Annual MFA Anthology, Writings…, Goes to Print, Launch Scheduled

Cover by Hannes Pasqualini, www.papernoise.net

Cover by Hannes Pasqualini, http://www.papernoise.net

 

We are excited to announce that the annual Kingston University MFA anthology, Writings…, goes to print this week. The official launch will be next week and we hope you’ll join us for a reading, drinks and a celebration of the achievements of all out MFAs. This event is free and open to the public so please join our Facebook event and invite your friends. You’ll even get a free copy of the publication!

 

 

Writings… Launch

Thursday, 30 May 2013

7pm

Waggon & Horses Pub

Surbiton, KT6 4TW

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To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Before motherhood, Emma Strong worked in legal publishing, the youth homelessness voluntary sector and local government. Currently, she’s completing her Creative Writing MFA, going backwards at Bikram and singing slink a ma rink a dinky doo with her toddlers, out of tune. Twitter with her @emmastrong72.

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To tweet or not to tweet, is a 21st century question for writers and for teachers of creative writing, in the digital age.

Vanderslice (2012) argues creative writing (CW) students, armed with key skills including telling story and empathy, are poised to dominate the online cultural landscape, if they are digitally literate. As Cross (2011) describes it, the ‘tsunami of electronic media’ has created an online ‘global village’, accessible to all. Any message, banal or profound, using no more than 140 characters, can be posted on Twitter. Introduced in 2006, by 2011 there were 200 million users a month on line, posting 140 million tweets a day.

As Cross (2011) argues, at best, Twitter creates a new frontier of expression and connection, using emoticons, abbreviations, acronyms (LOL), slang, hash-tagged trending, hive-mind #thinking and #sharing. At worst, the hive-mind can be an ungrammatical, unattractive swarm of belligerent #ranting.

Could CW students hone their reading, writing, and critiquing skills using Twitter? Could their online connections and conversations, the responses they received to their postings, be construed as formative feedback?  Or is Twitter just a narcissistic time-waster, best ignored? Guided by Race (2007) that we learn by doing and making sense for ourselves, and by Vanderslice (2005) that CW teachers should model the skills and ways of thinking they want their students to develop, way behind the curve, I became @emmastrong72.

Fellow MA/MFA students, @sineadkeegan, @lucyfurleaps and @lisajanedavison, invited me to join in a challenge they’d set up: #30days30stories. The idea was to tweet an idea for a story or tell a story, every day, for 30 days, in no more than 140 characters. Or rather, after subtracting 16 for the # link, no more than 124 characters.

Having taken time to read and study posted tweets to understand the form; I spent around twenty minutes composing my first story in tweet form. With just 126 characters to play with, careful consideration of word, image, and sentence construction was required. I had to edit and revise. It was a useful work out for me as a writer and I felt it could also be a great challenge to set as a CW teacher for students. But how was it received?

Going to @connect I could view responses. I got a retweet (RT) and a favourite (*), which I took as positive feedback. I read the others’ stories, RT-ed two and *-ed another, to share the feedback love. Seven days and 28 ideas later, the RTs, *s and comments, generous all round, provided relaxed, supportive and helpful peer feedback and engagement. Formative, in that it allowed me to see what was received well. It was also interesting to observe that across subject matter as diverse as hip hop DJs asleep for 100 years, knitting circle blood baths, and a boy scooting into hollow trees as Mrs Owl told him to, we each had a clear voice and developed our own approaches to the form.

Engaging with Twitter, as a platform for experimental literary short forms, such as the ‘Twiller’ being written by @mrichtel, influenced  by the Japanese literary subculture trend, Keitai Shosetsu (cell phone novels) (Yourgrau, 2009), feels enticing. On the downside, a rash tweet, taken out of context, could get you into trouble years after you tweet it, as Paris Brown, the short-lived youth police commissioner found out (Telegraph, 2013).

The #30days30stories exercise echoed the benefits of the traditional creative writing workshop: like-minded souls coming together in a safe place to try ideas out and share feedback. It provided a useful and fun learning environment. I was strict with my activity, to avoid losing too much time within the Twitter-sphere, going straight to the #group. In that way, I could use it as a useful 30-minute daily warm up writing exercise. A less focused engagement could risk eating up a lot of time. As a teacher, a large group of students all engaging with the exercise could be time consuming if attempting to feedback to each student every day. However, the exercise facilitates peer and teacher feedback, and doesn’t need to be given to every individual, every day. Getting an RT or a * here and there is a more discerning indicator of what works. Among four of us, we were each receiving feedback most days from at least one other participant. A larger engaged group would generate plenty of feedback for all. The teacher’s role could be more supervisory, encouraging students to engage with the exercise within boundaries aligned with those set up within their weekly workshops.

As Vanderslice (2006) argues, the three ways of thinking a creative student must develop are reading as a writer, critiquing as a writer, and writing and re-writing. A Twitter exercise such as #30days30stories could be a smart additional writing exercise for any writer, developing those three ways of thinking on a daily basis. And a daily writing habit is a habit a writer needs. If you’re up for the challenge, want to acquire a daily writerly workout, then check out #30days30stories, @sineadkeegan, @lucyfurleaps, @lisajanedavison and @emmastrong72, and #ff.


 

REFERENCES

Cross, M. (2011)  Bloggeratti, Twitterati: how blogs and twitter are transforming popular culture. KUS: i-Cat [Online]. Available at: http://ku-primo-prod.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=KU_VU1&reset_config=true (Accessed: May 2013).

Ensor, J. (2013) “Paris Brown: Youth police commissioner warns of dangers of social networks as she resigns over ‘racist’ tweets”, The Telegraph, 9th April 2013 [Online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9982146/Paris-Brown-Youth-police-commissioner-warns-of-dangers-of-social-networks-as-she-resigns-over-racist-tweets.html (Accessed: May 2013).

JISC (2009) “Effective Practice in a Digital Age”, JISC [Online]. Available at: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2009/effectivepracticedigitalage.aspx/ (Accessed: March 2013).

Race, P. and Pickford, R. (2007) Making Teaching Work: Teaching Smarter in Post-compulsory Education . London: Sage.

Vanderslice, S. (2006) “Workshopping in Harper, G. (ed.) Teaching Creative Writing, 1st Edn. London and New York: Continuum.

Vanderslice, S. (2012) “A Whole New Creative Writing Classroom: Daniel Pink, Digital Culture and the Twenty-First Century Workshop” in Perry, P. (ed.) (2012) Beyond the Workshop, Kingston Upon Thames: Kingston University Press.

Yourgrau, B. (2009) “Call Me Ishmael: The End”, Salon [Online]. Available at: http://www.salon.com/2009/05/14/cellphone_fiction/ (Accessed: 13 May 2013).

[Editor’s note: All referencing done by individual authors. While every effort is made to ensure that resources are appropriately referenced, neither this website and its editor nor Kingston University accept responsibility for incorrect or insufficient citations.]

The Jumper Analogy: Unpicking Reading Like a Writer

Emma Strong completed a Creative Writing MA in 2008. After a couple of years off to have two children, she’s now completing the MFA and PGcert. Before motherhood she worked in legal publishing, the youth homelessness voluntary sector and local government.

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Thinking about how to teach a subject while studying it yourself provides an interesting intertwining of perspective (as well as roots in need of urgent attention, a furrow at the top of the nose and a chaotic mound of paper, books and files where our table used to be – there’s method somewhere). During the MA and MFA I’ve loved reading and picking apart books, those recommended by the course and those I’ve loved and been inspired by over the years, in terms of how they might guide me. Now also studying the art of teaching and reading around the pedagogy of creative writing I am conscious of just how intrinsic to studying CW it is to read as a writer. I am also coming up against how tricky it is to explain this skill to some of the undergraduates we’re teaching. It’s more than one person who’s said good writers borrow, great writers steal. We’re all aiming to steal, right? We all want a great palate to steal from; to understand the palate of other writers and how they used it. I want to find a way to illustrate the process of critical analysis. I want my students to learn to do it well. I want to do it better myself.

Going with the idea that a good analogy is often a good start to explanation, I’ve been mulling over a jumper analogy … I’m working on it but I’ll share where I’m up to. Let me know if it works for you.

It is human to spin a yarn for each other. They were doing it in the caves at Lascaux. We’re still doing it now. We love stories. All the stories we ever share evolve apparently around seven archetypal yarns. What kind of yarn are you reading? What kind of yarn are you writing? Does it conform to one of the archetypes? How’s it been spun? Does it make the yarn interesting? Does it push the particular yarn somewhere new? Is it roughly spun and raw or super refined, like cashmere? (Come with me. It’s a jumper analogy. What are jumpers made from? Yarn … boom boom. I’m here all week; still cheap at twice the price.)

The yarn being considered, is it still spooled in a ball, or spooled right out, unravelled and messy, ready for the cats to play with? Or has it been made into something else, such as a jumper? What sort of jumper? What’s the form and structure of it? If it’s been shaped into a twinset does that ruin it?

What about a traditional Aran? It’s pretty amazing to see yarns worked so beautifully to conform to all those age old twisted knots and stitches. Fashion says we need a batwing or an asymmetric sleeve right now. Does that matter? Of all the jumpers you’ve loved before, is there a particular shape you always return to time and time again? Admit it. Most of us have a type. The black turtle neck, the grey slouchy v-neck, the cream twinset, the rainbow striped baggy number, the cobwebbed nearly-a-dress-now jumper bought at Glastonbury?

What about style? How should the neck, shoulders, and cuffs be shaped? Turned back or not? Was it working up to the turtle neck but now it’s ruined? Is it too long or too short? Does the way it floats away at the edges make it? Are the buttons down the front adding to its overall impact or detracting? Are they actually the essence of the piece? What do the stars say? How do they add to the meaning of the jumper? Can a jumper mean something? Yes! How do the stars affect the jumper’s meaning? Why do you think that? Is it influenced by couture or street fashion? Has it been critically acclaimed? Does that affect its meaning for you? Thinking about all the stylistic touches you know, which have you tried to re-create? Which worked/ which didn’t? Which do you repeat and repeat?

What about the language of the jumper: the stitching, patterning and colour? What’s its register and tone? What about those Aran knots? That intricate Fair Isle patterning? That plain black chunky yarn knitted up using only garter stitch? Does it make your year to see 2-ply merino worked in moss stitch into an experimental form? Or do you just want a reliable Miss Marple twinset or an easy going goes with everything M&S romantic comedy? Is garter stitch a doddle, moss stitch unnecessary too-try-hard faff, rib the only way to go?

What about the genre, commercial or not, mode of production and marketing? Is this the first jumper someone at home has ever knitted? Or has it been crafted by an artisan on a far off Scottish isle? Is it conforming to mass demand, machine knitted and mass produced? Is the yarn pure wool or mixed with unnatural fibre? What about the needles? Are there other jumpers out there like this one? How does it compare? Has the knitter knitted other jumpers? How does this one compare? Do you want to knit just like them or is it just the way they use colour that you love? Is this just the sort of jumper you wear or would it look out of place in your collection?

Overall, does it feel like this jumper has a premise, an argument to state? Does it have to have one? Why do you think that? Is it successful? Can you learn from it? Adapt it? Argue it from another angle?

Could this analogy make it easier to unpick a writer’s yarns and learn from them? Or does it just make it trickier to put a jumper on?

BTW: As well as completing my novel, I’d like to poke my finger in the eye of the boring blokes (it’s always a bloke) who lament the proliferation of creative writing courses and the pursuit of them by bored housewives. What’s education for? Did he miss the feminist movement? I’m not bored!

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