Where does the time go?

Wow.  What a journey that first year at university was!  I’m so sorry you didn’t really get to experience it with me, I think I misjudged the volume of work when I said I’d keep this blog updated.  Still, I’m here now with plenty of time on my hands over the summer, so I’m going to try to keep it updated a little better.

Edge-Hill-University-Campus-Images-John-Johnson-34

Our amazing library.  This place saved my life more than once!

First things first, let me tell you how I felt my first year went; it went great.  It surpassed all of my expectations and managed to blow a few of my fears out of the water.  I’ve done well in the majority of the assessments that have already been marked, including an absolutely mind blowing 80% in one of them.  I still can’t believe that 80% mark is actually right!  The classes were all interesting and while sometimes it felt like we were feeling around in the dark without much guidance, I guess that’s just how universities operate.  A lot of the stuff you have to work out or decide on for yourself; it’s not like the less advanced kinds of further education, where you’re spoon fed the information you need.  The tutors seem to give you just enough to get you thinking and then the rest is really up to you.  It takes some getting used to, but I think I worked it out fine in the end.

The other thing I want to mention in this blog post is that I will be putting my assessment submissions up here on the website in the future, but in order to avoid the university’s plagiarism filter, I have to leave them off until they’ve been marked.  Look for them at the beginning of June, if you’re interested in how they turned out.

Other than that, thanks for sticking with me, those of you who still read these things!  I PROMISE I will try to keep this thing updated and will hopefully be adding new work and stuff as I keep my skills up over summer.  Unless I become world famous in the meantime, of course!

Be Excellent To Each Other!

Steven

 

Just keep swimming!!

So, the second week of university is over and our third week is about to begin!  Last week brought with it new challenges as well as some surprising revelations!

I guess you could say that last week was the first time ‘shit got real’ at university, as our tutors gleefully threw tons of information at us and chuckled as our heads

Someone catch my brain!!

Someone catch my brain!!

revolved (I might be embellishing that a little).  We did suddenly find ourselves with lots to think about and lots to study; it’s hard to know where to start, but start I must!

Even though there’s work to do, the reading part of it doesn’t really feel like work and as I read books written by authors I’d never heard of, in styles I’d never consider reading, I find myself enjoying it.  It really is amazing how much you can learn by getting out of your comfort zone and reading things you wouldn’t usually.  I found myself initially confused and disliking Dan Rhodes’ writing style in Anthropology, but by the time I’d finished it, I’d come to love those little surrealist vignettes of his and I will be seeking out more of his work.

Another surprising thing I discovered was how much I’m actually scared of

Scriptwriting in a nutshell...

Scriptwriting in a nutshell…

scriptwriting!  Before I started the course, I thought it was easy, but after our first four hour (yes, four hours of scriptwriting each week!) class, I was petrified by the

technical complexity of scripts.  Hopefully as the weeks go on, I’ll be able to get it straight in my head and I think that ultimately, I will enjoy scriptwriting.  Still, it was scary, eye opening stuff!

For me, the lesson of the week has to go to Building The World.  We were spoiled by having it as our very first class and it was so much fun!  Everything else was struggling to match up to it.  We started easily enough by discussing what secondary worlds were and why we create them.  We then had to imagine what our world would be like without a single invention.  It was fascinating to imagine the possibilities that could exist when just one essential invention was removed from the world.  Although I have to say to some of my classmates, who imagined a world

It's early days in World Building...

It’s early days in World Building…

without the internet, that I remember that world very clearly already!  Jokes about my age aside, the whole lesson was fun and thought provoking.

So we start week three with a good idea of how our lessons are going to go and a very real idea of the amount of work we have to do.  Even with all of the work, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now and I’m so happy I have a great bunch of people to go on this journey with!

#EHUFreshers

So, here we are, my time at Edge Hill University has finally started!  That means that from now on, this blog will be getting regularly updated as I keep a journal/blog/personal rant of the things that I’m learning here at university.  I would have posted on Monday, but the only thing that happened was a tour of the campus and while that was fascinating for me, I doubt those of you who read this would have been enthralled to learn the opening times of the library!

The face of someone who listened to my library tour tale...

“Oh my god, he’s talking about the library again!!”

As enlightening for me as Monday was, Tuesday was the real deal.  I finally got to meet my department tutors and the other Creative Writing students.  We had our Creative Writing Programme Induction in the morning.  This was, as our Programme Leader said, just to get the nuts and bolts of both our course and university life out of the way before the real learning starts next week.  It was really interesting overall, from both a student point of view and from a personal one, I felt that the personalities of our tutors shone through and they seem to be a likeable, relaxed group as they talked us through some crucial (but, admittedly, a little boring) pointers about how our time here will run.

We were told the times of our seminars/workshops as well as a little from each tutor about what these would include.  Those of you who know me well will know that my particular interests lie in Speculative Fiction and Writing for Games.  It bodes well, I think, that the tutor for those particular workshops came across as very friendly and approachable (ultimately though, they were all very nice!).  Best of all, the whole course kicks off with ‘Building The World’ next Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon saw us in a lecture hall, getting a talk from the English Department head and from Student Services.  It wasn’t interesting enough to warrant a breakdown on this blog and so I’ll spare you the details.  Suffice to say that it served to make me feel glad that we won’t be spending too much time in big lecture halls.  Those places make me so sleepy it’s untrue!

"Must...take...notes...zzzzz"

“Must…take…notes…zzzzz”

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting to know some of the other mature students who are studying in the English Department, as well as a chance to have a chat with the tutors.  I also had a couple of really interesting chats; one with Peter, who will be running our Building The World class, about RPG’s and tabletop games and other with one of the history lecturers, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten, about how a good knowledge of historical research can be useful when creative worlds for your fiction to exist in.

Finally, the rest of the English/History/Creative Writing students joined us for a few drinks, some snacks and a fun little quiz which saw us put into groups of six, fighting it out for a grand prize of Book Tokens!! (Remember: writers are readers who write!)  Unfortunately, we missed out on third place by one point, but were satisfied with being the highest of the also rans!  It’s the taking part that counts, right?

So that’s more or less my first week at university.  Apologies to those of you who thought it was going to be a rambunctious tale of wild drinking and partying,

Not pictured; me tucked up in bed...

Not pictured; me tucked up in bed…

which you probably remember from your own Freshers Week, but you have to remember, I’m 38 and the last thing those 18 year old kids want is some creepy guy twenty years older than they are hanging out with them.  I’m happy just to be doing this course in the first place!

I look forward to next week and getting my teeth stuck into the course properly.  Watch this space for further exciting tales from academia!

But is it art?

When you think about art, what’s the first thing that comes into your head?  I guess for many it’s the classic idea of painting or perhaps drawing.  A colour spattered painter holding a palette, stood in front of an easel.  That image isn’t incorrect of course, painting and drawing are art, but for me, that three letter word encompasses so much more.

Bob Ross, a genuine legend.

             Bob Ross, a genuine legend.

You see, far too often I’ve had discussions with people who’ve boldly claimed that they don’t like ‘art’.  Now that concept is alien to me and to be honest, I have a hard time believing that it’s true.  I guess that somewhere in the world there must be someone who doesn’t like art at all, but when people say it to me, I’m more inclined to think that they just mean paintings, museums and things like that, because otherwise their life would be very shallow.  Music is art, so does that mean that someone who doesn’t like art doesn’t like music?  Who doesn’t like music!?  Television programmes are art, so are movies, books, magazines.  Even buildings are art.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that a creative mind isn’t just something monopolised by artists, writers, poets etc.  I personally believe that art is anything created by a person that causes you to have an emotional reaction or response towards it.  It doesn’t matter to me if that response is positive or negative, the only requirement (for me at least) is that it makes you feel something.

I just want one.  I can't even drive.  I.  Just.  Want.  One!

I just want one. I can’t even drive. I. Just. Want. One!

With that said, in my eyes, a hell of a lot of things can be considered art.  I’ve already mentioned buildings, I love a good building, especially one that’s of an interesting design or has some kind of unique architectural quirk or construction.  I think that cars can be art, too.  Some of the better looking supercars out there in the world today have definitely made me have an emotional reaction to them (mainly jealousy towards whoever was driving it, but it counts!).  Trains, planes, boats, all of these things can be beautiful or well crafted enough that they make you have an emotional reaction.  Bear in mind I’m not talking about making you fall over weeping at the beauty of it all, but even if it just manages to stir something inside of you, however slightly, then it’s done its job.

I am quite an emotional person anyway, which is probably the reason that I love the arts so much.  I expect that not everyone would agree with me that a car or a plane is a form of art, but think of the construction and the technical know how that’s gone into constructing these things, the intricate way the parts all fit together and work in perfect harmony.  That sounds a lot like art to me.  I especially love it when something someone else created makes me want to know why the creator made it, what was the thought process behind it?  What does it mean to them?  What do they think of what it means to me?

But is it art?

But is it art?

I’d love to know what your own perception of art is, leave me your thoughts in the comments section below and let me know?  For now just consider it the next time something moves you, even just a little inside, and ask yourself ‘but is it art?’

You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here…

Before I get going with this post, I feel that I need to offer a little disclaimer.  I am not a student of Psychology or Sociology and have no qualifications in these fields, so the opinions that follow are my own, uneducated observations, unless I link directly to something written by someone with a greater knowledge in the field of the mind than I.  With all that said…

Creativity and Mental Health

 At various points in my life, I’ve had conversations with friends, colleagues and even some strangers about the links between creativity and mental health.  The image of the ‘tortured artist’ is prevalent in society to the point where it has become somewhat of a cliché.  Are we all tortured though?  Do we have to be mentally ill to write, paint, sing, compose, draw or do anything creative?  Obviously, the answer is no.  I am pretty sure that there are plenty of creative people out there who are of sound mind and body.  There is some interesting evidence linking mental health to creativity out there though.

Douglas Adams knew what he was talking about...

Douglas Adams knew what he was talking about…

Some of you reading this will know about my own personal battle with depression that’s been going on for years now.  It’s not an easy illness to live with and it can make me not only suicidal, but incredibly self-destructive too.  Despite all the drawbacks, I did find that while I was in one of my lowest phases, I was writing an awful lot of poetry.  Yes, the poetry was dark and sometimes depressing, but it was helping me to express how I felt in the only way I knew how.

There have been a few studies done over the years to try to establish if there is a link between mental health problems and creativity.  Most notably one conducted in Sweden, which found that creativity and mental illness do not necessarily have a link, with the possible exception of Bipolar Disorder and the possibility that writers tended to suffer from depression more than other creative types.

The problem with these kind of studies is that the notion of ‘creativity’ can be very subjective.  The Swedish study didn’t properly define what they considered creative, except to say that scientific creativity consisted of doing research and teaching at universities.  Furthermore, they didn’t specify a difference between artistic creativity with the exception of writers.  Finally, even if they had specified between artistic creativity, their idea of what that creativity is might not necessarily be the same as everyone else’s.

The creative brain.  Squishy and encased in glass.

The creative brain. Squishy and encased in glass.

The American neuropsychiatrist, Nancy Andreasen conducted a study of the writers of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  She conducted first person interviews with them regarding their personal struggles with mental illness.  She discovered that the idea of the ‘tortured artist’ wasn’t necessarily true, that these writers had become successful despite their mental illnesses, not because of them.  They overcame their struggles and even mentioned that while they were in a period of depression, they found that their creativity was stifled by the illness.  Andreasen documented her findings in the book ‘The Creative Mind‘.

So what does all of this mean to me?

Since the Andreasen study seems to show that the Iowa writers overcame their mental illnesses in order to become successful, I think it’s fair to say that the ‘tortured artist’ cliché is just a myth.  It’s certainly true that at first, my own depression was adding fuel to my creativity, inspiring me to write quite a few poems in a short space of time.  I think though, that for me this process was a cathartic one.  It helped me to take stock of and understand the emotions I was going through at the time.  By interpreting those emotions into words and putting them down on paper, I was able to look at them, analyse them and see what was going on in my mind.  Sort of like an emotional ‘selfie’, which I guess most poetry is anyway.

The thing that stands out the most to me is that after that initial flurry of creativity, I stopped almost completely.  Perhaps, as the Iowa writers attested, my mental illness had become a barrier to my creativity once I had poured my feelings out.  Certainly my attempts at writing since then until now have been half-hearted.  Now that I know that my mental illness has this effect on my creativity, maybe I won’t be so hard on myself in the future if I’m feeling down and finding it hard to write.  If that’s the case, maybe that can help me in controlling my depression by introducing another positive thought into my CBT bat-belt of tricks.  That can only be a good thing, I think.

Creativity - Like having the whole world in your hands.  I'll stop now.

Creativity – Like having the whole world in your hands. I’ll stop now.

In conclusion, while nothing that’s been said above can definitively answer the question regarding the link between mental illness and creativity, I think that, wherever your creativity comes from, whether you’re artistically creative, scientifically creative or creative in business, as long as you’re taking risks and dreaming your dreams, that’s all that matters.  So while the answer to our question may remain ambiguous, it does seem that you don’t actually have to be mad to work here, but in some cases, it might help!

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Why do I write?

I guess this is a fairly basic question to ask on a blog about writing.  It’s a question that I’ve never actually asked myself in the past, so I thought that I might have a go at answering it now.

The Origins Of My Writing

It’s hard to say how young I was when I first realised how much I liked writing.  Now, when I say writing, I don’t just mean fiction, I mean writing in general, the whole process.  From scrawling my left handed, messy handwriting across a page (and getting the inevitable ink smudge marks on both paper and skin), using the weird computer/typewriter hybrid my mum and dad got me later on, to more recently typing away on a bright blank word processing document.  I love everything about writing.
It's alright, it's only a first draft...

It’s alright, it’s only a first draft…

I must have been about six or seven when I actually realised, for the first time, that I enjoyed putting the thoughts that were in my head down on paper.  I can’t even remember now what things I wanted to share with the world at that age!  I do remember writing things down when I’d played a particularly cool game with my toys and I wanted to remember the specifics so I could play that game again.

That, I guess then, is the origins of my writing.  I’d often use toys in different ways and for different roles than they were originally bought for.  So from time to time, my Star Wars figures would have different names and personalities, my He-Man action figures would be strange alien creatures on a newly discovered world.  Everything could be anything, depending on the ‘game’ I was playing.  Thinking back on it now, I think a better term to use would be the ‘stories’ I was telling.  I would write down who the characters were, what the planets and places they visited were called, everything.  Well, maybe not everything, a lot of my playing when I was a kid was improvised and done on the fly, but sometimes, if it was cool enough, I’d make a note of it.

The Wasted Years

I amusingly refer to my teenage years as ‘the wasted years’ because I did spend rather a lot of time drunk in those, fragile, formative years!  Because of that, not very much writing got done by me at all, and that which was has rarely survived to see the light of day today.  This might be a blessing in disguise, but as with my younger years, it would have been fun to see what occupied my teenage mind!

Even though I’ve said that I didn’t do much writing during my teenage years, it would be a lie to say that I put my imagination to rest and dulled it with alcohol, because I didn’t.  My teenage imagination was mostly preoccupied with tabletop role-playing games.  Yes, like Dungeons and Dragons, but no, not Dungeons and Dragons.  It still amazes me even now that you could tell someone you once took a dump on a cat and they wouldn’t flinch, but tell them you’ve played D & D and they look at you like you just slapped the pope.  Tabletop RPG’s are amazing and really, really good for your imagination.  I thoroughly believe that more people should play them!

Tabletop Roleplaying -  More fun than it looks!

Tabletop Roleplaying – More fun than it looks!

Anyway,  these games always helped to fire my imagination and gave me worlds in which to stretch the wings of my imagination and create stories and worlds for my friends to play in.  These places were filled with action and angst and humour and I loved every second I was gaming in those worlds.  One of the parts of the course I’m doing is called Speculative Fiction and covers creating these types of game, amongst other things.  Needless to say, I am very excited about that part of the course and can’t wait to see what kinds of things I can learn.

The Responsible Years

Very, very little writing got done during my twenties, I am afraid to say.  This decade of my life consisted mostly of settling down, getting a mortgage and a reliable, safe job with which to pay that mortgage back.  Looking back now, it’s very easy for me to see why I didn’t write very much in this period of my life.  I was very uninspired at the time.  If it sounds like I’m ungrateful for the years I spent settled down in my twenties, then I don’t mean it to.  I had fun, I had friends and a partner.  I went to lots of places and did lots of things.
Hindsight (and much, much soul searching) has shown me that perhaps that kind of life is not for me.  I was denying myself the happiness that I was looking for, even though I didn’t know it at the time and was happy in my twenties.  You can only lie to yourself for so long though before your true feelings will make themselves known one way or another and whether you like it or not.  That’s why as my twenties came to an end and my thirties began, I found myself living a very different life than the one I had become accustomed to.

As the saying goes though, ‘One door closes and other one opens’ and I found myself at a loose end one night, when a friend of mine, Louise Fazackerley (if you’ve never seen her perform before, you owe it to yourselves to do so, she’s amazing!

Louise Fazackerley*

Louise Fazackerley*

Click on her name to visit her website and see where she’s appearing next!), suggested that I attend the open mic poetry night at the much missed Tudor House Hotel in Wigan.  This fired my passion for writing again and the rest, as they say, is-well, it’s just below, actually…

Modern Day And The Writing Renaissance

So now we’re here, this post has meandered us back to the present day while apparently failing to answer the question posed by its title!  We had fun though, right?  As I sit here and write this and await my turn to plunge into academia, I am at a pretty good place regarding my writing.  I’m sitting down and doing it more than ever, I have a keen interest in everything creative, not just writing.  I have the support of wonderful friends and family and I have a lot of hope for my future in writing going forward.
The true answer to the question, ‘why do I write?’ is a simple one.  I write because I can.  I have a great, creative imagination and I love the idea that with writing, everything is possible.  I can write about anything, anywhere, at any time.  I can have dragons, and witches and robots and even ninjas if I want to.  Hell, I can have them all at the same time!  The point I’m making is that your potential as a writer is limitless, you can inspire and entertain, incite and defuse.
I think I also enjoy writing mostly for my own benefit.  I like creating characters and stories, new worlds and interesting situations.  Even though I would love to make a living using my writing, it’s never been the main goal to make money from it.  I just enjoy creating things and watching them evolve and unfold in front of me, and I would love to think that one day, others can enjoy my work in the same way.  Everything is anything, after all!

*Photograph of Louise Fazackerley taken by Richard Davis.  Used with permission.

And so it begins…again.

For those of you who know me and may have followed my other blogs, you’ll know that this is not my first time writing a blog.  You’ll also know that those other blogs haven’t been updated in some time.  There is a reason for that, and it’s not laziness!  Well, it’s not all laziness!

Not long after I got back from America in 2012, the email account I was using to access all of my blogs was hacked and the passwords changed.  This meant that I couldn’t get access to any of my blogs.  That’s been fixed for the most part but unfortunately I still have read only access to my main blog, The Random Ravings of an Undercover Geek.  This saddens me because the blogs about my trip across America are on there and I was hoping to maybe finish them one day before I completely forget everything that went on.  To that end, I think I am going to rebuild the Random Ravings blog at some point in the future and move those blogs over to that and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even finish them!

So what’s this one all about then?

Good question, I’m glad you asked!  I’ve decided to create this new blog as a way of sharing my thoughts as I move ahead with the next three years of my life.  In September of this year (2015), I am starting at university for the very first time in my life.  This is something that I should have done long ago but life has a nasty habit of sidetracking you with things that you think are important to you, at least at the time.  However long it’s taken me to get here, I am here now and I damn well mean to make sure it counts.
So, to that end, I have enrolled on a Creative Writing degree at Edge Hill University, which begins in September.  This isn’t a decision that I’ve made lightly, it means I have to give up my full time job for a part time one (possibly even a zero hour contract one) and it means that I will be poor and debt riddled for years to come, but in terms of self satisfaction and finding a job that I love doing and can be passionate about, this is definitely the way to go.

Yeah, that’s cool and all, but why another blog?

The reason this blog exists is because firstly I wanted somewhere that I can post about the things I’m learning regarding writing and all that entails, as well as having somewhere that I can share my thoughts and worries about the questions the course will inevitably pose (not just academically, but in regards to my personal life and personal growth too).  Secondly, I need a few ways in which I can keep my writing skills sharp and, like any skills, they are kept sharp by using them and doing things with them.  This is one of the exercises I’m going to use to make sure that happens.  Plus, I thought that maybe some of you might just be interested in my thoughts and feelings about the world and uni life and everything.
So, that’s it.  I’ve started this blog a little early I guess but I wanted to give myself time to get used to blogging again and mostly to try and remember to do it!  Either way, watch this space folks, the next three years promise to be an interesting ride.  Care to come along?