Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We can thank Bridget Jones for female excellence in universities

Isn't this a great cover?

I'm still blinking over this piece from the Guardian. I decided for this blog post to suitably rewrite the headline to highlight the apparent implications of what is being said. I have also given myself a pat on the back (not 'bat' as I was just typing - it's early and I haven't had enough coffee) for putting Bridget Jones's Diary on the Honours curriculum this year.

Check out that cover though! I love books that reproduce themselves on the cover - or, in a sense, construct themselves from the experience of the text. In this case, the text has become Bridget, looking suitably surprised by her predicament. At least, I hope that makes sense. It isn't even 7am. Academics, according to common folklore, don't function before midday. I need more coffee...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Can one write for children?

The Guardian has a piece by Michael Rosen about writing for children. It's good, but I don't know that I necessarily, fully, absolutely agree these days. So much advice about writing for children keeps 'the child' front and centre. Yet, there isn't really a child, just as there really isn't an adult. Furthermore, as Rosen indicates, it's not the actual children who will decide whether or not your children's book is published. That'll be up to the adults in their proverbial suits. They have boxes to tick that have more to do with what's selling well now rather than what will sell well tomorrow (hence the battle to find the next J.K. Rowling, which oddly led, rather, to the discovery of teen angst in the form of sparkly vampires, a short-lived, perhaps, but interesting movement in itself).

C.S. Lewis indicated that it was more about a genre, which means, in effect, that the possessive - children's - is more distracting than helpful. Then again, do we really want everyone to stop paying attention to that possessive? If they did, they'd realise just how messy, subversive, merry and outrageous the genre actually is.

I think - at this point in time - that the trick to writing for children is to, as Lewis and Rowling and others indicate, write for oneself. It simply requires you to have a particular sort of mind. Not childish. I resist references to 'kidadults' and such. It's just a certain mindset that has been largely associated with children's literature and has for a while flown under the radar of 'serious literature' (sorry about the metaphors - it's early as I write!). Think about it. Fairy tale was the great genre of the storyteller - a place to sort out the battle of the sexes, ambition, greed, lust and all kinds of other virtues and vices. It has spent quite a long time in the nursery, but those of us reading fairy tales know they aren't really 'children's' fare... exclusively, at least.

If you get a chance, also check out Neil Gaiman's blog entry 'typing clunky'. As he says of his absence from the list of this year's most banned books, "I suspect that I'm not trying hard enough." Meg Cabot will be disappointed too.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fairy Tale Laundry

Washing day with a fairy tale theme. I picked up the T-shirts from Sur La Lune's Cafe Press site.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Paranormal Symposium Struck By Lightning!

On Friday, after a day of exciting papers on vampire romance, the Japanese Studies Centre was indeed struck by lightning while most of us were enjoying wine and cheese and a variety of Lindt balls. Who could make that up?

I'm just back from the Saturday sessions and am tired, weary (because it requires reiteration), but oddly, very upbeat about doing more vampire research, which is the ultimate sign of a successful symposium, I think. Seriously, we had many interesting papers looking at everything from vampire deviancy to vampire child-raising. This is a new area - relatively - in terms of scholarly work, but there's already really lively, entertaining debate. We hope to have most of the papers available as podcasts. Keep your eyes open.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Panic

Eoin Colfer

In news today, Eoin Colfer is to write the sixth Hitchhiker's novel. Normally I am a little unsure about an author taking over another author's series. However, in this case, it looks like Colfer is set to approach the novel as himself, which is a good sign. In the Guardian, he says it's "like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice." I teach Colfer's Artemis Fowl in the Children's Literature unit (I'm hoping next year to offer students the choice to study the novel or the graphic novel, but don't quote me on that yet). It's a great book for turning notions of morality and evil on their heads. And then, of course, there's the fact that it's enormously funny. In fact, Colfer rates as a comedian as well as an author. For a taste of his humour, try the Guardian podcast. His Gollum story is priceless.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Spreading the Meta-Romance

One of my research interests involves chick lit. In the excellent Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction, Juliette Wells writes in her essay, "With one notable exception, which I will discuss shortly, chick-lit novels also imitate their predecessors in avoiding the subject of the development of women's literary talents, an evasion that is particularly remarkable in light of the overwhelming popularity in the genre of first-person narration and the prevalence of heroines' careers that involve some kind of writing" ('Mothers of Chick Lit?', p56). Wells makes the point that rarely do the heroines of chick lit themselves become successful novelists.

Meg Cabot to the rescue! I was thoroughly delighted by Princess and the (Green)Peace Press Release. Yes, Princess Mia is going to be a published author with her own historical romance, Ransom My Heart. For those who haven't ever read the Princess Diaries - and they are quite, quite different to the films - Mia's great ambition is to become a writer. And in a metafictional stroke, she will be! What I particularly enjoy is that she is writing historical romance. As much as I loved Anne of Greengables and Little Women growing up, I was always just a touch disappointed that the heroines were discouraged from writing what they really enjoyed and encouraged to write 'what they knew'. Louisa May Alcott didn't really pay much attention to this advice herself, as is evident from her more thrilling scribblings, but the fact it was there always seemed a slap on the wrist to girls who wanted to write outlandlish romances. And I wanted to write outlandish romances.

If you read on in the entry in Cabot's blog, you'll also note what I love about this author from a feminist perspective. Although chick lit and its junior division are often derided by feminists, there is a strong - indeed, overt - feminist slant. What is particularly distinctive about this slant - apart from the shoe fetishes and pink - is that it is aware of faults and flaws not only in patriarchal ideologies, but in feminist ones, too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Academic Art of Procrastination

I was reading about writer's block yesterday in The Independent. This is something that strikes all writers, even the writers of essays, theses and... say... welcome speeches for a symposium that's coming up in less than a week.

This morning I caught myself claiming to be searching for inspiration while watching episodes of Buffy and knitting a sock. Actually, sometimes this tactic works. And even if I don't have a speech to show for it, at least I have part of a sock... and it's a pretty wild looking sock, don't you think? It's made from yarn that's known as Socks That Rock.

Seriously, the only real way to defeat writer's block is the less than appealing 'sit down and actually start writing.' Everyone wishes there were an online store selling inspiration, but there isn't. You just have to sit and try out different combinations of words until you find a combination that works. There's a tip there, too, in that often the first few combinations won't work and you'll have to start all over again. Don't be afraid of that. It's part of the process and the best writing often comes from a fertile bed of composted combinations-that-didn't-work.

One of the biggest mistakes I think students make is to go with the first combination that comes to them. Is there a fear of wasting words by deleting them? Don't worry, you can recycle them into a better piece of writing.

Speaking of recycling, it's time for me to go back to my half-written speech and do a bit of composting myself. It's just not working as is. It's time to just sit down and start trying out some new combinations.

Forgive mangled metaphors.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Excuses to make chocolate cupcakes

My reading group, the Sìdhe Literary Collective as we're known, has been going for over a year now and we're about to put on our first symposium (see the poster in earlier entry!). Reading groups are wonderful. I'm a big supporter. They're opportunities not only to take part in 'serious academic discussion', but they are support groups, too. When I was overwhelmed with marking and several members had theses due, we took to watching episodes of Xena and Buffy, followed by lively debates on who was the mightest female role model of all. We went through a baking phase where the sharing of recipes and baked goods went along with sharing of Derrida and Butler. It wasn't perhaps the best thing for our waistlines, but it was a thoroughly delicious period of scholarly endeavour. In recent weeks, as I juggle teaching two units and supervising students with trying to keep up my publication output, I've been sitting quite cheerfully in my chair, knitting socks. No one minds. I can relax and yet still engage in a good critical debate.

If you are at university and you long for those dreams of tight knit groups sitting around, pouring over Joyce or Baudrillard or Rowling (hey, I do teach Harry Potter!) while drinking coffee or sipping cognac (or eating pizza and drinking beer), reading groups are a good way to go.

The best way to go about it is to decide on a main focus for the group. My first reading group focussed on pop culture. We became Henry Jenkins groupies and met at cafes all over Melbourne (okay, generally in the vacinity of Clayton). This current group began as a feminist group, but the supernatural bent got the better of us. Nonetheless, we do have heated e-mail exchanges over various newspaper articles (many oddly about a certain S.N.). It's great for letting off steam.

It's also a good idea to approach lecturers who have an interest in your focus area. They may be able to suggest other students or postdocs who could be asked to join. If you can get people at a variety of stages in their academic careers together, you can get the best of all worlds.

And if you find someone who is a good baker, that's just heavenly...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Every now and then, it's worth just stopping in the day to read a fairy tale. This morning, I began re-reading a version of Sleeping Beauty from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book. I'd forgotten all about the good fairy and her seven league boots, borrowed from a friendly dwarf, and the princess's lovely dreams as she slept. Don't you wonder what she was dreaming?

Although, the fact the princess and prince called their children Morning and Day puts into perspective some of the more recent, odder names for celebrity children!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Horror of the slush pile?

Speak to anyone who has worked in a publishing firm and they will probably go pale and regale you with horror stories of having to dip into the piles of unsolicited manuscripts. I'm sure there are many bad, bad manuscripts, but since I've also read any number of - at least to me - bad published novels, I'm not sure the unsolicited manuscript pile is the source of all the evil. And, after all, how many times do we hear about a favourite author who practically wall papered their house in rejection letters and so delight in the image of all those editors kicking themselves for having dismissed what would be a bestseller? Like, let's say, Harry Potter?

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian about this.

It might be a nice tonic for all those who are hoping to publish some day.

Neverwhere, neverway

A while ago, Neil Gaiman's American Gods was made available as a free download for a short period. Now his Neverwhere has been made available as a free download - again for a short period. Neverwhere was the first Gaiman novel I read and I enjoyed it hugely - though I never looked at the London Underground in the same way ever again! Gaiman's reflections on the free downloads are also worth having a look at, particularly if you have an interest in how fiction is produced and marketed today.

As a side note, some of you know that I have an interest in knitting. I was delighted to discover The Lord of the Rings sock club. Just the club for those who think hobbits need socks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Symposium news

We're holding a symposium later this month on vampire romance. If you're interested in vampire novels, film or television, you might well be interested in this event.

Inspiration versus motivation

Today I was visiting Meg Cabot's blog. I follow her blog regularly - both for a fix of writerly insight and for fun (okay, also for the fact that I can totally relate to her reflections on being a teen in the 80s!). Today (Sept. 2) she wrote:

"I think some people, when they’re asking authors about inspiration, are actually mistaking the word inspiration for motivation, ie, “What motivates authors (motivation = willingness to complete a sometimes onerous task) to sit there and keep their butt in a chair for so long that they’re able to finish a whole book?” If authors were really being honest, they’d admit there are only three things that motivate them to finish their books. They are, in order of motivational effectiveness:
–Chocolate (any kind, cheap, expensive—doesn’t matter)
–Just wanting to get the damn thing finished so they can get on with their lives
–Panic over inability to pay their mortgages if they don’t get paid"

That is one of the best responses I've read to the question! And terrific advice for pre-publication writers. Coming a close second, though not in response to that precise question, is Neil Gaiman's reflection on the best writing advice he'd ever received.