Jumping the Shark: Knowing When to Say ‘The End’

“I loved Grey’s Anatomy until I realised I hate it.”

A friend of mine and I were discussing our favourite television programmes recently when she came out with that little gem. Then we were off on a rant about how shows can start so well, be so compelling and then one evening as you settle into the couch you realise that you don’t even like your favourite programme anymore.

  • Grey’s Anatomy went from being a comedy/drama about a young woman struggling to both fulfill and reject her familial legacy to a mess of explosions, mass shootings, plane crashes, natural disasters and anything else that could hike up drama to obscure the lack of plot.
  • 24 went from the story of a day in the life of a counterintelligence agent pushing the boundaries to stop a terrorist attack to the same thing, over and over and over again.
  • The Inbetweeners went from the coming of age story of four boys at school to…oh, wait. That’s exactly what it was.

People often lament that US television shows go on for too long and fizzle out whereas UK programmes ‘leave the viewers wanting more.’ But do we actually want more? I think not.

We may feel we want more, because Tuesday nights just won’t be the same without the characters we have come to love. Because we crave more of the laughs or the tears or the shocks the writers have delivered. But what we really love is the story. And it’s important to know when a story is over.

In Grey’s Anatomy, the story is: will the aspiring surgeon succeed or will she fall prey to her inner demons? She’s succeeded. She’s a surgeon, she’s got the guy, they’ve built the house of their dreams, she’s triumphed over difficulties in getting pregnant, for goodness sakes, she even owns the hospital now. The answer is there. The story is over. A long time over.

24 was a great premise: one day, 24 hours and the problem that one character faces in that time. Except then they did it again and again, year after year with the same protagonist and the same problem. That’s not a story, there is no character development when the protagonist just repeats the same actions every season. Plus, it’s just ridiculous that one character would single-handedly need to resolve that many terrorist attacks, and all in exactly 24 hours.

And, now, we come to hailed success stories like The Inbetweeners and How I Met Your Mother. Why do these shows work? Because they have limited scope. There is a point when they end. The inbetweener boys finish school and Ted, presumably meets his kids’ mother.

All this to say that it is time for me to jump the shark. It has been a great year for me on No Dead White Men. I have enjoyed working with all the tutors, with our outgoing MFA director, Scott Bradfield, and my talented and dedicated cohort colleagues who took time out to write fantastic articles all year. They have written about varied topics from translation to procrastination, from teaching to reading and everything in between.

As we move on and a new cohort steps in, we think about beginning new scenes, new projects and bringing the old ones to a close. Because those endings are so very important and the ending is the hardest part to write because, in many ways, it defines the whole story.

So we’re going to end simply, with a thank you for reading and a hope that we haven’t gone on quite long enough to make you hate us.

Don’t forget to keep visiting No Dead White Men as it is taken over by the 2013/2014 MFA cohort and they tell their own, new story. I am sure they will be fantastic and have lots of interesting thoughts to share.

Thank you all for your loyal readership and support.

Your faithful 2012/2013 Editor,

Sinéad Keegan

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Learning to Quit Books

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs at www.sineadkeegan.com. Twitter: @sineadkeegan. She is the editor of No Dead White Men and recently taught a course in blogging and social media for Kingston Writing School.

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In the true spirit of blogging, I am going to make a confession.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I have always loved reading. I devoured all the assigned books when I was in school. I loved many of them, disliked some of them but read all of them. While my classmates bought Cliff’s Notes for Crime and Punishment, I wrapped myself in Dostoyevsky’s language. When they watched the film of Great Expectations, I sought out more of Dickens’s novels. I read anything and everything I put my hand to and never quit. Real readers don’t quit.

So, for many years now I have lived with the great shame of not having finished Gulliver’s Travels. I was sixteen when it was assigned to me and I hated it. I read Lilliput and just thought it was unbelievably dull. This, from a teenager who counted The Return of the Native among her favourite books.

Until just this year it was the only book I’d ever failed to finish. But I have a new outlook now. I was having a chat with science fiction novelist Christopher Priest this spring when he mentioned that he only reads books that he loves. When I explained my guilt-reading, he squashed the idea firmly. He said that there are a finite number of books that you can read in your lifetime so you had better be sure you enjoy the reading that you do.

Reading had previously seemed an infinite activity. So many books and all the days in the world to spend curled up with them. Suddenly, I was aware of my literary mortality. He had me calculate the number of books I could possibly read if I kept reading at my current pace and lived to eighty. He assured me you slow down as you age, so the number was optimistic. My best case scenario number is 3,000. At first glance, this seems enormous, but surely there are more than 3,000 great books that I would love.

I take Chris’s point. In fact, he’s absolutely right and I’ve quit two books since I had that conversation. But I still hear that nagging voice urging me to persevere. The conflict rages. One of the books I’m claiming to have quit is still sitting on the end table in my “to read” pile with a bookmark at page 212. I’m less than halfway through, but I still devoted hours to struggling through a book that I genuinely dislike. I should have quit at page 1. The problem is that it came highly recommended by a dear friend and excellent novelist. In over a decade, she has never steered me wrong on books, so I tell myself that I just need to give this book another thirty pages or another twenty or just one more chapter.

I tell myself that the recommendation is the problem, but that’s not true. The problem is the guilt. I don’t want to be a person who leaves books unfinished. A reading quitter. So I remind myself that I am only reading the glorious novel I am right now because I have put that other one aside.

Now, before everyone gets all up in arms about the value of reading what you don’t like, relax. I know exactly why I don’t like this book and I’ll try not to do those things in my writing. Proper, intellectual, writer-ly activity done. Now I’m moving on to great literature that I also love. I feel confident I’m learning more from that than I would from wading through another 300 pages of a story and writing that I hate.

So, I give unto you all the permission to read widely, read voraciously, read what you love, quit what you don’t like and to do it all guilt free. Count how many books you hopefully have left in your life and spend that number wisely!

Let us know in the comments section what your book number is and what’s at the top of your “must read” list!

2013 Kingston University Pedagogy Conference

Pedagogy Flyer

KWS 1st International Conference, July 10th 2013

Pedagogy and Practice: Writing and Higher Education

Key Note: Philip Gross discusses ‘the writer: accident, improvisation, and limitation’

An Interview with Hanif Kureshi by Vesna Goldsworthy

For its first international conference, The Kingston University Writing School will present a one day conference of theoretical and practiced-based papers, workshops, panels, and performances that will add to our understanding of the relationships between Pedagogy and Practice in Higher Education.

This one-day conference hosts a series of panels on the possible relationships between pedagogy and the practice of writing in higher education. The conference will consider all forms of writing, from creative writing and poetry workshops to life writing, autobiography and memoir, journalism, digital publishing, blogging and writing for social media.

The conference will provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on the debates about writing and pedagogy and will showcase experimental approaches to writing and teaching methods from a diverse body of researchers and practitioners.

Our Keynote speaker is Philip Gross, Course director, Masters/PhD in Creative Writing at University of Glamorgan. Philip is a writer of many parts from prize-winning poetry, young adult novels, science fiction, opera libretti, poem-documentaries. He is also a creative writing teacher at all levels.

After a morning of panels and workshops, Professor Vesna Goldsworthy will interview Hanif Kureshi and there will be an open mike reading with special guests in the evening including S J Fowler, Kimberley Campanello, Allison Gibb, Jane Yeh and others.

Two of our MFAs will be participating in the New Practitioners Ponder Pedagogy panel, Lucy Furlong & Sinead Keegan with Creative Writing & Pedagogy MAs, Amber Koski and Joshua Poncil. MFA alumna and Emerging Writer-in-Residence, Alison Gibb, will be participating in the Pedagogic Innovations in Creative Writing panel with MFA lecturer, James Miller. All conference attendees also have the opportunity to take a workshop with either Alison or James.

Book your tickets here. Or email Amber for information on the free tickets still available.

For more information please contact Amber Koski – k1246713@kingston.ac.uk

KWS Logo

The Twittering Writer

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs at www.sineadkeegan.com. Twitter: @sineadkeegan. She is the editor of No Dead White Men and recently taught a course in blogging and social media for Kingston Writing School.

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When I tell people that I edit a blog for which other people write and that does fairly well in terms of hits-per-day, I usually get a look that says, “Oh, so you’re not one of those ‘writers’ who says she writes, but really just mucks around in her pajamas all day.”  But the minute I say that I use Facebook and Twitter I can see them picturing me back in my red, snowflake, flannel pajamas clutching a cup of coffee, surfing the internet for cat videos and calling it “writing”.

This is, unfortunately perhaps, untrue on several fronts. First, my snowflake pajamas aren’t flannel and I wear pink or blue tracksuit bottoms when I’m working from home. Second, I don’t drink coffee. And third, I don’t while away time on the internet. That is not to say I don’t waste time. I do. I, like all self-respecting writers, am a connoisseur of procrastination techniques. It’s just that I prefer ones that make me feel productive. I cook. I do chores – the house is never cleaner than when I’m on a deadline. I catch up on emails – has it really been 6 months since I went through my junk folder? And I read. I read a lot. In the name of research, of course.

Catherine has covered procrastination quite eloquently, however, so I won’t dwell on it. So the question that remains is: What am I doing on Twitter and Facebook then?

I’m being a writer. Honest.

Granted, I spend some of my time reading articles about writing and writers, some of dubious research value such as this one from The Onion. But for the most part, the hour a day I spend on social media is spent making and keeping connections, working with writing communities and, of course, some shameless self-promotion. Writers, if you don’t do it, no one else will.

That said, I offer some guidelines for how to shamelessly self-promote without driving your social media ‘friends’ crazy.

1. Treat your Facebook and Twitter profiles like you do your LinkedIn profile. You wouldn’t put photos of you mooning the guards outside Buckingham Palace while chugging back a plastic bottle of vodka on LinkedIn, so don’t do it on Facebook. You might well be on your way to writing The Old Man and the Sea, but don’t make us all watch, Hemingway didn’t.

2. Put up a link and leave it. I know you really want to post everything you do everywhere, but, chances are, if you do that, your friends are going to see the link 30,000 times. If I see a link from the same person more than twice, I make it a point not to look at it. Maybe that’s just spite on my part, but if you have to advertise that hard, it makes me think something else went wrong. Also re-tweeting 20 tweets at a time is irritating, it just gums up my feed with people that I don’t follow – perhaps for a reason.

3. Which brings me to the next point: Slow and steady. Yep, back to the tortoise and the hare. You have to give yourself and your reputation time to grow. The next big thing, the person with the meteoric rise to stardom and success? Most likely, it took them ages and if it didn’t, they probably won’t be around for too long.

4. Slow and steady requires consistency. Above all be consistent and reliable. Everyone, from agents, to publishers, to readers want consistency. If you blog, really blog. Don’t blog once every 2 or 6 or 14 months. Pick a time frame and stick to it. (Says she, shamefully, not having updated her own blog in over a month) If you tweet, tweet daily or weekly, but NOT hourly. You don’t have that many interesting things to say. Trust me. You don’t.

5. Build the brand. First, you have to know your brand. What are you and what do you want to be? What do you write? Who is your audience and how do you find them? Follow people like you on Twitter, find groups like you on Facebook, get in contact with bloggers like you. You can choose to look at other writers as competition or as a network. Accountants don’t refuse to speak to other accountants so why do we do that in the arts? If your writing is good enough, you can get published and if you don’t it’s not because someone else “stole your spot.” If it isn’t good enough, you (probably) won’t get published (insert your angrily shouted exceptions here). Why do those accountants network? Because it’s all about who you know. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: it’s the same in writing. Contacts can mean everything. Work them.

So for an hour each day, I give myself permission not to write and I sit down and think long-term. What do I want? How do I get it? How to I take a step toward that today? Then I tweet, blog or post on Facebook or just support the other people in my community, because I want them to succeed too. Success breeds success and that can only be good for our struggling arts.

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

MFAs to Be Recognised at Awards and Achievements Show 2013

A&A imageWe have even more to add to the awards season news. The Creative Writing MA/MFA Awards and Achievements Show is this Wednesday at 6pm in JG 0001 on the Penrhyn Road campus. Friends and family are welcome! This show celebrates the achievements of students throughout the year and will include some readings of creative work by nominated MA students.

Also reading at this event will be three MFAs who are receiving commendations:

Ryan Licata and Citlalli Milan are being recognised for academic excellence.

Sinéad Keegan is being recognised for her contribution to the MFA program.

Please come out and support the great work of all the post graduate creative writers at Kingston University!

MFAs to be published in RiPPLE

This Wednesday, 1 May will see the launch of RiPPLE, Kingston University’s annual literary anthology, published by Kingston University Press. We are proud to announce that there are several MFAs featured in this year’s publication. Some of them will also be reading at the launch so you can hear what we’re really made of. We invite you all to join us at 7pm on Wednesday in Woody’s Bar & Kitchen for a celebratory evening filled with good writing.

RiPPLE Launch

7pm

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Woody’s Bar & Kitchen

5 Ram Passage, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1HH

 

MFAs published in RiPPLE 2013:

Kristin Durinick

Lucy Furlong

Neil Horabin

Sinéad Keegan

Ryan Licata

Beatrice Parvin

 

MFAs reading at the event:

Beatrice Parvin – Love Letters and Asparagus

Sinéad Keegan – Desert Children

 

Ripple Invite

St. Patrick’s Day the Irish Way

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born writer in the final year of her MFA at Kingston and is currently writing her first novel. Her short stories and poetry and have been published in several magazines and she blogs regularly at http://www.sineadkeegan.blogspot.com. She is also the editor of No Dead White Men.

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On this St. Patrick’s Day, before you don your silly shamrock headgear, dig out your “Kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirt and go drink yourself sick on green beer, spare a thought for a true Irish tradition: the seanachie.

A seanachie (shan-a-KEE, sort of, Irish pronunciation is problematic in English) is a traditional Irish storyteller. In ancient Ireland, they travelled around the country staying with families and, in return for hospitality, they would share stories. It was a way to keep the old myths alive, to teach history and also to share the news of the day. Naturally, with newspapers, television and the internet, the days of the traveling seanachie have mainly passed in Ireland, but tradition of storytelling and being a storyteller is still strong throughout the country and with Irish people across the globe. Instead of traveling down the narrow country roads to different families every night, today seanachies can be found in the local pubs and at every family gathering. When Irish people meet, the first question we ask is, “What’s the story?” Why say what happened when you can tell the story of what happened?

Many of our storytellers have achieved worldwide acclaim, like William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and other heavy hitters. But these literary giants are not all Ireland has produced. There are currently some amazing writers coming out of the country, making waves across the literary world and their work is well worth a look. Here is my incredibly biased and far from comprehensive, taster list of five contemporary Irish writers who work across the literary spectrum:

RoomEmma Donoghue – Emma stormed the literary scene in 2010 with Room, which, among its too numerous to list accolades, was shortlisted for the Orange and Man Booker Prizes, won Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the W.H. Smiths Paperback of the Year Awards. Room is the story of a mother and son held captive and is told by the five-year-old boy. This ‘overnight success’ is actually Emma’s seventh novel. This prolific writer has also published several short story collections, literary history articles and anthologies in addition to writing for the screen, stage and radio.

 

Artemis FowlEoin Colfer – Eoin is the author of the incredibly successful Artemis Fowl series for young adults. Artemis is a hyper-intelligent teen with a troubled family who tries to outwit the characters of Irish fairy stories. In an interesting twist on the usual young adult formula, Artemis is the bad guy. This series, beginning with the eponymous Artemis Fowl, is intriguing for readers of all ages. In 2008 another of his many novels, The Airman, joined the New York Times bestseller list. With successes like these and even the sixth book of Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, And Another Thing, to his name, Eoin Colfer is a literary name for our times.

 

Dervla Murphy - GazaDervla Murphy – Dervla’s first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (1965), established her as a fearless traveler and extraordinary writer. For more than fifty years she has travelled the world, struggling to get away from the paved road. Her latest book, A Month by the Sea: Encounters in Gaza, took her into the homes and lives of people in Palestine. Dervla hasn’t let anything slow her down, not travel mishaps, resistance from immigration authorities or getting older. She’s now in her eighties and shows no signs of slowing down, which is great news for fans of her work.

 

Blackwater LightshipColm Toibin – A novelist, essayist, memoirist, travel writer, journalist and playwright, there is very little to which Colm hasn’t turned his accomplished hand. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker for The Blackwater Lightship and The Master, his awards are numerous and include the Encore Award, Ferro-Grumley Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix du Meilleur Livre. His work has a quiet power, an extraordinary sense of place and gives his readers new ways in which to view the world.

 

 

The GatheringAnne Enright – Anne’s fourth novel, The Gathering, won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and her other books and short stories have been widely praised. She has also won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Encore Award. Her picture of Ireland is uncompromising and nuanced, accommodating both the country’s deep history and its modern contradictions.

 

 

So perhaps on this St. Patrick’s day, we can all enjoy a good Irish read beside our pint of Guinness, glass of Bailey’s or measure of Jameson’s. Ireland, its people and its history is so much deeper than this international stereotype of drinking. One look at any of these writers shows this in abundance.

No Dead White Men on Twitter and Facebook

That’s right, loyal readers: we’ve really gone digital. We have committed to modern, social media. We have left paid-by-the-letter newspaper serials and the Pony Express in the dust. We have joined Facebook and Twitter.

O, brave new world.

You can find us on Facebook at the unwieldy address of: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kingston-University-MFA-Writers/144654935691051

Or by typing “Kingston University MFA” into the search box.

You can follow us on Twitter @kingstonMFA

And so we go forth into the sound and the fury of social media.

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears…”

Your fearless editor, tweeter & facebook-er,

Sinéad (with some help from the inimitable bard)

MFA: The Next Generation

We have arrived. We are the new MFA cohort. And here will be the home of all of our interesting things to say.

Welcome to your blog.

Over the previous year, fearless editor, Stuart, and his colleagues have created and developed this blog as a source of information about the MFA program, the visiting lecturers and all things of interest to serious writers. As he passes the reins to me, I hope that you all will work with me to make this a blog that both interests you and adds to your experience as an MFA student. You will all, I hope, choose to contribute to this site whether it be in the form of book reviews, profiles of speakers, articles on current literary events and topics or anything else that arouses your interest and adds to the high level of discussion already here. As our blog name suggests, boundary pushing is welcomed.

As you work on your individual projects this year, please also think about creating a writing community and sharing with us what you’re doing. If you find something interesting in your research or an article you like, we’d like to know about it too. The more participation this site has from all of you, the more vibrant and helpful it will be. That old “you get out what you put in” lark, I know, but it’s true.

In that vein, I also want to reach out to previous MFA cohorts. Please keep in touch and we hope you feel that you are still an important part of the KU MFA community. Thank you for all your hard work last year, for posting very interesting content and especially to Stuart for creating and maintaining NoDeadWhiteMen.

Now our only challenge is to live up to the precedent set last year. I look forward to an exciting year filled with all your deep, not so deep, academic, humorous and cutting edge literary thoughts.

Your faithful editor,

Sinéad Keegan

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