Monday, 22 September 2008

First day in the new job

Well, the title says it all. This morning I was introduced to the first-year students of the University of Kent at Medway as their new RLF Fellow. And got a good look at my potential customers, of course.

I mumbled a bit about who I was and why I was there. It didn't make a great deal of sense to me but it must have had some impact as I've got at least one person coming to see me on Friday. Well, as I cheerful informed her when she made the appointment, I need the practice!

I was struck by how very different the atmosphere was from when I was a student a quarter of a century ago. Everything is so much cleaner, for one thing. I noticed this most in the canteens - gone are the fag-ends, polystyrene containers and crushed pastic cups that used to litter the floors. And the students get more support. I don't think there was any such thing as a "Student Learning Advisory Centre" in my day. We had a couple of talks about study skills, about which I can remember nothing at all, and after that were pretty much left to it. I had a personal tutor whom I was supposed to meet once a term. I bumped into him once on the stairs and he said: "Well, this can count as our termly meeting" as he kept going in the opposite direction! Now strenuous efforts are made to prevent them from dropping out.

The students themselves struck me as very different also. They seemed very serious and (literally) sober. When I were a lad, there'd have been at least three strikes, a lockout and four demos going on by lunchtime, but it wouldn't have mattered as scarcely any of the students would have got out of bed by then anyway. It doesn't seem to be like that any more.

Part of me applauds this, of course. After all, I'm a taxpayer, and I'd hate to think of my money being pissed away by the likes of my younger self. ButI can't help wondering what happened to youthful high spirits. Are they really so much more conscientious than we were? Or is it something else - fear of failure, perhaps? 

Friday, 19 September 2008

Blogging Lite

No blogging tonight - it's Friday evening.

Though I did finish a short story today. I thought I'd finished it yesterday but found a plot hole that needed filling. 

That's it, I'm afraid. A slow news day!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Hamartia and Other Tragedies

One of the perks of being a Fellow is membership of an organisation named NAWE - the National Association of Writers in Education. I just got my first mailing from them and have been having a look at it.

Well, I must say, this looks interesting: "Hamartia and Other Tragedies: Mimesis, Memesis and the Pitfalls of Summatively Assessing Creative Practice."

Yes, my jaw dropped when I read that too. And no, I haven't got the faintest idea what it means. What's more - and curiously, for someone who is passionately interested in words - I haven't the least inclination to look it up either.

Of course I dare say there may be a level of irony in all this and perhaps the author was poking fun at this sort of language - in which case, I apologise to him or her unreservedly. But I don't know, and I'm almost afraid to find out.

Now, it may apppear that I'm setting out to complain or at least mock this academic style of writing so perhaps I should say now that I'm not. Every industry has its own language (I'm a lawyer, I should know!) and there's no reason why university teachers should be any different.  But it neatly illustrates the curious position I'm going to find myself in come Monday. I've spent much of my career, in fact arguably all of it, trying to explain complicated things to all sorts of people in terms they can understand. Moreover, I suspect a part of my job will consist of helping students to do much the same - to put across what they are trying to say in terms that make sense to me, other people and critically to the students themselves. Time will tell whether I'm right about that, but perhaps it's why a writer rather than an academic is asked to this work. A head full of jargon is no substitute for actually knowing what you're talking about.

I certainly won't be encouraging them to use words like "Mimesis"! Well, not unless I've looked it up first... 

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hail Fellow! Well Met!

Blog? What blog? I have a blog? Oh... Ooops. Sorry, I forgot...

Seriously, I've been a bit preoccupied of late, what with moving house and trying to deal with an ailment whose existence I'd have denied up until a year or so ago - namely, writer's block. Of which more anon, probably, but suffice to say I think I'm getting over it now.


I am officially a Fellow!

To be precise, I have been awarded a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship.

Let me explain. The RLF Fellowship scheme works by placing writers in universities, where our jog is to help students who may be having trouble with their written work. Their difficulties may range from questions of style, the right way to structure a dissertation or how to cite an article in a learned journal all the way down to the level of basic grammar and spelling.

This might lead you suppose that I must be an expert in academic writing or have teaching experience or at the very least possess a sympathetic ear! But it seems that none of these is required. Apparently having written a few novels and short stories is qualification enough. If this seems odd to you, well, it does to me too, but I've spoken to plenty of authors who have done this work and it seems that it is so.

I'm not sure which that says more about - the superhuman abilities of writers, or the woeful state to which the teaching of English in schools has descended in recent years. I'm afraid I think it's more likely to be the latter. Still, I shall try to blog regularly on this subject during my time in the post, and maybe I'll have a better idea of what's really going on at the end of it.

For now, I'm looking forward to it - it should be a lot of fun, if nothing else.

And if you happen to be a student at the University of Kent's Medway Campus in Chatham Dockyard - well, it may be the partially sighted leading the blind, but I'm here to help anyway!