Relentlessness.

It’s been a busy week for writers and artists in Dundee.

Last Monday, our regular Hotchpotch meeting was held aboard a 19th-century warship. More than 40 people showed up – double our usual maximum attendance – and we enjoyed a fantastic and varied night of writers reading their own work. We even made the local paper. There’s a picture of me dressed as a captain.

Then the Dundee Literary Festival began on Wednesday and ended yesterday. I attended a selection of events, including a play set in a disused jute mill, an interview with Nick Frost from Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and an investigation into the success of Ladybird books over the last 100 years. There wasn’t an event I didn’t enjoy, but I’m not going to review any of them here. Instead, some of them have already been reviewed by students.

In the middle of the festival, I saw Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Hamlet with the National Theatre. The live cinema screening was sold out, but it was well worth seeing the recording. I’m glad, however, that I read up on the story before seeing it. I found it a lot easier to follow when I heard the words than when I read them on the page.

And at the weekend, artist studios WASPS held an open house, allowing the public to see how their art is made and to buy it directly from the creator. I went along with a friend to visit artist Jennifer Robson and jeweller Genna Delaney, among others.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s session was cut short by a fire alarm apparently set off by someone using a blow torch. The building was perfectly fine, but the alarm malfunctioned and wouldn’t switch off.

And just as these finish, National Novel Writing Month begins on Sunday 1 November. I’m returning as the Dundee & Angus regional organiser for a second year, and there will be someone else helping me.

The five previous times I’ve done it, I’ve exceeded the target, sometimes by less than 100 words. But one of the messages I always give out is that there’s no shame in not reaching the 50,000 word target. I’ll keep you updated during the month.

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When you don’t like your own work.

Last week, I discussed what to do when you don’t like someone else’s work, be it a novel or a live event, and a big thank-you for all the responses I received. However, I had an experience last week where I didn’t like part of my own work.

I was invited to write a piece inspired by the D’Arcy Thompson Museum at the University of Dundee, which would then be performed in the museum a few weeks later. Sir D’Arcy was a naturalist who disagreed with some aspects of Charles Darwin’s work, and the museum houses his surviving specimens.

I’m quite used to turning round work very quickly: I write it, leave it alone for a few days or a few weeks – depending on the deadline – then give it an edit. If I’ve time, I might be able to repeat this process, refining further each time.

With the Sir D’Arcy piece, I struggled to come up with the idea in the first place even after two long visits to the collection. Finally, I wrote a short poetic monologue inspired by a seven-foot narwhal tusk on the wall. The piece imagines what might have happened when the tusk was delivered to Sir D’Arcy and his students, and uses this to demonstrate that some of his ideas and views are now accepted by today’s scientists.

I was happy with the first section of the piece, but was less happy with the second, which I felt broke the Show, don’t tell rule. I felt it was too factual as the story was not shown through the actions of a character, as in the first section. The actual reading went well, but if I had more time, I could have improved it; in the process of writing this entry, I’ve thought of a possible way.

However, unless I’m invited back for a second performance – and that is a hint to the organisers – I have to accept that I put out what I consider to be substandard work.

When you simply don’t like it.

I recently visited the D’Arcy Thompson Museum at the University of Dundee, where a young girl was being shown around by her mother. The collection is full of animal specimens from Sir D’Arcy’s work, but this girl was having none of it, constantly saying, “This is boring, there’s no dinosaurs.” There have been a couple of occasions recently where I’ve felt like doing this myself.

A genuine extract from my notebook upon seeing Jeanette Winterson
A genuine extract from my notebook upon seeing Jeanette Winterson

One of them was at a talk by Jeanette Winterson to promote her latest novel The Gap of Time. The majority of the event was spent showing videos about Shakespeare and speaking about his life. It wasn’t obvious at first that she was referring to the structure of her book, but even when it became clear, it felt rather disjointed and rambling. Thankfully, once Winterson began answering questions, her own personality shone through; much more engaging than the showmanship that had gone before it.

I also recently began reading E M Forster’s A Room with a View, one of the ten Penguin Classics I have on my shelves. However, I was soon overcome by some confusion. Much of the first couple of chapters is about the two sisters, then other characters appear, but it isn’t clear where they’ve come from or where in Italy they’re currently located.

My puzzle is what to do if I don’t like an event or a book, or what should I have done.

In the case of Jeanette Winterson, I probably would have left the room if I hadn’t been seated in the middle of a row of about two dozen people. By the same token, I would have missed the excellent question session if I’d gone. As for the book, I’m still reading it because I’ve been gripped by the dialogue, but the appearance and disappearance of characters is rather jarring and I’m debating whether or not to abandon it.

So my question this week is: what would you have done if you were at an event you couldn’t take to, or reading a book that didn’t fully engage you?