1,783,027 words, 1,879 entries over 5,091 pages if printed off. 

This how I left my first blog. Jonathan.Diaryland.com

It barely scratches the surface of the memories a brain can recreate. I tried. I have in there repeated efforts to recall the very first things I could ever feasibly have formed as viable memories: or were they words and images put into my head by my mother much later? I also noticed that in the comments I have two years of conversations with the now published author Catherine Valente and, would that I could verify it, a short exchange with Norman Mailer.

This diary is on ‘Diaryland;’ started in September 1999, finally ended in March 2006.

It feels like landfill: there’s so much stuff in there rotting away. Though it doesn’t, it’s digital. Closed because while I don’t give a monkey’s about writing on everything I have done, thought about or think where people can be identified it could cause embarrassment and offence. It took me a few years to realise that if I was receiving 200+ views an hour some of these people might know me.

No one I knew ever, ever said they were there. Not for a long time.

Perhaps they knew I’d close it down if they let on? I tried to obscure names and locations but that just got very confusing. I held a mirror along the Pennines and set everything that had taken place in Northumberland in Cumbria and vice versa. For people’s names I tried initials, so taking  ‘JV,’ for me is a giveaway, so I ‘cleverly’ decided to change names by one letter in the alphabet, so ‘JV’ became ‘KW’ and I’d go by he name ‘Ken,’ for example. I knew a lot of Sallys who all became ‘Tamsin’ or ‘Tabatha’ which threw my head as it immediately had me constructing different fictional personas for them – just as well? That’s what writing fiction is about, embellishment? ‘Ken and Tabatha’ sounds like the relationship between a Barbie doll and a Sasha doll.

There were a lot of ‘Js’ too for both boys and girls from the 1970s and there is a limited choice of ‘Ks’ to go with.

Only a few years later bumping into old friends from home and school have they said they knew all about ‘X’, and ‘Y’ or looked at the drawings I did of ‘K’ and the photo of ‘T.’ The greatest shock was getting into a conversation with my ‘petite amie’ from my school French Exchange when I was 17 – 33 years after we’d last seen each other (two years ago). I’d posted a teen sketch I did of her and wrote up in detail how we had behaved.

This content is of far greater value to me not ‘cleaned up.’ I keep it closed though I’m drawing upon it constantly as it contains a substantial part of the diary, verbatim, that I kept from the age of 13 to 28 and a great deal of stories that I wrote drawing on some of those experiences. These are finding life once again thanks to the OU’s FutureLearn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ and, once again, a close writer/editor relationship that has formed. It is, should I ever get published, a sound example of the value of keeping a ‘notebook’ as that diary, even as I conceived it age 13 is a substantial ‘writer’s journal’ that follows life through the eyes of a boy growing into manhood, taking an healthy interest in the opposite sex and after some pain and love, finding and marrying ‘the one’ – and now celebrating 20 years married and soon to celebrate 25 years together.

What I find touching, then and again today, is that supportive friendships form with fellow writers or readers or editors that is enormously encouraging and guiding; people want my words. I feel like a stand up comic who loses his audience from time to time, then gets hit by a soft  ‘carrot’ or a bendy ‘stick’ and subsequently re-adjusts his ‘voice’ to the one they want to hear. 

Marking five years since I started my OU degree and an OU Student blog almost coincided with a logical, deserving step into the legitimate world of e-learning as I completed an ‘in-tray’ exercise ahead of a second interview. As I prepared to mark this ‘Five Years’ (a totemic time period for any David Bowie fan) I thought I could be announcing this literal step onto a ‘platform’.

Though I also had in mind my response to it not happening:

  • no more job applications
  • no more OU courses
  • back to writing with a renewed vengeance and determination. (I feel the Start Writing Fiction course on FutureLearn has refuelled me. I’ve been a petrol engine trying to run on diesel all y life and they fixed that)
  • once again give a substantial body of unpublished work (manuscripts for novels, screenplays, TV series, radio plays) their chance. (I have made and found the time and was for a couple of years indulged by an agent and producers enough to get interviews to discuss treatments and first scenes. On reflection I was a chef who appeared to promise something delicious but kept serving the thing up either cold or over spiced. SWF has been like a short course in Cordon Blue cookery; I may not be there yet, but at least what I’m now producing is edible).
  • and commit to a two month sailing trip later in the year: the Atlantic via the Canaries and Cape Verde to Bermuda.
  • Meanwhile I have picked out one manuscript, something I dated March 2006 when I boxed it away, that runs to around 100,000 words and 42 chapters. I am revisiting, rewriting and posting this in little bits. It’ll take at least six months working 14 hours+ a day.
  • eight hours a week ‘work’ fails to keep the wolf from the door. I could do with at least 20. 

I didn’t get the job.

Life has moved on.

I am writing with fury and loving it. My only regret? The need to sleep. 

Writing fiction at:

http://www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com = password protected

Diaryland at:

http://www.jonathan.diaryland.com = password protected

On vomiting

I am recently recovered from 24 hours of hideousness: food poisoning courtesy of an oyster that I was foolish to leave in the fridge for three days prior to consumption. Like I wanted to kill myself?

I vomited 17 times. The gaps varied between 10 minutes and an hour. And then it started to come out of the other end too.

Having a delicate stomach I know the score and grabbed a pillow to kneel on over the toilet bowl. Knowing the score I had a hand towel ready to absorb the copious sweat.

I got over the worst of it eventually with help from medication. This time it was pills. I’ve needed an injection before.

Where did my voice go though? And my ribs hurt. I daren’t cough.

In the middle of this I made my GP laugh, female, has a young family. I was sitting there hoping not to be sick with one of those papier-mache sick bowls. She asked if I had a fever. I said that after a few minutes of retching I built up a sweat and collapsed in exhaustion … ‘I guess it’s the way a woman feels during childbirth.’

As I’m writing all my waking hours, when not being sick, I have been writing up how it feels to vomit like that. So something good came from it. I can now have a character die from poisoning, or maybe I can have a shot at describing a difficult labour? Or transmogrification from man to half-beast?

Robbie and Juliet share digs in second floor flat in Willesden. He’s in his fourth year doing an MA in Fine art at St.Martins. She’s five years behind him hoping to get onto a foundation year. They met through Robbie’s kid sister. They call themselves a couple. They’re both in bed, but not for long.

Robbie knows what’s up, as he gets out of bed, snatches at a pillow and heads for the bathroom. He drops the pillow in front of the toilet, drops to his knees and drops his hands either side of the seat. A series of uncontrollable gut wrenching tugs at his insides follow. He is sick in short spasms as if a shark hook is caught in his stomach, each tug he hopes will turn him inside out and open gates to the poison that swills inside him. Each tug might pull him through the brick outer wall, through the trees around the side of the garden and deposit him like a freshly caught lumpsucker fish on the neighbour’s tiled roof. His determined body, when it fails to rid itself of anything at all, tries with even greater and greater force producing little more than Copydex sputum and flat-beer froth. Exhausted, one more blast and like a bucket of slops thrown from a 15th century window into the street below he empties slurry into the U-bend. Feeling relieved, though washed out Robbie flails about for something to clear his nose and wipe his mouth. Juliet appears with a hand towel, and as he remembers his mother doing, she mops the sweat from his brow. It’s the nicest thing she’s done for him. They’ve only been seeing each other for a week.

He doesn’t need to say it: it is written on Robbie’s face. Maybe the oysters and champagne Juliet had brought round to seduce him hadn’t been such a good idea.

‘I hope you’re getting this. I would.’

Juliet looks at her idol aghast as back in his bedroom he points at her art materials.

‘From life, as it is. Bloke vomiting. Has to be a first. It’ll be something to talk about at your interview. If you get one.’

Robbie returns to bed where, in a dressing gown and under a duvet with an extra blanket he shivers from exhaustion and cold. He lies legs crossed and arms over his chest as if in a coffin, the only way he feels able to hold himself together, concentrating on one thing – if he can clear his head, he may fall asleep, and may not be sick again for half an hour.

‘Draw this. Man dying. You’re always criticising me because I won’t keep still.’

Robbie sick 17 times in all over a 12 hour period, the hideousness of these extractions feel as if a gnarled hand has gone done his throat and is pulling him inside out which is just about what Juliet draws.’

Collapsed after every one of these sessions I felt like a three-year old in a playpen.

Helpless. Entering the GP surgery I shook with tears for just a few moments with a sudden sense of my mortality. Death doesn’t bother me so much as how I go. Not in a fit of vomiting, or drowning, or burning. Sleep, even if drug induced will do.

Time to move to Belgium?

How online courses are changing forever the way we learn

Fig.1 A publicity still from my own short film ‘Listening In.’ Did you catch it on Channel 4? I know seven people who did smile

Marshall McLuhan had a lot to say about the medium being the message when TV came along in the 1960s.

I always put the message first and with online courses (MOOCs by another name?) I would liken them to books or TV programmes … there are many as you can imagine for every kind of audience, by educational attainment, and subject. I agree that learning is inherently social.

Having got kids who could touch type before they could handwrite and use the Internet before they could use the telephone I have witnessed them learn, collectively, online in various ‘online’ activities – almost always with the very same people they are seeing during the day in class.

Platforms, such as FutureLearn are tailored for this – EdX, by way of contrast is not.

Learning outcomes must be an important raison d’etre for MOOCs, but I don’t see this at all as being the only reason institutions are producing them. They are seeking to attract students to courses that are either taught on campus or online at a distance. If a MOOC on Aviation Comes of Age in the First World War attracts 5000 and 500 finish the course 50 buy certificates and 5 sign up for the MA then they have doubled their student intake to a niche subject. I’m making a wild stab at the numbers: I don’t know what they were. I can hazard a guess by the activity in the discussions. They are producing them to learn from the experience, gain the in-house knowledge and support their educators and producing online content for their regular courses too.

The numbers I do know are for the FutureLearn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ which had 23,000 students to start with and bucked the trend by having 25,000 in week two. I can only guess at the numbers who made it through to the end based on the crude stats we have for ‘MOOCs’ to date. A new outcome for this course is that nearly two months after it officially ended people are still starting and still completing the course: I know this as I set up both LinkedIn and WordPress groups to support them and actively return to the course myself to refresh ideas and contribute to reviews of work submitted and discussions with those there.

By way of comparison, the University of Southampton WebScience MOOC is aimed at PhD candidates: I should now as I was one of those candidates and interview to study a PhD. I had no answer for my not having a medical degree or having done a randomised control trial before.

The ‘Oxbridge Tutorial‘ is commonly used in the UK and is a tutorial system used at Oxford Cambridge, Bristol, Durham and LSE I believe. Is it also the Socratic Method?

The method of knowledge transfer may be the same but numbers are lower 1:1, or 1:3 max. A MOOC experience that works, at this level includes both Socratic and Madras approaches, for better or worse. Worse according to Oxford’s Internet Institute (Rebecca Eynon) where cliques form around the leading student educators that appear to block out others.

PhD students may have to study on their own, but do they want to? MA students don’t.

The Educators I know at university want to teach too.

Digital literacy, like any kind of literacy matters. I engage those who have been online for a decade and those that are newcomers. They pick it up pretty fasts if helped by others.

Other MOOCs I’ve looked at are aimed at those at school (High School in England) to help them with university entrance and preparation, I’ve mentioned an MA even PhD level MOOC while the Exploring Filmmaking would have been on TV in the past.

EdX won’t let you in without paying.

Udemy is getting a dreadful reputation.

Lumesse is a corporate platform a bit like FutureLearn.

A gem of a Free Course from FutureLearn that has just started is ‘Exploring Filmmaking’ with the National Film and Television School. As you’d expect the value are top notch. A great mix. Bitesize learning. Great discussions. 90 mins to 2 hours a week – a lot more if you get deeply engaged.

Is this OK? Portuguese literature by Kindle Translate?

From E-Learning VI

Fig. 1. The opening lines of Os Mais Esposodios da vida Romantica – translated on the fly into English.

A recommended read, and not having an English translation I’m able to download the book in Portuguese and read it in English this way. What is lost in translation? A good deal, I’m sure, but for my purposes it is story that I am trying to get my head around rather than characterisation and a turn of phrase.

The Oxbridge tutorial is open to all online in a MOOC from FutureLearn

Fig.1 The intimate qualities of the Oxbridge tutorial are now experience in massive open online courses

I have been studying full-time for a year – an MA in a traditional university with lectures, book lists and online completing eight MOOCs and even trying to start a module with the OU.

My goal hasn’t been simply to gain yet further qualifications in subjects I love, but to experience first hand the variety of approaches to learning that exist.

Back to the classroom while learning online.

The MOOCs I’ve done on FutureLearn are highly ‘connected’ – I believe the way huge threaded discussions are managed and can be managed successfully recreates what some consider to be the Holy Grail of learning in HE, the ‘Oxbridge tutorial’ where a subject expert sits one to one or at most one to three to discuss a topic, set each other straight, and then return every week, or twice a week to do the same.

MOOCS completed or underway include:

Start Writing Fiction

How to read a mind

Climate Change

World War One: Trauma and Memory

World War One: Aviation Comes of Age

World War One: Paris 1919

How to succeed at: writing applications

Experience and research shows that even in a MOOC with 25,000 starters, in a threaded discussion that has 3000 posts, that groups of learners form – typically a mix of experts, keen learners with some knowledge and complete beginners. These groups can last the duration of a two month course and spill out into other platforms and meeting up face to face. John Seely Brown called this a couple of decades ago ‘learning from the periphery’, where new, keen learners gravitate from the edges to the centre. It is learning vicariously, as we do in our day to day lives. But it is more intimate than a community of practice: two or three people learning together in real-time or in a quasi-synchronous platform is like an Oxbridge tutorial. I had the privilege of attending these as an undergraduate and my father in law is one of these career Oxford fellows who taught in this way for several decades and has gone to great lengths to explain the unique qualities of the method, how and why it works. It now works online. You don’t have to be communicating directly with the lead academics – though you may do in a MOOC, but you can gravitate, with ease, if you like to the many experts who are in and contributing to these forums. I can cite examples of both types: the extraordinary care and fluency of the PhD contributors to WW1: Aviation for example, or in the massive (25,000 participants) threads of Start Writing Fiction.

This is ‘transitional education.’ Not a revolution, just building on the best of what has gone before and gradually taking others along with it.

I like that after 700 years of keeping the approach to themselves that the ‘Oxbridge Tutorial’ as a way to learn is, online at least, open to anyone.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Short Story Writing and how to avoid them

Jonathan Vernon:

All good stuff and you can’t fault Kurt Vonnegut’s advice in the video at the end.

Originally posted on BRIDGET WHELAN writer:

This post grew out of an article I originally wrote for the Hysterectomy Association when I was writer in residence of their annual writing comeptition earlier this year.

seven deadly sins of writing a short story

I recently came across the WikiHow entry on how to write a short story. The actual article contains good advice, but I arched an eyebrow (see above) when I read the introduction.

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Write for BBC Radio

Jonathan Vernon:

A writer works best when working to a brief and a deadline. And there is little more visual than radio.

Originally posted on BRIDGET WHELAN writer:

Broadcasting HouseOnce a year a window opens for new writers with no experience of radio to submit a short story  to Opening Lines – BBC Radio 4’s showcase for short stories. And that window opens today, Monday January 5th 2015: it closes on Friday February 13

What you can send:
One story which must be between 1,900 and 2,000 words long to fill a 14 minute time slot. If it is shorter than that, or longer, it won’t be considered.

It should be:
Original
written to be read aloud

It should have:
A strong narrative.
A strong opening.
A strong ending.

It shouldn’t have:
too much dialogue.
too much character description.
A dark, harrowing theme.
Obscene language or unsuitable material likely to cause offence to a wide audience of all ages.
(Reading transcripts of stories which have featured in recent series  should help you get a feel for the kind of…

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