Daily Archives: June 25, 2017

Tyres, watches, writing prompts and sonnets

Guess what? I’m not the only person who finds writing for an academic readership a challenge. I’ve been reading Rowena Murray’s How to Write a Thesis. She wrote the book to help the lots of people who are challenged by it. It’s a manual of practical advice on doing just that, including lots of practical writing prompts to get you started: not in some spurious acadamese that I’ve been imagining exists, and that I’ve been imagining I need to learn; but in properly formed sentences, in your own words. In first person, if that’s how you feel. Using anecdote if it’s appropriate and apposite to the work. So that has been a major part of my work this week. And those writing exercises have helped me to gain an overview of the project as a finished piece. Prompts like ‘The stage I am at now is…’ or ‘I have identified a problem with…’ force you to look at your progress. Prompts like ‘what I want to find out is…’ force you to look to the next stages. As a result of these and other prompts, I feel as if I have a much clearer idea of what shape my thesis will take, how the chapters will break down. I’m feeling less confused and more productive. Most of the writing prompts generate writing which will be of practical use in the thesis too, they aren’t just add-ons. And all this in time for the annual review. Yes, I have a date for the review: Thursday, July 6th. All these writing prompts are going to be really helpful for writing my progress report too.

Also, perspectives: one of the writing prompts was ‘Is it possible to write 1000 words in an hour?’ (or words to that effect). This was a free writing exercise, just write without stopping for 5 minutes. At the end of five minutes, count the words. I had 280 words, hand written. 280 words in five minutes equals 1044 in an hour. The critical element of my work will be 20,000 words. That means it is possible to write this element in less than a day! Now, I haven’t lost it completely, I know this is gross over-simplification. But it does serve to tame the savage beast. The critical aspect is 25% of the whole; it receives 80% of my attention. I just need to get it into perspective, cut it down to size, show it who’s boss!

I’ve also been pursuing the sonnet section too. I’ve read the introduction to The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (Jeff Hilson). I’m still waiting for my copy to come to my letterbox; I have enjoyed reading the downloaded introduction so much I can’t wait to read the sonnets themselves. And I’ve read an article: ‘Augusta Webster Writing Motherhood in…the sonnet sequence’ by Melissa Valise Gregory. This is interesting: it is from the viewpoint of the mother as poet. My own study is focused on the poet as daughter; but it does give insight into the challenges women poets have had in juggling writing and domesticity.

And over and above all this, I have done the reading I had to do for homework from the ‘Writing Up Writing Down’ course I’ve been attending on Wednesdays through June. I’ve had a satisfying and productive week. I have revised the plan of my finished thesis in light of the writing prompts and the reading I have done. As an aside, I completed a ‘grammar quiz’ I found in Murray’s book. It was fairly basic, but I’m a sucker for a quiz. It was designed for writers writing in a language other than their own really, I think. It asked questions like ‘what are definite and indefinite articles?’ There were ten questions altogether. The last question was ‘what is a topic sentence?’ I had no idea, it wasn’t a phrase I’d come across in all my years of speaking/writing English. I had a good guess: the answer’s in the name, I thought. And I was right: I checked on google! But it just shows you: learning is there, even in the little things.

In other news, I mentioned last week that I’ll be having my first–and only–tattoo for my 70th birthday: the Manchester bee to commemorate the victims of the terror attack at the Arena. Next Saturday, number one son, Richard, is coming to take me to Manchester to get it done. Eeek! and Squeeee! I’m dreading it and looking forward to it in equal measure at the moment. When you hear from me again, I’ll be inked!

And also to do with my birthday: Bill took me into Manchester on Friday afternoon and bought me an Apple watch! I know! I only wanted a Fitbit, but he spoke to Richard when we had lunch together a couple of weeks ago and Richard convinced him he wanted to get me an Apple watch. So I spent a couple of happy hours on Friday evening playing with it, getting it to sync with my iPhone and seeing what it is capable of. I know. It’s not my birthday for another three weeks; and normally I would have put any early presents away until the big day. But an Apple watch! I can’t have that sitting in its box in the spare room for three weeks when it could be on my wrist monitoring my fitness levels. Happy birthday to me! Yesterday I broke all my fitness targets for the day. I had to take a 4k walk to do it, but I did it. Interestingly, even with a 4k walk, I only managed 8500 steps in the day. How far must you walk to do the expected 10000? Oops, I’m becoming obsessive again, sorry.

On Thursday the tyre pressure in the rear driver’s side wheel was down again so I called into Kwikfit to get it checked. It had a nail in the tyre wall, slow puncture. New tyre: £162+!! That’s bread and lard for the rest of the month then!

And on top of all this, I was cat-sitting Amie’s cat, Socks, while she was on holiday. I had to spend time with him, have a brew, keep him company. He’s a lovely natured cat, but from the fuss I got when I visited him, I could tell he was missing the family. We had long chats about life, the universe and everything. His purr is as a bulldozer!

Enough. It’s been another full-on week, but I must go now. I’m off to the Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield with Hilary later today. I’m going to leave you with the opening poem from my sonnet corona. It’s different from anything I’ve written before. It was inspired by a visit to a photographic exhibition in Manchester City Art Gallery. I saw this truly grotesque full-face portrait of a very lived in face: a physical record of a life mis-spent. I imagined her as one of the sixties girls in other photos and wrote the start of my crown, a dialogue between a mother and daughter. This is the first sonnet on that road:


Mirror Images

I’m looking at myself in the mirror,
see, a lardy old woman; but there
in the photo, Hyde Park ’68, thin as an elf
I was confident, smart, I was full of myself
defiant and feisty: Quant make-up, leather jacket,
geometric hair,
first generation mini-skirt,
burned bra.

See the photo of me then
and my mirror self now: blood-flushed cheeks
a road map of veins, wattle chin,
whiskers like thorns, tits slapping my knees.

When the elf auditioned for life’s burlesque
she landed you the role of grotesque.


Rachel Davies
April 2017