I had a meeting with one of our fiction tutors on Tuesday, and we went over a chapter of my novel-in-progress. It was a useful experience, both on the micro level (oh, all the words that shall be changed...) and on the macro (where the story might be heading). I came away with quite a few decent ideas. I'd met up with another tutor a couple of weeks ago and we'd discussed the overall (very vague!) structure of the book - the two meetings combined made me feel like I'm not entirely on the wrong track. We'll find out who our dissertation supervisors will be soon enough, so I'll know which one of them will be thrashing it out with me over the summer. Lucky them, eh... But this has all been happening during the Easter break, and there's only a week and a bit left of that, and I've long owed you guys my account of the last pre-Easter week of classes. So here goes:
Contemporary Fiction this week was about post-colonialism and transnational feminisms, and the text was Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. I'd read this before and I remembered being quite impressed by it (despite its utterly awful title) and this time round the actual writing still impressed me, but the meandering and weak plot was a disappointment. It got a rather lukewarm reception in class, and people were a little sniffy about Desai's Booker win. I don't think it's the best book to win in the past decade, but it's far from the worst (The White Tiger, anyone??) - and the prose is pretty luxurious all the same.
Issues we discussed: the usual post-colonial banter - what did people understand by the term 'postcolonial', what does it mean for 'english literature', reasons to critique any particular approach to postcolonial studies or the whole project altogether, the possibly tokenistic nature of the Booker success by different 'postcolonial' authors in the last ten years, the reification of the postcolonial 'exotic'... It was a pretty wide-ranging discussion, from Said to current market forces. Personally, I'm wary of the term, because to me, it's flabby enough to include in one definition or another almost anything written by anyone who's not white-British or possible white-American. So you get the same hierarchies, the ones you claim to be critiquing, emerging all over again. But I haven't read too widely into it; don;t quote me. We also touched on the cultural tourism debate and I pointed the tutor towards Sara's Crowley's blog, where there's been a lively discussion on the topic. We finished up by talking a little about transnational feminisms; gendered globalisation, identity as a signifying practice (Judith Butler), and other topics that I've since forgotten about. Oops...
After lunch, in the workshop, we looked at one person's reworked first chapter, and a later chapter from somebody else. It's fascinating to see how people's work develops over time. It's occurred to me that I probably won't find out what happens to/in most of these embryonic novels once the course finishes, which is a real shame. Well - I'll just have to keep an eye on the new releases in the bookshops over the next few years!
Then - after a sneaky pint in the ever-welcoming Big Hands (which never fails to remind me of Peep Show) - we headed down to the Whitworth to check out Jenn Ashworth and Jen Hadfield reading, respectively, fiction and poetry. Jenn-with-two-Ns read excerpts from A Kind of Intimacy (Have you read this yet? Because you should; it's great) and her new book, Cold Light, which isn't out yet, but she totally whetted our collective appetites. Then Jen-with-one-N read a selection of poems from her two collections. The whole thing took place in the middle of Thomas Demand's installation, part of the Whitworth's show, The Walls Are Talking - which is itself well worth a gander. So all in all, a very arty evening. And a very link-tastic paragraph, now that I look back over it.
Anyway, Jenn Ashworth came in to do a workshop with us the next morning - and she did very well by getting in for nine o'clock (in fact, we all did very well there, big round of applause for us) - about how to pull in an income as a writer. She told us about her teaching, workshops, manuscript editing, Arts Council grants, and so on. It was very refreshing to hear about that side of things, because nobody else has really talked hard cash with us. I mean, we're all aware we're setting out on a road to destitution, with gruel for dinner and nothing at all for lunch, but it was good to hear somebody lay out a budget for it all.
I'm off to eat a bowl of water.