Well, that’s more like it. Had a productive evening and got two and a half hours in, even after a full day’s work. Prepped for an interview tomorrow which I’m really looking forward to – a major player on the London counter-culture scene in the 60s and 70s. Then watched the doc (A Man Within) kindly given to me by director Yony Leyser in Leipzig back in the autumn to get me even more in the mood for tomorrow. Not that I really need it, I’m so there at the moment. Just wrote a poem derived from the Beat Hotel – I really wanted to try out a technique and last night’s radio listening gave me a phrase to play with. There’s still a fantastic energy around these writers and artists and thinkers and storytellers and hustlers. Because I’ve always been really into collage the whole cut-up phase is particularly fascinating. And that’s a big theme of the week. Reading about Brion Gysin. Going to the opening of the Richard Hamilton exhibition at Tate Modern. And trekking over to the Hannah Höch show at the Whitechapel last Saturday. This last gave me an idea for a graffiti character I’m going to try out this weekend.
And I forgot to recount yesterday that part of this week involved me doing the first public reading from When Sparks Fly. My Other Half organised a Words & Music night at our place on Saturday night and I read from the opening chapter first about Ginsberg & Burroughs in Tangier compiling Naked Lunch and then about Ginsberg’s foundation, COP. To round off I read a short Ginsberg poem, Dream Record, about Burroughs’ wife which linked directly to the opening scene of my book. It was a great night with some fantastic offerings, from short stories to rap. Words & Music, that’s pretty much where it’s at. And Love, of course.
The spaces of love truly felt
The spaces of felt love truly
The spaces felt of love truly
Felt the spaces of love truly
Truly felt the spaces of love
Truly felt the love spaces of
Love truly felt the of spaces
Of love truly felt the spaces
Of love spaces truly felt the
Of spaces love truly felt the
Spaces of love truly the felt
Spaces of love the truly felt
Spaces of the love truly felt
The spaces of love truly felt
Well, it’s been a bit tough getting this routine to stick. I may need to adjust. It didn’t help I went out three nights on the trot last week.
Tuesday was Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal Stratford East with Enfant Terrible No.2, the production to mark Joan Littlewood’s centenary. At least she’s a subject of a chapter so it adds to my understanding of her. I started her chapter on the stage of this her theatre.
Wednesday was the screening of American Hustle with Christian Bale and David O Russell in attendance as just related.
Thursday was the wonderful John Newman at the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush.
All good ways to spend time but not conducive to writing. And the idea was to make up for a missed night by doubling up the next night, but three in a row pretty much put the spanner in the works. So I’m rethinking and came to this conclusion talking to my colleague Noorah this lunchtime. I’ll aim for Monday – Wednesday – Friday instead of all five weekdays which is unrealistic as I more than adequately proved in Phase 2: Week 2.
All that said, I did actually get back on the horse during this last week and got through some stuff. Revised the first third of Chapter 1 Draft 3 (Allen Ginsberg) to take on board the feedback I got from Una, Farrah and Marilyn and that involved some quite challenging reworking, mainly to put more of me into the case study rather than limiting that aspect largely to the inter-chapters. I also began processing the recorded interviews which I’ve been avoiding for some reason – it’s quite laborious in some respects but in practice it was enjoyable re-experiencing the conversations.
Last night I bumped into an elusive interviewee – the British Beat poet, Michael Horovitz. I was at the opening of the Richard Hamilton exhibition (another lover of Ulysses) at Tate Modern when I spotted him by a colourful picture of flowers in a vase with a turd neatly placed in front. I went up and said hallo, had a lovely chat and he sent me a link this morning to an excellent radio show (Private Passions) he featured in this past week on Radio 3 – you’ve only got 3 or 4 days left to listen to it, well worth an hour of your time, especially Michael’s performance at the very end with Damon Albarn and Paul Weller. (Creative connection: Damon’s mum designed sets for some Theatre Royal SE productions in the 60s.) Michael knew Allen Ginsberg and performed with him at the legendary First International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in June 1965. He has a lovely speaking voice, very old school, testimony to arriving as a young refugee from Nazi Germany around 1937/8 (exactly the same as my dad, though he from Frankfurt, my dad from Leipzig). As the youngest sibling he was guardian of the proper English accent, especially when it came to instructing father.
So that was another evening blown as far as the book is concerned, and now I’ve blown this one writing this post. However I did do Monday, under the new regime Tuesday was a legit night off, tonight I should have done an hour so I’ll make it up tomorrow and get back on track…
This time last night I was putting the plan into action. On leaving work I faced up to the hassles and bustle of the tube strike and managed to get myself into the West End. I walked up from Embankment to Forbidden Planet in St Giles’s and picked up a copy of a Dark Knight comic (along with my current fave, Sledgehammer 44). Phase 1 complete.
From there I headed across Soho to the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I dropped down into the screening room (where I was last for the classic in-the-making, The Wolf of Wall St, with Enfant Terrible No.1) to watch, for the second time, American Hustle. I wasn’t too taken with it on my first viewing on DVD – it felt a bit superficial and cold in the shadow of Silver Linings Playbook which was my top film of last year.
But it played much better for me on a huge screen – and all the better as Christian Bale, director/co-writer David O Russell and producer Charles Roven showed up in the modest-sized screening room and gave articulate insights into how the film works.
DOR placed the emphasis firmly on exploring “What’s worth living for” / “what people live for”. He also talked in terms of wanting to “find a way of loving [Irving Rosenfeld]” (the protagonist, based on a real person called Len Something). He picked up on his authenticity/sincerity and joie de vivre. And from there looking at how various pairs, from Irving and Sydney (Amy Adams) to Irving and the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), loved one another. So it was closer to Playbook than I had realised.
I asked one of the first questions – to Christian Bale. His Londonish accent (belying his Welsh roots) knocked my socks off. It must have already done the job on him as he was without socks and laces, reflecting a modest openness. He had mentioned that DOR’s way of directing gave him space and comfort to “try crazy stuff” as he played the scenes. Also David’s way of wielding a fluent and unpredictable camera meant the acting was whole body and exposed. So I asked, given this, ‘What crazy stuff did you try?’, probing for concrete examples. CB gave a long explanation, attentively directed at me in the second row, which made it clear that each take was deliberately different, a certain amount of improvisation or harking back to older versions of the script took place, and we ended up focused on the scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York where Irving tries to lure Carmine back in. It was a very full and thoughtful answer (see beard-stroking below).
After the Q&A the distributor invited us into an adjacent rather red bar for drinks. I chatted with the MC, Edith Bowman, as I lay in wait. Then as Christian Bale entered I was obliged to ambush to see through the plan. I whipped out the Dark Knight comic, another Batman comic Enfant Terrible No.2 had given me (one of his most treasured) and a good black pen. Christian was very Christian about it as I explained it was my delivering on the request of a 14 year old, apple of my eye. Phase 2 complete.
We had a good chat about how the film played better for me second time/how you sometimes need to be in a receptive state (his observation); his accent and its origins; and finally about the nature of the autograph requester: Enfant Terrible No.2 said to me as we were planning and I was walking along Old Compton St on the phone to him that if I could only get one signed, Aurel’s (the first one, a birthday present for his best friend) was the important one. Now that’s what’s worth living for. Mission accomplished.
I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?
Before I come back to the book writing, I’ve got something on my mind, a subject I’ve touched on before – serendipity, weird coincidences and strange connections. Here’s a few that have happened in the week and a bit between finishing my sabbatical and returning to my writing.
This letter popped through the letter box, all the way from Australia. Wrongly delivered to an incorrect address. It should have been about three or four miles down the road in Tufnell Park with someone I’ve never met or heard of.
It has the street number of our current house. But the road of our last house. That road name has nothing in common with our current road, different postcode area, not a similar name. As I say, the addressee is unknown to us and lives the other end of the road from where we used to live – 15 years ago. What are the chances?
Last Friday I was working at a production company in Carnaby Street. They are having a new mural done in the office by a talented local artist which I was lucky enough to get a preview of. I felt inspired as I walked out the offices to try something similar and resolved there and then to spend the evening making a picture. I’ve had a project in mind for a good few months based on the Shipping Forecast. I decided, as I walked along Carnaby Street, to combine these two things. What I needed was a word to base the design on. As I turned into Golden Square five minutes later I hit upon “Seaview” as an idea – it works well by containing both the notion of sea, the focus of the Shipping Forecast, and view, the point of this image. I was pleased with myself and stopped for a moment to put it into Evernote on my phone so I didn’t forget my brainwave. As I unlocked the phone a notification came up from FourSquare saying someone had liked a comment I left at Pentonville Prison. I don’t leave comments often, only when I’m feeling facetious and have time to kill, so this was a couple of years old. My way of using FourSquare, which frankly I hate as a concept, is to check in to places I haven’t been to. So my comment on the gaol was: “I don’t know what went wrong – I asked for the sea view”. That’s two minutes literally after I came up with the word for my picture- so “sea view” pops up a second time on a tip about HMP Pentonville from yonks ago. How Twilight Zone is that?
On 6th January I made a note in my diary to look up on YouTube an old TV series I remembered from my childhood – The Champions. On 12th January, the obituary of one of the three protagonists (Alexandra Bastedo), popped up in my paper. I hadn’t thought about The Champions in years.
I’m fascinated by these ‘coincidences’ because they range from the just plain bizarre (like the mis-delivered letter) to the ‘in the air’ and what’s most interesting is the grey area in the middle. Like when you hear a word for the first time …and it crops up a second time in the same day. I had a great one of those while I was writing the book. I was in Copenhagen and had a few hours to kill before going back to the airport so I went to the art museum called the Glyptotek. On the flight home I was reading a thriller set in Munich and up popped the word Glyptothek (with an H, the German version). So not just any word, but a really weird and obscure one.
Connections of the chance kind is a big part of Creativity hence my fascination. And part of the explanation I suspect lies in Louis Pasteur’s observation that “Chance favours the prepared mind” i.e. when our mental radar is switched on connections follow.
So back to the book writing. I finished writing the sales document on the Wednesday before last. The next morning I started back at Channel 4. I gave myself a week and a day off and now I start my new routine. I kept on track during the sabbatical by working 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. The follow-up regime is 1 hour per night weekdays, with two hours on weekend days, any missed hours on either count to be made up the next day. That gives 9 hours a week or a day a week. Let’s see how quickly that moves me on.
Tonight was the first day of the new routine. I fixed a couple of points in the sales doc based on feedback from my Other Half. Only she, a good friend of mine and my mum have read the first chapter in its entirety. I then went back to start the 3rd draft of the opening chapter based on their feedback which luckily was consistent. I hope to finish this pass by the end of the weekend at the latest. It feels good to be back at it.
Well, the day had to come – today is the last day of my sabbatical. It’s been a trip. I rounded this phase off by completing the Outline document to accompany the manuscript-to-date. It’s pretty substantial – 14 pages long – covering all the basics from target market to competition, from elevator pitch to marketing tactics.
Day 93 began with a phonecall from Terri Hooley, on his way to a funeral in Belfast. The dear departed in question, appropriately enough, was a second-hand bookseller who had got many a Belfast writer, poet, artist and musician into reading with a first inspirational tome. We chatted about the Good Vibrations movie being named No. 1 of 2013 by Mark Kermode (with Gravity no less at No.2). After that the day was bitty and I repaired to the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood (which has emerged as my favourite mobile office thanks to its tranquil and reliable emptiness and its sun-catching qualities) for some ultraviolet-assisted tapping away and the reward of some reading/research (Barry Miles’ Beat Hotel book). I knocked off early for a functional outing with the Enfants Terribles which proved a fun ending to a just moderately productive day.
Today was way more concentrated, with a complete pass at the Outline, which I think reads well. I had lunch with the Other Half at the local Italian to mark the occasion, then kept my head down, with accompaniment ranging from Day 1′s Hot Rats to my current craze, John Newman, until I finished at 7:15pm, just ten minutes to spare before I had to leave the house for an appointment.
I’ll write a separate post reflecting back on all 94 days later this week – I head back to Channel 4 tomorrow morning. The bottom line, I’ve had a liberating and creative time – and When Sparks Fly is nearer finished than not by a reasonable margin. My aim is to finish by the summer. At this point I’ll switch to weekly updates (this phase ends with Simple Pleasures part 4 having had over 567,000 views).
Did an interview today with Gary Kemp, musician and actor, driving force of Spandau Ballet. We’ve only met once before, briefly on Heddon Street, the day he unveiled the David Bowie plaque there. Des Shaw of Ten Alps introduced us. He’s a very well informed man who has thought carefully about music and art, creativity and society, so has interesting perspectives and ideas about various aspects of what I’m working on. We started by talking about the Preraphaelites and William Morris, of which he is a collector and aficionado – I’m thinking about combining Jeremy Deller and one of the Preraphaelites to make the Art case study have an underlying theme of industrialisation. Then we moved on to broader issues of Creativity, openness and generosity which lead us to the theme of Creative Gangs, particularly pertinent to working class boys in bands. When the British Beat-connected poet Michael Horovitz talks about Allen Ginsberg and his circle he often refers to them as a “boy gang”. I will centre one of the ‘inter-chapters’ on Creative Gangs, Risk and Uncertainty. We met in a cafe in Fitzrovia, his home turf these days, not a million miles from his native manor, Islington, where my Day 91 peregrination unravelled. Particularly enjoyable were the insights into the New Romantic club scene around Billy’s and Blitz, and the familial relationships of the Spandau gang and its circle. Gary went off after to the cutting room to finish the forthcoming feature documentary on Spandau Ballet.
The rest of the day was spent slogging through the first draft of the outline document, trying to refine the sales pitch to make clear the book is distinctive without being in any way wide of the mark or too out there, free-flowing without being unstructured, entertaining but with insight.
Embarked on the synopsis/sales document for this project beside the fire at the Adam & Eve on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway, using a model given me by the writer who pushed me over the tipping point into taking time away from the day job to do it in the first place. When I met her at Channel 4 in the course of my day-to-day work we got, in a meandering way, onto the subject of a book she had written and got published recently to do with Webby things and it was her explanation of the process and recounting of her experience which made it all feel doable and helped turn a long-term ambition into some action.
Day 91 began with a meeting with an old-school documentary film-maker at Kipferl at the Angel, Islington to discuss a creativity-related fund which he felt may be of use. As it turned out, the fund was probably a bit tangential but the discussion about Creativity-related stuff proved useful and illuminating. It got me to think more about attitudes to Uncertainty and Risk – I think I’ll centre one of the inter-chapters (my own jargon for the commentary between case studies) on this area, combined with the notion of the ‘creative gang’, as discussed with Gary Kemp (musician and actor, of Spandau Ballet) in an interview in a Fitzrovia cafe just now.
I headed up to Islington library to make camp for the rest of the day – based on the fact it was there that Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell defaced library books in a surreal and naughty way when they were living in the Angel. I’d never been inside before, passed it many times on the way up the Holloway Road and to my friend Bernard’s, but my image of the interior was entirely based on this association and my love of Joe Orton from sixth form days. The foundation stone was dated 16th June (which is Bloomsday) 1906 (two years after Ulysses is set) which I thought was propitious but as it turned out the outside is much more inspiring, with its busts of Spenser and Bacon (not the 20th century ones), than the inside which had no good spaces to work in. So I headed up to Highgate Hill, checked out whether the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution had any good space (nope, only for members), then settled down in Pain Quotidien to carry on with the outline doc. Was sitting next to two of the bitchiest schoolgirls I’ve ever had the misfortune to overhear – that kind of complacency and nastiness is the opposite of what When Sparks Fly is about. All the more reason to encourage a generous and open approach.
Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.
Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.
A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.
Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.
I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…
Spent the morning in Donnybrook on the Southside of Dublin at RTE. Took a moment to explore the set of their long-running soap, Fair City. Had been planning to head out to Sandycove where Joyce’s Martello Tower is located but it turned drizzly so I went the other direction, into town, and took refuge in the timecapsule that is the National Library of Ireland as described yesterday (Day 87).
I focused on completing an analysis/check of the structure and underlying principles of the finished Ginsberg opening chapter (by marking up the key themes in the margin as comments) and then cross-checking these against the principles I’d planned to convey. The match was good – only one point was missing which I inserted as a short paragraph.
I then worked on a distinctive feature of the book. Instead of the summaries/bullet points you often see in self-development titles and business how-to books at the end or beginning of chapters, I decided to take a more visual approach – a set of captioned photos which retrospectively illustrate the stories (i.e. you ultimately get to see what some of the characters and scenes you’ve been reading about actually looked like) and, as importantly, capture the key principles of the chapter (so, in effect, clear indication of how to apply the behaviour and perspectives communicated in the text to your life and work). I worked on the order and wording of the captions until I had a logical, flowing set of six.
I took a break at one point to check out the tea room and stumbled across a simple exhibition about Ulysses which the NLI had put together for the centenary Bloomsday nine years ago (which I actually flew over for). They had a touch-screen digital facsimile of the Library’s copy of Ulysses, the very first copy off the presses which Joyce presented to his patron, Harriet Weaver, in 1922 (it was published on Joyce’s 40th birthday on 2.2.22) who in turn presented to the National Library in 1958. I did my best to leaf through the opening pages by means of the clunky yet fascinating technology which aims to recreate the tangible sensations/properties of the hard copy (I’ve forgotten the name of it but they have it also at the British Library). I saw a copy of this first edition in an antiquarian booksellers’ catalogue (Southeran’s) recently for £45K. No wonder they don’t want fingers near the real thing.
Afterwards I headed over to Dame Street to hook up with my family/in-laws, before returning to Ballsbridge. Back at the hotel I read some more of The Beat Hotel and, once re-immersed in that world, searched for the photos for my patented picture summary. I found what I wanted, it was important to select carefully to convey the meaning accurately, and inserted them into the chapter creating a totally finished chapter for the first time. Hoorah.
Here are the images without their captions (but with functional captions for this context only):