Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Quick, Jetlagged Wave

There are definite perks to teaching on an Italian campus. Above is one of them. And if I'd had the sense to jot down my favourite gelato shop, I would, of course, share it with you. But I've forgotten. I'll have to track it down for later.

The experience was fantastic and I hope the students had just as wonderful a time as I had... even though they had to put up with a voiceless teacher for at least two classes. Yes, I lost my voice. So we proceeded in the literary tradition of the fairy tale, courtesy of word processing and a projector.

I'm working through the grading today and getting ready to start the semester's classes tomorrow. Hopefully, the jetlag excuse will hold for a few more days, particularly since I combined it with a cold caught on the flight back.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Telling Tales

One of my past students, Nina, has an excellent online magazine, Typesetgroup. She recently asked if I'd like to be interviewed. Yes! The interview is up here. She also just posted a great blog about gathering around a fire and telling tales. It made me think of my secret wish. I'd love to stage a fairy tale boot camp - riding through some mountains, telling fairy tales around a camp fire. A friend and I went riding in Paradise (New Zealand's South Island) last year. It was, yes, a Lord of the Rings ride and she even snatched one of the few horses still working who had appeared in the films. I got the horse who apparently liked to sit in the middle of a bush and scratch his stomach. Thankfully, there's no photographic evidence of the hilarity that ensued. While we rode, we talked about what a great experience this would be for people interested in fantasy and fairy tale. Of course, I suspect the liability issues would do my head in.

But just imagine a horse trek through the Loire Valley, learning about the French fairy tales? I may be getting carried away!

Okay, maybe one day.

I do think it's important not to see literature as a sedentary thing, though, but as something bound up in living and making and creating. As my students know, I happily encourage knitting and needlework etc in the classroom. I respect those who see this as a distraction, but for myself, I know I pay more attention when I have something to do with my hands. I suspect this is why we see so many Mother Gooses at their spinning wheels. Often reading, telling or listening to a tale as your hands work, you discover new nuances that you wouldn't have discovered had you sat in your chair simply reading. Rhythms change.

It's much like telling or listening to a tale. The pace changes. Your attention is taken up in a different way. If you're lucky, you get to hear an author tell their tale and you learn how it sounded in their heads. Even listening to people generally telling tales about their life experience - it was a treat listening to Stephen Fry stand on stage and just tell us, the audience, about things that had happened to him and stuff that mattered to him. These are things that make life good, that create new resonances that we can draw upon to enjoy and understand our experience.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


“If you want custom fit shoes, you’ll need to wait till the elves are up.”

I've just 'done and dusted' a fairy tale that has been sent off to editors. We'll see. I've resolved this year to be more open about the fact that I do write. Although I don't aim to be a creative writing academic and I do believe that critical writing is creative too, I enjoy writing fiction and suspect a good majority of English Lit. academics have manuscripts tucked away or published. I've been writing 'seriously' since I was eleven and realised people could do something like write books. Of course, I'd read books before then - many books. I just hadn't thought of books as being authored by people who did that kind of thing for a living. The realisation was somewhat life changing and I then took writing seriously. It became important. It became something I did. And while I haven't always been anxious to publish, I don't know where I'd be if I wasn't walking around without at least a story or two buzzing in my head.

That could be why I look a little distracted at times.

For the first time today I also hopped over to look at Pottermore. I watched the video. The video is amazing - it uses animated book papercuts, which are among my favourite things in the world. The concept itself is intriguing and embraces the ideals of transmedia storytelling, although under the control of Rowling as author. Some are less than enthused and see it as another example of the forces of commercialisation wielded by Harry Potter. It does permit the author control over the interaction of readers with the text. Yet, it could indeed be where fiction will go. Other authors, like Jasper Fforde and PJ Haarsma, also have sites that encourage interaction and provide digital material for readers.

I also take my hat off to Rowling that, however it happened, she maintained the digital rights to her work. Those rights are valuable today.