2014-04-07T16:05:48.602+01:00The British Society for Literature and Science conference takes place 10th-12th April 2014 at the University of Surrey. I'm giving a paper on the second day on a panel titled: Light Pollution and Green Technologies. My paper is, unsurprisingly, on Stephen Poliakoff: Dead Batteries: Scientific and Technological Failure in the Work of Stephen Poliakoff
2013-03-05T20:27:24.050+00:00My friend Kirsty Rolfe has an excellent blog called Avoiding the Bears.
2013-03-05T20:12:54.808+00:00Yes, I know, AcWriMo is not about procrastination, it is about the opposite. Add a busy week so far doing things which needed to be done to staring at my laptop and when that doesn't prove productive move my books and whatnot from one room to another, and the result is no words written, and the sense of guilt mentioned on the No Matter, Fail Better, blog is something I'm feeling quite well acquainted with.
2012-11-10T21:31:14.467+00:00Although I'm a little over a week late in discovering AcWriMo and signing up to it, I've now committed to writing 1200 words a day (which is sometimes achievable and at other times a bonkers goal) which comes out as 25200 words over 21 working days - which I began on Friday 9th November, writing 1125 words on the laptop and probably around 100 in a notebook on the train on the way home.
2012-11-08T21:32:42.424+00:00I'm on another 'writing retreat' at the moment; my issues with the word 'retreat' remain, but again it has been a useful thing to do, and sitting in a room with other people who are also writing creates a sense of silent collaboration in a shared goal.
2012-07-03T11:42:35.285+01:00The good news is I finished the draft of the chapter by the deadline I set. The bad news is I'm not happy with the chapter as a whole, but I'll see how things turn out. I'm also physically and mentally wrecked at the moment - I have an article to write so will have to pull myself together by Thursday.
2012-06-22T19:36:21.402+01:00About ten days ago I decided to use a part of my diary (a bright green Leuchtturm1917, A5 size page a week style, in case anyone is interested) I've never bothered to make use of before: the page at the front which lists all the months and days of the year, and which does not have enough space to do anything but circle the relevant date. Before now this has seemed a bit pointless to me - I'm likely to forget what is important about the circled date - but then I realised that working towards a big, scarey, PhD endgame deadline without any general, easily accessible, overview of what I needed to do by when was going to make things, well, scarey. And stress inducing. So for the first time I made use of those little numbers at the front of the diary and circled the relevant numbers for chapter deadlines in red (Diamine Passion Red cartridge), supervision meetings are circled in Noodler's Navy - I am sure at different points new colours denoting different things will emerge, but these are the important things for the time being. I now know what I am working towards on a month to month basis - in my head I already knew this, but putting it on paper has made it clearer and also more immovable, making me create a structure - I am trying to do this but it does not always work.While I was trying to instigate a better working regime and structure for writing the final three chapters of my thesis, The Guardian Books section online ran this blog post: Write or Die: can a $5 app cure writer's block? I'm not sure about the concept of 'writer's block' being an inability to actually put one word after another. For me it is usually not a writing block, but a thinking block. Next week I am attending a PhD Writing Retreat for two days - run by a department called Thinking Writing - I'm looking forward to it, but the idea of it is also making me cringe slightly inside (the 'retreat' bit is mostly causing the cringing I think - it simultaneously sounds a bit 'hippy' and a bit like I am running away from something), and I'm worrying about having to write in a room full of other people. I usually write in a room on my own (Mrs Woolf was right, but inflation means £500 a year doesn't really make it very far these days). Is it going to be weird typing sat next to someone? And what about all that thinking happening in one room? Whether or not it will be a successful two days remains to be seen, but I am hoping it will give me the impetus to finish the first draft a little bit early, allowing me some days off and some sleep, which I really do need, not because I am working through the night (this may yet happen), but because I am just tired. What the writing retreat has done already (by way of a little exercise I have to do before I attend) is make me think about my process for thinking and writing. Thinking back to the last two 'big' projects I have done - my undergraduate dissertation and my MA dissertation, neither of which are anywhere near the length of the PhD thesis, although the MA was about the length of one thesis chapter - I realise the way in which I work now is very different to how I was working on those projects. I wrote the bulk (7000 words approximately) of the first draft of my undergrad project in a crazy burst of binge writing one night - I can't remember how many hours but I recall tinkering with it for most of the day, then having dinner and going back to it at around 8pm or thereabouts - by 5.30am the following morning I could hear the birds singing outside and was hitting the save button for the last time that night. I crawled into bed and woke about five hours later. I can still remember the elated feeling when I woke up and have yet to recapture it. I can also remember the look my supervisor gave me the following day when we stood over the department printer: the look told me I was crazy, but understood tha[...]
2012-06-22T19:38:52.488+01:00A quick AL Kennedy related link today - and get in quick, because I've been slow and forgot ALK is on the wireless for fifteen minutes every Friday for a few weeks (starting last week) which means the first episode will expire in a few hours on iPlayer...
2012-06-22T19:39:29.332+01:00I've been battling with my chapter for sometime. To begin with I had a big panic about where the chapter could be situated within the rest of the project - when I first sat down to think about it, this chapter seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the project. After some major procrastination and a big conversation with my supervisor I finally found a way to get it to work. More procrastination ensued, followed by my Canada trip, and never ending marking. When I finally sat down to start writing last week I found myself writing random lists, thoughts, post-it notes, and then leaving these ideas in a messy heap of paper. The system wasn't working; well mainly there wasn't a system. One of the courses I've been teaching this academic year is a second year undergraduate course which prepares the students for planning and writing a final year research project. At some point in the term one of the lecturers told the students about a brainstorming website called bubbl.us so I thought I'd give it a try. It was useful, but the downside is that it requires you to be on the internet to use it. The internet is great, but it is a great source of distraction, and I really do not need any form of distraction, so the internet gets turned off when I am writing because otherwise I just end up faffing about looking stuff up.Looking on the App Store I came across a few mind-mapping/brainstorming type apps and thought I'd give one of the free ones a try. I downloaded MindeNode Lite because it looked fairly simple and unfussy - which it is. To create a new mindmap you just open a new MindNode document and get clicking and typing.My only major criticism though was that when making the mindmap the new nodes (lines) were created underneath the existing ones (you can see this on the yellow lines) which meant there was all this space at the top which was going to waste. After some fiddling I discovered that you can move the nodes up or down by clicking and dragging, but it would be great if new nodes appeared at the top as well and underneath existing nodes without having to be dragged up there.The maps tend to naturally develop horizontally, so the whole map becomes a bit too linear for my liking, but a bit of dragging and this can be changed. The Pro version of this app may do these sorts of things automatically, and you can also do things like add links and photos, but I'm not sure I need something like that at the moment - maybe once I've proved the usefulness of the software to myself and when I've got an income again in 2013 I'll upgrade to the Pro version. I've only been using MindNote Lite for a few days, but it has been useful so far and I hope as I get to know the software better I'll use it more and it will work in the way that I want it to. It has already helped me to get a complicated narrative sequence in one Poliakoff drama sorted out in my brain. I'll probably recommend this to my students - it is compatible on iphone, ipad and Mac - as using an internet based program can be dangerously time consuming and distracting when you are planning and writing a big project with an immovable deadline.[...]
2012-06-22T19:40:01.026+01:00One of the big problems with my job is that (like so many other people) I spend an unnaturally long time sat in front of a computer. On top of that I have a long term back injury ( 17 years and counting) and an inability to say no to biscuits. I've been trying and failing to go to the gym (when at home) or swimming (when in London). Getting to the gym means a 30 minute round trip in the car, an hour there, and changing etc, and two hours have gone by before I know it. In London if I want to go swimming I need to be in the pool by 7am if I want to avoid the crowds, and this just hasn't been possible over the last few months - I've managed it a few times, but I've been so chronically tired that I need every minute I can get.
2012-06-06T12:56:06.373+01:00Guest post on Einstein on the Beach written by my very good friend Peter Falconer, who I met over a bottle of water (the only one in the room) at a horrendous undergraduate departmental Freshers' Week party in a drama studio around ten years ago. We go to opera and we like tea. We attended the performance at the Barbican Theatre on 9th May 2012. Peter's post has captured perfectly the mad, abstract, and occasionally baffling atmosphere of the performance. We remained in our seats for all 5 hours - we could have wandered off to use the facilities at any point but we decided to be hardcore - it was worth it, but we paid for it the following day. It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen - along with the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia at the Royal Court in 2007, Katie Mitchell's production of Martin Crimp's Attempts on Her Life at the National Theatre in 2007, and Complicte's production A Disappearing Number at the Barbican in 2007/2008, and Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw's production of TS Eliot's The Wasteland at Wilton's Music Hall in 2009/2010. Like those other productions Einstein on the Beach made me think about the potential of theatre and of the theatre space, and the possibilities of language. * There are swear words in this post. I'm not editing them out. You have been warned. *Peter's post: What follows are the scrawlings I made in a notebook whilst watching Einstein on the Beach - scored by Philip Glass, choreographed by Lucinda Childs, and directed by Robert Wilson - at The Barbican Theatre, 2012. There was a little confusion over the naming of the various scenes, as I had only glanced at the running order beforehand. Aside from a general knowledge of Glass's minimalist style, I had not prepared myself by reading up on what each scene contained, or what I was to expect musically or dramatically. The notes were made by information coming in through the eyes and ears and going directly to the pen - the brain was, for the most part, bypassed in order to achieve maximum sensational enjoyment! So, as people are entering, we're faced with one girl at a desk miming typing on some sort of keyboard and another...A....G......C........... on a mouse."These are the days, my friends." Orchestra pit slowly fills with chorus (Cons; grey trousers; white short sleeves; braces; white faces; smiling, surprised)Pause on way up stairsThe bloke next to me is wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a black turtleneck with no apparent irony. He also smells very musty. Like he's spent a fortnight in a library or a second-hand book shop in Shoreditch. "It could be very... fresh!"Photo of child by lake.=======================Child holding cube of light on gangway up high. Conch shell underneathGirl walks back and forth (upstage - downstage - upstage) holding pencil?Red jumper enters downstage. Seems delighted.Music a mechanical, contrapuntal mash.Red jumper's writing in the air with chalk now.Big argument over seats on the row in front. Getting quite heated. Meanwhile, a train enters upstage left.And exits as soon as it entered.Another dancer's just entered downstage left. Think she's operating a train or something. Argument resolved - people here first are on the wrong floor!Ooh, the train's back again.Poor girl's been walking backwards and forwards at about 120bpm for 7 minutes now with her left arm at 45degrees. Must be getting tired.Paper aeroplane on stage.Photo of a train now. Ah, this part is called "Train."More train operators! And the walking girl's trying to controll something with her hands. Could s[...]
2012-06-03T13:10:37.525+01:00It is a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, which naturally means that it is raining. I have no excuse not to write some PhD words over the next three days then. Hope those of you having days off and parties aren't getting too drenched. London was awash with bunting and flags when I left on Thursday.
2012-05-18T13:50:08.456+01:00I haven't been blogging for a while because between January and March I was teaching and marking and attempting (and failing) to make progress with my PhD, and then the beginning of April managed to produce the Worst Week of My Life - which we won't go into because it makes me sad.
2012-05-11T14:19:16.877+01:00I was away for half of April in Canada for the History, Memory, Performance conference at the University of Ottawa, and before that I was teaching and marking, so I've not had much time. This is a quick 'Links to Stuff' post before I get back to posting (hopefully) more often.
2012-02-20T12:10:37.233+00:00Regular readers will know how much I like AL Kennedy's work, and her new radio play That I Should Rise was broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Saturday night drama slot The Wire on Saturday night. It is available until the weekend on BBC iplayer.
2012-01-17T16:12:54.081+00:00Congratulations to Peter Falconer over at A Song A Week 2011! for writing and recording 52 songs in 52 weeks.
2012-03-27T14:47:20.101+01:00Baz Productions are a very exciting theatre company based in London who recently had a production of Macbeth running in the Crypt at St Andrews in Holborn. You can read their blog here. This was the first production I've seen in a long time which actually made me realise how much I miss working in the theatre. I'm looking forward to seeing the work Baz Productions make in the future.
2011-12-04T13:25:19.666+00:00I've been thinking about critics lately.The first two assignments my students have to hand in on the course I am teaching this term are book reviews. This might sound easy: it is not. The work they need to produce should be well written, well argued and succinct - the word limit is a very strict five hundred words maximum. Only a very few of them asked before they began their work what the role of the critic in a review is. This is a question which attracts different answers, and over the last few years there have been discussions - in theatre and literature - about who should review work, how, and for what purpose. On Wednesday evening some friends and I went to see the new production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at English National Opera directed by Deborah Warner, whose production of School for Scandal at the Barbican in early summer was badly reviewed by some (not all) critics - to which Warner responded, and a low key, short lived - but media inflated - 'spat' occurred when two critics took this response very poorly and then themselves responded... are you bored already? What always seems to come out of things is an air of critics in one camp and writers, artists, actors, theatre directors - or whatever other artists I have left out - in another, with no real dialogue occurring between them: critics - and the newspapers they write for - do not want to change the way they do things, which leaves everybody feeling frustrated. Warner - I should declare now that I have great respect for her work and have yet to see anything directed by her in the theatre or opera house which I have disliked - seems to have been attempting (I may be entirely wrong about this of course) to get some sort of discussion going for a while, at least since late 2009 when I heard her on BBC Radio 4's current affairs programme PM talking about critics and criticism and role/responsibility of the critic - but consistently the response to this from senior theatre critics has been patronising and condescending if nothing else. Which, for me, is disappointing, because I feel very strongly that this is a discussion which should be had - there must be a way of properly jump-starting this conversation and preventing it from becoming some sort of pathetic newspaper argument. Before my students hand in their next review I will be encouraging them to think about the role of the critic, or rather think about what the responsibility of the critic is, and what they - as writers, critics, readers, and audience members - want from a review. The production of Onegin is stunningly beautiful (the lighting alone was worth the price of the ticket) and without a doubt the best thing I've seen all year - I would go again every night before the run ends if I could, but I can't so I hope it returns to the Coliseum in the future. There were six of us, each enjoyed it, but from different points of view - at the first interval we had a great discussion about the date the production had settled upon - the story is an 1820s one, but this production was firmly rooted in 1890, and our discussion ranged from Jane Austen to Chekhov via wars, revolutions, 'The New Woman' and Powell and Pressburger's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (one of my favorite films, but it entered our discussion because of the duel in both that film and Onegin) . If you want you can listen to a live recording of it via the BBC Radio 3 iPlayer, but I really do urge you to go an see it if you can. [...]
2011-11-22T12:07:24.123+00:00I'm going to try to blog more, so if I can't write a proper blog my compromise is going to be to post some links to interesting things (things which I think are interesting and hope you will too).
2011-11-22T11:36:14.976+00:00Somebody asked me recently what books I'd read recently - I had to think about this, which is unusual as I can usually reel off quite a few without thinking at all. I read everyday, but rarely these are books anyone else would want to read - New Perspectives in Historical Writing, Probing the Limits of Representation, Practicing New Historicism, anyone? Thought not.To add to this I've been stuck in interminable chapter writing hell since sometime in March, which finally came to an end about ten days ago, but which has meant I've not been able to read anything non-chapter related, mostly because I've just been too tired to read anything else at the end of the day.This term though I've been teaching a course on contemporary writing, so I've been reading a book a week, and this is the reading list:Marilynne Robinson - HomeAli Smith - The First Person and Other StoriesSarah Waters - The Little StrangerMichelle Paver - Dark MatterJackie Kay - The Red Dust RoadJackie Kay -Fiere Jeanette Winterson - Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?Jose Saramargo - The Elephant's JourneyAlex Wheatle - Brenton BrownBel Mooney - A Small Dog Saved My LifeIn the last week of term the students get to choose the book they want to read. A few of my students raised their hands 'What do we do in week 12?' questions abound. Choose a book you like and suggest it to the rest of the class. 'What?' - none of them could think of a book they had read. What did you read in the summer? Silence. You must have read something. One finally mumbled that he spent the rest of the year reading and so didn't read anything over the summer. What is he doing an English degree for if he doesn't like reading? When I finished my undergraduate degree I was so tired I couldn't read any of the books I loved or wanted to read, but I needed to read something so I trundled my way through all my Dad's crime novels. How can these students spend a whole summer not reading? I would go crazy if I didn't or wasn't able to read - books have been there at the most difficult and terrible times and I've always used books as a way of escaping the terribleness. When I worked as a bank clerk I used to use my lunch hour to go to the library in the town (whatever town, as I was moved about a lot) where I was based and sit in there and read; it was an hour of grace day on day, week on week while I was doing a job which made me very unhappy; it got me out of the bank and effectively made the job bearable until a job I wanted to do came along. In the last month I have learned four out of the seven public libraries I used have been shut down, two have had their hours cut, and one risks closure. The Kindle advert may be claiming the thing replaces the book (it doesn't because you can't drop in the the bath for a start, not to mention all the other things, which I won't mention otherwise I will be ranting) but I cannot replace the library: the experience of going into a place filled with books, pulling something off the shelf at random and starting the reading journey. Or going into a library with the reading list for your course and looking at the shelves and pulling books off to find which ones you need, which are interesting or helpful, and which are no good and can go back on the shelf. The rejection process in the academic library is as important as the act of discovery. I haven't managed to finish AL Kennedy's The Blue Book - I was just too tired and couldn't actually hold the book upright in bed, and decided the book and I[...]
2011-11-17T23:57:15.149+00:00I had a meeting this afternoon about a paper I am giving at a research seminar on a panel with two of my friends and colleagues in March. Our research is quite varied and does not really link up in anyway - one of us is researching scientific writing and the Royal Society in the 17th/18th century, another on the East India Company Archive 17th-19th century, and my research is on Stephen Poliakoff, which puts me firmly in the late 20th/21st century.There is, however, one area in which we are all interested and have talked about with varying degrees of intellectual depth: the archive. But none of us could face yet another panel on this subject and have happily discovered that we are also interested in the anecdote - so that will be our general subject for our panel.From there we had to write a title for our panel - this sounds easier than it actually is.In today's lecture for the course I teach on we were discussing contemporary publishing in all its glory and shallowness, and one of the questions was about whether we read a book because of its title. To our surprise none of the students said they were attracted to a book by a title - other factors were more important for them, particularly front covers it seems, so that old saying about judging and covers never goes away. But do we judge a book, or a play, or opera, or an art exhibition, or a film, or a song, or whatever else, by its title? What impact does a title have? Do we learn anything from a title?We decided our panel title needed to have a colon - the colon in academic paper titles is all. Or not. I still maintain my best title was a two word title for a paper on AL Kennedy - Writing Home - now though I have long wordy titles with quotes and colons. We wanted something about fragments in our title to reflect the fragmentary, shard like, nature of the anecdotes and anecdotal stories and incidents we would be discussing. The only thing which came to mind over and over again was 'These fragments I have shored against my ruins' - the famous line which comes four lines before the end of the fifth section - What the Thunder Said - of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and while I'm talking about titles, it is interesting to observe the reason why the European Parliament wouldn't allow Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw to stage The Waste Land in their new parliament building in Brussels was because the powers that be didn't care for the title...What if T.S. Eliot had kept the title he originally considered - He Do the Police in Different Voices? Or on a less dramatic level if Ian McEwan had maintained the original title of Atonement so that it was An Atonement - it was his publisher who wanted it to be just Atonement and McEwan relented. 'These fragments I have shored against my ruins' is an incredible line, but one which we could not use: how could we?The line has been haunting me for the rest of the day, and whilst I listened to a paper on mourning this evening it kept returning: 'These fragments I have shored against my ruins'. Eventually we came across a fantastic Francis Bacon (Bacon senior, the 16th century statesman, not the 20th century painter) quote: 'Out of monuments, names, words, proverbs, traditions, private records and evidences, fragments of stories, passages of books, and the like, we do save and recover somewhat from the deluge of time'. But this was too long, so after a bit of chopping and twisting we came up with 'Recovering from the deluge of Time' as our before the colo[...]
2011-08-25T13:38:18.579+01:00After some thought I managed to work out where I might have bought the 'perfect' notebook for my work back in 2008. I narrowed it down to two shops in London, one on Devonshire Row opposite Liverpool Street and another on the Holloway Road near where I used to work. I was in London yesterday for a meeting about my difficult third chapter (which I'm told is reasonably good... but I'm not convinced, all I can see is a mess), so I decided I'd visit these two shops, however my day did not go quite to plan and I never got to the Holloway Road stationers, and when I got to Devonshire Row Crane Stationers were no longer there - just a row of empty shops.
2011-08-23T17:59:31.037+01:00It seems many people who need to use, or want to use, notebooks - I mean the paper kind not the computers - is not really satisfied with the one they have got, and are therefore always in search of one which is better suited to what they want. I am no different. I wrote a few months ago about the notebooks I need to use - of all the notebooks listed the most important notebook I use on a daily basis is the one for my PhD research.My requirements are: A5, casebound in a hardback cover, good quality paper which takes fountain pen ink and pencil well, I need lined pages, the notebook must lie flat when opened, and for bizarre reasons know only to myself and my archiving needs, the notebook must have a red cover.I have tried making my notes directly onto my laptop but this just does not work for me - I need the feeling of pen or pencil on paper to process my thoughts - so I use the notebooks. I am currently using a WH Smith own brand notebook, which is ok, but the paper is not as good as I would like - some inks feather and bleed on it - but it does its job in most cases, but I'm still on the search for a better notebook, and I'm not that keen on the shade of red.Over the last few weeks I've been writing the third chapter of my PhD, and I expect this notebook will be used up in the next few days as I struggle - and this chapter really has been a struggle - to finish the first draft. This academic year has been difficult for so many reasons and this chapter should have been completed some months ago. This time last year I was on target, now I feel horribly behind. I am having to write huge stretches of the chapter longhand before typing them up because I cannot seem to be able to work out what I want to write on the screen. This is both time and notebook consuming.After I finish this notebook I will use up the few remaining pages in my Seawhite of Brighton notebook, which I stopped using when I realised how much I need lines. It is actually a sketch book because Seawhite of Brighton are an art supply company; it is a great notebook, I like the cover, and I like the thick pages, but I really do need lines. So I need to find something else.I know all the paper aficianados out there are shouting 'Clairefontaine', but have you seen the price? I go through these notebooks too quickly to justify spending over £7 per notebook, and although I agree the paper is great for fountain pens, I do find the ink takes a bit too long to dry on this paper - and if my thoughts are flowing I need to get them down and keep going, not wait while the page dries before turning it.Yesterday I discovered I did once have the perfect notebook. Searching through a pile of Poliakoff plays I found one of my old notebooks from my MA. It seems I filled this book up with terrifying speed in the British Library whilst doing some research on Irish writers broadcasting on the Third Programme in the late 1940s and early 1950s: it is full of pencil scribbles about dates and times and content of broadcasts made by Irish writers, copied from piles and piles of archive copies of the Radio Times. I flicked through the notebook and realised what a good book it was - the paper was smooth but not slick, it had lines, the cover was a nice shade of red and had a smooth texture, it opened flat. I'd only written in it in pencil (pens are banned in the BL) so I needed to find out if the paper was up to the worst behaving inks I own.[...]