I’m having a clear-out. Like my wardrobe, my short stories’ cupboard is stuffed with last season’s pieces which don’t match or have odd bits dangling off the hems. I’ll be starting my MA in October and it seems likely that the process begun with the Open University courses in 2009 and 2010 will re-frame my writing, how I think of it, and how I want it to appear. Not that I’m cringing about the stories that are already out in the wild (and still getting hits, thank you very much, opportunist passers-by!). I’m beyond embarrassment, having worked in the NHS for over 40 years so that reports I wrote way way back still emerge occasionally and get quoted by younger clinicians (they’re all younger these days) who don’t quite twig that they’re quoting me to me. And wouldn’t it be insulting to the editors/publishers who chose those pieces to associate with their journal or magazine? So no, no regrets. Past work is what it is and if we move on, we build on those achievements.
My clear-out is not about dumping a load of old tat – although you might think some or even all of it is – and saying ‘that’ll do, I’m moving on’. It’s about separating what you might call my untutored work from what I hope will be something different, more confident, and built on an education in writing that I have never had. All my experience with education has been that it is about understanding principles, and not dogmatic training in some canon of technique. I’m hoping this course will be the same so that I can use the rules the way artists and musicians use tools. If I want to paint with a piece of potato on a stick or use a washboard as a percussion instrument, who’s to say that is wrong? Like etiquette, when you know the rules, you can break them to achieve an effect. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. I am also very aware of the Emperor’s New Clothes trap, where the prestigious get away with off-loading cynical tripe on people who know enough to be impressed but not enough to challenge them for fear of appearing dim. Art, music, writing, are all ultimately subjective experiences but I know it is possible to appreciate something as ‘good’ without actually liking it, and to know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘popular’.
So I think things might change a bit, and I want to put out last season’s items in little baskets out front while I re-stock the shop with new pieces; probably not designer, much more idiosyncratic than that I hope, but better crafted and with fewer loose threads. In the meantime, I will be taking out, washing, mending, dyeing, and generally making good the old stock. Short stories will appear here, longer ones on This Personal Space (where I hope to be joined by other Brit writers in due course), until my inner head pixies have woven up a storm of new material and given me permission to let it loose.
Now, can I interest you in this cheeky little home-knit – only one left?