29 May 2011

Know Thyself

Life has a habit of getting away from us. It certainly has a habit of getting away from me. My To Do list should be written on an old fax roll. Or better, toilet paper, because that's where I feel it should go, down the pan.

So it was a spare of the moment decision, like the day before, to add another job to my overwhelming list - a job that would take all day: attending the internet based Massive Action Day organised by Jurgen Wolff. If you've not come across him he's a NLP Practitioner and a writer, not just a writer in his profession, but a writer for movies, television and the stage - which is what drew me. He's a person who has juggled with our sort of creative writing and come out the other side.

I logged on, said hi to other participants via a text window, and named my task. The system was to concentrate on one task - any task - for 55 minutes, then as the clock struck he'd chime in with a 5 minute video giving tips for creativity or time management. Participants could log off if they wanted, or stay live and along with Jurgen offer encouragement and suggestions via the text window throughout the session. At the end of each session we'd chime in with how we'd done and our goal for the next session.

If this had been explained this to me beforehand I would have raised a cynical eyebrow, as I am sure you are doing, too, but it worked, and in more ways than I ever would have imagined. Biggest lesson self-learned? I underestimate how long a task will take – by a huge 50%. No wonder my To Do List needs that toilet roll.

The MAD event went on from 9am-1am UK time with Jurgen staying at the helm throughout, welcoming the world as different time zones logged in, and the rest of us dipping in and out or finishing as we needed. My expectation was to stay with it for four hours – after all, I had loads to do. Apart from lunch and cooking the family dinner I was there 13 hours. Time flew by and I didn’t feel tired until the end; now there’s a first.

How much did this MAD event cost me? Not a bean. Not even a hard sell, or even a gentle sell. Jurgen Wolff is an extremely amiable, grounded fella. He runs http://www.timetowrite.blogs.com/ and offers a free monthly newsletter Brainstorm & Focus. With a bit of luck the next MAD event will be in July. That’ll be a date then.
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9 May 2011

Eyeing the Literary Trap - Again

I am not a banner-waving politico, but what I read today chilled my blood.

A teaser in this morning’s Book Trade News Book2Book rang an alarm - “Government Considers Reading List For [UK] Primary Schools” - and I followed the link to an article on BBC Education  which starts “Primary schools could be asked to teach an approved list of books and authors, under new plans being looked at by the government's curriculum review.”

Ooooh, have I been here before…

Many years ago, like back in 1995, I answered the phone to find myself being solicited by a pressure group to endorse the principle “all children should learn by heart from a canon of great literature”. I didn’t even need to think about it; I refused point blank.

My early teenage reading had been turned from a journey of delight into a war of attrition by being forced to read and précis twelve set books a year, their titles staring down from the wall above my desk. I recall huge blocks of impenetrable dark print, convoluted sentence structures I could barely comprehend, words I could hardly pronounce. At the tender age of eleven I had been quietly immersed in The Great British Classics and left to drown.

I remember the pressure-group petitioner being appalled by my reaction. In return I demanded to know whose ‘canon of great literature’ would be used as set texts: those of the English, the British, the Indian sub-continent, the West Indies? All I received was an echoing silence.

I make the same point now as I tried then. Which approved list of books will primary children be made to read? Those suited to the preparatory schools of the Harrow and Eton look-alikes? Will the same list be shovelled down the throats of a 90% ethnic Pakistani class in the Midlands, or a 90% ethnic Eastern European class in Lincolnshire?

All under-elevens attending school should be introduced to the wonderland that waits beyond the portal of the written word, not indoctrinated in what is perceived to be good and what is perceived to be bad by a set of faceless bureaucrats referring to themselves as “experts”. Especially when friends of these “experts” are either closing libraries or replacing knowledgeable librarians with counter assistants taking home the minimum wage.


And if readers are wondering how my memory is so sharp that I can recall a single phone conversation from sixteen years ago, it is because I've just reread the stinging article on the exchange I wrote for my regional newspaper The Yorkshire Post. Now, there's an idea...

5 May 2011

Renewing my faith in the BBC

I hardly watch television. Basically, because it is... yes, well... reality shows, quizzes, and sport, aren't my thing. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy, and often tape, the various history programmes, and as I write I have Boudicca's Lost Tribe to watch.

It was Boudicca's LTribe I was intending to watch tonight, when my tenuous grip on the TV remote happened to coincide with the start of The Shadow Line on BBC 2. From the cracking opening to the introduction of the various characters, I was enthralled. This is the sort of writing I have always aspired to. Thursdays are now *mine* - the family has been warned.