Saturday, 29 October 2016

with great pleasure, raleigh park, sophia blackwell, kellogg college centre for creative writing, soa/wio annual party, balliol

One of the great pleasures of my new-ish walk to work, since the axing of the Number 18 bus service, is Raleigh Park and the wonderful view of the city as you enter from the Lime Road footpath. (See posts of 20th and 23rd July 2016.)

The park is a twenty-seven acre local wildlife site that is described on the Friends of Raleigh Park website, as follows:

"Raleigh Park is located in the village of North Hinksey near Oxford and contains lightly managed fields with three ponds linked by a stream, very unusual alkaline bog areas, trees, grasses, marestail, stately marsh thistle and wild flowers. Ridges from medieval strip farming are visible parallel to Westminster Way. Buzzards, red kytes(sic), roe deer, muntjac deer and foxes are frequent visitors while badgers, moles, song birds, rabbits and other rodents are resident."

Isn't it brilliant that there are places like Raleigh Park!

On Thursday, I attended the first of the two Michaelmas talks at the Kellogg College Centre for Creative Writing. The speaker was the performance poet, poet and novelist, Sophia Blackwell, and her title was, Showing the Brushstrokes: Unorthodox Routes to a Literary Career. The title was inspired by an article written by Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, Hiding the Brushstrokes, which Sophia recommended her audience read.

Sophia's career doesn't seem quite as unorthodox as her chosen title suggests - an Oxford English Lit and Lang graduate, performance poet and high-end publisher. Nevertheless, her talk was very inspiring - celebrating stories ("one of the most powerful forms of communication") and the virtue of hard work (99% of what's needed to succeed as a writer). Sophia's choice of quotes was as vivid as her delivery - her supremely confident performance was, she said, down to her musician father.

For example, this quote from Michael Cunningham's The Hours (spoken by Cunningham's Virginia Woolf):

"One always has a better book in one's mind than one can manage to get onto paper."

She also quoted from Porter Anderson, editor of the US magazine, Publishing Perspectives, on the shortcomings of the publishing industry:

"Imagine the auto industry dependant on freelance designers for its new models, and you get an idea of how precarious [publishing] is."

Not that Sophia entirely agreed with this analysis, believing that many people in publishing management are passionate about writing and end up earning very little (not just the authors who get very little return, then!).

For Sophia, working in publishing with big-name novelists gave her encouraging insights: "knowing they were human and flawed was a big revelation... very liberating."

And ultimately, Sophia's message was about demystifying creativity, emphasising hard graft and advocating the importance of writing every day. She ended the talk by referring her audience to Jo Bell's "52" project: "Write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going."

After the talk, I headed south to Balliol College for the annual Society of Authors and Writers in Oxford party. It was terrific to catch up with old friends!

What an evening!

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