Welcome to justthoughtsnstuff

I started posting to jtns on 20 February 2010 with just one word, 'Mosaic'. This seemed an appropriate introduction to a blog that would juxtapose fragments of memoir and life-writing. Since 1996, I'd been coming to terms with the consequences of emotional and economic abuse that had begun in childhood, and which, amongst other things, had sought to stifle self-expression. While I'd explored some aspects of my life through fiction and, to a lesser extent, journalism, it was only in 2010 that I felt confident enough to write openly about myself. I believed this was an important part of the healing process. Yet within weeks, the final scenes of my family's fifty-year nightmare started to play themselves out and the purpose of the blog became one of survival through writing. Although some posts are about my family's suffering - most explicitly, Life-Writing Talk, with Reference to Trust: A family story - the majority are about happier subjects (including, Bampton in rural west Oxfordshire, where I live, Oxford, where I work, the seasons and the countryside, walking and cycling) and I hope that these, together with their accompanying photos, are enjoyable and positive. Note: In February 2020, on jtns' tenth birthday, I stopped posting to this blog. It is now a contained work of life-writing about ten years of my life. Frank, 21 February 2020.

New blog: morethoughtsnstuff.com.

Saturday 26 September 2015

chilly, mist over the thames valley, hounds and horn, mst residence, department for continuing education open days, doing the police in different voices...

Cold start - probably just above freezing, according to the forecast. Certainly felt like it! Shock!

The landscape was autumnal - leaves turning, tilled fields and mist over the Thames Valley, towards the Berkshire Downs.

Along Calcroft Lane, four-wheel drives were parked up, their occupants on the edge of the fields staring towards the far-off woods. In the distance as I cycled on came the sound of hounds and a hunting horn.

I've never been hunting, although members of my family are keen, and for anyone like me who grew up on a farm in hunting country, the sound of hounds and horn in the distance on a chilly clear-lit morning can't help but stir memories of far-off days.

Tomorrow and early next week, it's the MSt in Creative Writing residence. Looking forward to starting the year's work in earnest with the students I'm supervising.

Yesterday I did a creative writing event at the first of two open days being held by the Department for Continuing Education. The group was terrific and I loved working with them - hope they enjoyed it as much as me! For those living in or around Oxford, there are still some places available at today's events:


My event - called, I think, a 'taster session' in official terms - was called Doing the police in different voices and had the following blurb:

'Why is voice so important in fiction? In this hands-on creative writing workshop we will first look at an extract from a novel that uses voice in an entertainingly compelling way before trying this technique for ourselves in a writing exercise. We will then examine a further extract that helps us to explore the relationships between voice, character and the shape of fiction. We will conclude by glancing at a page from an experimental novel, watching a short video and writing a second exercise that brings what we have learnt together. Please note: this workshop lasts one-and-a-half hours and participants should come prepared to discuss, to write and possibly to read out the work they produce during the session.'

So, where does the original line that the event's title makes use of come from - and for bonus points, who thought of making use of it for the title of a later work?

Saturday 19 September 2015

misty start, bright colours in j's early-autumn garden, latin american gems

Misty start today. Loved how bright it made the colours look in J's early-autumn garden.

I thought the mist would soon clear but it lingered well after I got back from cycling. Should be a summer-like afternoon, though, they say.

Last night I chaired the first event of the Latin American Centre's 50th anniversary weekend: Latin American Gems in the Bodleian Collection: Ancient Mesoamerican Manuscripts.

Fascinating talks from all the speakers - Virginia Lladó-Buisán, Head of Conservation and Collection Care at the Bodleian Libraries, Professor Maarten Jansen and Mrs Gabina Aurora Pérez from Leiden University and Dr Halbert Jones who runs the North American Programme at St Antony’s College.

There will be a podcast of the event available at some point and I'll post the link on jtns.

Professor Jansen's talk focused on the magnificent Selden Roll, which is on display in the Bodleian Proscholium till 1st November. The exhibition can be viewed during library hours and is free.

Here is my intro to the event:

It is a great honour to be chairing this event at the start of the weekend’s celebrations of the Latin American Centre’s 50th anniversary.

Indeed this is a year of double celebration at the Centre because the Bodleian Latin American Centre Library is itself 40 years old.

What started as a few shelves of books has grown into a 16,000 volume specialist politics and economics collection, which includes a substantial history section. In addition, there are some 200 boxes of what is euphemistically called 'grey' literature. Nothing grey about this literature.

The boxes contain fascinating donations from the region which have been made over the years by visiting scholars, by students returning from field trips and, most importantly, by our alumni.

It is fitting in this celebratory year that the contents of these boxes, arranged by country, have successfully been added to the University library catalogue, thanks to the hard work over a number of years of my colleagues Rebeca Otazua and Sam Truman.

I should, I think, put my role at the Centre’s library in context. I have been there for just over a 10th of the Centre’s existence. I am enduringly grateful to the work of my predecessors Ruth Hodges and Laura Salinas who managed the library for many years and who gave so much valuable advice to me about the collections.

When I arrived at the Centre I was immediately struck by the warm and inclusive welcome from my new colleagues, both administrative and academic. It is the warmth of the family atmosphere at the Centre that is one of its most engaging strengths - and it is one that, talking to alumni, has been there since the early days, making the Centre such a supportive and positive place to teach and study, and indeed, to be a librarian.

Students at the Centre, however, have not simply our collections at their disposal. They have the immense opportunity of deepening their understanding of the subject area by consulting the wider collections of the Bodleian library and the other libraries within its group. Over the last four years or so I and my colleague at the Taylor Joanne Edwards have tried hard to promote this wide-ranging and very widespread broader collection and to point students in its many directions.

At the heart of these broader collections are the historic texts that the Bodleian has been collecting - well, since the 17th century, as it happens. It was these books that now Emeritus Fellow of the Centre Malcolm Deas and the late Robert McNeil of the Bodleian - a great Latin Americanist - did so much to draw scholars’ attention to.

At the apex of these historic books, of course, are the Gems that we are here to learn about this afternoon.

Saturday 12 September 2015

passing rain, new academic year, windows 10 ups and downs, alan and charlotte

Some rain when I was cycling this morning but it soon passed. Quite warm and humid, though.

Oh what fun it is to play with the Blackberry editing app.

It was back to work mid-week, feeling refreshed. I started my holiday at the tail end of the old academic year and returned at the very start of the new one. Such a different atmosphere in Oxford both times. Such a different feeling psychologically too.

During the holiday I upgraded my laptop from Windows 8.1 to 10. Having a few compatibility issues - for example the only browser that seems to work with Blogger software is Firefox, although even it likes to put masses of extra spaces in between photos and text, which have to be removed manually. Again Firefox is the only browser that actually lets you attach things to emails in the university webmail client. Still, quite like Edge and Cortana - though when it (s/he?) asks what you would like 'me' to call you, that's a bit spooky!

A highlight of the holiday was having Alan and Charlotte over for a lovely lunch at the top of the garden. Alan was at school with Dad. Wonderful afternoon!

We were lucky with the South-of-France weather that day - waking up the next it was dark-grey-bleak. Very changeable just now.

Friday 4 September 2015

windows 10, timber, spindle, never mind by edward st aubyn, sublime, potato harvest

Taking a few days off, as mentioned last time. Also getting used to Windows 10 - pretty good, though not a seamless transition, I would say!

A wonderful walk round the Great Barrington estate yesterday - passed a stand of timber that was being thinned. A lovely walk from Bampton this morning. Spindle everywhere is looking magnificent - this photo taken in the Bampton Millennium Wood.

Reading Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn. An object lesson for creative writers of how to make the supposedly obsolete omniscient narrator technique work, switching from perspective to perspective in the third person within scenes.

A Keble alum too.

Wonderful lines abound. For example: 'He had watched his father's eyes behind their dark glasses. They moved from object to object and person to person, pausing for a moment on each and seeming to steal something vital from them, with a quick adhesive glance, like the flickering of a gecko's tongue.' See post of Monday 3rd March 2014 for link to podcast of Oxford Centre for Life-Writing interview with Teddy St Aubyn plus link to post about that interview.

The people in the novel are often monsters but the writing is sublime.

Tomorrow the allotment - tidying and the potato harvest. Overwhelmed by runner beans.