Assignment Complete! Iain Banks, Aberystwyth and Whatever Else You Think is a Major Theme.

YES!

I’m not afraid to admit that that was the hardest assignment I think I have ever done – and all I had to do was write a story of around 4,000 words with a 1,000/1,500 commentary! I think the task itself wasn’t too difficult, more that I had made it difficult for myself. Before the assignment itself, I hadn’t written anything prosaic for around a year, so I didn’t really know where to start. Also, throw in the fact that the rest of my classmates (bar the other two poets that took the module) had been writing prose, and probably just prose, for the entirety of their course. Wait, that might not make sense to some of you – the UEA has three creative writing courses; prose (the biggest, most well respected one), poetry and scriptwriting. The three are kept separate, but you can choose modules from the other discipline(s) as an optional module, when they are available. I chose a prose module (because I rather like writing prose, too – and I had applied to the UEA under prose as well as poetry).

But it’s all done now, and now I don’t have to worry about it until it’s marked and I get a devastatingly bad mark for trying to break all the rules and being experimental and reacting against most of the reading we we’re given because I found it, although interesting, a little too ‘structured’ for my liking.

In other news, Iain Banks was at the university yesterday reading from his new novel Stonemouth. I became a pretty big fan when one of my teachers at UA handed me a copy of The Bridge, as an example of postmodern literature. I loved it. The Bridge  was somewhere between mainstream writing and sci/fi, and I fell in step with it incredibly quickly. After The Bridge, I tried my hand at Walking on Glass, then Complicity followed by his sci/fi Use of Weapons, then to The Wasp Factory, A Song of Stone (read whilst walking Hadrian’s Wall), and finally Whit.

I was actually talking to someone last night, and they asked me,
‘How much of his stuff have you read?’
‘I don’t know, three or so?’
It appears, on reflection, I was wrong. Even if it had been three, I know I’ve read Complicity three times, and Song of Stone twice…

Anyway…

One of the great great benefits of being a UEA Creative Writing student  is, not only that we get FREE TICKETS to the UEA Literary Festival(s), but that we get to have a chat with the author/poet/writer before the reading itself. It’s basically a little seminar in which we can ask them questions that might not come up in the question period of the reading itself. We can ask basic questions; ‘how do you find the time to write?’ ‘how much do you write in a sitting?’ ‘what about disruptions?’ ‘do you plan your novels, or just ‘start’?’, to the more author-orientated ‘how do you negotiate between two genres?’ ‘to what extent do you feel ‘branded’?’ ‘do you have concerns over reader expectation?’ ‘any handy programs you use for note taking/organisation?’.

So we had a lovely little seminar with Iain Banks; and it was lovely, because Banks seemed like any ordinary man – he wasn’t (like some authors/poets) pretentious, or big headed, and he didn’t bullshit – he quite enjoyed telling us about his sudden realisations halfway through some novels that he could suddenly add something in – something that the reader would have thought key to the whole narrative; that it had to have been written there from the beginning. He didn’t over-romanticise what he was doing – mistakes were made, and will continue to be made, and accidents happen – both good and bad. It was very pleasant.

I only wish that I hadn’t stayed up till 5 the previous morning completing my assignment… I was sitting there with the most massive headache I have ever had, feeling a little unwell (probably due to bad eating habits – always happens during an assignment, I get all iffy about taking time out to cook), and having forgotten to bring a bottle of water with me. I would have loved to have asked some provocative questions, but as it was, I was struggling just to stay awake.

Then the reading, then got my copy of The Bridge signed (which was pretty awesome, he recognised me from the seminar and seemed to want to strike up a bit of a conversation, but by that time (8 in the evening) I had become the walking dead; a body capable of only the most basic physical interaction. Conversation was a no go at that point, which was a real shame), and took a train home.

Previous to this whole assignment/Iain Banks stuff I took a train back to Aber for the Flux Anthology launch (a poetry/prose anthology created by the MA Creative Writing students there – I know a number of them from the BA). First of all, the train journey up there was amazing, though f**king expensive. I got 3,000 odd words written on that train journey which helped me out immensely. There were no problems, everything ran smoothly, and the journey was a happy 8 hours or so. I spent the few days up there meeting some old faces, and I found it all rather strange. It was as if I hadn’t left. It wasn’t that not much had changed (though, not much had changed) but more that I felt an odd sense of home there, and I had to remind myself every so often – walking down the promenade, exploring the High Owen Building – that I wasn’t a student at AU anymore, that, in a couple of days I had to get on a train and go back home, and that I mustn’t miss that train!

The experience was an odd one, but a pleasant one. The intention of the trip was, as I said, to attend the launch, meet some old faces, but also to lock myself in the library to get some work done. The last bit didn’t really happen. Instead, I found out about a conference happening in the very impressive National Library:

The Welsh National Library (taken during my BA in winter – no, it wasn’t snowing in Wales last week).

I stumbled in, told the woman at the door I’d be happy to pay the £20 ticket (she said we’d sort that out later), and ended up spending my first day back in Aberystwyth listening to lectures on ergodic and electronic literature. On hypertext and literature that demands nontrivial effort on part of the reader to navigate the text. I was pleased to hear House of Leaves discussed (at great length! It became a staple text of the afternoon, generating a number of ‘I apologise, but I’m going to mention that book again’ moments), as well as a number of other books I was aware of or owned (The Humument, Raw Shark Texts, Pale Fire) as well as some new ones (My Life by Hejinian, and others). It was an afternoon that began to fall into the inevitable ‘but what constitutes a postmodern text?’ and ‘what is postmodernism?’, discussions that always make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. The woman I had seen on the way in wasn’t there when I left, but I fully intended to come back the following day for the next set of lectures, so I figured I’d pay her then (though, I didn’t end up coming back, so I got in for free – for a day).

The reading in the evening was really good. There was a large turnout, and a number of those I had met/seen in the conference were there. The bookshop filled remarkably quickly to the point where people had to stand for lack of seats. The readers were very confident (more confident, I’m sure, than I would have been), and a good number of copies were sold! There was wine, discussion, hand shaking and whatnot, all culminating in a reading from Matthew Francis from his new collection of short stories titled Singing a Man to Death.

It was lovely seeing everyone again, and pleasant being away from home. The train journey home was a tedious 11 hour behemoth, which I hope never happens again (thanks goes to Kundera and his Immortality, for keeping me entertained in the rain).

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