Sunday 21 November 2010

Not a Trouser Press in Sight...

Knowing me Dan Purdue, knowing you Blog Readers. Ah-ha!

Er, yes. In my defence I've been feeling quite a lot like Alan Partridge  recently, living in hotels and rented accommodation for a couple of weeks. The tedium of living out of a suitcase and eating on my own in restaurants has made me feel a lot like Alan in the third (and in my opinion, the best) series of his show, although so far I've managed to resist begging the staff to make adult films appear on the TV, or dismantling the trouser press. The latter may only be because I haven't stayed anywhere that actually provides a trouser press yet.

The reason for this is that as of last week and for the next few months, I'll be working part of each week in Leeds and staying in a hotel/B&B while I'm there. Initially I thought that this would mean I'd have a lot of time on my hands in the evenings and could get a lot of writing done, but it hasn't worked out that way. I've found that by the time I've got back from work, changed into casual (i.e. scruffy) clothes, walked or driven into town, found somewhere to eat, eaten, paid, and walked back again, there's actually not that much of the evening left. I wrote a page of a short story and a few notes for other stuff, but not the huge chunks of progress I was anticipating. I think instead I'll try to do some editing while I'm away - that seems more realistic. I tend to edit longhand using a printed copy and a biro, which are a lot more portable than a laptop.

In the middle of my first two weeks in my new role was a writing weekend, of the extremely enjoyable variety. Some friends and I hired a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales and holed up for three days doing various writerly things. For me, the most interesting and useful was a tightly structured review circle, the type where you read a piece out and then sit anxiously chewing your fingernails while the group members make notes and then, one-by-one, tell you what they thought of it. The key thing is that you don't get the chance to respond to the comments until the end. This is quite hard (I resorted to literally biting my tongue at times), but it's worth it. If one person picks up on something that doesn't work, it's easy to get all defensive/indignant and assume they weren't paying attention. When the comment gets echoed by two or three others, it's somehow easier to take the criticism. Not that it's diluted, it's just that it becomes obvious that the bit they're talking about simply doesn't work. From that point on, you're not dealing with opinion but a matter of fact, and (for me, at least) that feels like something concrete, something that can be worked on and improved. We also wrote new things, ate and drank a lot and stayed up late talking nonsense. Good times.

But after all that it's good to be home again. Today I've painted what used to be the garage but will soon be my office / writing room / guest bedroom, listened to the five stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award (very good, all of them - hear them on Listen Again or get the podcasts, here), and admired my signed copy of Not So Perfect - which, I was pleased to see, Nik Perring had signed using his "dried blood" ink as per his interview on Teresa Stenson's "Tell Me How You Write" spot on her blog.

Oh, and having been shortlisted for the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition (one of the news items I hinted at in my last post), I found out I'd got no further than that, which is a shame. Still, nice to have made the shortlist.

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