Sonnets and rhyming

24th October 2012
Rhyming – the bane of my life… Sometimes I can barely find the right word let alone get the thing to rhyme with its neighbour. So it was with a heavy heart I went into the Sonnet lesson, but I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed myself. Now I’m not saying I am a poet, especially a sonnet writing one, but I found the lesson interesting and good fun.

We were a little light on numbers – suggesting a few people had decided not to turn up, but I’m glad I did. Did you know that a sonnet has 14 lines and that after line 8 you have to put a twist in, like a cliffhanger. Although your twist can just be a shift from first person to third person or the other way round. Up until this lesson I didn’t know that modern sonnets were being written but Samantha showed us a poem by Amanda Dalton ‘Cut Off’ – and I was hooked. Perhaps not in writing them; my attempt at sonnet rhymes – be and see, lines and signs, are hardly excellent couplings, but in reading them… yes I think I could definitely become a fan.

So I have had a go at a Shakespearean sonnet and am awaiting the verdict from the tutor. I don’t think it will stand up to my prose but it was good fun.

One tip – write a sonnet in company so you can have a giggle over dum de dum de dum (iambic pentameter) and the rhymes that you can think of that are totally unusable… What rhymes with demands?


17th October 2012
Today I became totally overwhelmed… It started fine; I got up, had breakfast, did some work on a story, got in the car… and then things slowly started to go pear-shaped.

Firstly the weather was terrible, not a problem in itself until the branch that had, up to that moment, been hanging around on a tree, broke off and plummeted to my windscreen! Dramatic huh? plummeted… Which of course it did and scared the living daylights out of me but it wasn’t life threatening and apart from a quick swerve, small scream and a pump of the brakes I was fine. Luckily I had taken the 4×4 into uni and all was well, the tank didn’t even blink at the missile being hurled at it.

So I’m shaky before the lesson starts, but I know that the story I had written wasn’t too bad – a short on Picasso and the Weeping Woman. And it wasn’t. It needs work and expansion but it is a decent concept and interesting. Then others start reading theirs and I feel a cloud of depression drift over. In one story there were 6 words I didn’t understand… My little electric dictionary was working at light speed, honestly there was smoke! But I kept up and no one really noticed that much, or if they did they didn’t comment, unless they though I was texting someone. Oh! I hope not!

In the afternoon session a new guy started and I thought great… our class is only 5 and an extra body helps discussion work. The first sentence he said in class was … well it was good cause the lecturer nodded and everyone else did the ‘i agree’ mumble but it shot straight over my head.

But it wasn’t a whole loss and just because I felt overwhelmed I tried not to show it. I may not have contributed much to the lesson but I did make notes and since then have been working everything out, and I now not only know what was being talked about but I understand it. Whew! What a rant!

The lecture was given by a very nice lady – Jeni Williams who coped admirably with my lack of knowledge. Honestly we were working on characterisation and every book… I mean every book she had used I hadn’t read. From Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility (only seen the movie adaptation) to Iain Bank’s The Wasps Factory I was stumped. Luckily she had included extracts so I was able to analyse these and work that way but I felt very much out of my depth by the end of the lesson.

So I went home and sulked. No really… I am ashamed to say that I sulked and ate chocolate… all night.

Next day I started to pull myself together. I went to see my dyslexic tutor and she helped proof read one story and help me get organised. Or rather sat and listened as I talked myself into a more organised position. The support services at Trinity are really good.

Then I set about advancing my knowledge base… Not easy I know when although you can read okay the more complicated the text the slower you get. Thank goodness for audio books! I am half way though the Wasp Factory and if you can get a copy – read it! It’s fantastic and a perfect example of how to make an extreme character likeable. I mean I am rooting for Frank with every step he takes and yet so far he’s blow up a rabbit, killed two cousins and his own brother. How did the author do that?

I’ve also ordered Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker which is written in the authors version of a postapocalyptic language which is really easy to read if you have a dyslexic problem because it is phonetic… So woak = woke and nite = night and one of my favourites noatis = notice. Brilliant! Anyway that book should arrive tomorrow so I should be deep into an American wasteland by Sunday.

I have decided though that I will not allow myself to get depressed again. I may not have the grounding in the books and terminology but I am determined to do it. When I forget that I feel as if I am catching up all the time then I actually enjoy my course – a lot.

A big thank you to Jeni though for including a great book list. Now all I need to know is which I will listen to and which I will read…. Decisions, decisions!

The miracle of ‘bad’

When I was a child (I’m disturbed that I am now old enough to write that sentence) and even now, I could never get my b and d round the right way, or is it d and b?

Confusion reigned and I just could not get it. Now whether this trick is something I taught myself or I was shown I just don’t know but it enabled me overnight to get whichway the two horrible letters went. And the miracle is – (drum roll) – bad.

It has to be written in lowercase and if you pop it on the top of any work or on a post-it note near your desk you can always check. You see bad is easy to spell and has a certain ‘look’, if you remember it as a picture then you will never get them muddled again.

In the word bad the b and d always look at each other, if you handwrite it any other way it just doesn’t look ‘right’..

dab dad bab… etc

It has to be bad. So use it as a crib sheet… Stuck? then a quick doodle in the corner of a page and voila – no more problems.

The miracle of ‘bad’. 🙂

Shortest, Shorter, Short Stories

10th October 2012
Unfortunately my first lecture was cancelled as the tutor was unwell, but the second one ran brilliantly. Menna took the lecture on short stories and when I say short I really mean short… We started with six word stories, something I didn’t know existed. Ernest Hemingway wrote one, and said it was the best story he ever created:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

This link will take you to some others written by  authors for the Guardian… Not to be left out our group had a go and this is my attempt:

Scissors, pins, fabric, stuffing: homemade friend.

Kitten lost then found, companion cat.

Encrusted paintbrush created a loving portrait.

Of these I like the first and the last, I think they suggest a story; they describe something being done and the result. The middle one is more cryptic but I was trying to create the entire life of a cat in just six words, I don’t think I succeeded but it was good fun.

My dyslexia did kick in by the end of the lecture and my notes are sparse, luckily I did understand the concepts of short stories, the different types, from the six worded to the 101 word to the prose poem and finally to the more traditional short story. There’s also flash fiction… A form that I’d seen in many competitions but not truly understood until the other night.

But I like the last thing that Menna said – that Grace Paley had once explained that sometimes she so loved her characters in the short stories that she wished she could give them one more day. I agree, some of the characters I create I wish I could write a longer piece about, perhaps even have them star in a novel… If the prospect of writing anything that big didn’t scare the nasties out of me. But if you think of novels and long stories as solid pieces of work then, as Carol Shields says, short stories dance over the tale.


Coping strategies I use everyday

Before I write this please be aware that these are my strategies and may not be the cheapest or even sanest to use. So before you decide to try them shop around… I tend to find something that works and never change – I like the familiar.

I listed my problems in What is dyslexia and here is how I cope:

  • This is an ancient device… In fact I’m not even sure you can get it anymore but I carry around (normally only in uni) – an electronic Concise Oxford Dictionary, Thesaurus and Spellchecker. True it is a little bulky being eight years old but living in Wales where internet signal can come and go, it is invaluable. I have found an updated version here but I wouldn’t change my clunky blue device for anything.
  • A smart phone. I use a Monte Carlo from Orange and it is fantastic… Don’t understand or know the word? Well Google it! (Amazing really that google has become a verb – when did that happen?) Not only does it help with emails from the business but I can gain access to a wealth of up-to-date information. I remember as a child we had a set of encyclopedias that I used to use. Only problem was that they were ten years old before I got them. My research was slow at the best of times and libraries just plain scared me… so I worked from these book. So may essays I handed in where just out of date (as well as other problems like grammar and spelling), poor teachers! And it was before everything had to be handed in typed so they had to put up with my unique and doctor-ike handwriting (almost illegible). Which leads nicely to the next point…
  • A computer, laptop, netbook, or tablet, or ultrabook, or mac… well you get the idea. Anything that will let you upload word or works so that you can use the spell checker and grammar checker… It’s a must for me. Luckily WordPress has a version so I can use that one. Phew!
  • Spider diagrams – oh I love these. With my sequencing being a problem I use them all the time. I just go mad on paper, brain storming it’s sometimes called, and then try to get a sequence. Most of the time it works… Sometimes though I do need to get anothers input, oddly though I have found that even random strangers will help (as long as it is a short piece and not a novel!).
  • Audible… Yes I know this seems like advertising but it really isn’t. I don’t know what I would do without my audio books. Some writing is just too complicated for me (the Bronte sisters and Dickens to name a few) but they are something I desperately want to read. So I have an account with Audible and I scour the shops for second-hand copies. Amazon is good as well. I never say I can’t read something even when I know it’s out of my league because I can always listen to it…
  • Amazon… Well I had to. There are two elements to this; firstly the book store (second-hand books are wonderfully cheap) and secondly the kindle. I can have my hands on a copy of the book I need within seconds of leaving the classroom. Need more time to read it and understand… well I make time. No more having to go to the book store and trawling the shelves only to then told they don’t stock it and I have to wait weeks, instead an instant download. Now I’m not saying that I agree with the whole process but needs must and unfortunately I must.
  • Libraries… turns out they aren’t that scary and if you get lost people help you find a way out! For research they are fantastic, honestly I would have bankrupted myself if I had brought all the books I needed.
  • Second-hand book shops. I just browse these – after all you never know what you might find…
  • Lovefilm or Netflix (I use the first one). Film adaptations at your finger tips.

So all these go together to make me able to keep up with everyone else at uni but I haven’t touched on the extra help I will get… but then that is a completely different post.

Coping strategies the university provided without realising it

3rd October 2012

First day… Did I sleep? Course not. The usual questions were running through my head. Will I keep up? Will I be liked (this is an anxiety I get)? Will I understand what they are talking about?

Now don’t get me wrong I had tried to alleviate the fears. Firstly by getting a reading list so I could get at least one book and swat up. Which I sort of had (only a quarter the way through) and for the obscure titles all I can say is thank you Amazon. The second is that I had gone to all the taster sessions that I could so that I knew as many people as possible… they are not a scary bunch. In fact they are really nice.

Which comes to the last worry… will I keep up? This is one there is no way I could know. I’ve been 8 years out of education and I was going to land feet first into a masters lecture. It didn’t get any better once I’d arrived. There where only 4 of us. Gone was the huge auditorium I was used to when studying archaeology; there I could hide. Instead there were 4 in the class and I sat in the next available seat with the lecturer taking the one next to me… Did I panic? No. But my notes began well and dwindled to headings… The important stuff that I would need to look up. Not that it’s a problem but I was getting tired. Just not used to the work. I can sit and sew toys for hours without any problem but one hour of class and I was thinking, “wow, am I sure I can do this?”

Luckily though it was on a really interesting subject – Biographies, Autobiographies and Memoirs.

Biographies are where you write about something or someone, for example ‘The biography of a germ’ and ‘The World’s Wife’

Autobiographies are a chronological look at your own life

Memoirs are a sliver of your own life, one of which is ‘Touching the Void’, probably one of the best books I’ve ever read (the movie adaption isn’t bad either).

So my assignment is to write one (or at least 3000 words) and the options are limitless. Infact by the end of the lesson I was tired but really fired up…. The lecturer (Menna Elfyn) was excellent, giving enough information that it kept you stretched but very interested. We did do two exercises in class – where you write about yourself and your experiences. One was to be read aloud and I think I did okay, and the other was not; it was just an exercise. The final one I found, when I read over it, didn’t make much sense but at least I had a go. At no time did I feel out of my depth.

The next lecture was by Dic and was on Joyce Carol Oates and we studied “Heat”. Now by this time I was tired and not thinking on all cylinders… But not only were we given a copy of the story but the lecturer read it in class. Thank you! We then analysed it and even watched a small video on YouTube that is an animated adaption. But unfortunately my notes are a mess…

Not to worry though as Trinity has stepped up with Moodle…. A dynamic learning thingy… Anyway it means that I have access to the notes! Huge sigh of relief! And my assignments (optional) are on there so I didn’t have to madly copy anything down.

By now I’m thinking, “okay maybe I can do this.”

So I know I can do this with the help of lecturers who are sympathetic to the student whether they have dyslexia or not, and with moodle. Lets just say that I smiled all the way home from my first day. I don’t think there will be any more sleepless nights.


This is a bit of advice I’ve been given by a friend…

A masters is as good as you make it.

Cryptic or what! Except it really is. Half the exercises or essays are optional, so you can do them or not. I’ve chosen to do them, or at least as many as I possibly can but if I wanted to do the bare minimum then I would not have a lot of work to do.

I think though that if the lecturers have set the work then they must assume you require it to get better. I’m already seeing differences… Take this for example…

The following extract is from a piece I wrote before the ‘taster lessons’ (the workshops are run by Dr Dic Edwards throughout the summer as a writers club at no extra charge):

…to me the sea smells alive, and tonight especially it appears to be a living breathing thing…

During these taster sessions I wrote:

…his suit was dark blue and his shirt a lighter shade, an impressive figure, but as the crowd parted around him like the sea around an immovable rock he found himself completely ignored…

Now I think the bottom one gives you more imagery to work with; you are there and can see the man in his suit, and even feel how the crowd moves. This is what I want from the masters, and if it means I have to write a lot, then so be it.

So the advice is something I’d like to pass on, dyslexic or not, do as much work as you can. Make a nuisance of yourself and be happy when everyone say “yes Kate what can I do for you today” rather than “yes”.

Get to know the library staff and the IT staff. They are invaluable, and if you need student support then go in and introduce yourself, don’t just turn up when you want something. In Trinity the registry, student finance and student support are all next to each other and they all know my name although I’ve only had to speak with the registry so far. Which shows just how much of a pest I can be.