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Twitter I: JJ27VV 

Twitter II: Mymindbursts 

Wordpress:www.MindBursts

YouTube: JJ27VV 

LinkedIn: Jonathan Vernon 

Facebook: J F Vernon 

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And here smile

As well as others ... Quora, CloudBursts, FutureLearn, OpenStudio, SimpleMinds, Studio ... 

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23 ways to a FutureLearn fix

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 08:56

The courses I've done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.

  1. World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town 
  3. The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick 
  4. Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London 
  5. World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds 
  6. Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School 
  7. How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
  8. Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
  9. Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University 
  10. World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham 
  11. World War 1: Paris 1919 - A New World: University of Glasgow 
  12. How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield 
  13. Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 
  14. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham 
  15. Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
  16. Managing my Money: The Open University
  17. Community Journalism: Cardiff University
  18. Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton 

Those I'm on or have pending

  1. World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
  2. Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
  3. Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
  4. Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
  5. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales:  The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
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Who are we?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 13 Apr 2015, 14:53
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. © University of Cape Town CC-BY-NC-ND

It has been a lifelong, and rather futile quest of mine expressed in writing and art, diaries, blogs and stories and fed by academic study and non-academic spiritual and cranky pursuits to understand who I am - not what I am. There is in consciousness something rather odd going on that no amount of research into my ancestry, or to living relatives, no amount of writing or painting or visualising of ideas can explain. Is it not a trait of being a teenager to feel alien to the world? Although in my fifties I don't think the euphoria of being a teen is a phase I've yet to pass through smile Fascinating. I could study neuroscience or get drunk and paint a mural on the side of the house like Jackson Pollock, but I don't think it would get me any closer to finding an answer ... even if I had fun doing so. To sum it up for all of us, to excuse and explain all behaviour from Gandhi to Hitler, from Hockney to Terry Gilliam, Richard Dawkins to Robert Winston, I simply think that each of us is unique - yet ironically society and others repeatedly fight to contain us. 

I've been prompted to express this by a question posed to participants on the course 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town on FutureLearn. 

An utterly absorbing, heartfelt conversation so sympathetically and convincingly shared. Worth of many return visits and further deep study. I'm driven by a limiting interest in everything. My curiosity knows no bounds - which is limiting, as it might be enlightening. It is easy to visualise the dog chasing its tail, though in my mind, excusing the vanity and narcism of it I see myself more as that omnipresent foetal child from the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

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War Memorials and free online courses on the First World War from Futurelearn (an OU subsidiary)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 11 Apr 2015, 07:26
From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.1 The Response, Newcastle

There are several ways to enter thinking relating to the First World War courtesy of Open University subsidiary FutureLearn. Each of the First World War courses takes a different tack: aviation, Paris Treaty, idea of heroism and coming up soon, through one hundred personal stories.

During the recent course on heroism we were asked to share images of out favourite First World War Memorials. 

Born and raised in Newcastle my late mother went to the Art School on the other side of the road, then King's College, Durham. She often talked of this memorial, knew its history and had done studies of it as a student.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.2. Lewes War Memorial

I know Lewes War Memorial as I have lived here for nearly 15 years. As a member of a bonfire society we stop at the memorial every 5th November ... so whether there is a centenary or not, we make a lot of fuss about it. This memorial features online where Steve George has pinned every name to an address in the town. This make for very painful viewing as you realise how many households lost husbands and sons to the war.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.3 My late mother and grandfather at the Tynecot Cemetery marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres).

If I were to add a couple of other memorials it would be the extraordinary First World War memorial to mariners at Tower Hill with sumptuous stone carvings around the miniature garden where it is set, and the oddly incongruous memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner which shows the figure of Boy David. I was a standard barer at a memorial to the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in which my late grandfather had served ... he was there too, age 94.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.4. The Tower Hills memorial to mariners of the First World War

And most recently, at my daughter and son's school, I came across this extraordinary mural that fills the assembly hall of the old Grammar School. Surely this achieves its goal of creating a lasting memory amongst students?

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig. 5 Brighton Grammar School First World War commemoration mural

My First World War Future Learn (MOOCs) ... online courses:

Coming up:

World War 1: History in a 100 Stories Follow at #FLww1stories  Starts 13th April. Duration Five Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week. 

Completed with repeat dates:

World War 1: Trauma and Memory Follow at #FLTrauma15  Starts 25th May. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Two hours a week. 

World War 1: A New World Order (The Paris Treaty of 1919) Follow at #FLtreaty Starts 22 June. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Five hours a week. 

World War 1: Aviation Follow at #FLaviation Starts 13th July. Duration Three Weeks, Study time: Three hours a week.

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism Follow at  TBA. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week. 

Having completed all but World War 1: History in a 100 Stories my sincere suggestion would be to set aside seven hours a week. I aim to do an hour a day during the week and complete on Friday. I generally achieve this unless I get deeply engrosses in the conversation, or have to go over a point a few times to understand it. Maybe 45 minutes every day then. Skip the discussions and these are easily done: then it becomes akin to watching a bit of TV and reading a few leaflets - not the same as testing your thoughts, and having your ideas tested, turned around, built upon and altered.

 

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6 ways to build a scene

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Fig.1 A 'Block Reminder' for scene building based on the ideas of author and writing coach Susannah Waters. Last September I attended a writer's retreat in Devon with Susannah Waters. On day one she introduced me to simple ideas on how to build a scene. For the last six months I have tried to keep this in mind as I write up first one, then a second novel. Often, the comments I receive would have been addressed had I given these pointers some thought. Too often, I know, I upload a treatment, not a draft. I tell the story, but I don't 'show it' in the sense of engaging the imagination of the reader. This homemade die covers six key points: W = who am I? PH = stay in the person's head 5S = refers to the five senses: see, hear, smell, touch and taste D= asks what am I doing SY=asks what am I saying while T=asks what am I thinking. I used a seed box and my son created the fonts on a template, cut it out and stuck it to the box. This morning, before I used this, I ran through eight episodes each more of a synopsis than a treatment. Each now is far longer, but this is good if I am now keeping the reader in my head. Controlling plot is another issue; I never can. The very process of writing for me, like telling someone a dream I have head, means that new things come into my head and want my attention.

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What's your tribe?

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From Great North Museum

Fig.1 From a display case in the Great North Museum, Newcastle.

As a kid visits to the Hancock Museum, as it then was, were rare but memorable: perhaps every other year from the age of four. The shift in how the objects are curated today is to make the connection between the visitor and the object: to indicate its relevance. 

The Internet doesn't simply but one thing next to another, but many. The steps from the display cabinet above could take you to buying the football shirt, google maps to the place the artefacts were found, TripAdvisor on whether to go there and how, clips from Newcastle's greatest moments ... 

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The ultimate method of communication

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:56

Fig.1 me, bis sis, and big brother.

I remember the shorts and the wellingtons. I loved it when I stepped in a puddle so deep and the water came over the top. I had a habit of not wearing underpants which meant that dangling from a tree or turning backward somersaults gave a view of my 'bean sprout.' It also resulted in my getting my willy caught in the zip on my trousers more than once. I guess I am four and a half. There's a very similar picture of me dressed in school uniform a few weeks before my fifth birthday: shorts again, tie, blazer and cap with one sock up, and the other one down. I remember that first day at Ascham House as I waited forever to have a go on a huge rocking horse but couldn't because Nick Craigie was having a turn, also the mashed potato in the school lunch made me sick because this sloppy gunk still had the eyes in it.  The response from the teachers: all spinsters of at least 90 years of age was the same 'eat it up or you won't get any pudding!' The gooseberries and custard made me sick too.

I'm recalling all of this as I try to get my head into that of a child for the FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the arts' in which we are recalling stories of children in hospital. I had a hospital visit to have stitches put in my willy. It was a short, traumatic visit where I recall at least three people having to hold me down.

Children begin to release what matters to them with paintings and figurines, in song and play. It matters that it takes a little thought and care to figure out what a drawing, poem, song or dance means to a child. My late mother, who taught art, said that on looking at a piece of work created by a child you should only ever say, 'tell me about it.' i.e. never presume that what you are looking at is a 'house,' or a 'dog' as you may discover that this is a 'castle and a dragon,' or a 'hutch and a mouse,' or a 'prison and someone escaping.' Let them talk it through and elaborate.

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1 million views in an OU Student Blog

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 3 Apr 2015, 12:45

Fig.1. What do a million people look like?

I learnt when the figure was around 100,000 that these figures should be dismissed as 'pingbacks' - these automatic links to sites that link to my blog and vice versa. It's reciprocal, but it is not the same as a person reading what I have written.

It's trapped me though. At various moments over the last five years at 100, 1,000, 10,000, 500,000 views I have looked to the next figure and kept on posting content. The reality is that 1,000 'views' a day has been the norm for the last year whether or not I post anything. These 'pingbacks' are historic then: my linking to other sites, and then linking back to me. And what percentage of the views are me coming back, even linking to my external website Mind Bursts?

And if this is a record of my five years with the Open University where has it got me?

An MA in Open and Distance Education, halfway towards either an M. Ed or an Open Degree, a third of a way towards an MA in History (from another institution, but armed with 60 credits I can bring this to the OU). I worked for the Open University for a year, and I got so close to joining FutureLearn that I checked the cost of a season ticket into London. I've worked in commercial e-learning while remain attracted mostly to e-learning in higher education. The problem here is that all the roles are very junior first jobs, often technical rather than production or strategic. I can talk about the current state of e-learning for hours if asked. 

Academics are odd folk: buried in their expertise for decades they believe they should transfer their expertise and retain their status on other platforms and in other situations. It's like an author wanting to direct the movie of their best selling book; few can pull it off. Or a consultant surgeon feeling they should chair management meetings.

Those academics who take on the e-learning mantle are institutionalised academics who know their subject, and how to give a lecture series and run a seminar; does this qualify them to understand the potential of learning online with a mix of media and approaches? Whilst Clint Eastwood made the transition from actor to director, not all academics should or can make the transition to producer and writing e-learning: contributors as presents or interviewees yes ... play to their strengths, in other words, rather than revealing their weaknesses.

There are plenty of examples of academics, never at the OU, blundering into the online learning market believing that their academic reputation is enough to carry a course in a series of head and shoulders shots of them talking to camera ad nauseam.

Things are changing, and the OU, OU students and OU staff are leading the way.

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8 key ways to compare MOOCs (online courses)

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 7 Apr 2015, 10:41

Fig.1 Mosaic by featured in the University of Cape Town FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the Arts'

Don't call MOOCs MOOCs, they are 'courses.'

Don't even call them online courses. I suppose therefore, don't call it e-learning either or even online learning ... it is simply 'learning'.  I am on my eighth or ninth course with FutureLearn. I may have three or four open at any one time and complete two of these at least. I love 'Medicine and the Arts' from the University of Cape Town while I am both maddened and intrigued by 'The Mind if Flat' from Nick Chater. I'm certain that online courses longer than a couple of weeks should not be treated like books or TV programmes. What works best, as the University of Cape Town shows, is to get the entire team involved. They have a lead host and presenter who each week introduces several colleagues, something like four to six each week. It is stimulating and necessary to hear from so many different voices. 

1

The Platform Provider

Brand and technical aspects

Think of this as the channel. It has both technical and brand qualities. Is it smart? Is it current? Does it all work faultlessly? Is it intuitive? Is it simple? I've done many FutureLearn courses but struggle every time with Coursera and EdX.

2

Funding/Cost or Cost Benefit

You can’t make a movie in $125,000 dollars. If a 30 point 16 week distance learning course from the OU costs £1.5m to produce should a 3 week MOOC cost up to £300k? It's a poor comparison is the cash cost may be a fraction of this: a university team's job is to plan a programme of teaching anyhow. What matters is how a budget is spent. The learning designer for an online course is like the scriptwriter for a movie: they provide the blueprint. Is the investment worth it?

3

The Subject matter

Are you true to your subject? Don’t try to be something you are not. Is it ‘made’ for an online course, rather than shoe-horned from a regular, traditional ‘classroom’ lesson plan? Would it be better served on a different platform in a different way? Can you teach sports coaches or movie directors online? Or rather, what can you, and what can you not teach them? Are you fully exploiting the affordances of the platform and easily linked to alternatives on the Internet?

4

Audience

Who do you attract and is this the same as who you get? Who do you attract by level of education, age, gender, culture and location.  Are you getting the audience you want as participants? The contribution participants make is crucial. Are there enough active voices to sustain this? Be aware of the extreme differences in digital literacy skills and competences. Do you know your audience? How do you relate to those who start the course?

5

Champions

One advocate over more than a couple of weeks will tire. It will feel like an ego trip any way. How good is the mix of contributors? Both in what they have to saw and show, and their levels of and variety of experience. An online course is not necessarily akin to a TV documentary that can be carried by a single presenter. Is it a one man show or a team effort?

6

Objective

What are the hidden and implicit goals? To attract students, to build reputation, for the good of mankind? To make money? To massage an ego? What do results say in terms of those completing a course? Doing assignments and getting to the end then singing the praises of the team? Another guide can be whether as a production fulfils the initial Creative Brief. Both qualitative and quantitative research is required to provide answers. 

7

Your Brand and production values

Is is possible to stay true to your own brand, even have a distinct image, when on someone else’s platform? Are the values of the design, creation and delivery consistent with the standards and image of your institution?

8

Assessment

These must never be taken lightly. There are examples of trite, ill-thought through multiple-choice quizzes: these are a learning opportunity. A good quiz makes you think, challenges your knowledge, and provides feedback whether you get it right or wrong. Bravely 'Medicine and the Arts' has both quizzes and a regular written assignments. These are not onerous yet some participants are scared by a 300 to 500 word piece of writing. They oblige you to read back through the week's activities before replying. 

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New blog post

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Age 12 Stacey Pidden was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) and given a couple of years to live unless she went on a new trial drug which, with her parents behind her, she did. A decade later and she was given two years to live and put on the waiting list for a double lung and heart transplant - that was three years ago. She blogged her story to us students here at the Open University from 2011, then a couple of years later started her public blog.  One friend with PH stopped taking drugs and died. She shares everything openly and honestly. From age 4 she underwent heart surgery and had a couple of operations every year or so. What is immediately apparent in blog is her skill as a writer and her view that “life is worth fighting for.”

Stacey is a feisty and determined and would be far weaker had she not found her voice and even a purpose in life: she is the voice of a new NHS donor card campaign.

Doing the FutureLearn course 'Medicine and the Arts' we hear from Marc Hendricks who express concern that children’s voices in medical institutions have been marginalised.

I see value in blogging as a creative outlet: it combines so much that the University of Cape Town team addresses in this course: giving young patients a voice - their voice, in a way that suits them.

Tracey, for example, is in close contact with the 17 other in the UK waiting for a double lung and heart transplant like her: this empowers her and reassures her - there are other people in her situation and she has a voice that requires no filters. Susan Levine in 'Medicine and the Arts' talks of a person’s life world.’ Tracey shares her ‘life world’ with us; whilst we may think of our community as neighbours and friends, hers includes her transplant team and regular consultants. A blog is text, voice, photos, artwork and even song; whatever the author wants in fact. It’s certain than visual metaphors as Kate Abney in 'Medicine and the Arts' found are an important way to express meaning too. While hospital radio is another way to enable storytelling as Nina Callaghan from in 'Medicine and the Arts' has found.

Creatively Stacie is a erudite, witty and frank voice representing those waiting for a transplant. Where permitted, children, not just young adults, should be given such freedoms to communicate and share beyond the confines of their ward and so give them confidence to speak their minds, improving their lives, their motivation to live and the quality of communication with hospital staff.

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Medicine and the Arts: probably the best online course I have yet come across

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I've been learning online since 2001. I took my MA ODE between 2010 and 2013. I am still here. I've done between eight and twelve FutureLearn courses - finished six 100%. I am struck by the quality of the course from the University of Cape Town called Medicine and the Arts: both as a piece of e-learning and for its content I believe it to be the best of its kind and a fine example to any university or institution planning a course such as this.

I'll run through the criteria I posted here earlier and consider what it is that makes it work. These include accessibility, variety and quality of speakers, the professionalism and quality of all things from art work, copy and video production, the 'less is more' approach that keeps things simple, the engaging conversations with fellow participants and the involved of educators too.

 

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How I write

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 1 Apr 2015, 19:11

I've abandoned the computer screen and QWERTY keyboard for writing; I think better pen to paper - in my case ink pen to refill pad.

I am using notes from Kurt Vonnegut on story shape, from Susannah Waters on scene building tips and cheats and from the zoologist and anthropologist Desmond Morris who wrote 'Man Watching'.

Between them I've been standing back from my efforts of the last few months to try to see the wood from the jungle; to give it some order, like a closely managed English deciduous copse rather than a wild and vast forest.

There is masses online to feed you with tips, hints and cheats.

And through things like the BBC Writers' Room and a regional arts organisation, such as New Writing South, in my case, ample opportunities to have a go at being published or produced.

Meanwhile, despite the number of variations I've had on 'The Form Photo' I feel there is a shape worth cutting from the growth I have laid down.

From Kurt Vonnegut I take and overlap two story shapes - am I allowed to do that? Robbie, follows the 'man in the whole' pattern - unable to thrive in the rarified wealth of her 'sinks' with some relief into a few more modest years living with his maternal grandparents. While Kizzy, is a Cinderella story shape - it has to be as she comes from some a deprived background: on the round, illiterate, abused and poor. She makes a few bids at escape and is then rescued through adoption. Any of this make sense? It does to me. Simplified it is a 'Boy meets Girl story' where Kizzy and Robbie meet and become fond of each other as kids ... then meet again in the later teens but she says she wants nothing to do with him unless he proves himself in various ways for her.

I'm posting all draft of my current writing in 'Start Writing Fiction.' 

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The shape of stories

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Monday, 30 Mar 2015, 11:13
From Writing

Kurt Vonnegut's wanted to write an MA thesis on the common shapes of stories: he was told it was too simple. He can be found in various interviews and presentations waxing lyrical about the shape stories take.

His are: 1) Cinderella: needs no elaboration. Applies to implemental steps of progress, radical failure then absolute glory.

2) Boy Meets Girl similar: we know it. Applies to any story of desire for something, its loss, then recovery. Also romcom territory. 

3) Man in a Whole: things go bad, then you get out of your whole. Shawshank Redemtion. Martian. Haruki Murakami wrote a novel in which the protagonist was really down a well much of the time. I feel I'm most inclined to relate to and to write this one.

4) New Testament: like Cinderella–gifted things, which are then taken away before being returned with interest.

5) Old Testament: gifted things that are taken away forever.

6) Creation Stories: God made Earth in seven days ...

7) From Bad to Worse: And it never gets better. Says it all. Fallen.

8) Which Way Is Up: That ambiguity in life where we don't know what is good or bad from actions and events. Probably the hardest to sustain. Hamlet. 

What you get if you use a plot generator smile

 Have a go with Plot Generator

Of far better use is TV Tropes, which is a cross-media analysis of story types, with examples and links to the authors. 

 

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Do you have a Christmas decoration that is still out?

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From Xmas Decorations

Every year we find, over the course of several months, a Christmas decoration that is still out: fell behind the sofa, on in this case, it has made itself at home and is innocuous enough to look as if it belongs there forever - now it does

There's a tinsel ball no bigger than some fluff on top of the bathroom mirror: I think that's made a permanent home for itself too.

Do you have decorations that never get put away?

When do you get rid of the Christmas tree? Ours only made it to the dump, in bits, a week ago.

 

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Posting fiction at Startwringfiction.wordpress.com

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I set up www.startwritingfiction.wordpress.com at the end of the Start Writing Fiction course from FutureLearn adn the OU in order that some 8-12 of us could share our writing. It very quickly worked out easier for us each to manage our own blogs so I find myself landed with 'startwritingfiction.' 

Here I get the same pleasure, feedback and community feel that can exist here. You get to know a few people well and respond to each other's work on a regular basis.

Connectivity should equal support, not just access to information. 

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Reading and writing with fresh eyes

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:37
From Writing

Fig.1. Philip Pirrip is confronted by the 'fearful man, all in course gray ... '

Start Writing Fiction is a FutureLearn Course. Its content makes up part of an OpenLearn Course. It is a thread in the Creative Writing Course here at the OU.Three months on having completed the course it is about to repeat. I'll be there.

From E-Learning IV

Fig.2. How we learn in the 21st century. J F Vernon E-learning (2011)

We learn through repetition; not simply learning by rote.

We learn through passing through the same loop over and over again. There is nothing so special about graduation, gaining an MA, a PhD or achieving the lofty status of 'professor' so long as you are willing to climb, as if on a thermal, one focused ever ascending loop seeing the same thing over and over again in new light, until, through insight or height from the ground you see something new and have something new to say.

There are some key lessons to learn from 'Start Writing Fiction; (SWF)' though it is never the whole story - for that you need to sign up to a graduate course on Creative Writing. There's plenty to work with though. I look forward to being reminded what matters. It kicks off again on 27th April and runs for three months. 

Reading matters as much as writing.

The precocious child who read copious volumes and gets into literature in their early teens has an advantage. I was slow to read and reluctant to read. The only novels I may have read as a child were forced on me through school. Even in my teens as I read 'Great Expectations' and 'Silas Marner' for O' Levels and 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' for A' Levels I did say like a parrot: If I picked up an 'B' grade at both levels it was only because I regurgitated precisely what I had been tutored to put down.

Over three decades later, 33/35 years later to be exact if I check my diary from that time, I am reading Dickens with fresh eyes.

My late mother bought me a second hand edition of all the Dickens novels. I never read one. I now have 'Great Expectations' for free courtesy of 'Project Guttenberg' on my Kindle. I am reading it with lessons from 'Start Writing Fiction' in the front of my mind. SWF concentrates on the key, though not only component, of good writing: character. I am chewing over every line of Dickens with a rye smile on my face: I see what he's doing with Pip, with the escaped convict from the hulk, his older sister and her husband Joe the Blacksmith, with Miss Haversham and Estella. If 'character is plot' then the plot moves, in a series of steps, over the heads of each character. We are carried by Pip with repeated moments of laugh out loud insights to a child's perception and feelings for the world. How had I not see this before?

For the umpteenth time I am doing what doesn't come naturally to me: I should be painting, not writing.

Intellectually I feel like the child who is left handed who had than arm tied behind his back as a child to force him to write against his will with his right. I have managed well enough, but it is against character and it is too late to correct? I need to work with words as the text that describes what I see. Text has other values too of course. It can carry a story beyond a single canvas.

A creative writing tutor, editor and author - former opera singer and opera director - Susannah Waters in reviewing my writing on a retreat last September gave me more than SWF can do on its own. An A4 sheet torn in half offers the following tips on 'Scene Building:'

  • Who am I?
  • Stay in the person's head
  • Put me in the place

She expands on these.

Every line of 'Great Expectations' is in Pip's voice, written as autobiography much later in life, in the moment, capturing for now, his wonder, fear, feelings and hopes. It helps me enormously as I try to construct a story of my own set  in the couple of decades 1966 to 1986, rather than 1820 to 1860. Characters don't change, technology and society does. It helps me to contain my imagination and fears as I feel it falling apart. Character will hold it together; each character needs to surprise. 

I wish I could find the link to the BBC Radio 4 programme in which an author, Michael Morpurgo or Alexander McCall Smith talks about writing; it was on over the last three weeks. Or was it on TV?! Tips and devices were spoken of, but what had most resonance for me was the idea that an authors wonder at even the most mundane creates interest for the reader. 

I used to discount Dickens as old fashioned; I now feel that I am reading Dickens with the same wonder of someone who has broken through the fog of a new language and is becoming fluent. Can I now translate this into my own writing? For now the juggling game I am playing is my writing in one hand, Dickens in the other.

Sharing where I stand matters hugely. Knowing that others are following my journey and are supportive matters: it keeps me going. Being online matters. It is the next best thing to standing on a soapbox in the local park and reading passages from my efforts. Feedback matters as it guides you.

On this retreat last September we read out our work, actually Susannah read my piece for me as I wanted to hear it from a different voice. We were around an open fire in a cottage in Devon. Telling stories around a fire takes you back to the origins of storytelling; what must you say to hold their attention, to keep them entertained, to make them cry (I did with that one), to make them laugh, fear, hope, clap, get angry ... and ponder, even panic over the outcome. In that story I had a soldier in the First World War slowly sinking into mud, up to his chest and neck ... screaming for life.

 

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Recreating that OU student feeling

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Mar 2015, 12:13
From E-Learning VI

Need to plug a gap between courses or just can't stop e-learning?

I'm currently fighting my cerebral way through:

The Mind Is Flat

Understanding Drugs and Addiction

Community Journalism

Medicine and the Arts

Each has something to recommend though the humdingers are 'Understanding Drugs and Addiction' and 'Medicine and the Arts' : beautifully and thoughtfully done. Education as entertainment? 

 

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The Seven Sisters towards Beachy Head from Seaford Head

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 25 Mar 2015, 07:42

 Fig. 1 Jeremy Irvine (War House) and Dakota Fanning (loads of films) on Seaford Head looking towrds the Seven Sisters.

This gem of a film is also from the director of "The Magnificent Marigold Hotel.' Dakota Fanning is a 17 year old dying of cancer with a wish list. Her performance is wonderful and she totally credible as English.

What's odd here is that the bench is pointed away from the view towards some gorse bushes and lacks a dedication which all such chairs have up there. I know because I walk the dog here often. Today I stumbled upon the largest camp of film lighting, catering, wardrobes and other support services I have yet seen. Are they filming Iron Man IV down there?

I have thus far stumbled upon the filming of a scenes from Atonement, what I was told was an Eastenders special, a TV commercial and picking up shots for Harry Potter (It's where the World Quidditch game is played).

Do you live next to a regularly used film location?

As a boy we had Alnwick Castle up the road. Long before Harry Potter they filmed something called 'King Arthur and the Spaceman' in which I was an extra all one summer. I was 16. I was the 'King's Guard Special' to Kenneth Moor's Arthur.

 

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The Brian is authentic, the mind is a squiggly line?

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015, 17:26
From E-Learning VI

Fig.1. Grab from The mind is flat. 

Across FutureLearn videos the name caption always come up right of screen whether or not there are one, two or more people featured. Does this kind of thing bother you? There are no fewer than THREE opportunities to brand this as 'The University of Warwick' - one would do, none are necessary. We know that this entire course if from Warwick. See them: Branded watermark in the top right hand corner, on the strapline (the least necessary and most erroneous) and yet again in the video time line ... there is a fourth if you include the page this grab came from. 

Other amateur antics include surreptitiously reading off notes, glancing away at the camera operator, having a second camera or wobble cam as if this a Jamie Oliver cookery course, that's before we have to think about the antics of the video editor who wants to prove that they should be cuttin pop videos.

Otherwise I love the learning and discussions and the argument for multimedia being 'good enough' rather than of TV broadcast quality is largely right: overly produced is just as bad as amateurish.

Anything that gets in the way of the message is wrong. Otherwise the above is perfect: an authentic exchange and share. So, authenticity rules? Mistakes and all. Speak the language of the fluid internet conversation. Keep it simple. Employ people with experience who know what they are doing. 

From E-Learning VI

 

Fig.2. Nick Chater and Jess Whittlestone. Co-stars of 'The Thorny Birds'.

 

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How many people have started the MAODE because of this blog?

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Two years in a contact has signed up, others I know have, along the way, at least done a course from the MAODE with me. Whilst posting all this content externally at www.mindbursts.com and here hasn't earned me a penny I'm glad the OU are getting students as a result. Perhaps they'd give me a course gratis as I can longer afford it. I have 60 credits towards a history MA and 60 credits towards an M.Ed. I rather fancied Creative Writing though smile 

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Inspired by The Thorn Birds

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 14 Mar 2015, 15:36
From Writing

Fig.1. The Thorn Birds. From my iPad

Every few weeks my writing output collapses as I wonder where on earth I am going with it. A few weeks ago I thought 30,000 words along the lines of 'Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging' would be good enough and about the standard and tone of what I was producing as I wrote up the antics of a 15/16 year old with his eye on any pretty girl. 

A second character appeared and grew. She took over the lives of two others and developed a life of her own.

I have both these two age six or so onwards.

Somewhere I got a whiff of 'The Thorn Birds' and so have had a couple of days reading what I vaguely remember as a TV series of Rachel Ward. It was on in 1983. I picked up bits of it. I had assumed it had been on far earlier than that, more like the mid 1970s. 

Anyway, this story told over sixty years has its appeal as a model. There is more sense to it as the lives of the immediate family around the central characters are brought to life than my determined efforts to thread together a group of girls from a Form Photograph. 

 

 

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One day all TV will be like Euronews

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 10 Mar 2015, 12:49
From E-Learning VI

The transition to a mixed media approach to news that is neither print magazine or old style TV news coverage has finally been achieved by Euronews. You don't know if you are reading, listening or viewing as the total experience merges all three.

One day all information sharing will be like this. You read it or view and/or listen all in one go seamlessly rolling between formats to suit your head's needs. 

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Life Logging and education

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 8 Mar 2015, 03:34

The idea of recording our daily lives is an ancient one: records, journals, letters and papers have been kept for centuries. Only recently has it become possible to keep digital versions of our day. There are reasons why we forget though; there are reasons too why our perceptions of the world aren't that great either. 

I happen to be one of those people who started a diary when I was 13. I had the misfortune of being sent away to school from the age of 8 too. As well as the diaries I have bundles of letters I received from the age of 8 to 16 - I refused to return to the 'institution' my parents were subjecting to me and got it to a 'normal' schooling.

Only in the last couple of days have I taken a close look at a diary I started almost exactly 40 years ago, or at letters I was receiving at the time. When my mother died I received a bundle of letters I had written to her as well. I never expressed to anyone, or was asked, how I felt about being sent away to school, though I remember my first night as vividly as my last. Reading back feels as if I was subjected to a prison sentence. For all the privilege, tenderness, trust and love was removed. Something as simple as a hug became a rare thing for holidays. There was, thankfully, none of the abuse, you hear of. Though boys were caned, and slippered. The torture was bottling up feelings and learning to deal with problems in your own way - even friends could, if given too much information, turn against you.

I was bashed through a sausage machine and have only rarely been able to reconstruct the person I may have thought I'd be age 7 or 8. Poor little rich boy? I didn't ask for that, or the violent breakup of my parents when I was 8. At least I've given my kids stability and love. One just left the nest and it was delightful to reflect on how much time as a family we have been together: barely more than a few days apart in her lifetime. Society should above all else value stability in families and an open, revealing and liberating education rather than a closed, introverted and exclusive one. 

I am not surprised to find, even where some of them have the money, that not one person I know who either went to such school age 8-13 or 13-18 has sent their children away. There are so many reasons why it was wrong them, and no better today. Today he problem is separating young people from the world they belong to instead of mixing up income brackets, race, religion, genders and even age groups. If I had influence, or power to change the way we educate our young people in this country it would be to open it up, by legislation. Nothing destructive, but to expect and develop a better mix, rather than the current exclusivity. We should abolish the charitable status independent schools have to start; what is charitable about an elitist institution? They should be open to public scrutiny and expected to earn it: 50% fee paying, 25% on reduced fees, 25% free places? 

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Enjoyed 'Ida' - loved 'Chinese Puzzle'

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After a 12 hour + writing marathon yesterday I managed to follow two movies: the polish Oscar 'Ida' which is moving and beautiful with an actress of iconic cookiness and ability. And then the third part in the trilogy, worthy of an oscar itself, 'Chinese Puzzle' set in France and the US and happily mixing between French and English.

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Scene Building

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Who am I? (Point of view). Who is accessing this scene for the reader?

Stay in that person’s head – same applies to omniscient narrator. Stay in their age, their voice, their way of thinking/see/noticing, because of who they are and where they are, both emotionally and physically, and contextually (time of relating this story).

Now, from that person’s viewpoint, i.e. you are him or her:

What can you see?

What can you hear?

What can you smell?

What do you touch?

What do you taste?

i.e put me in that place.

What are you doing?

Show me state of mind/emotions/reactions

What are you saying?

What are you thinking?

With thanks to Susannah Waters for this.

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