Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Goodbye July

This month I've:

-been invited to my university's academic congregation, where I met Bryan and Mary Talbot! Who are lovely.

-graduated with First Class Honours.

-moved home for the summer, where I get to see my dog and my family.

-somehow won a studentship for the MRes I applied for.

And okay, I can't even get an interview for a data entry job. And I have nowhere to live next year and everyone I know already has something lined up. And I'm going to have to spend every free minute applying for work experience (and hopefully actually doing some work experience) and think about a part time job. But that's fine. I'll deal with that later.

This month I'm leaving things on a victory.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

My Writing Process

I'm back home and mostly unpacked. My parents and brother have gone on holiday without inviting me but since said holiday involves them walking up increasingly high mountains in increasingly bad weather I can't really fault them for that.

Progress on my novel is... progressing. Slowly. A while ago I had a major plot epiphany. And by epiphany I mean 'carnage'. An entire family (including their five employees and an unborn baby) didn't make the cut and took 2/5ths of the plot with them. They were replaced by a veteran, a runaway and a dog and I'm not sure whether the dog is going to be in the final draft. The plot has also been restructured so instead of taking place over ten years it takes place over a couple of months with flashbacks. The heroine meets her second love interest when she arrests him, not when he tracks her down after being paid to retrieve and bury her body (reports of her demise were greatly exaggerated) and meets her first love interest (for the second time) it's because he's trying to take said prisoner and she isn't having it not because... actually I never got round to plotting that part.

The old novel was an accumulation of odd scenes I'd thrown together, scenarios I'd written, possibilities I'd made up. Some of them worked and some of them didn't. Some of them worked as a standalone episode but not in this novel. Like, the story arc of my character working in a stable for a while was fine but if her first love interest was in charge of a sizable chunk of the army then wouldn't that make their relationship kind of awkward and unequal? Wouldn't it be better if she was the blue-collar court-mandated law enforcements to his spiritual holy order of knights? Relationship dynamics have changed, backstories have been temporarily withheld to improve pacing, death scenes have been hastily written before I got too attached. It's been tough: I've lost tens of thousands of words of novel. Which is scary, considering I was only at about thirty thousand to begin with. My confidence has been knocked but it'll come back and at least I don't have all these nagging doubts about a plot that just will not fit together.

That started out as being an excuse for why my novel has been going forwards so slowly but it's turned into more of an explanation of my writing process, which is basically to scribble down a whole pile of 'Might Happens' and slowly, painfully sift through for the actual 'Will Happens'. As writing processes go it's messy, disorganised and requires the guesswork of Sherlock Holmes and the patience of poor beleaguered Dr Watson. Much like myself.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Sorry folks...

I'm still recovering from graduation and the move home yesterday so I'm going to have the week off while i unpack my life and freak out about What Comes Next. Normal service will resume next Wednesday.

Until then, here is an illustration of how I feel: boxed in, a little overwhelmed, not sure of my place in the world but still only one good haircut and Eighties training montage away from defeating the entire Hun army.

And, by way of apology for the lack of content:

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

So my kitchen roof collapsed...

There's not mush room in our kitchen. By which I mean there are mushrooms in our kitchen. And not the good 'we're making risotto' way. In a 'growing out of the walls' way. And then the roof fell in.

Long story short, student landlords really suck sometimes. We've had some pretty intense storms in the UK a few weeks ago which our buildings are just not designed to deal with. After a few weeks of calling our estate agents to tell them that the ceiling above the back door was sagging and the (load bearing) wall next to it was bulging alarmingly and being ignored, my flatmates went in this morning to let them know the ceiling had collapsed during the night. When I say collapsed there's not an actual hole, just a lot of rotten plaster that's fallen off and places where you can see daylight through the slats.

We're all fine by the way, if a little dizzy from cleaning fumes. We're all moving out in the next week or so and so we're getting the place as clean as we can (mushrooms not withstanding) and trying to reduce our worldly possessions into something that will fit into the back of a parent's car. It's kind of like being a monk, at least in the sense that we get to wear robes for graduation.

All this sorting of possessions has made me think about how much I buy and how much of it I actually need. I'm not exactly surprised to say that my main extravagance seems to be books; not necessarily in the money they cost me but in the space they take up. I think nothing of buying a book 'just to see' if it's reduced to £1 or so, despite having a whole shelf to be getting round to. I borrow books from book exchanges and splurge on Amazon. When I was a kid my school library would sell off books from time to time. They cost 10p each and I still spent my entire dinner money on them more than once. More than once in the same week. Clearly I have a problem. And sicne all this cleaning and sorting is putting me in a New Year's Resolution mode, I'm going to make some for the new academic year.

1) I will use libraries more and get fined less.

2) I will not by books I'm not going to reread.

3) I will go through the books I'm not reading and get rid of them.

Of course I doubt that all of that is going to stick. But I have given away two whole carrier bags worth of books to friends, Amnesty International and book exchanges. And packed two crates and a suitcase full of them, with maybe another box to go. Um...

Thursday, 5 July 2012

In Which Kate Completes Her Degree

I got my results a week ago yesterday. My degree was a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing and, as you can imagine, I was pretty nervous about the results. I didn't post about it for a few reasons namely: a) I already had a post scheduled, and b) I was celebrating.

I honestly wasn't expecting a First. [Boring details of percentages, harsh markers and surprise last minute good marks in my Creative Writing Project removed for your convenience. Thank me later.] In fact it took me about a week for me to stop surreptitiously checking the envelope with my results in it to make absolutely positive I hadn't read them wrong.

For those who aren't equated with the UK higher education system, the progression is: First, 2:1, 2:2, and a Third. A third is a pass but barely. A 2:2 is considered by some employers to be a bit mediocre but is still a solid degree. A 2:1 is respectable (some employers don't recognise degrees lower than a 2:1) and a First is basically an A+.

There's a kind of creeping awkwardness I suspect only the British understand in telling people you've done well. No one likes to sound boastful and to be honest I'm having mixed feelings even about writing this post.  But for every part of me that's embarrassed to tell people there's a bigger part that is really proud and relieved and wants people to know.

Don't get me wrong: I know that grades aren't always a perfect representation of ability. People get sick and miss crucial lectures; someone checks all the useful books on a certain set text out of the library on the first day of term and doesn't give them back; family emergencies/nasty break ups/flatmate problems erupt weeks before a big deadline, throwing everything off kilter. In Humanities based subjects (especially ones with a creative element) the marker's personal opinion counts for a lot because the thing being marked is not quantifiable in the way that a science experiment either works or doesn't, or a maths problem is right or isn't. In creative portfolios the marker's prejudices against certain genre or subject often go unquestioned.

If by the time you graduate none of these have happened to you, you are incredibly lucky. I've trawled the library hysterically for references books someone has hidden on a different shelf rather than just photocopying the useful bits (it is life's highest satisfaction to find these while looking for another book and put them back in the right place); I've had a fourteen percent difference in marks between one module and another despite the fact the work I turned in had the same amount of insight and effort and which nearly put me off track for a First; I've had volunteering projects grow and grow until they consume all my time; I've had health problems where I'd forget to cook five days out of seven [if you're reading this and you know my mum, please, PLEASE don't tell her about that] and people would try and take me home to feed me up a bit; I had the guilt and misery and sheer unadulterated pain of having my beloved family dog Aisha suddenly collapse hemorraging blood two hundred miles away and die far too young two days later; the next Saturday was possibly the only day of my life when not too sick to stand I've spent lying in bed, eaten by my thoughts; I've been so busy with volunteer projects I'd forgotten about an essay until the week before; I've had my housemates bring my drunken not-yet-boyfriend to my house in the middle of my essay panic in a failed attempt at match-making; I broke up with the same guy the day after I stepped off the train after Easter, two weeks before my three final deadlines (all three of them over two days no less!); I've had at least one fight with at least one housemate every year; and by some miracle I have survived. Not only survived but done fairly well.

Personally I attribute the fact I've come out on top as much to hard work (not to mention a dash of luck and some sincere prayers to Ganesh, patron of students) as ability. I've been to lectures while full of cold, hung over and consumed by grief. When my first essay went through seven drafts (I was one of those first years) and still didn't get a good mark I went to see my tutor to learn how to write a better one next time. When my first year Prose Portfolio got marked down for having vampires in it (even deconstructed vampires) although my main character was as well constructed as any other I later submitted I immediately wrote the silliest high fantasy piece I could think of (about how dwarven women wear false beards because they believe that human men are depraved and will be driven mad by lust at the sight of them) then promptly calmed the hell down and started looking at ways I could disguise fantasy as literary fiction (hot tip: if you imply your main character is crazy and throw in an issue you can pretty much do what you like. I got high marks for a story about a haunted dressmaker's dummy because I threw in a few references to female body image and made the protagonist a bit paranoid). I went straight back to work after my break up (though luckily that was small potatoes) and somehow managed to work through the things that genuinely upset me: fights with friends, bad marks, Aisha's death.

This started off as a post about my results, only there's not much to say except that I'm happy, my family are happy, I'm happy that they're happy, and to apologies to my friend Catherine for tackle-hugging her when I opened the envelope. What I have to say is more about the three years that have brought me here and the person I've turned into. The only way I can describe it is kind of like sitting on the summit of a huge hill, the burn in your legs turning into that strange not-unpleasant looseness of tired muscles, while you look out over the countryside around you and try not to wonder 'Where next?'.

My advice to anyone who's at or going to university: be bigger than the problems you face. Whatever it is, look it in the eye and tell it 'I am stronger than you. You will not beat me. My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great. I will not break.'

Also, don't forget to study.

Have you recently graduated? What gets you out of bed when the world gets scary? Comments, questions and complaints all welcome below.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Goodbye June...

So I came up with the idea of doing a kind of monthly round up to share all the cool stuff I find on the internet without a bunch of spammy mini-posts.

Things I've had published:

This article on the Kingkiller Chronicles on Mookychick.

Song(s) I've been listening to non stop:

Pretty lyrics and catchy as all hell. I remember my dad telling me about the Lady of Shalott and being really quite freaked out about the idea of someone being locked up for their whole life in one room and not even being able to look out of the window for fear of instant death.

Cool stuff I found on the internet:

Yes, I know it's another video but if you know anything about ASOIAF and/or Game of Thrones you HAVE to watch this. The George R.R. Martin costumes make it for me.