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Like a Kid in A Sweet Shop: Catching Up Part 2

I've been having a wonderful two weeks, , rushing around to lit events like a kid in a sweet shop (or me in a sweet shop!), all of it reinforcing that this country is the right place for me right now. I won't make this a very long post (famous last words). So, where have I been?

Two weeks ago I flew to Ireland for the Waterford Film Festival awards evening on Nov 8th. I knew my screenplay, which I adapted from my short story, North Cold, was one of 20 finalists for the short screenplay award, but didn't know whether this was 20 out of...30? Well, I was delighted to find out it was 20 out of 100, and although I didn't win, we each received a certificate and it feels like a great stamp of approval for me for my first foray into writing film scripts.

Sadly, I didn't manage to see any of the films at this wonderful, small but dynamic festival, hopefully next year. Waterford seemed like a place I'd like to spend more time, too... but there never is enough time, is there? I am loving adapting my own work - have adapted two other stories into short plays, and one is shortlisted in a 6 minute play competition and will be performed in London in January. I won't have any input into the performance, and am eagerly and somewhat nervously anticipating the evening. Will let you know more details when I have them. 

Ok, so returned from Ireland on the Monday, and on Tuesday afternoon I dashed off to London to meet my fellow science-in-fiction-loving-friend Sue Guiney, and together we went to an event at the National Maritime Museum entitled Poems of Space. Renowned astronomer Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been collecting poetry about space for many years and talked us through what poets like to write about space (black holes, radio telescope arrays) and what they don't like to write about (telescopes on satellites, I think!). She is one of two editors of an anthology of poems on space called Dark Matter which I picked up a copy of.

What made her talk wonderful was that at the beginning she asked anyone who would like to read to take a copy of one of the poems she had printed out, and at certain points during her talk would mention the title of one of them and the audience member stood up and read. (I read Halley's Comet by Stanley Kunitz, one of the funnier poems of the evening.) This audience participation made it feel much less like a lecture than an intimate discussion.

Joining Dame Jocelyn on the panel after her talk were my blog friend Pippa Goldschmidt, an astronomer, writer in residence at the Genomics Forum in Edinburgh and blogger about science and fiction topics at The Write Reality, and Kelley Swain, poet-in-residence at the Whipple Museum of History of Science in Cambridge. It was wonderful to meet both of them, we will be getting together for more talk about science-inspired fiction soon, I hope. The whole evening was an inspiration, both to hear the poetry written about scientific themes, and to meet two writers-in-residence in science arenas. More on that later!

After a day's break, I was travelling to London again, this time invited by Jewish Book Week (yes, it's more than just one week) to spend the afternoon talking about short stories with pupils at a London secondary school. I was pretty nervous - firstly about getting up in time for my train (!) and secondly because I was going to do a flash fiction workshop with Year 9 kids and what if they sat there in complete silence, refused to write, refused to participate?

Well, transport did fail me - FirstCapital Connect was on strike in London, but they weren't going to divert me from my purpose and I managed to arrive on time, nevertheless. And, secondly, my classes went wonderfully well, it was a joy and a boost for me.The first class of around 30 or so Year 9  kids seemed to really enjoy the flash stories of mine that I read - expressing surprise that so much could be said in so few words, which was, of couse, the point. And then they picked some prompts, and we all wrote flash stories, even the teacher!

Then: lunch and a tour round the school, a Q&A session with a group of kids in the library during which I was asked the fascinating question, What are your hidden talents? To which I replied: Parking. I am very good at parking. And finding parking spaces. They weren't so satisfied with that so I had to reveal that I am a secret hula hooper. And yes, there were a few questions about writing, too.

Then a final session with a small group of Year 10 pupils that I had been warned might not be quite as responsive as my first class. Not many hands went up when I tried to discuss what "story" meant to them. This didn't seem to be a room in which it was "cool" to respond, so it took some cajoling on my part, moving away from books to films and even to the idea of story in computer games, which did inspire enthusiastic comments. And I read out quite a lot of my flash stories, which they also responded to very well, it seemed. It was lovely to hear, as I read, that at the beginning of each story there would be fidgeting, a bit of whispering, but by the end, there was silence, which I hope was a good sign. I really enjoyed meeting this class, I felt like the fact that I had been told they might not be responsive but I managed to elicit great responses was really an achievement, and it was great to hear from them, from all the pupils, and not just listen to myself talk.

The school bought two copies of my book and I was thrilled when the librarian emailed yesterday to say that a girl who "has never asked to borrow a book before" went in to ask to borrow mine. Very happy!

After a long day at the school I headed off to a Society of Authors meeting for new members. I won't say much about this except that it was eye-opening and that no, despite pressure, I will not be writing a romance novel. I did get to meet one of my childhood heroines, Anne Digby, author of the Trebizon series of books, which I loved as a kid. What an honour. We were told we could bring a copy of our book to put on the table, and at the end a lovely writer I had been chatting to asked if I had a copy she could buy, so I sold it to her. The Soc of Authors staff were amazed when I told them - apparently I was the first person to ever sell anything at one of these events! (Used the money to get myself some dinner for the train ride home:) )

Yes, there's more. The day after, I had a meeting that I initiated with the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Bristol University to discuss the possibility of me becoming writer-in-residence. He was extremely positive about the idea, he is the newly-appointed Dean and has already initiated several arts-science type collaborations, including short films of interviews with mathematicians, and science-inspired photographs. So it looks like this is going to happen and I am very excited! Now I have to go about finding funding for the position, any ideas welcome. I am not sure whether it might just be too much inspiration to be the writer in residence for the entire faculty, all the departments and the labs they contain. But it's such a thrill, I can't wait!


After that, my head buzzing, a quiet-ish weekend, a wonderful Los Desterrados concert on Sunday night, and then off to London again on Monday. This time for two book launches: Rob Shearman's second short story collection, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, and Elizabeth Baines' Too Many Magpies. Rob's launch was great fun, he read a story which was both comical and poignant, and then did a Q&A with his publisher where we learned about his odd writing habits (Tooting Common, 3am)! A lovely writerly dinner afterwards with Vanessa Gebbie, Elizabeth and her partner, John, and Adam Marek and back to rest for the next night's launch.


The next day: great excitement. I discovered the first London branch of my favourite US clothes shop, Anthropologie. Had a thorough browse, then an excellent meeting with my publisher, Jen, from Salt, more of which in the coming weeks. And then Eliizabeth's book launch. I had offered to introduce her, and then she read, beautifully, two sections from her novel, which is magical, dark and moving. It was wonderful to meet writer and blog friend, Debi Alper, another instance of feeling like we knew each other before we met. And great to meet Alex Keegan and see Vicky, Rob, and Sue again. A wonderful evening, left me buzzing.

And... yes, that's it. I've had a request from an arts journal in Europe that wants to translate some of my flash stories, which is delightful. And am now trying to find funding for the writer-in-residence position, and thinking about the possibility of other school visits, lots on my mind. But the best kind of mental busyness! All short stories and books and writing and writers... lovely, lovely, lovely. We are back off to London on Sunday for the Speaking from Experience event on Sunday night, which should be another kind of fun.

Ok, it ended up being a long blog post, but there was a lot to say! Not going much writing myself, but it feels like I am positioning things, setting things up to get ready for the real writing. The next few weeks seem pretty busy already, which is something that used to freak me out, but it's ok, it's all good. It's all good.