before an essay was due in, mainly by making the engineer feel so sorry for me that he moved my job to the front of the queue. But what on earth was I supposed to do when the handle mechanism on my study door broke the day before an essay was due in, leaving me unable to get inside the room? I had to wait until my husband came home and kicked the door open. It was such a bizarre excuse for needing an additional day that my tutor had to believe me.

So, will my experience of studying with the OU help my career as a writer?  Look again at the things I’ve learnt: commitment, working to deadlines, persevering with seemingly impossible tasks. I think the answer has to be ‘yes’, don't you? 

I'll definitely be celebrating in August with ice cream cakes from Giacopazzi's!