Wednesday, 3 August 2011

But I Digress | A Speculative Education

Last week I blogged about how I was going to be spending the next wee while working like the clappers, writing and designing a book of essays about and examples of the usage of various elements of the English language.

Well, ten days of almost total radio silence later: it... is... done!

At least, it's near as damn it done. Or close enough to near as damn it done that I finally feel alright taking a little time out, to talk about how what I've been doing this past week feeds into what I do here (on a daily basis when I'm not otherwise engaged).

But I am so utterly exhausted, I had trouble last night holding a book upright. This would be the first book I've picked up since beginning this thing. Anyway, it's not that this experience has been physically exhausting, per se -- 

(That is short of the commute into the city. I have no end of sympathy for the folks who have to do that every day. More than ever now I count my blessings that I don't.)

-- what's worn me out so has been the exhaustive process of being beyond reproach about certain aspects of a subject I thought I knew inside out. Turns out... I didn't. Or at least, it turns out that what I know, or what I think I know, is not necessarily what teachers believe we should be teaching Standard Grade-level students.

For instance I wrote a couple of thousand words about the use of inverted commas, and felt quite proud, for a few hours, about what I'd accomplished. I even themed it, calling the essay "Alice's Adventures In Inverted Commas," and structuring it around key quotes and exemplars from that Gutenberg text.

Truth be told, I don't really spend a great deal of time thinking about inverted commas these days, but I was chuffed, nonetheless, that I'd been able to make the subject halfway interesting.

That was until the project supervisor reminded me that all the kids need to know about inverted commas was that they're used to denote quotes, titles, and irony. So I heaved a silent sigh, scrapped "Alice's Adventures In Inverted Commas," and wrote something simpler. That's the piece that'll make it into the book.

I think the idea is that, when teaching younger students, we need to be saying a lot with little. What I'm afraid of is that all we're doing is saying a little; saying exactly what we need to say to help the kids pass their exams in a few years. No more and no less.

So that was a bit of a bust.

But the endeavour entire has been as rewarding in some senses as it has been frustrating in others, such as the above. I also worked on a couple of comprehension passages, and several other essays on Elements of English, into which I managed to sneak a fair few references to the speculative fiction which keeps you and I ticking.

Single most amongst my achievements, I think: an entire comprehension passage, complete with 20-odd questions and answers, about Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Which I shouldn't wonder will prove a highlight for the students who study it when it is eventually set in its proper place, alongside passages from Shakespeare and Jane Austen and a bunch of other texts kids today couldn't give a hoot about.

Not only, but also: I managed to squeeze in a couple of references to The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and some Stephen King for good measure, because try as I might to restrain myself, my mission in life seems to be to spread the good word about speculative fiction.

And that's something to be proud of, isn't it?

I'll never know, of course, but if one day my work turns just a single, solitary student on to genre fiction by way of Neil Gaiman or The Hunger Games, say, I'll be able to look back on this exhausting experience with a measure of pride.

Saying that, I'm in no hurry to do this thing again any time soon. I'm absolutely beat, and miles behind on any number of other commitments. I owe a fair few comments and emails too, so forgive me if you've been waiting. Slow and steady wins the race -- isn't that what they say? :)

Luckily, I've still got a review squirrelled away to share with you all while I tie one last knot in this thing and catch my breath: a review of Fenrir by M. D. Lachlan. And happily, Mark himself has offered to stop by tomorrow afternoon, to guest blog about the fuss from a few weeks ago as to whether - per Steph Swainston's recent comments to The Independent - publishing in this day and age has become a sort of poison. Mark thinks otherwise.

That's tomorrow - it's a great piece, and I can't wait to see what you all think of it - and on Friday, stay tuned for a full review of Fenrir, which follows in the pawprints of its legendary predecessor, Wolfsangel.

The Speculative Scotsman should be full steam ahead again as of Monday, meanwhile, and if the stars align, I'll have a few announcements to make soon, too. I grant you that all's been quiet on the blog front for a bit, but behind the scenes, there have been several exciting developments I can hardly wait to blab about.

Speak soon!


  1. Right on! Wow, too many things I liked in this, but right on. Keep it up. I'd love to read Alice's Adventures In Inverted Commas. Sounds like just the way I like to learn.

  2. I'm waiting for the sequels focusing on triple modals and the glorious English subjunctive mood. I'm quite pedantic about those and wish more knew how to use those appropriately ;)

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