The pause that isn't a pause
Not the 'right' book

The tree of life - and other anecdotes

I've been a tad busy this last few days, so I'm afraid this is a bit of a catch-up post. First, I've actually submitted my PhD! I can't quite believe how happy it's made me, not just because the last stages of a research project are notoriously fiddly and tedious and so I've been dying to get rid of it, but because, finally, I realise that I'm actually really quite proud of it. As well as A Secret Alchemy, which I can enjoy again now that the tooth-pulling process of writing it has faded from my memory, I do think I've found some interesting things to say about historical fiction and how it works. I celebrated with my very long-suffering offspring, who bear the brunt of whatever's happening in my professional life, by opening the last bottle of the fizz which the Hay Festival gives its authors. It seemed appropriate.

And since then I've been in Spain, giving a lecture (twice) on Creative Thinking: the Darwin family in the Arts and Sciences. After the first, in Valencia, the university had organised a dinner cooked from Emma Darwin's recipe book, which was delicious. I was also given the most beautiful edition of The Origin of Species, made by my hosts, biologists Juli Peretó and Andrés Moya, with exquisite illustrations by the scientific illustrator Carles Puche. Carles even drew me an iguana on the title page of my copy: I felt very inferior in only being able to write words in his. Before the second lecture, in Elx, I found myself asked to do a spot of plaque-unveiling, and was very pleased that the image on the plaque wasn't the god-like old man with a beard, but the heart of the matter: Darwin's original sketch of the tree of life. As longstanding readers may know, I still find it odd when the outside world takes me as a representative of the family, but I've got more comfortable with it now: with an actual body of my own work out there, the balance has changed between us. And besides, Elx is now full of people tucking into their signed copies of La aritmética del amor, I'm even more awed by the skill, calm and general niceness of translators both professional and non-professional, and if the journalist from El Pais has his way back at the office, there'll be an interview with yours truly on the back page of one of Spain's national newspapers any day now.

And as I sat in planes and trains and hotel rooms, I started looking back on my PhD. When I first started wondering whether to do one, I was often asked 'Why? You've already got a Masters.' When I signed simultaneously on the dotted line of the Goldsmiths' application form and the dotted line of a two-book publishing contract with Headline Review, the question changed to, 'Are you going to give up the PhD, then, now you've got a deal?' These days, I'm much more likely to be asked what it's like and whether the questioner should be doing one too: Creative Writing PhDs are becoming big business.

I now have lots of answers to Why? Indeed, so many that I've put a page in the new - and as yet small - Resources section of the blog: Creative Writing PhDs: the paradoxical beast. At the moment, Resources has two pieces, the other being on How to get the best out of an editorial service, which you may know. But I'm planning to add to it when I have time and a new topic occurs to me. Next, I hope, will be Show-don't-Tell, or maybe Point-of-View, and I'll be enabling comments, so that I hope others will chip in.

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