Monday, April 07, 2014

Links to Stuff X

The 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

My friend Angharad Eyre has written an excellent post on the History of the Emotions blog about letters and friendship at Westfield College in late Victorian Britain.

AL Kennedy has a new collection of short stories out: All the Rage (Jonathan Cape)

Friday, July 05, 2013

Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard

I've finally submitted my PhD dissertation, which means that I can read books for enjoyment and not just work. As soon as I have finished James Robertson's And the Land Lay Still, I'm going to be reading Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard.

I know Daisy, we have both just finished and submitted our dissertations at Queen Mary, University of London, and have been on panels about archives and anecdotes - although our fields are separated by at least three hundred years. Hunters in the Snow is sure to be a great book, and the first of many. The fact that Daisy has managed to finish both a novel and a PhD dissertation in the last few years is very impressive - she is an inspiration to us all! I wish her lots of success with this novel and am really looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Links to Stuff IX

My friend Kirsty Rolfe has an excellent blog called Avoiding the Bears.

AL Kennedy has a new non-fiction book out called On Writing. And a repeat broadcast of her radio play Confessions of a Medium was aired on Friday night on BBC Radio 4 and is still available to listen again.

Stephen Poliakoff will be speaking at an event at the ICA in London on Friday 8th March. I can't go because it clashes with my teaching so I am hoping it might get recorded.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

AcWriMo IV: Welcome to Procrastination Central

Yes, 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.

Also I'm feeling tired and head fuggy at the moment, and my ability to actually spell words and write things which make sense has been limited of late...

Got to get back on track tomorrow after reading an essay or two this evening. 

Now however I'm going to have a cup of tea. But which tea to have?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

AcWriMo III: derailed

Today has been less about writing and more about making sure I have the information to hand so that I can move forward with my chapter, which means I haven't done my 1200 words today. Yesterday went a bit wrong on the AcWriMo front because I had to leave the house and didn't get the opportunity to sit in front of my laptop until late, by which time I was tired. Tomorrow I have meetings but I hope to get something written by hand when I am travelling on the train to and from London.
This is all a bit frustrating because I wanted to have a productive week and build on the momentum generated at the end of last week, so on Thursday morning I will refocus and spend a few minutes setting some writing goals for that day. This is something which is really encouraged by the Thinking Writing department at QMUL and when I remember to do it I do find I am more productive. This evening, after reading through and doing a rough edit of the work I have written so far, I am going to spend a few minutes working out which section I want to focus on and then outline some goals so that I can focus them on Thursday morning.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

AcWriMo II

Although 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.

If I achieve the 25200 it would mean a first (but hopefully not too rough) draft of my final chapter, a 250 word abstract for a journal submission and the surgery done on the second chapter which I've neglected for about 18 months - if not longer - and maybe even some other work as well. My main aim and major focus, however, is to complete my final chapter, not necessarily to write that many words.

Even though I discovered AcWriMo late I found that because I was starting writing my chapter this month anyway, I had already done some of work to meet some of the 6 rules of AcWriMo.

1. Set goals: I changed my goals after signing up and set a daily word count aim well above what I would usually set. So 1200 words a day 5 days a week and finish the final chapter.

2. Publicly declare participation and goals: doing that here now.

3. Draft a strategy: I've been reading and planning throughout October so I know what the strategy is - it is written down in ink in a notebook.

4. Discuss what you are doing: I will be doing that on here, maybe daily, maybe not because repeatedly posting 'I wrote 1200 words today' would be boring. One of the things I do want to think about is the process of academic writing, and how different processes might be useful.

5. Don't slack off: Phd students specialise in procrastination. Please feel free to post daily in the comments section to increase my sense of guilt over any thoughts of procrastination, or just to provide encouragement.

6. Publicly declare your results: AcWriMo is due to finish on 30th November, but I will actually be continuing until 7th December partly because I'm a week late in signing up to this, and partly because my chapter deadline is 7th December.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I'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.

The end of this PhD is in sight (sort of, maybe) but I still feel too distant from the possibility of finishing, but today I wrote the first 2000 words of my final chapter. These words are not in continuous sentences, some are just random sentences stuck somewhere at the bottom of the document as ideas which pop up but while others are proper paragraphs. I need to read it this evening and work out what I need to do tomorrow to make the same level of progress.

Coincidentally I learned this evening from another waif and stray staying on the floor of the same London flat as me while we're both in the city for work things that alongside NaNoWriMo there is AcWriMo which I'm now signing up for in the hope that it will continue the sense of collaboration in a shared goal and spur me on to complete this chapter by 7th December.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Links to Stuff VIII

The 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.

The writing 'retreat' helped quite a bit, but I still wish it was called something other than a 'retreat'... 

While I was shut away in the British Library last week reading about 1980s British television drama and the second Cold War, AL Kennedy's latest radio play was broadcast on BBC Radio 4, it is available on iPlayer (just, it expires in 4 hours) but you can also download it from the Play/Drama of the Week podcast via BBC Podcasts, and on iTunes. I shall be listening to it shortly before settling down to an afternoon of watching Wimbledon (if the rain ever stops).

Long term readers of this blog will know about my obsession with AL Kennedy's work, and I'm delighted that she has written quite a number of radio plays in recent years, and hope there are more to come.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Deadlines. Deadlines. Deadlines.

About 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 that I had needed to go through this process, even though the final deadline was some weeks away. My MA dissertation was written in about 14 days after life derailed the project massively. When I finished it I didn't feel anything except for relief and exhaustion. The only reason I finished that project was because I had to, and I managed to find an amazing archive which gave me huge amounts of material to work with, but mostly because of a remarkable and supportive supervisor. I'm lucky to have both these supervisors as my PhD supervisors now.

My process at the moment seems to be that I spend the morning writing slowly, if at all, and then having a productive afternoon. But, the key thing is I have to spend the morning working slowly at the chapter, because I if get side-tracked and spend the morning doing something else, the afternoon is wasted. I think - and hope - that this is because I spend the morning 'thinking' about the writing, but not getting much done, giving me space to write better in the afternoon. If I do not give myself the space to do the thinking in the morning, the writing in the afternoon does not happen, or is minimal, because there is no thought to support it.

Of course there is always The Fear. I've written some good work in the past when I've had The Fear; but is is debilitating, and I am tired enough as it is without Fear induced collapse occurring. So for now I am going to be content with achieving 600-1000 words a day.

I confront The Fear head on when it arrives in December. Which it will.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Links to Stuff VII

A 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...

Here is the link to the first part on the Radio 4 website. The second episode is broadcast on 15th June 2012 at 3.45pm and the third on 22nd June 2012 at 3.45pm.

Now I've listened to it (and laughed) I must get back to meeting my own typing deadline.

Monday, June 11, 2012

MindNode Software Review

I'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 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.

MindNode Logo
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.

Friday, June 08, 2012


One 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.

If I don't exercise my back gets worse, along with everything else, so after some thought I decided cycling at home would be best. My old bike was knackered and slightly on the small side, so I forked out what was left of my teaching money and got a new hybrid bike. I've been doing well and getting out on it almost every day, but on Monday a pick up truck decided to clip me ever so slightly whilst on a country lane and a combination of things sent me flying. Nothing broken thankfully, but really bashed and bruised, my left hand took all the weight of the fall, got pretty skinned, and now typing with it is really quite uncomfortable, my knees are blue and purple and I can't laugh because my ribs hurt too much.

Unfortunately this has set me back about 5 days on the writing front, partly because of the general pain, the painkiller induced brain fog, and now having to type with only one hand. It also means that my 442 words a day have now become 521 words a day. I know it isn't much of a difference, but at the moment every single word is mentally taxing. I just hope that sometime in the next few days my brain shifts into a more engaged gear and manages to come up with more like 1000 words a day.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Einstein on the Beach - by Peter Falconer.

Guest 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!