Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Book of numbers

The last week has been a bit of a blast from the past, with return visits to Perry Barr for a NAW student showcase, and to Foyle's in London for the launch of their anthology 'Book of Numbers' , as well as a visit to Lowdham Book Festival, which somehow always reminds me of my own days as a writing student, perhaps because there's always such a strong Trent MA presence there.

More about Lowdham later but, for now, I want to talk about the National Academy of Writing. Last year, the anthology was done quickly, to be produced in time for the showcase in June, and as a result I ended up editing myself but that was never the idea. It was always intended that the students should run with this project, as part of their professional development and to give them editorial experience. I'm pleased to say that, this year, this is exactly what happened.

A small team Nick LeMesurier, Roger Noble and Geoff Mills were the main core, with help from Rena Brannan and Eveline Williams. I had the slightly surreal experience of being edited by one of my students. In the end, this wasn't that strange, because I've always workshopped my own writing with students I've taught and am used to the two way feedback. Some people have called me brave for presenting my work to a class of twenty odd people for comment but my opinion was that it was always a perk of the job. How often do you get the chance to get that much informed reader feedback in one go?

The editorial process was definitely good for me, and for the story, and I'm very pleased with the final version that appears in the book. The student team worked hard and were very professional, and they've produced a lovely book. Normally, I'd review it here, except that doesn't really seem appropriate given that one of the stories is mine. I will recommend it, though. I read it cover to cover yesterday and it is full of goodness.

Book of Numbers is the nth anthology I've had a story in (see what I did there?) but the first for which I wrote the story specially instead of just falling back on the folder I have of stuff I've written in the past. I was inspired to do so, because I found the theme very compelling. It may even have inspired my next novel. This made me think, about themes. We had one for our student anthology and I do think they work well when you are asking for submissions. As part of an audience at Lowdham the other day, in a session on short stories, I was asked what I think about themes. So there you go. You have the answer, Anne. I think it possibly makes more of a difference as a writer, rather than a reader and so for an anthology like this a well chosen theme may lead to improved standard of submissions. (More about Pewter Rose later, a very exciting new local publisher.)

It's so lovely seeing something you've worked on come to fruition. It wasn't always easy, working in Birmingham. The journey was hellish, the university kept changing things and I was pulling up a course and an ethos from thin air, based just on what I thought it should look like, although with lots and lots of help from colleagues, I might add. One of the biggest part of my vision was that the students should take control of a large part of the activities, particularly showcases and publications. This wasn't easy to put in place at all. There was resistance from some of the student body, used to more didactic teaching and controlling tutor influences in their pasts, who felt insecure and wanted more staff input. But, in the end, there were enough individuals ready to run with it and it worked and now it's just the normal run of things at the academy.

This year's showcase, just like many previously, was run by Rena Brannan. As ever, she did a fabulous, professional job. I was very glad to see her effort recognised with one of the course prizes this year. The showcase was perfect in that it was an embodiment of the course, with students reading a selection their own work, and actors performing some of the plays written on the Scripting and Staging module. It was a very special night.

I am very proud of what I achieved in Birmingham but prouder still of what the students have done. It was always their course, and I tried to give it to them.

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