Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Golden Afternoon (Day 13)

Had to deal with some practical shit first thing – our TalkTalk broadband is reaching the head-spinning speed of 4.85 Mbps download (service billed as “Up to 24 Mbps” – amazing what those short words “up to” let you get away with). Once I’d come through the dark morning of the soul which is trying to speak to TalkTalk customer services (did I mention my shit broadband is courtesy of TalkTalk?) I got straight down to writing and ploughed on with my faithful companion, Chapter One. Had to sacrifice a rather neat end of chapter because I couldn’t squeeze the new stuff I was covering into what I’d already written, it’s quite a tight structure where each paragraph flows into the next meaning I can’t make big insertions without messing up that flow. But who knows, there’s loads more to go into it so the neat ending may yet make it to the end.

Clarion Awards 2013

Helen holding my reflection

I used a tube journey into town to do some more reading about Robert McAlmon. Fascinating man (so far), drinking buddy of James Joyce while he was finishing Ulysses in Paris. My excursion was to attend the Clarion Awards at the kind invitation of the Bedtime Live team at Twofour Productions. These awards focus on communications in the ethical, enviromental, CSR and social engagement areas. Happily Bedtime Live Multiplatform won the Digital category so drinking kicked in relatively early for a Friday afternoon in a way Joyce would have approved of. The event took place in the BMA Building in Tavistock Square, designed by Lutyens, so it was good to get a sneaky peak at a London interior I’d not yet had the pleasure of. It is also on the site of one of Dickens’ homes. Across the square is a bust of Virginia Woolf located within her Bloomsbury manor. At least there was some writerliness about the afternoon.

And so the writing week petered out in a glow of autumn sunshine bathing cross-legged Gandhi in the Tavistock Square gardens. He’s one of the case-study subjects of Creating Minds by Howard Gardner, recommended to me by the very supportive Mark Earls (author of Herd). That tome (Gardner’s)  blows apart the unalloyed saintliness of Gandhi, highlighting how his genius was in relating on a mass political scale while his ability to relate to family in particular on a one-to-one basis was abject failure and hard-hearted. I headed home to relate to family on a one-to-one basis.

My younger brother came round with his boys and I took delight in sharing my favourite drummer with my ten year old nephew who drums. I showed him (and my step-father who also drums, of the Archer Street generation) Michael Shreeve’s solo at Woodstock with Santana. One of the best ever and he was only n-n-nineteen.

Virginia Woolf

Have laptop will travel (Day 12)

Richard and Adam Johnson

Johnson & Johnson

I decided to have a change of scene today so that my 9 to 5 doesn’t become too much of a routine and stays fun. Have laptop will travel. So I started the day at a breakfast event put on by an agent (nothing directly to do with the book, a Channel 4 work thing, though I was hoping to catch up with Konnie Huq to ask her about Tony Wilson whose path she crossed earlier on in her career but she wasn’t at this gathering, we chatted at the last one back in March).

This time out I got to talk with ITV’s charming Kate Garraway (it’s not going to be a dull first conversation when the verb “lactating” features early on); inventor Tom Lawton demoed for me the 360 degree video camera lens he’s invented for smartphones (he’s soon to feature with his six-year old son in the Channel 4 series Tom & Barney Go Back to the Future) and I caught up with Dr Ellie Cannon to compare notes about our forthcoming show Health Freaks launching on 14th October). Arlene Phillips, Andrew Lamberty (one of the original room occupants from Channel 4’s entertaining Four Rooms), Denise van Outen, Amanda Byram and the like were also in the melee. I had a chat with the dapper Richard and Adam Johnson who are busy recording their album of Christmas songs in the depths of Surrey, nice lads and they didn’t mind my Johnson & Johnson gag.

Shakey Restored

Shakey Restored

On departure from The Ivy Club I headed over to Leicester Square for some al fresco reading in front of the newly restored statue of Shakey, no better place for some writing inspiration. I was reading about Robert McAlmon who I’m considering for a case study centred on Publishing. He was in the inner circle of the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris and has links via William Carlos Williams and Louis Ginsberg (pere) with Allen Ginsberg, subject of my first case study, the Literature one, which might make for an interesting web of connections. Connections is a key theme in the book, being central to creativity.

So tranquil it can be too much for the weaker ones

So tranquil it can be too much for the weaker ones

From there just a matter of yards to the house where Newton played host to Wren, Swift and Halley by the then Leicester Fields. It is now (and has been for some time) the Westminster Central Reference Library, a lovely tranquil and bookish place to work. I got a good couple of hours’ writing in, mainly about Ginsberg’s friendliness and desire to connect.

I rounded off the day in St Martin’s Lane meeting Ruth MacKenzie, the indefatigable woman behind last year’s Cultural Olympiad for London 2012. She had some really good suggestions from her extensive network in and knowledge of European arts which she generously shared over a fresh mint tea.

I’m now writing this in the gloaming in Dollis Valley, North London, where the trees are getting into full autumn mode and the soundtrack is the twitter of the genuinely interesting variety. There’s little more satisfying than getting the MacBook Air into the fresh air.


WordPress is telling me today is my 7th anniversary with the service – how time flies… 49 dog years, 98 internet years

Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie (Day 11)

the beatles rooftop performance

Well, that worked out OK. I came back to the bit that was giving me the headache last night and navigated my way through, weaving my way back to the backbone of the story. Very much a matter of heads down, plough on, get through the work. I haven’t read back what I’ve written so far and plan to have a read through with my Mrs before the end of the week just to see if the stories are good and captivating.

I’ve focused on a narrative layer, as well structured as I can make it in the flow of writing, with little analysis or theory. That will be added as a subsequent layer and then the whole thing will need tidying up and probably editing down. Today I broke the back of the section on The Beatles’ business affairs as well as the sequence looking at how Ginsberg ran his foundation. Tomorrow will be about integrating a miscellany of Ginsberg stories and observations.

Russian Doll (Day 10)

Wrangling Cats

One of the things that makes this writing lark so challenging is having to carry so much in your head while trying to marshall a web of interconnecting thoughts. Today’s writing, which follows up yesterday’s Southern Rail induced train of thought, has left me with some satisfaction and a headache as I tried to write the section comparing Allen Ginsberg’s foundation with The Beatles Apple corporation. I decided, contrary to the original plan, to intercut the two visions for investment in creativity. That wasn’t too complicated. But then side stories grew from this as I tried to fill in some detail around the beneficiaries of funding. Which in turn connected themselves to other parts of Ginsberg’s story from other periods. So I come away from the day feeling like a man who has been wrangling the proverbial cats. I’m just hoping I can get back into the flow tomorrow with a reasonable sense of where I’m going and where I’m trying to get back to.


Train of Thought (Day 9)


It wasn’t looking too good. I had to start the day writing a script for a Channel 4 project because it fell between the stools of the TV indie and the digital indie, neither felt comfortable doing it so I had to get hands-on. Then my mum dropped by as it was our wedding anniversary as well as one of the Enfant Terribles birthday, so she came bearing cards. Next my brother shows up for similar reasons. At which point I have to leave for Brighton to do a little turn at Culture24’s Let’s Get Real conference on arts and digital, something I committed to before knowing I’d be on sabbatical. So far, so no work done.

I get on the train to Brighton. Hedge my bets a bit by broaching some more research – focusing on The Beatle’s Apple corporation through Denis O’Dell’s memoir, At the Apple’s Core. Then brace myself and dive in. Back in to Chapter One, integrating the last batch of notes that went in, ploughing through paragraph by paragraph and getting up some sort of flow.

A brief interlude in Brighton where I nabbed a Farley’s Rusks Shakeaway; bought an illustrated, beautifully bound Folio edition of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (from the aforementioned Brighton Books – they still had a 1968 first American edition of Jane Fletcher’s book on Ginsberg left over from my last visit in the summer); had a brief chat with my pal Anthony (Lilley) of Magic Lantern;  did the gig at The Dome Studio; and headed for home.

The choo choo rhythm was just as conducive to writing on the way back so all-in-all it ended as a satisfying day.

(photo courtesy of Bob Orsillo


Today’s wisdom from the posting mechanism of WordPress to prove it’s not just me that feels the daunt:

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Stephen King

I don’t think he only meant writing the very first words – he may well also mean each time you come back to it

Gilt Trip (Days 6-8)

As foreseen, Day 6 was a reading day since I was on the move, heading over to Derry (currently the UK’s first City of Culture so at least some degree of appropriateness for a budding author) to speak at CultureTech. Focused on the Advertising chapter, reading through a couple of Paul Arden’s short books to get a feel for the man from that perspective. I ploughed through a creativity title, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be (2003), intriguingly billed by Art publisher Phaidon as “The World’s Best-selling Book”. Always thought that was a close race between the equally preposterous The Bible and The Da Vinci Code. On the subject of which, I then had a go at 2007’s God Explained in a Taxi Ride.

an grianan ailigh

The next day was my birthday. My first 0 writing work day since beginning. Starting out from the much-loved Beech Hill, I did a speaking gig at The Playhouse theatre in Derry with Mina Dimintrova, Content Partnerships Manager from YouTube and a couple of smart Israelis in the soft- and hard-ware businesses (one who’s just sold his company to Samsung for plenty of millions of dollars). After that I walked round the city walls to the Verbal Arts Centre for lunch, signing Seamus Heaney’s condolences book while there. I popped into the Guildhall during the afternoon with my other half to look at the room where we were married – it has now been transformed from the council chamber as it was back then to an exhibition about the Plantation of Ulster. It is one of the best museum displays I’ve seen in a very long time, presenting a complex story through interactivity which was unforced and illuminating. From there  we walked over to the old shirt factory where we met the artist Rita Duffy, a collaborator of Heaney’s associate Paul Muldoon. Rita showed us around the shirt-themed exhibition and initiative she’s set up in the old factory with the help of producer Margot Harkin, producer of Hush a Bye Baby, an early Channel 4-backed film through the Derry Film Co-op.

The highlight of my non-work day and big birthday came next. We cabbed it out of the city to the ancient fort high on a hill to the West of Derry, just into Donegal. Grianan Ailigh is my favourite place in the world. It’s no accident I found myself up there at dusk on this special day (birthday also of John Martyn, Mick Talbot, Herbert Lom and DH Lawrence) with no strangers around – just with two old friends and my wife up on the walls drinking probably the first ever Kir Royales downed on the ancient circle of stone.

Day 7 was still away from base, over in Derry. I went to lunch at multi-award-winning head chef Ian Orr’s well regarded Browns restaurant on the Waterside.  After a fabulous lunch he kindly came out to discuss candidates for open and generous chefs. I’ve had various in mind so wanted to test them against Ian’s broad experience. The rest of the day was more reading and research – Gertrude Stein & Alice Toklas and lastly the evolutionary role of altruism.

The week rounded off with a trip to Amsterdam to do a pair of speaking gigs at the IBC conference – the first with multiplatform colleagues from CBC in Canada and SRF in Switzerland (Hansruedi Schoch, Director of Programmes) ; the second a jolly affair with Seb Royce, Diane Glynn and Toby L during which we reinvented the likes of Top of the Pops, Thriller and Cheers for the 21st century of interactivity and brands. Before leaving for City Airport I managed to get the next layer of raw material into the Ginsberg chapter ready for integration into the text. I am daunted to some degree by the act of marshalling so many strands of thought and have a sense it will get messy and out of control before it comes back together.  I’ll start Week 3 with another big writing push to conquer my anxiousness by absorbing more material. The rest of Day 8 was devoted to the strange pair that were Stein & Toklas, getting a good grounding in their dynamics of creative co-dependency but not about Stein’s relationship with Picasso and that circle of visual artists, the core of this story if there is one to be extracted.

Bottom line, I need to be patient with myself, no guilt, just plough on consistently with writing and research, and follow my old friend Carol Muskoron’s adage:

Don’t Get It Right, Get It Written.


Here’s the words of wisdom WordPress threw up on posting this piece:

I do not like to write – I like to have written.

Gloria Steinem

Back on the horse (Day 5)

Judyth Greenburgh

After a bit of a party weekend (which wiped out Friday) I got back to it this morning, albeit with battalions of brain cells dead and wounded. This morning I carried on transferring margin notes from research material into my draft Chapter 1 on Ginsberg – a good solid bit of graft so that I made progress without too much recourse to brain.

Early afternoon I headed up to Camden Town to meet an old friend, Judyth Greenburgh, to get some insight into Paul Arden, Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi in the early 80s when she first entered the world of advertising and became a protege of his at the age of 19. He was clearly a complex man so my jury remains out as to the degree to which his creative activity was open or generous. The story of Judyth’s professional relationship with Arden was both fascinating and moving, two very strong-willed creatives going head-to-head, one refreshingly naive and the other mysterious in his motivations, other than a commitment to art and excellence which was incontrovertible. I’m going to have to sound out more people who worked with him to decide whether to plough that furrow any further.

Back for more graft on Ginsberg, trying to figure out in the process how best to organise these transferred notes for easy integration into the text, balancing out detailed referencing back to the sources with speed to keep a decent momentum. The sense of learning as you go along is exciting.

Judyth Greenburgh

Tomorrow I’m on the move, heading for Derry, so it will be largely a reading day.

Maslow’s heirarchy of needs revised to include wifi

This thought has crossed my mind too…



I came across this in Facebook and couldn’t find a source to credit, so here it is uncredited. Variations of it pop up everywhere, which is not surprising since it’s really very true! (If you’re unfamiliar with the original theory, check it out at Wikipedia.)

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In The Beginning (Day 4)

william burroughs

Today was the Big One.  I started writing It.

I began the day in an appropriate spot – at the British Library.  Passing Eduardo Paolozzi’s ‘Newton (after Blake)’ (with a momentary pause to whack it onto Big Art Mob, using the app available for free at your friendly local Apple app store), I settled down at a table outside The Last Word cafe. I had the first word more in mind – which turned out to be “He”. I was here to talk science with author and New Scientist writer Michael Brooks. He’s got some cracking factual books under his belt like Free Radicals and 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense. He gave generously of his time to help me pin down the front-runners for my Science case studies. He also threw new light on the Open Genome project and gave a fresh way into that story which I hope to pursue.

It was a lovely leisurely conversation so I didn’t get back to my writing desk til early afternoon at which point I transcribed the opening paragraph from the back of my Allen Ginsberg tome [see yesterday’s post], refined it a bit and then (and this wasn’t really planned) just ploughed on through Chapter 1, perhaps breaking the back of it.

So here’s how it starts…

He had an unfortunate combination of interests – drugs and guns. Oh, and writing. That’s how, off his face, he came to shoot his beloved wife in the face. And be in Tangier, one step ahead of the law, stoned at his typewriter.

william burroughs at his typewriter

Foreplay (Day 3)

judd apatow

Used the morning to finish off the notey stuff. It’s interesting how certain things keep coming up over time from different quarters, which was evident reviewing all the bits and pieces I’ve gathered since the Spring. Joan Littlewood and Judd Apatow are among the names that kept recurring so what’s not to like about that kind of research?

I retired to the sun dappled garden for midday reading of Rosie Millard’s The Tastemakers (to look at the modi operandi of the likes of young Damien Hirst and Michael Craig-Martin) and interspersed it with a bit of Agatha Christie (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) for some light relief.

The afternoon was a bit of a break-through session as I mapped out the overall structure of the book and then started drilling down into the structure and components of Chapter 1 which focuses on Allen Ginsberg. In the process of the latter I was able to clarify for myself my writing method which is to be story-driven and layered, but in a slightly different way from my normal method of writing on computer in order to capture the flow and energy, and avoid being over-structured.

Got caught up with some displacement activity after that – tidying up my research books from the last few months and getting a copy of Tricky’s latest LP, False Idols, to accompany the tapping of keys.

So tomorrow will centre on fleshing out Chapter 1 content including inserting the first paragraph which I wrote out back on the terrace of Channel 4 one lunchtime a few weeks ago. I was suddenly inspired by a book I was reading about Ginsberg, a great 60s copy luckily picked up in the always charming Brighton Books (Kensington Gardens, Brighton) on a day trip to Rottingdean with my friend Marit. It’s scribbled in pencil on the inside back cover which is as it should be.

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