Life of the mind

Given my current (precarious) state of existence – which, thanks to a) finally becoming British and b) being offered a job is now at least partly settled through mid-September instead of falling off a cliff roundabout the end of March – I’m thinking a lot about writing, and why, and how the hell money/stability/public response fits in.

As you can no doubt imagine it occasionally gets a little pretentious around here.

However, my friend Karie reminded me a while back about A.S. Byatt’s comments about wanting to lead a life of the mind. More recently, there’s a lot of upheaval here in the literary communit(y)/(ies) of Scotland thanks to the report of the Literature Working Group, which has put forward suggestions about what should happen on the literature side of things when the strategic body Creative Scotland starts to lead the development of Scottish culture.

It’s one of those times when the buzzwords start to eat you alive.

As I still haven’t figured out what I think about having a Strategic Body in charge of a culture that I’m a relative newcomer to, I’ll leave that for now, but Rosemary Goring (whose name does not, I notice, actually appear anywhere on this story; I only know she wrote it because Robert Alan Jamieson said so) responds in the Herald to some of the criticism leveled against the LWG’s suggestions. Right now I’m far more of the Hugh MacDiarmid style of scraping by (in terms of finances only, I hasten to add; I shan’t claim to be a tenth as good a writer) than the Arts Council grantee, though I’ve been sporadically trying to become the latter for a few years now.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, at one point in my life I was filling out UK entry forms with ‘poet’ where it asked for occupation. I sure as hell wasn’t going to write ‘secretarial temp’ even if that did happen to be how I was paying the bills at the time. (This sort of thing is, incidentally, a major trope of become-a-musical-star reality shows. ‘Oh, Connie Fisher was a temp!’ Um, no, she had a degree from Mountview and was regularly being called back to West End auditions. But that doesn’t tug the heartstrings.)

Obviously, I get to decide that I’m not defined by the title on the paystub. The problem is where ‘writer’ actually comes from – the entries on the publications page, or the fact that various people on Fulbright committees once handed me money to live in Romania and try to write the novel I’d proposed, or the way I’m shivering at the bus station trying to find an appropriate rhyme for ‘learned’, or that agents keep asking for full manuscripts, or that my high school English teacher still tells me how wonderful I am…?

Is the life of the mind solely determined by what goes on in my own mind? If not, who else gets a say?

I feel I ought to have figured this out by now.

If you want to read more of the various sides to the LWG debate, there have been various articles in the Bookseller – here and here – and the Scotsman, and of course a variety of blog responses. RAJ’s seem to be either Facebook-only or friend-restricted, but check out Anne Bonnar and Stuart Kelly. (Other suggestions welcomed.)

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brief market report

I don’t normally do market reports – for competitions, incidentally, check out Sally Quiller’s excellent Writing Calendar – but the Yeovil Prize people found my squee post from September and left a nice comment, so: if you are looking for a place to enter a novel, short story, or poem, you might check out their current competition, which closes on May 31.

I don’t have any short stories that fit the bill (or which aren’t already earmarked for other markets), and my novel didn’t make the cut last time, but I’ve been writing quite a few poems, so I think I shall try again this year.

Recently, poetry has fallen a bit by the wayside as real life suddenly became frantic, but it should calm down soon (she says hopefully). I’m still focusing on sonnets, though as I tend to write them out of the house and don’t carry my rhyming dictionary with me (and haven’t yet gone looking for an iPhone app – though I’m sure there must be one), I tend to spend a lot of time muttering my way through the alphabet when I start moving towards the second half of any given quatrain.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

I have spent much of the last month writing sonnets

Some of which (and I am going to use the technical literary term here) screw around with the form in a subversive and/or pleasing manner. Also, one villanelle, in which I not only mostly rhyme the B lines but work in an additional repetition, which was surprising.

(It is difficult enough to remember how to spell ‘villanelle’ without the automatic red-line-under-incorrectly-spelled-words having hissyfits regardless of whether I put one L or two in the first syllable.)

(It doesn’t like ‘hissyfits,’ either.)

Oh, and while hanging out at the bus station last week, I proved to myself that I can still write a sonnet in five minutes. I did this in high school, but have thankfully moved on from titles like ‘The Five-Minute Sonnet’ (although I’m still trying to find an alternative for ‘Cancer Villanelle,’ which took me much longer than five minutes).

Anyway, new public reading to announce: I’ll be participating in the WordDogs Weird Love event, which was supposed to be tonight but has been rescheduled for next Wednesday, the 24th of February, at 730-but-really-closer-to-800pm, at Art Bar Glasgow.

I’ll be reading two unpublished poems: ‘The Time Lord’s Job Advertisement’ and ‘Send This Person a Message’ (which, STRANGELY, the WordDogs people twigged was about Facebook). Apparently when I am not writing sonnets I am being pop-culturish these days.

I submitted four pieces, but these two are definitely the best for reading aloud – they’re both first person and a lot more colloquial than I tend to be in More Formal Literary Stuff. Must go practice by reading them aloud to Thundercat, who doesn’t tend to be much of a literary critic but occasionally can be convinced not to fall asleep while I’m reciting.


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