The whole world looks like sucked candy. Hard candy, pitted with holes, softening under a rough tongue. The cathedral dissolves in the rain, collapses into sludge and drifts in the gutter. The soft gutter. The sticky road.
Gretel breathes. In for a count of three, hold, let it out slowly. It isn’t working. Her feet sink into warm fudge. She panics, she always does, can’t help it. In her deepest unconscious she has never left the gingerbread house. She is still there, licking the walls.
Compulsively, she checks her pockets for crumbs. But she has left them at home, on the instructions of her therapist. Trust in reality, he said. But how can she? Even he admits, the grim Herr Doktor, that reality is a confection, no a construction, no, confection is right; it’s all in their minds, in their mouths, did he say? Reality is a confection in the mouth.
Would it hurt to break off a little in her hand, a little to eat? The soft, chewy corner of a road sign, or the wing mirror of a shiny toffee car. You can’t eat this world, says Herr Doktor, leaning on his striped candy cane. But finally, Gretel thinks, she must. Even this world, dry and hard and sour, metal and concrete and dirt; in the end she will eat it all. Every last bite.
This is the course I’m doing at the moment. When I was deciding whether to apply for this course, it was pretty hard to get any information or opinions from current/ex-students. It really might have been helpful to have some other points of view. So, if you’re thinking about doing this course, feel free to email me and ask me questions. Obviously I can only describe my experiences and give you my opinions, but sometimes it’s useful to have a variety of sources of information. It’s a big decision and a big deal and I’m happy to help if I can.
Lots of folks lately writing about professional jealousy. I don’t suffer from it and I’m not just saying that. Jealousy happens when you are not living up to your own expectations and having fun with your own writing. Then you start to look at other people and wonder what they’ve got that you haven’t. If you stay focused on your own writing, you don’t have this problem. Easy as that!
Of course, it’s never really quite as easy as that. Writing is such a complicated and fragile thing. Given the choice, the last thing we would do is commercialise and monetise something so fundamental to our wellbeing. It’s a skewiff, wonky old world, and if you get wound up from time to time it’s hardly surprising. In fact, it would be bizarre if you didn’t. A lot of writers are a bit bonkers in the noo noo and that’s to be expected.
But. There are things worth getting worked up about, and then there are other things. How well or badly another writer is doing falls firmly into the category of ‘other things’. It’s a waste of time and energy and creativity we could be directing towards our work.
Writers don’t always like one another, for a variety of reasons, but we at least ought to aim for mutual support and appreciation wherever possible. Indulging in jealousy, rivalry, and competition is negative and counter-productive. Far better to make friends with people who may be able to help you out someday, than to be a git to someone who could one day be in a position to crush you underfoot. And there’s simply no point in wasting time fuming about another writer’s success when you could be sitting down and getting on with your own work. Innit.
The illustrious and talented Robert Shearman visited us this morning and gave an inspiring talk about short stories. He said some very insightful and helpful things, which I’m not going to repeat here because if you want to hear his great advice you should probably be paying him a lot of money for it. But one of the things I’ll take away from his talk is the way he spoke with such great passion, humour and love about reading and writing short stories. I love reading and writing short stories, too! I forgot how much.
At the moment I’m writing a novel, something which I have failed to do many, many times. This is a big part of the reason I wanted to do a creative writing MA – I needed to make a serious commitment to a major writing challenge. And I’m working on a big, difficult project that I have a lot of love for. I think it could be ace – as long as I don’t fuck it up.
But writing short stories is completely different for me. It isn’t remotely like work. It’s something I love to do and will always do. Maybe I’ll write a string of novels and they’ll all be brilliant and win awards and acclaim, and I’ll retire on my massive earnings and spend the rest of my days quaffing champers and commissioning life-size portraits of myself – the normal writer’s life, don’t you know. Whatever. I’m always going to be writing short stories, no matter what happens next, just because that’s what I love to write.
It’s depressingly easy to get sucked into the world of academia and trying to understand clever things that people say and trying to get people to give you nice grades for your writing. We all lose perspective in the face of that stuff. So it’s great to have someone come along and fire loads of enthusiasm and joy at you. And make you remember why it is you’re doing this in the first place.