I mentioned a while back that I'd reached the final fifteen of a competition; well, it was the Flatmancrooked Prize (for Excellent Writing Done During a Period of Great Fiscal Renewal) [love the title], but sadly, the final fifteen was as far as I went.  They haven't announced the winner yet, but I didn't make the final ten.  I'm still damn psyched though, as its the first time I've ever been shortlisted for something.  Plus the story will still be published on their website at some point during the next few months, so keep those eyes peeled.  Thanks for the congratulations, everyone.

MA: First week

Well, okay, it's only Tuesday, but since most of my classes are on a Monday, except for a fortnightly Tuesday seminar which doesn't kick off until the week after next, then teaching-wise, the first week is firmly under my (straining) belt.

The first seminar for our Forms of Fiction course was on Monday morning; there was about fifteen people in the group, maybe half from the CW and half from other courses in the English and American Studies Department. The class is designed to look at the construction of fiction; the techniques and decisions made by the authors, and the effects these have on the text, the reader, and so on. It's lit-crit, basically, but with slightly more of a craft focus than I got on my BA (back in the mists of time, when we went to class barefoot and wrote with twigs dipped in mud). The main issues that we'll be exploring are point of view, time, the reliability (or otherwise) of the narrator, and showing/telling. So this week we mainly examined Madame Bovary as an example of differing sorts of points of view. We used Gerard Genette's notions of focalisation to study Flaubert's characterisation and themes, and we talked about when, and why, he switches between Emma's, Charles', and an omniscient (or external) point of view. It was a good class; not too taxing, not too far removed from anything I'd done in the past, but a solid way to ease back in to the academic way of thinking.

Then, after lunch, we had out first fiction workshop. The two students who volunteered deserved a round of applause; I kept my hands firmly jammed down under my ass when they were looking for guinea-pigs for Week One. We had two hours to discuss their work; I think we were also supposed to talk a little about Hemingway and also do a writing exercise, but this didn't happen, so I guess the tutor gave us a little wiggle-room to get used to workshopping, and he'll tighten up the structure of the class next time. We've got two tutors for this course, so we'll have the other one next week. I think the timetable pans out so that I'll get a workshopping session with each of them over the semester, but these things always seem to change as the term goes on, or people fall ill, so we'll see. The discussion today was lively; very constructive, plenty of differing opinions, small but solid input from the tutor. Considering many of the students hadn't critted or workshopped before, it went really well, with maximum participation and no rows; plus the authors took it all on the chin, made notes, clarified when asked, and didn't get defensive or arsey. So, good stuff. I'd never done real-life crits before, just online versions, so I was a little hesitant to speak up at first as I've been told repeatedly (since childhood, I reckon) to shut up, back down, and let other people talk; I did say my bit (can't silence me, you bastards) but I tried to be all nice-like and diplomatic and so on, and I think I have them fooled.



Before I launch into the proper first week of classes and workshopping, I quickly wanted to mention the readings I went to last week.  On Tuesday we navigated our way along the M61 to Preston (only getting lost once, mistaking a carpark for the ringroad, my bad) to Word Soup 5, run by the lovely Jenn Ashworth.  Numberous things were read (see their website and Facebook page) and it was fantastic to meet Jenn in real life (I've pestered this poor woman so long via email etc that I wouldn't have been surprised if she ran screaming into the night at the sight of my gurning mug in the audience) and also, a newer online acquaintence, Kim McGowan, who gave me a great big hug.  So nobody ran screaming, and thus the night was a success!  Score one for my social skills - wham!  I also got to hang out with Steven Hall (reading The Raw Sharks Texts at the moment, shamed into pulling it off the TBR pile by meeting the ever-so-nice author), and Mel, and Sian, and hi to everyone else whose names I didn't catch.  Y'all were an absolute pleasure, and you didn't scream, and Preston rocked.

Then on Wednesday the PhD students in the department here had a reading of their works in progress in Manchester's Central Library.  The standard of the work was very high, and the variety in genres and forms on display that afternoon was impressive.  It gave me plenty of confidence in the department here.  No links, I'm afraid; I'm an ass who didn't get names.

And now I better not be late for the first class, seeing as I read the text and all.  Ciao.

It begins!

So; the MA is underway!  (That sort of ryhymes.  This is why I'm doing a creative writing course, people - SKILLZ.)

On an arsey preliminary note, though, before I blather on about the course, here's a mini-rant about one of our new neighbours, because I know you lot enjoy a rant as much as I do.  We got properly, finally, completely moved to Manchester Friday night, and on Saturday morning somebody in the house three doors down, who'll henceforth be known as the Psycho Bastard, let the air out of our car tyres. Oh, we were dancing in the street for hours.  Another neighbour then jacked up the car and pumped up the tyres for us, so I suppose the karma rebalanced; but we'll be parking around the block from now on.  The rage, the rage.

Anyway, yesterday was Day One; I went along to a School talk about interdisciplanary blah blah blah - and then over to the department itself (the rather fancy sounding Centre For New Writing) for the proper meet-and-greet.  They split us into two groups, poetry and fiction, though there was a certain amount of crossover, as the optional modue in the first semester allows you to take the 'other' workshop; I'm doing straight fiction, so my module is a lit crit class.  We were paired off and told to chat for a while, and then each of us had to introducce our partner.  There's about thirty people in the class, and a really interesting range of ages and backgrounds.  I was expecting a predominance of just-graduated BA students, and though there are a few people coming straight from their undergraduate degrees, there's a large number of people in their twenties and thirties and older, which made me feel altogether less sefl-conscious.  So we exchanged daft snippets of information about each other and chortled, and then the tutors talked about the course for a while.

We take two modules each semester.  This time I'll be doing a fiction workshop, and a course called Forms of  Fiction, and next semerster I'll do the second fiction workshop and Contemporary Fiction.  The lit classes will require one or two essays each, and the workshop tutors will ask for a writing sample to be submitted for assessment at the end of each semester.  Each student will get their work critted twice per semester by the group, and an individual session post-workshop with the relevant tutor.  There's about twelve students in each of these groups, so in theory, when you're up for workshop, you should get eleven marked-up printouts of your work, plus a separate page of notes from each person, the in-class discussion, and the tutor feedback, so I reckon it'll be pretty useful.  We'll also do writing exercises during the workshop, and discuss a series of set texts. The first workshops are next week, and we have to read a story and interview by Hemingway.  I'm not sure when my first workshp will be, they're going to solidify the schedule next week.

In the meantime, tonight I'm venturing to Preston for Word Soup, and I'm dragging two new classmates in the car with me, and meeting another one there.  Look at me; all sociable and shit.  Strange days.  And tomorrow, the PhD students are doing a reading in the central Library in town - this is a public ticketed event, so anyone can gom but we get free tickets - SCORE!  I've got my NUS card too, and though it makes me look horribly like Cousin It, it'll get me discounts all over the place.

I feel young again! 

Spooky Internet

The landline at my old flat has been disconnected today, as I asked, and so the phone no longer works, but, spookily, I've still got broadband.  What's that all about?  I'm confused.  Confused and happy, though.  Creepy, magical internet access.  Tomorrow I go back up to Manchester (this week's been all about DIY and cleaning)  where I'll technically have a functioning landline, though no actual phone yet, but O2 (or, Those Unbelievably Incompetent Bastards From Hell, to give them their full title) claim it'll take at least two weeks to get the broadband moved. because, clearly, it's not just a matter of inputting details in their system.  No, no; they'll be sending the flying monkeys all over the country to sort this shit out, and communicating with the monkeys via an intricate and time-consuming system of coloured flags and flashing lights and bullshit.  So two weeks is probably optimistic.  

Anyway - three whole days to go!  I'm going shopping this weekend to buy new pens and paper and folders to make the whole back-to-school thing complete.  I might need to be restrained in the stationary shop or I'll blow my rent budget on coloured pens and highlighters and tipex and I better stop now.

one week to go!

One week to go before the course starts.  A good friend of mine started a part-time MA in Chichester last week, and now I'm really itching to get going on mine, though I'm already worried about the workload.  But let's suppress that, shall we, and get on with things, eh?

In between lugging boxes of crap up and down the country and cleaning the dirtiest oven known to man (I've never, NEVER seen such a coagulation of grease - we were half-expecting Joseph Beuys to come crawling out of there looking triumphant and sort of evil) and getting coughed on by a swine-infested boyfriend (who did most of the oven cleaning, bless him but he is a massive fan of Beuys, so there you go); in between those things, I got Austerlitz and Muriel Spark read and am onto some lightweight lit-crit in the shape of Forster's Aspects of the Novel.  Break back into to it gently, I thought.

Plus I won a copy of Blake Butler's Scorch Atlas in a PANK giveaway (I love you, Roxane!) and also, I got in the post today a copy of Shane Jones' Light Boxes - a million months after everyone else, fine, but I'm still really looking forward to it.  Gotta get through the Forster first, though, and then some Bolano.  Man, I'm getting workload-fear again.

I've also heard that I'm in the final fifteen of a short story competition, which is really exciting because I've never had any competion luck before.  Even if I get no further, I'm still unbelievably psyched by that.  Cheers, contest-people-who-shall-remain-anonymous-for-the-time-being.  High five.

moving house

Packing is eating away my life. If I had no books it would be a million times quicker.  That's not an exaggeration; it's a careful calculation done with weights and measures and all sorts.  Look at the books over there.  I alphabetised the hell out of them.  And those shelves - man, I love my shelves.  If I could transport that entire wall halfway up the country, I would. But it seems I can't, so the books were very laboriously packed up, and the poor old wall was left all naked and embarrassed.     

The suspension on the car complained the entire way up the M6.  We did two journeys up and down in the car (a van will take care of the rest very soon) and now I've got a flat in Birmingham that looks even emptier than this mid-packing snap, and a flat in Manchester that looks like a library and a cardboard factory exploded all over it.  The gas supply is disconnected in the new place, so it's salads and cold showers for the time being.  The universe knows I'm a student again and is wreaking some sort of horrible gas-less vengeance.  Plus the kitchen table is actually a patio table, and the boy, the boyfriend who's done all the packing and lifting, has gotten swine flu.  Where shall we go from here?

Bloody Sunday

I've conquered Henry James; it turns out Maisie knew quite a lot, the unfortunate little sod.  Now onto Austerlitz, which sent me to sleep yesterday afternoon, but I'll get there in the end.

With the house-move partly underway, I've managed to do my back in, so the poor boyfriend is on his own with the lifting and carrying, while I direct operations from the sidelines with a hot-water bottle and a towering pile of painkillers.  My timing is just spot-on.  Meanwhile, the living room's full of boxes, and I've been wondering if we wouldn't be better off creating a box-fort for the year rather than dealing with landlords.  I'm filing that plan away for future re-evaluation.

Two weeks to go before I can go wild with a student discount once again, and pretend to be a 'young person' on the trains.  Exciting times.  Now, excuse me while I hobble to the kitchen, clutching my spine and mumbling about my limbs and my aches and my pains and how it was all better back in my day.

MFA / MA - wtf?

First up, hi, new followers!  With particular reference to the guys from The MFA Chronicles, Jonterri and Raina. (Also, dudes, what unbelievably cool names you have!)  The MFA Chronicles, for those who haven't seen the site, is a blogging platform for a group of MFA students way over in the USA, who've set out to demystify the MFA process.  They're studying in a range of places, hi-res and low-res, poetry/prose/non-fiction and beyond, so it's a really revealing site, and I, for one, am very interested in seeing how it all pans out for everybody.

I find the MA/MFA distinction an interesting one.  Here in the UK, the standard qualification in creative writing is an MA.  People do study it at BA level, and I think that's becoming increasingly popular, but it's still a fairly minority interest, and it certainly isn't typically offered everywhere as a standard undergraduate module, like Modernism, or Beowulf, for example.  So, then, if you want a degree in CW, it usually tends to be an MA.  Kingston University, in the outskirts of London, offers what they claim to be the first MFA in Creative Writing in the UK.  I'm not sure when that course got up and running, so rival programs may have spring up in the meantime, but as a quick google hunt seems to only offer Kingston, I'll take them at their word.  Otherwise, it's MAs all the way to the finish line.

Now, as far as I understand it, in the USA, the point of an MFA is that it's a terminal degree.  It's a two or three year program, and as well as literary theory classes and workshops, you work as a TA.  With your MFA in hand, then, you're qualified to apply for university teaching posts, whereas with your MA, you're not so likely to get a  job like that, and you might be expected to carry on afterwards to do an MFA or PhD.  I'm not sure what the outlook on CW PhDs are in North America.  Does the MFA fulfill the same qualification criteria for CW as a PhD would for, say, a sociology student?  Is there any point in doing a PhD, and what's the stance on MA courses?  MFAs are seen, in many institutions, as very prestigious; where do MAs rank?  I know Eleanor Catton completed an MA in New Zealand and then hightailed it to Iowa for her MFA - was this, I wonder, because she thought she needed more lessons or workshops, or because it's harder to get by in certain parts of the world withouth that particular qualification - even if you have a good MA from another place and have been published to immense acclaim?

In the UK, with the MFA as something of an unknown quantity, MAs rule the roost, though, of course, as elsewhere, many writers steer well clear.  (They're not cheap courses - mine's £4,200, which may seem paltry on US standards, but funding is so sparse as to be non-existent, and I'm paying for mine out of a pretty meagre redundancy package from my former job; otherwise there'd be no way I'd be doing it.)  You can go on to do a PhD, but I'm not sure if the lack of one would prohibit you from a teaching position, or if a solid publication record would do the trick.  I don't think CW PhDs have been around for a tremendously long time, and I would guess that the older generations of teaching staff are more likely to be published than PhD'd, but that, perhaps, the PhD is increasingly listed as a requirement, as more places begin to offer them.  My partner's studying for his PhD in fine art practice, and he's found that the practice-based PhD raises eyebrows in some corners from the more traditional art historians - I reckon it's the same for CW students.  It's ploughing new ground.

Anyway, MA courses seem to vary between one and two years.  Mine is one year, full-time, and is split between critical seminars and workshops.  You specialise in either fiction or poetrym though you have the option to do workshops in both. (I'm doing fiction.) You don't get any teaching experience, and you submit a disseration (work-in-progress) of 15,000 words at the end of the twelve months.  I would imagine it's not as intensive as the MFA, though, with only a year, the students may well put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to write their masterpiece in ten months, rather than over a two or three year period.  I'm kind of jealous of the MFA students that get two years or more to concentrate on their craft, but, on the other hand, the terror of teaching must be a distraction from the writing itself at times.  Plus I'm reluctant to be so broke for so long.

But what do you think?  MFA'ers - what's the perception of the MA courses in the US, and how are us international types recieved over your way?  Are we doomed without the MFA?  European people, what do you think?  And has anyone done or considered doing a PhD; how's that working out?  Let's have a discussion!  Go on, go on!

Who wants a free yo-yo?

So, September 1st - the start of the course is looming, and the reading list is still undented. I dutifully shipped Henry James (in the form of What Maisie Knew) to Dublin with me for a long weekend, and spent four days going to christenings, changing nappies, bringing kids to the zoo, eating the goody-bags that said kids were supposed to eat after said christenings, but which I commandeered instead, and now I'm full of jellies and crisps and tiny little Milky Way bars, and my knowledge of Maisie's knowings is still quite pitiful. So the goals this week are:

(a) find out what the little terror does in fact know;
(b) bolt through at least two more texts on the list;
(c) get the online university registration done;
(d) go to work on Thursday;
(e) move house on Friday.

This last item is the one that makes me laugh, and invalidates the rest - and anyway, I need to find a shitload of cardboard boxes by tomorrow to get the whole thing underway. Oh, the hilarity! Dudes - send boxes. Or, wait - men with boxes and bubble-wrap. That would be sweet. First one to do my packing for me gets the last goody-bag. It comes with a free yo-yo.