Friday, September 19, 2008

On the other side of the desk

Wednesday 17 September 2008. Today I am in a classroom. But I am not a teacher, or even a student. I am what I suppose should be called a "meta-student". Just as students are encouraged to learn how to learn, I am learning how to teach. Well, not teach in general -- I learnt that millennia ago -- but how to teach teachers how to use a particular Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This is made more difficult than it need be by two issues:

Firstly, I don't actually know how to use the VLE myself. Not completely, anyway. I don't (yet) have the depth and breadth of knowledge to be able to say, when a teacher asks "What if someone hands in three batches of work at once, and in the wrong order?", "Oh yes, there are three ways you could handle that...". I try to take the view that, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but it is not easy.

Secondly, I have discovered that my new Cross propelling pen has a mind of its own, and turns while I am writing. This has the effect of retracting the "nib" in a languid, imperceptible manner. So imperceptible, in fact, that the first time I notice is when I am "writing" with the pen itself rather than the point. I have no idea what I am doing to make this happen, and can only prevent it by holding the pen at its very tip, which is somewhat uncomfortable.

However, there's a brilliant idea hidden here. If you could calibrate the amount of twirl to ink flow, or to time, then you could set the pen to retract when a particular condition is met. For example, I have been commissioned to write 600 words for an article in the TES. If I could set the pen to stop writing after 600 words, I'd be laughing, so to speak.

Alternatively, this morning I had only 15 minutes of writing time before I need to sling some clothes on and get out of the house. A pen that stopped writing after 15 minutes is just what I need.

I have to say, although I enjoy writing with a pen, it is all rather laborious. So perhaps I shall reserve it for special occasions, such as when I am on a bus or the tube.

When I came home, I felt once again the pangs of guilt as I saw on my desk a publisher's contract that I need to sign and send off. To be frank, after endless emails going backwards and forwards about things like "exclusive works" clauses, I have to be in a particular frame of mind to deal with it. That is not least because "dealing with it" entails trawling through all the aforesaid emails and checking what we agreed against what's in the contract. It is worth doing: the last time, a couple of the agree changes had not been made. Inadvertently, of course. But the omissions were all in the publisher's favour, not mine.

But there is hope. I met someone today who is an editor I used to deal with. I'd never met him in person before. He told me that he has been published by a couple of brilliant publishers. Assuming he is (a) not lying out of a bitter and twisted hatred of happy authors born of years of dealing with unscrupulous publishers, or (b) not senile, I have reason to be optimistic. It's a while since I pitched for a book, and I'm missing the cut and thrust of negotiations. Somehow, self-publishing is not quite the same.

Tomorrow, let the pitching begin!

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