Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Web of intrigue (Day 19)

independent slogan

Started the new week by focusing on the Advertising chapter. Wrote up a few notes from the last of Paul Arden’s three books that I read, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite. Increasingly I can see a real value in these peculiar volumes for the young in particular, to help them be bolder and less fearful.

I then dived into my first bit of full-on web research, including ploughing through the condolence book messages people left online in 2008 when Arden took the taxi ride to God. They are very varied so I really feel I now have the measure of the man, clearly complex and extraordinary, so well worthy of being the primary subject of a chapter.

Most of my research to date has been book based and I was deliberately hanging back a bit from getting engulfed in web trawling too early.

I’ll need to start setting up the Advertising interviews tomorrow. I’ve already done some pre-meets/calls. For this chapter the interviews will be the main source of the stories which serve to propel the reader through.

I rounded off the day absorbing the material I received at the tail-end of last week from a 60s poet for the Ginsberg Literature chapter.

I didn’t get through everything I planned for today but made OK progress and knocking off on the dot of 5 with unseemly haste means I can write this on my phone sitting outside Amici nursing my cappy in the golden autumnal evening light, before trotting twenty yards down the hill to the Phoenix Cinema to see the Hannah Arendt movie with a Q&A with the director Margarethe Von Trotta.

Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Matter

I love this project by Jordan Matter at – a beautifully simple concept for reinvigorating the everyday. Some images really nail it, others are perhaps a bit overthought.

It reminds me of Channel 4’s Jump London (dir: Mike Christie) and Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book

Marilyn Monroe, 1959

Marilyn Monroe, 1959

Sebastien Foucan, 2003

Sebastien Foucan, 2003

Dodgy Facebook advertising

Dodgy Facebook advertising

Devaluing the already dubious Like (no connection between the question and liking the brand)

I wonder how long this will last?

I wonder how long this will last?

The ‘question’ here was “Hit like if you’re getting FIFA 14 today?”

BTW I think Spurs can beat Chelsea today – not too long to wait before the Portuguese Men of War go at it…

Chapter 7 (Day 18)


A Paul Arden classic

Decided to take a break from Chapter One by broaching a second chapter (which is actually Chapter Seven), the one about Advertising. Using the same method I used to kick off the first one, I lifted a broad structure out of my overall structure document and began filling it in with my main thoughts, especially the principles illustrated by the primary case study, in this case Paul Arden, Creative Director and Author. I spent the day focusing on the three illustration/typographically lead books he published through art publisher Phaidon, as well as gathering a few other bits and pieces I’d gathered through speaking to his erstwhile colleagues.

Took a break to do a script meeting for Channel 4’s Health Freaks in Kentish Town where the indie, Outline, is based. Enjoyable contrast.

Then back to base for a chat with Michael Morris of Artangel to confirm my Art case study which will be a pairing, Jeremy Deller and (probably) Laurie Anderson. The whole matter of getting enough women into the book is tricky, illuminating in itself of both historic gender issues and on-going ones.

I knocked off a bit early for a trip to Crouch End with the other half. I’m my own boss and nothing if not sympathetic.

Suits You, Sir (Day 17)

After a bruising day yesterday I felt less keen to don my Writing Suit this morning. So I started the day in the sunny corner of the garden doing a meditation. I learnt a way of meditating through Headspace by chance via a Channel 4 encounter. Christian O’Connell swears by it. And it works for me too, Got me on a bit more of an even keel – should start more of my writing days like this rather than heading straight for the computer.

Refreshed I donned this Writing Suit – half Michael Franti / half London 2012.

writing suit

I repaired to the outdoor office with my trusty furry Research Assistant and a pile of books. Finished off a Beatles book, ploughed on with a Beat one and broached a Joan Littlewood. Chased a research call at ArtAngel and a university link-up in Northern Ireland. And then a note came in from my unpromising poet interviewee from yesterday which had some really useful material in it. In other words, things were looking up.

I wrote a possible ending for Chapter 1 as well, inspired by the reading. Tomorrow I’ll treat myself to a change of scene by focusing half on Theatre/Littlewood and half on Advertising/Arden. Oh yes, a colleague of Paul Arden’s also got in touch today through Facebook and gave a hook to hang that chapter on – namely Arden’s belief that once you have an idea and bring it into the world, it’s no longer simply yours…


Today’s words of wisdom from WordPress (which brings up random quotes as you publish the post):

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

Gustave Flaubert

‘Discovery’ is bang on – Stella Duffy shared much the same in her own words yesterday

Dead Beat (Day 16)

Carolyn cassady

A first set back. Today I started setting up interviews. Or that was the plan…

I began by talking to Jemima KIss at The Guardian’s Technology section about her preferred methods and tech for recording interviews, live and over the phone. No point reinventing the wheel. My Live Scribe recorder is en route (Jemima’s strong recommendation from a chat we had a couple of months ago at the launch of Aleks Krotoski’s new book Untangling the Web). She gave me some very practical tips from her considerable experience, including a strong preference for conducting interviews face to face.

As we were drawing to an end, Jemima unwittingly dropped a bomb-shell. Had I seen the lovely obituary for Carolyn Cassady in The Times the other day? That was the second interview I was planning to set up. She passed away on Friday. I knew Carolyn, ex-wife of Beat protagonist Neal Cassady, was a ripe old age around 90 and at the back of my mind was a doubt as to whether she’d be fit to talk, but nonetheless I was really looking forward to meeting her (she’s been living, conveniently, in Berkshire since the early 80s) and had written a sensitive set of questions (given that people were always going to her to talk about the men in her life, not her self) in the back of my copy of her book Off The Road. Not to be. Good for her as she had been alone for half a century or more, and I hope will get to see Neal again, and he’ll be a bit wiser with old age and immateriality. Bad for me but I just had to take it on the chin and learn something about moving quickly (had I approached her as soon as I had the notion to interview her rather than doing loads of research first I might have struck lucky).

Taking the cue, I got in touch with my first planned interviewee who I’d heard loved to talk. He was a bit terse. Not quite the model of openness and generosity. But he is also quite an age and not so well. It may yet work out but I won’t hold my breath.

The rest of the day went a bit better. I was trying to pin down my Theatre case study and my number one suspect is looking good. I had a delightful phone conversation with dramatist and novelist Stella Duffy (always loved the name Stella thanks to Hal Hartley but my other half wasn’t open to it due to Northern Irish connotations, on top of which we never had a girl). Stella confirmed Joan Littlewood as a sound choice. She is currently driving a really interesting project to realise an unfulfilled vision of Joan’s – Fun Palaces where regular people could participate and collaborate in the arts and other cultural activity without having to consume and be talked at or down to.

Stella gave a great writing tip – be clear what you want people to FEEL when reading your stuff and then keep those feelings in mind as you write. I think that sounds like a very sound bit of advice which will make an impact in the writing and will apply it immediately. To some extent I think I have instinctively but can certainly up that sensibility as I push on. As I push on with resilience, with stuff upper lip, with courage mon brave…

The Box

box of 50 records

So the idea was simple: 50 songs from 50 friends/family to mark 50 years. All in a box decorated by the Enfants Terribles. In short, Now That’s What I Call a Birthday Present 50.

Various people asked me what was in The Box so I’ve finally gotten round to listing the gifts, all 7″ vinyl singles. There turned out to be 65 songs in the box as some people decided to give one song per decade, some very naturally hedged their bets as choosing just one is tough as we all know from Desert Island Discs and the like. (There’s no special significance about the first nine, that’s just how WordPress decided to cut&paste and the wisdom of five decades dictates that life’s too short to tidy up such things.)

  1. She Loves You – The Beatles [Jonathan & Julie] (No. 1 the weekend after I was born)
  2. Righteous Man – Little Roy [Nigel]
  3. One by One – Ruefrex (Good Vibrations) [Conor & Aoife] (given to him by Terry Hooley)
  4. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys [Meabh & Orla] (I gave them Pet Sounds – the first CD they ever owned)
  5. Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan [Sean]
  6. I Want That Man – Deborah Harry [Maura]
  7. Carmen – Malcolm McLaren [Maura]
  8. Higher & Higher – Jackie Wilson [Patsy]
  9. From Me to You – The Beatles [Anthony & Ruth]

box of 50 records

10. Send Another Moses – The Willows (CoxSone) [Neil]

11. Run Run – Delroy Wilson (Studio One) [Neil]

12. Door Peeper – Burning Spear [Neil]

13. There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards – Ian Dury [Neil]

14. Telegram Sam – T-Rex [Neil]

15. Something – The Beatles [Neil]

16. Double Barrel – Dave & Ansil Collins [Neil]

17. The Ayatollah Song – Not the 9 O’Clock News [Dave & Nicole]

18. Murphy’s Law – Cheri [Elizabeth & Des]

19. Close to Me – The Cure [Eileen] (we saw them live together in Wembley Arena)

20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd [Matthew]

21. LA Woman – The Doors [Jon]

22. Cat People – David Bowie [Jon]

23. Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan [Jon]

24. Wet Dream – Max Romeo [Peter]

25. Go Wild in the Country – Bow Wow Wow [Judyth]

26. Modern Love – David Bowie [Mike] (we saw him together live in Grenoble on the Serious Moonlight tour)

27. A Paris – The Style Council [Mike] (we once bumped into each other totally by chance in the Louvre)

28. Speak Like A Child – The Style Council [Mike] (Mick Talbot shares the same birthday)

29. Universal Soldier – Donovan

30. Young Parisians – Adam & The Ants [Noah]

31. Pictures of Lily – The Who [Dylan] (he wanted My Generation but couldn’t find it – I taught him how to spell WH question words using a photo of Keith Moon’s drumkit)

32. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron [Dan & Steff] (we saw him together at Somerset House shortly before he died)

33. Denis – Blondie [Paul] (we went to see them as his first and my second gig)

34. Thank You Very Much, Mr Eastwood – Dermot Morgan [Elizabeth-Ann]

35. Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra [Cecelia] (we both adore Frank)

36. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye [Stuart]

37. Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin [Stuart]

38. The Celtic Soul Brothers – Dexy’s Midnight Runners [Stuart] (he mispronounced ‘Celtic’ in his best-man’s speech at our wedding)

39. Baby I Love You – The Ronettes [Seth]

40. Live at Hollywood High – Elvis Costello [Joan]

41. The Next Day – David Bowie [Ela]

42. Shady Lane – Pavement [Alfie]

43. Congratulations – Cliff Richard [Annie]

44. Blanket on the Ground – Billie Jo Spears [Annie]

45. Ernie – Benny Hill [Dan]

46. Tears of a Clown – The Beat [Dan]

47. Ball of Fire – The Orb & Lee Scratch Perry [Sarah]

48. Nelson Mandela – Amy Winehouse [Farrah]

49. It’s a Sin – Pet Shop Boys [Anita & Don]

50. Nothing Compares 2U – Sinead O’Connor [Maud] (my favourite female voice)

51. Irish Heartbeat (Billy Connolly) [Maud]

52. A Dreams A Dream – Soul II Soul [Maud]

53. Take It Easy – The Wilf Brothers [Maud]

54. Dedication – Thin Lizzy [Maud]

55. Round About Midnight – Miles Davis [Una] (Debbie Gould sang this magnificently at my party)

56. Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Bob Dylan [Una] (we named a son after him)

57. Breakfast in Bed – Lorna Bennett [Sue]

58. Wildwood – Paul Weller [Sue]

59. Streets of London – Ralph McTell [Katherine]

60. September – Earth Wind & Fire [Ja]

61. Life’s What You Make It – Talk Talk [Ja]

62. Reasons to Be Cheerful – Ian Dury [Ja] (source of Simple Pleasures blogs)

63. Running Up That Hill – Kate Bush [Ja]

64. 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band [Ja] (my first gig)

65. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division [Ja]

Late Additions:

66. The Boys Are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy [Eddie]

Out of Office (Day 15)

Began the day revisiting the last stuff I wrote yesterday afternoon which I wasn’t as pleased with as previous writing. It wasn’t actually too bad but was certainly improved by a bit of revision and polishing. The second pass editing (i.e. at the end of the complete first draft i.e. yonks away) will be critical in taking the whole thing up a gear.

Next I started setting up my first interview. That’s going to be a vital layer of the text. I’ve been putting it off a bit as I’m not 100% sure how best to record and process interviews live and over the phone. Jemima Kiss of The Guardian recommended a bit of gear called Live Scribe so I took her advice and indulged in some Amazon. It should arrive on Thursday. I saw it in action a couple of years ago when being interviewed by some academics from the London College of Printing/University of the Arts – difficult to make a judgement without seeing the uploading stage. I’ll report back in due course on how I find it as a tool.

My desk

My desk

Since my next task was to process/work laboriously through some other Beat research notes (last lot) I opened a new office on a rug in the garden. At this point my working attire didn’t even involve a second piece aka a top. I broke up the slog with some more Beatles research which is always light relief.

Clocked out at 5pm for a jog in the last gasp of autumn sunshine – tough life.

My research assistant

My research assistant

First light (Day 14)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

Sitting in a cafe at Marylebone Station on Sunday morning the book, let’s call it When Sparks Fly for now, got its first airing. I read half of Chapter One to my other half. I hadn’t even read it back to myself yet, other than in bits and pieces. Bottom line, she found it engaging, followable and made up of stories she enjoyed hearing. Which was encouraging. Because at this stage I have no real idea how I’m doing.

The story point is particularly essential. Many books of the type I’m trying to write hit the Pareto rule junction. A vestige of maths or physics lessons at school, I can’t even remember which any more, this is the rule about 80% of the effects coming from 20% of the causes. Or, as here applied, you squeeze 80% of the juice out of a book from 20% of the effort. What that usually looks like is: Chapter 1 – here’s my model, here are some brief illustrations. And the model is good, the examples interesting, but by the end of Chapter 1 I’ve got the idea and I reach the junction. Get out while I’m ahead, I’ve grasped the idea, I’ve only expended 20% of the time and effort? Or plough on for the other 80%?

That’s why I started writing this book in a different way from how I’d normally write. I began with a narrative only layer, a sequence of what I hope are interesting and funny and moving stories which illustrate my points – but not much by way of analysis or theory. What was interesting in the read-through was that my wife questioned the need for much analysis and the question arose of how far the stories spoke for themselves, the implications for creative practice for the most part being pretty evident.

On the train journey to Warwick I also came up with an unusual way of summarising the principles, not a way I’ve ever seen, more visually driven. So that’s some good writing progress on the Brighton train this week, an original idea on the Warwick train, a writing landmark in Patisserie Valerie in Marylebone Station, an insightful meeting with Ruth MacKenzie in Notes cafe, St Martin’s Lane. Perhaps the best way of doing this kind of thing is to travel from place to place by train and stop in at cafes along the way.

Chris Ward, author of Out of Office, kindly got in touch the same day in the wake of reading this blog with the offer of a coffee house meeting to discuss the role of the hot black stuff in creativity and related matters so I may chuck the contribution of choo-choos into the conversation.

How To Write a Novel #3*

Insightful thoughts on the creative writing process

Not Writing But Blogging

(esp for theatre types)

Ever since I was working on my first book, 20 years ago (next year is the 20th anniversary of Serpent’s Tail’s publication of Calendar Girl), theatre-making friends have said :
“I’d like to write a book.”
“I have a book I want to write.”
“I really want to write a book.”
“I could do that.” (Oh yes, they have.)

And, usually, they haven’t.

Yesterday I was emailing with a highly-respected director and improviser/improv-teacher. We were emailing about a project of his and he expressed concern that he’d not written a book before so he didn’t know how to do it.
Concern is fine. It’s normal, and right and proper when embarking on a big brand new thing. It’s far more useful than arrogance and certainty that it’s all going to be easy and you know exactly what you’re doing because you’re so brilliant and always…

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