Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page
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):
You could call it bathos, you could call it homage, but it felt like a good idea plugging into the Joyce vibe whilst in Dublin, channelling some of that energy into When Sparks Fly. So I’m writing this in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street which Leopold Bloom visits to check up on an old ad he’d placed in a Dublin paper. As previously mentioned in relation to Sylvia Beach/Publishing and in this blog pre-sabbatical, I’m a real lover of Ulysses.
This reading room can’t have changed much since 1904 when Ulysses is set. It’s remiscent of the Reading Room in the old British Library with its pastel colours (here green, there blue) and circular ceiling (here a semi-circle extended into a barrel vault, there totally circular). The only time I ever did any research in that venerable circle was to look up an out-of-print Dr Seuss book (The Big Leap) with a TV project in mind. Here I haven’t even got a Dr Seuss book as I believe you need a reader’s ticket to work in here so I’m an illegal and daren’t monkey with the books in case I get turfed out. It’s drizzly out there and I like this place so head down, eyes on my fries, try not to attract attention. That librarian over there with the Victorian beard and red tie looks like he could turn nasty.
So I got a bit of writing in yesterday (Sunday) to catch up a bit on the slack days at the end of last week, did a bit more before leaving for the airport, and finished off late in the afternoon in my room in Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge, South Dublin, an old masonic school. I finished my second draft of Chapter 1 on Allen Ginsberg after a whole week, longer than I expected but at least it reads well and I finally have a polished draft to use as my model chapter.
On the way over I read Barry Miles’ book about the Beat Hotel in preparation for my interview with him next month and as deep research for the Ginsberg chapter. I picked up my copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris on Day 53 and visited its location on Rue Git-le-Coeur the same afternoon, another enjoyable literary pilgrimage.
Once I got to the hotel, with the winter late afternoon light fast fading, before settling down to writing I headed down the Sandymount Road opposite the hotel to get some air. I passed a hotel opposite where I once co-wrote a film entitled Memories Are Made of This (with a suitable Doris Day soundtrack). A block down I came, unexpectedly, to an urban cottage on a corner which a brass plaque indicates to be the birthplace of WB Yeats.
I carried on down to the coast, beyond the DART railway, and through a slice of Dublin 4 where I came out at Sandymount Strand, the sun now down and an almost full moon now out, reflected in the wet sand of the broad beach at low tide. I walked up to the Martello Tower, not The Martello Tower but a Martello Tower in the same coastal chain as the famous one in which the opening scene of Ulysses is set. That’s four and a half miles further down on Sandycove Point. I was hoping to go down there this afternoon but the weather’s too Irish (in contrast to yesterday afternoon at this time) so I’ll try again tomorrow and for now make do with the Library which is new Ulysses territory for me (the Tower I’ve been in before, notably on the centenary BloomsDay in 2004).
I went down onto the Strand in the silvery light. A few dog walkers and joggers provided occasional punctuation but largely I was alone with my lunatic self. I took out the ol’ iPhone and on it I have two books – Kidnapped (which I’ve never got far into) and Ulysses. This electronic copy is the vehicle for my slow 4th reading, running in parallel to my further advanced 3rd reading of my trusty hardback copy. I opened the Eucalyptus app and on the very page I had previously reached was Gertie (MacDowell)’s name, the girl Bloom watches (in a naughty way) on this very strand. I leafed forwards a few pages to get Stephen Daedalus out of the stiffling school he teaches in and onto his walk into Dublin down Sandymount Strand. As he walks onto the beach it’s a philosophically charged moment, he has his eyes closed and is wondering what status the world has on the other side of his eyelids, whether and how it exists without being the focus of his conscious mind.
“I am getting on nicely in the dark … Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”
Bloom later crosses Stephen’s path on the strand (Stephen by then long gone) when he spots Gertie and the girls and has a vigorous flight of fancy. Opposite the beach, in the distance, is Howth Head where the book climaxes.
I read for a bit on the illuminated screen on the illuminated beach then headed back to write.
For the evening I made for the gates of Trinity College to meet a colleague from RTE with whom I’m working tomorrow. Chat and food and a little drink was partaken of.
Who does that librarian remind me of? It’s really bugging me now. Lytton Strachey? Roger Casement? No, it’s someone alive and closer to home…
I came home, did a little more writing, read a bit more of The Beat Hotel in a hotel room far removed from Room 32 of M. Rachou’s establishment, no radio coming from the sink plughole or any other eccentric plumbing, no rationed hot water or limiting of the electric light to 40W, no smells of garlic, or of worse from the Turkish-style two foot position squatty hole arrangement so typical of Paris back in the day. You can’t build an empire on crappy plumbing as our very own Bazalgette, forbear of the man who brought the magnificent ordure of Big Brother to Channel 4, proved. I suspect the pipes in the Tower also left something to be desired, but then you got to shave outdoors overlooking the snot green sea so what’s to complain about. It’s a fair city indeed.
Two days where relatively little done on the book and yet filled with surrounding stuff which feels of the same spirit, worthwhile and somehow connected.
Day 85 was just slow to start, had a run when the sun showed up mid-morning for a while and got caught up with other stuff – sorting out a trip to Ireland next week, writing to an old friend and exchanging emails with the excellent David McCandless of Information is Beautiful and the insightful Mark Stevenson of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Did a bit of polishing of Ginsberg chapter then had to do Enfants Terribles related stuff so by the time I dropped off ET No. 2 at a lesson in the afternoon I’d not that much done. But I repaired to the Adam & Eve on The Ridgeway in Mill Hill village with trusty Air at hand and, sitting by the fire, got up more of a head of steam. As I reached the section on Apple Corps, The Beatles’ corporation, Help came up on the pub’s sound system. Worked on and then just as I reached the section on Ginsberg’s involvement in early LSD testing, after The Who, Van and a bunch of other stuff had been playing, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds kicked in at exactly the moment the Find function landed me on that bit. When I left the pub and got into the car, switched on the engine, Radio London was still on from earlier and on it was, yes you guessed it, The Beatles, again playing Help. So I take it I’m supposed to be writing that part at the moment.
I did some pro bono work in the evening for Anti-Slavery International regarding Film4’s 12 Years a Slave. Sorry to read Steve McQueen is going over to the BBC next as Film4 has really backed him to the hilt – my friend Jan Younghusband (formerly Commissioning Editor of Arts at C4) nurtured Hunger and navigated its way into Film4 (and Steve’s into feature film making), not an easy project to see home intact.
Day 86 began, after a quick burst of Ginsberg, with more pro bono – a fabulous & fun Culture24 project in need of a little guidance. Got the ol’ creative juices flowing alongside the cappuccinos at the marvellous Amici. Dashed from there to Middlesex University, where I’ve been doing a little consultancy work recently, to discuss doing a PhD next year. In many ways university was a bit wasted on me in my early 20s – I’m just about ready to do a proper job of the academic side of it now (as opposed to running film societies and doing the whole Art History tripos on the side when I was supposed to be doing Languages).
Final stop – the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, a place Allen Ginsberg often hung out in when in London, to meet up again with Kathelin Gray, a friend of Ginsberg and William Burroughs, a wide-ranging artist, performer, curator, teacher, activist and ball of energy who I interviewed before Christmas. She showed me around the beautiful gallery sited in an old schoolhouse and its library which was right up my street, custom-made book cases and a lovingly gathered collection.
So I’ll do some writing over the weekend to make up for it, the first weekend I will have worked since I started on 1st Sept. Working 9-5 Mon-Fri has been an important discipline and getting this far without breaking the pattern is quite good going, what’s a quick Friday for Sunday swop between friends?
A big BAFTA day today – not so much for the film award nominations which were announced this morning, which were pretty predictable, although why American Hustle is doing so well baffles me (and I’m a big fan of Silver Linings Playbook), but for the fact I had a very interesting and enjoyable day working there. On arrival at 195 Piccadilly I had a lovely chat with Mark Kermode – we know one another from school but haven’t met properly for ages, since I was doing some film reviewing after leaving university and we crossed paths at movie screenings. He was sympathetically encouraging as he explained how long it took him to write his three books in terms of words per month, which went over my head a bit as I haven’t been thinking in those terms (deliberately).
From the off I ran across a variety of colleagues, some ex-Channel 4, most C4 related, from the producer of Fresh Meat to a former Head of Interactive at the Channel who kindly offered an intro to a literary agent. So a jolly time all round.
Work began with an interview of the super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett, close friend of Peter Saville and fellow graduate of the Manchester Post-Punk scene, who came to prominence through his fresh designs for the Buzzcocks record sleeves. The record that got me into Punk was the Buzzcocks What Do I Get? single (which sadly did not have Malcolm’s sleeve on it when I bought a copy at Smiths in Chichester, but which lead me to his beautiful silver and day-glo orange cover for their Another Music in a Different Kitchen LP which I got given that Christmas). We talked about Tony Wilson and Factory, with whom he worked and hung out a bit, and about the prospects for creatives from the North and regions, a lovely wide-ranging interview-cum-chat.
Then back to the writing where, having taken my only working day away from it since starting on 1st September yesterday to do some personal admin etc., I had a bit of a break-through in terms of structure. Material I had been planning to integrate into the case studies I now realise would be better and more easily included interleaved between the chapters. I came to this realisation when I went back to add to the short intro I wrote a while back. The argument of the intro was tight and didn’t allow for any insertion without breaking the flow so I tried the additional material I wanted to insert as a short piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and that worked, so I am now going to site all the contemporary and personal reflections between chapters not woven into them. This will keep the narrative flowing and clear and avoid any confusion of timeline.
Next up was a meeting about one of the spin-off projects and then I headed for home. As I walked down the stairs I passed Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) on the landing and then Mrs Hudson herself (Una Stubbs), who was so polite that she was worried she had pushed in front of me when I was having a quick conversation with one of the receptionists. The days of Alf Garnett and Rita Rawlins are clearly long gone as she appears very much like Mrs H incarnate. I deduce some Sherlock event was going on.
When I got off the tube I bumped into Bob McCabe, author of Harry Potter: Page to Screen, co-writer of The Python’s Autobiography and a bunch of Monty Python related titles. He’s just launched a new movie-related site The Last Word on Earth. So the day has a pleasing circularity.
So I’ve been sitting here all day in the back room with the sun streaming in after the morning rain and then the Christmas tree lights on once the greyness returned, the last official day of little white lights, squeezing out the last drops. And trying to counter the new term feeling that the main back to work day always brings with it.
All day was spent revising/polishing Chapter 1 and fact-checking as I go along (some points I marked up as I was writing which I didn’t want to labour over for the sake of fluency). I’m also labelling up the main points/sections as Comments so that I can double-check that the final structure is right.
I’m only doing a dozen pages a day which is probably too slow but I’m just getting back in the swing I guess. I’ll finish this chapter tomorrow.
Next step will be to insert some more material from interviews with the likes of David Amram, the musician closely associated with the Beats, and Hettie Jones, Beat publisher, the woman behind Yugen, the influential literary magazine, set up with her ex-husband LeRoi Jones (aka Amira Baraka, author of the key 60s play that is Dutchman). I also set up a couple more interviews today, one with a big counter-culture figure of 60s London which I’m really looking forward to. By my calculation he’s 70plus but his voice on the phone was amazingly strong and energetic.
Kicked off writing and work in 2014 by spending the morning at the British Library co-writing one of the spin-off projects with an old colleague/friend from Melrose days (the first production company I worked for). I came home and finished the draft we had been working on, useful but something of the displacement activity about it. The prospect of coming back to When Sparks Fly post-holidays was strangely intimidating. Finally I dived in, beginning my 2nd draft by looping back to the beginning, the Ginsberg/Literature chapter. It was better than I expected, more polished and well structured, slightly surprising only because of the non-linear and fluid way it was written. I hope the rest is up to the same standard as I revisit it.
At the end of the day I stumbled across a blog post via some random email – one of those meant to be things – which reassured me by showing how common such feelings of intimidation are. It’s by an American writer called Caroline McGraw:
I changed my habit of working on “scary” writing projects sporadically. Now, when I’m working on a big creative writing project — a book, a proposal, a guest post, etc — I work on it every day. With the exception of 1 weekly day of rest, I make sure to do at least a little bit each morning.
I love (and often repeat) the Anthony Trollope line: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the efforts of a spasmodic Hercules.” Committing to a daily task helps me maintain momentum, and it also helps render the task less terrifying. (If I work on it every day, it simply CAN’T be that scary — it’s just part of my routine, after all!)
I’ve also noticed that, if I skip a day, it’s that much harder to get back to the habit. And if I skip yet another day, it’s as though Mt. Everest springs up between me and getting back on track. If I write every day, though, the barrier between me and good habits is more like a pastoral English countryside hill. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, a rise that Elizabeth Bennett could scale without breaking a sweat.