Friday 29 July 2022

Language, Power and Studs McGuire

 Decades ago I was working as a senior lecturer, running a complex household of hard-working husband and two talented, resourceful children, keeping an eye on my clever mother, and – as well as this – working on my Master’s degree in Education.

And I was loving all of this

My research was entitled Language and Power. As well as the historical and theoretical aspects of this research I completed the practical element at a Teesside secondary school. The school had an outstanding head teacher, the late, great Malcolm Glenn, who was eventually an eminent HMI. Malcolm was a liberal-minded and forward - thinking educator and this – the location of my research - was a very happy and very successful school.

My research made use of qualitative method - interviews and conversations with eleven - to fifteen-year-old pupils - to discover how these children perceived and experienced the power structures within that school. Location was important; I interviewed and spoke with pupils only in the corridors and obscure corners of the school - specifically not in places which signified the concrete power of that institution such as classrooms, staff rooms et cetera.

The eventual merging all this loose qualitative material into a viable research document was a complex writing experience, incorporating the making of significant links in the data, formulating ideas and ultimately writing a coherent document.

In later years, as I proceeded to write and publish a string of novels, it dawned on me that this research and writing process had not been dissimilar to writing a long novel. It also dawned on me that in this academic process of writing up my research I was - without intention -honing my novel-writing skills: these two aspects of my creative experience were merging in an interesting way.

In Malcolm Glenn’s school, relationships between adults and children are open and mutually respectful, so the children and young people here accept me as I walk around in the school with my notebook and my odd questions. I think they quite like loitering in corners talking to this strange woman.

One time a tall, heavily built boy comes up to me and says “Hey Miss! You’ll want to talk to me!” His voice is surprisingly deep.

I look up at him. He is half a head taller than me.

Pen hovering over my notebook, I ask his name. This is always my first question,

“Me name is Stewart,” he says. “But you can call me Studs. They all call me Studs.”

In time I was pleased to deliver my research, nicely bound in black leather, which qualified me for my master’s degree. Afterwards I was flattered when my supervisor invited me to proceed to a PhD. I thought hard about it and decided not to take this path, as I was now working on my third published children’s novel, after which I was planning to embark on my first adult novel.

And now, decades later in this ongoing review of all my novels and stories that I am working on with my friend Donna M, we come to the novel called The Real Life of Studs McGuire. (Published 1987).

In working on this book as I was developing my main character – a tough resilient boy who vows to revenge his friends – I remembered the boy in Malcolm’s school called Stuart, the boy who stopped me in the corridor while I was wearing my researcher’s hat and said, “My name is Stewart but you can call me Studs.” This was when, trusting my instinct, I borrowed his name and perhaps something of his personality for my main character in this new novel - Studs McGuire.

The naming of characters is so important in fiction.  I’m now thinking about the issue of naming for my most recent collection Siblings(Published in 2021). For this collection I pored over academic sources of Welsh and Scottish names for the seven brothers and sisters, each of whom has a story in the collection set in 1922. I wanted names that would reflect their Celtic heritage. The chosen names reflect the unique nature of each character whose story is being told.    

Now, as Donna M and I handle the book called The Real Life of Studs McGuire, we note that the cover art has some resemblance to the cover art of Theft, my first published children’s novel. (See earlier post about Theft.) In each case the visual story arcs are very similar. There is such energy and implicit knowledge of children’s life there, as the action surges to the centre front of the cover. And the urgency within the narrative is reflected in the illustrators’ images for the two books. It is only all these years later that Donna M. points out to me that the artwork for both of these covers was by the artist Steve Braund.

You might be interested that I republished The Real Life of studs McGuire in 2014. This was an interesting exercise but I still prefer Steve Braund’s artwork to my own concept for the new cover which is it must be admitted modern, sharp, and dramatic. What do you think?

I have to say that I am realising now this journey with Donna M. through the sequence of my novels maps my writing life in all its aspects. It is all proving very exciting.  

And afternote: you might be interested in the different cover copy on each of these editions.

1987 Edition of The Real Life of Studs McGuire

Studs McGuire is determined to find out the identity of the kids responsible for taking his friend. Tony on a drugs trip. As a result, Tony lies unconscious near to death in hospital and studs is set for revenge. And then comes Nova – and studs that never met anyone like this girl before. We’ll never cooperate with him on his quest to find the loathsome flicker with his punk followers, The quest is a dangerous one, but still feels Tony’s very life depends on the outcome. 

Available HERE 


2014 Edition of the real life of Studs McGuire:

“Maybe I can do that, Studs.” Tony’s voice squeaked a bit but he coughed and said, “See you then! In a deeper tone. He turned round and banged out of the café followed by his two advisers. Almost instantly the rest of the kids in the corner stood up and trickled out. The big lad called Sligger averted his eyes as he passed Studs in the girl.

Available HERE 


Saturday 9 July 2022

The Evolution of my crossover novel, LIZZA

I have been working with my great friend the literary academic Donna Maynard on an archive project, which she hopes will link my hundreds of notebooks with the succession of novels which have been published over my name in the last 50 years. The process will take a year or so but should prove interesting.

We began by considering my first published work – Theft, a children’s novel from 1972published by Corgi Transworld (Scroll down to read a post here called ‘The 50 Year Novel.’)  

And now Donna and I are considering Lizza, my young adult novel, published in 1987 by Hodder $ Stoughton. We examined both editions: of Lizza - the hardback and the paperback editions.

First, we look with fresh eyes at the hardback cover - illustrated by Steve Braund. I admire it for its sensitivity and its own storytelling arc.

Then we compare this with the cover of the paperback which, as you can see, is much sharper and more modern, but still very appealing and charming in its own way. But after forty-five years, although I remember the novel very well, I had almost forgotten the details of the covers.

Now a frisson of shock ripples through me as the details of these covers remind me of myself at the particular time of writing.  

On the hard-back edition, the biographical blurb reminds me of myself at this time in 1987: a younger self that bedded herself deep into the background of my present day.  life. Here - in the words of my first great editor, Anne Williams - is what the cover says about this young, aspiring writer:  

“Wendy Robertson is senior lecturer in education at Sunderland Polytechnic. She has been writing since she was 16, but because of a full-time career much of the writing remains unpublished. In 1973 her first novel Theft was published in paperback k by Corgi Transworld and for several years she also wrote a weekly article on a variety of subjects for the Northern Echo and she has published and she has had several stories published in magazines.

"Wendy Robertson lives in a Victorian house at the centre of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, which he loves because yours is obsessively interested in what she calls ‘the past in the present. What is reality and what is fantasy can never be disengaged,’ she writes. ‘In my writing I take this a stage further placing my magic imagination at the service of the basic story which may be a well-rehearsed refrain. She is married with two grown-up children, a boy and girl.”

Dear reader, I still live in that same house. Lizza came out  forty odd years ago and this statement was very true of my life at the time, which was a combination of a very committed family life and a very intense working life, where my long-term lifetime commitment to writing had to be squashed in around college vacations, transporting children to their schools, visiting museums and art galleries for my interest and for their education. Also at the time I was involved with the early stages of Women’s Liberation. 

And so it was that with the publication of Lizza by this major publisher I was finally given permission to acknowledge that I was indeed a writer which would allow me at last to place the writing of stories to their proper place at the centre of my life. (Lizza - a so-called 'young adult' novelm- proved to be my crossover novel between children's fiction and adult fiction.)

This meant tailing off my work in higher education, where I had learnt a lot and which I had really enjoyed. In reality I still went on to sustain my commitment to education in that I transferred this to the running of writing workshops and a commitment to mentoring new writers  

But always at the centre of my life were my long novels, which I went on to complete at the rate of just about one every year for the next couple of decades. I had certainly become a novelist.

One interesting thing about this 1987 blurb – as I say, forgotten by me since then – are my quoted comments on the cover: 

‘What is reality and what is fantasy can never be disengaged.’ And “In my writing I take this a stage further placing my magic imagination at the service of the basic story which may be a well-rehearsed refrain.’

I had forgotten that I had made this declaration on the cover of Lizza, but now I must say that I have continued to write and work from these principles in all the decades since. Evidence for this commitment still exists in many of my posts here on Life Twice Tasted. I have also preached these principles in many of my writing workshops.   Check here 

I am sure I have written or expressed those same feelings this year and in all the years since the publication of Lizza.  You will find similar principles expressed throughout my blog posts.  

I am looking forward to collaborating with Donna in creating and documenting this archive. And in the process I will learn a good deal about myself and my writing life. In short it will be another story taking its place in the the web of stories which constitute this writer’s life.

For your possible interest check here for  a list of my Publications:-









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