I should quickly explain, before anybody worries about a blog post that begins with a picture of dead sunflowers, that I have just come back from the brilliant Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy. Images of dead sunflowers, their blackened, seed-heavy heads drooping to the earth, are ambiguous in his work. Whilst sombre, they also depict the cycle of life and the promise of new life in the dying flower. It was a glorious Autumn day earlier this week when I snapped these real-world beauties, a fitting accompaniment to my mulling on the question at the top of this blog post.
It has been a few weeks now since I handed in my final portfolio of work. Although I haven’t had the closure of the mark yet, the MA course feels properly over (ongoing contact with course buddies notwithstanding). It is a little bit of dying, this end. But hopefully, too, the beginning of a new regime of writing within a different framework.
For the first few weeks, it was hard to feel much sense of new life. More like a zombie, I thought, stumbling out of bed to meet the demands of the day job. But this week I have finally managed to take a little holiday. The weather has been kind. The art exhibitions have been magnificent. The reading (mainly short stories) has been inspiring and challenging. I have even sat in a deckchair on Brighton Pier drinking beer, and gone paddling to celebrate Halloween (spooky!)
And gradually it feels like new life is returning and I am ready to embark on the new writing routine that is about being a writer rather than a creative writing student.
So here are my three resolutions to help me.
1) I want to complete a new outline of my novel by the end of this month. By outline, I mean a shitty first draft. I am going to use #Nanowrimo as the structure to do this. One of the challenges of the MA course is that it has left me with four chapters that I have worked on intensely and an outline of the rest of the novel that no longer fits due to the way characters have changed and developed in the revisioning of those early chapters. This is quite a block to overcome so I need to run at it. Fast.
2) There is nothing like the support of a writing group or circle of writing buddies. This is the biggest loss with the ending of the MA. Fortunately, there are enough of us in and around London/Oxford to recreate something which can provide that mutual support. Now I need to find a venue.
3) Reading. The constraints of the MA have meant that my reading has been very focused on particular topics of study. One of the joys of having a little more time is to open up my reading. I am catching up on my reading of short stories at the moment and challenged people to suggest a reading list for me. My list now includes: Aimee Bender, Kirsty Logan, Sarah Hall, Karen Russell, Daniel Handler, Mary Gaitskell, David Malouf, Charles Bukowski, Tennessee Williams, Jon McGregor, Dorothy Parker, Peter Carey, Junot Diaz and many more. My imagination is already dancing again. The characters from Raymond Carver’s short stories seem more like people I have known and remember than fictional characters. And I am utterly smitten with Alice Munro’s stories: her images have a searing, metaphysical intensity that I will never forget.
Right, I suppose I had better get going then.