Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category
On Sunday I went to a charming French bistro in Brick Lane (No. 45), Chez Elles, run by two charming French women who have been in Londres for 18 months. The Normandy cider is cloudy and strong – it frappes l’endroit. Round the corner is Princelet Street where a former wave of French immigrants settled in the 17th century, the Huguenots. The other end of Brick Lane has two bagel shops, one now just making up the numbers, the other the real thing. Round another corner (Hanbury St) is the clothes factory where my grandfather used to work and take me as a boy (now All Saints). Round yet another corner is the market where my step-dad had a shop (Wentworth Street, where the bagel places (Mossy Marks’s and Kossoff’s) are now gone or a shadow of its former self respectively). Such are the waves of the human tide… As Sartre said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.”
London is now the 6th biggest French city with a population of 400,000+
This year’s The Story annual one day conference/gathering, brainchild of my former Channel 4 colleague Matt Locke, launched during his time at C4, was the fifth. I’ve been to all but one, last year’s when I ended up being abroad on the day and passing on my ticket to a colleague, producer Jorg Tittel. The bitter-sweet hand-over took place at the Trafalgar Studios on Whitehall where Jorg and his wife’s (Alex Helfrecht) excellent production of The Sun Also Rises was playing. I can remember that because it is a conference I actually care about and missing it is bothersome.
It was interesting coming into this year’s model off the back of my story-writing sabbatical. What for me turned out to be the highlight and emotional core of The Story 2014 was a direct result of that sabbatical work. One of the chapters of my book, When Sparks Fly, is centred on Joan Littlewood. I began writing that chapter on the stage of the Theatre Royal Stratford East – it was lunchtime, no-one was about, I had my laptop on me and an hour to spare before the event I was attending resumed – it had to be done. Theatre Royal Stratford East was Joan’s theatre, this year is her centenary and the event was a big gathering to help realise a vision of Joan’s she ultimately couldn’t pull off in her lifetime, the Fun Palace. The baton of her dream has been picked up by Stella Duffy who filled The Story slot just before the midday break. Having heard about her plan back in October to realise the dream in this centenary year by catalysing local events across the nation and beyond which bring Art and Science to regular people in an entertaining, fun way, I thought Stella’s story would add to The Story in this particular year and hooked her up with Matt. She had helped me get going on my Littlewood/Theatre chapter and between that chat and the Theatre Royal Stratford East event my instinct was that she would fit right in to the proud heritage of The Story speakers just so.
As it turned out, her slot was more than I could have dreamed. She used her three decades experience of improvisational theatre to create a spontaneous and focused energy of extraordinary impact. She picked up on the contribution just before hers, Kenyatta Cheese on the history of the animated GIF and its role in digital storytelling, an account which used Disney’s Snow White as the vehicle for its narrative, and started by getting six volunteers out of the audience (rarely have I seen people move so fast to get up on stage and help, including Matt’s twin brother and his old BBC friend Tony Ageh, a subsequent speaker) and used them in place of a white board as a living graph-cum-tableau to illustrate the dynamics of a classic (Dionysian) story structure – the one underlying Snow White and, as Stella livelily demonstrated, the New Testament. You can see this coup de theatre here.
She went on to explain the background of the Fun Palace as conceived by Littlewood and architect Cedric Price. She, perhaps somewhat controversially, pulled up one of Price’s drawings and suggested it had formed an important ‘inspiration’ for Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre. And then she explained how we all (and you all) and everyone can get involved. Everything you need to know to make a Fun Palace in your neighbourhood on the weekend of Joan’s 100th birthday you can find here. (And by the way, they need a media sponsor so if you can help please get in touch with Stella or her partner Sarah Jane Rawlings).
What made this perfectly judged performance all the more remarkable is that Stella has been having full-on breast cancer treatment recently and this was her first post-operative outing. She had to high-tail it off the stage to go straight to the hospital to have her dressing changed. A true inspiration capping a brilliant morning of all manner of story-telling.
Meg Pickard, ex-Guardian Head of Digital Engagement, presided, geeing up the already up-for-it crowd. The house charity, Ministry of Stories, set up by Nick Hornby, Ben Payne and Lucy Macnab, was showcased by Ben, demoing in a couple of videos the impact this imaginative literacy and story-telling project is having on the children and supporting adults involved. I walked past their Monster Shop in Hoxton Street just last weekend when out in flaneur mode with Enfant Terrible No. 1 and enjoyed how the display of MoS goodies like Fang Floss, some kind of monster snot, and Bah Humbugs fitted into the Hoxton context.
First up of this year’s featured speakers was the engaging Bryony Kimmings. She explained the genesis of her Catherine Bennett project, a fun music project based on a manufactured popstar, played by Bryony as shaped by her 9 year-old niece, Taylor. Bryony mentioned a Stamford study which centred on asking kids what type of person they wanted to be when they grew up. For years the answer “Kind” came top of the list every year until a certain point in the 90s(?) when Kind dropped to 16th and “Famous” took top spot. Catherine Bennett, pop star and paleontologist, is designed as an antidote to the fame-seeking and twerking inflicted upon children today. The Miley Cyrus debate hit half way through the process of creating CB, emphasising its timeliness, a process which led to the creation of a stage play for kids, one for adults and a touring workshop for schools which we saw video of. I was charmed.
Next up was Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth who gave us insights into their film ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ featuring Nick Cave. The dynamic duo met at Goldsmiths in 1992 and discovered they hated the same things. Then they discovered they hated the same things as Cave and a music documentary with a difference was born. Made by Film4 and the always interesting Pulse, they set out to make the antidote to rock docs by resetting the expectations of the audience (they covered nineteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety-something days or so just in the title sequence) and embracing the myth of their subject who plays his mythologised self pretty well. Self-mythologising is the subject of Chapter 2 of my book – centred on another UK music industry stalwart, Tony Wilson. Although they slipped into art jargon easily with art-school-bingo words like “practice” and “strategy” punctuating their commentary, Jane and Iain clearly communicated the kind of truth they were after, the emotional truth. A key sequence at the heart of the film features psychoanalyst and writer Darian Leader who was in my year at uni and marked himself out by hanging out with Jacques Derrida in the holidays while I as a lowest-of-the-low runner was driving film gear around London to promo shoots for Simply Red, Duran Duran and the like. He grilled Cave for ten hours until Nick “just couldn’t be bothered to lie any more”. This interrogation brought out Cave’s greatest fear – losing his memory – and memory proved the key to the film as Iain and Jane created a Nick Cave archive in the basement of Brighton Town Hall to help get to a truth beyond the mementoes and facts. As Jane memorably said:
“the truth just doesn’t matter – we should create, imagine and lie – it’s good for us”.
Illustrator Kyle Bean really pumped my nads with a talk entitled Materials & Messages. He specialises in tactile illustration – in other words,to fulfil mainly magazine/press illustration commissions he makes things from everyday materials and photographs them to create his 2D output. These range from a mobile phone Russian doll to a jelly hand-grenade, all best grasped by having a look at his portfolio here. He often uses word-play and combining pairs of concepts to prompt his creative approach. For a recent article on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden he combines a USB stick with a sports whistle to get the point across concisely and with impact. He has a real spareness which reminds me of a graphic artist well represented on the walls of my home. The other night I went round for dinner to the home of Naomi Games, daughter of graphic designer and poster supremo Abram Games who was a mentor for my mum when she was at London College of Printing. Abram had a ruthlessly spare style with nothing wasted in all his work, from the Festival of Britain logo to his famous ATS poster.
The afternoon also brought a rich mix of pleasures.
Foley Artist Barnaby Smyth illustrated his cinematic art (sound effects) with a scene from Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie which he worked on. He then did a live demo (for which we all closed our eyes, no peeking), memorably using tearing celery to create the sound of a corpse being ripped apart by dogs. TTSS was made at DeLane Lea which reminded me of my introduction to moving picture media as a child at DeLane Lea in Dean Street, watching Hungarian TV puppet shows for kids being dubbed into English by Louis Elman, as recalled here.
The Editor of Wired US, Bill Wasick, flew in to tell us a bit about the stuff of his recent book to do with why things go viral. He sat on the edge of the stage like a nice teacher with patches on the elbows of his proverbial corduroy jacket. He had very attractive yellow and white slides I’m going to copy. And he invented flash mobs.
Tony Ageh of the BBC Archive, iPlayer, City Limits et al, went a step further and brought a chair on stage to do a full-on Ronnie Corbett routine which went down a treat. He reflected on his career and the theme of Lists which seems to weave through it, all in a warm, understated way. His anecdote about how the iPlayer was thought up was a cracker. He concluded with a heart-felt plea for iPlayer to move on from being the first bit of BBC technology ever to carry BBC content only. Imagine, he conjoured up, a radio which only played BBC programes. It should never happen. It’s not what the BBC was put on Earth to do.
And, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, novelist Meg Rossoff, who wrote her first novel aged 46, managed to wrangle a divergent shaggy horse story to illustrate the passage from the conscious mind to the unconscious in writers which develops with practice and helps bring dream into everyday life, thereby enabling her – and she encourages others – to “write fiercely with resonance from a really deep place”. Makes a lot of sense of William Burroughs, with whom my book opens, who spent decades consistently taking the trip into that deep, dark place…
Gruff Rhys provided a music interlude with a journey story which roved from his native North Wales across the frontiers of America in a delightfully absurd meander.
Armagh non-poet Philip Larkin brought this to my life, for which thanks. He’s a big fan of Vine and has a good sense of how to deploy those 6 moving seconds for comedy.
Lisa Salem told us a bit about her Walk LA with Me project which was interesting though felt like it could use the lightness of touch of an old school flaneur.
And the day was brought to a heavy-weight end by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger telling us a story about a man called Edward Snowden, a character called Glen Greenwald and a big baddie called NSA which frankly was so fanciful and absurd I reckon he should try his hand at non-fiction
So, bottom line, there aren’t many better ways to spend a Friday.
Here’s an old Friday called The Story 2012 for anyone who wants a yardstick to make a comparison. Thanks to Matt Locke and the Storythings team for a top day.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
[work in progress]
The Wolf of Wall Street
The Way Way Back
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Judy Dench – Philomena
Matthew McConaughy – The Wolf of Wall Street
(Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine)
(Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle)
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity
Nat Faxon & Jim Rash – The Way Way Back
Love Me Again – John Newman
Down the Road – C2C
Children Go Where I Send Thee – Nick Lowe
Where Are We Now – David Bowie
Get Lucky – Daft Punk
Nothing’s Changed – Tricky (with Francesca Belmonte)
Hang Me, Oh Hang Me – Oscar Isaac
Quality Street – Nick Lowe
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild
Big Inner – Matthew E White
False Idols – Tricky
(Lee Perry presents – Candy McKenzie (1977 reissue))
Van Morrison at Ronnie Scott’s
Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Stadium (Darkness on the Edge of Town)
The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park
Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar – Duke Of York’s Theatre
Othello at Olivier Theatre
All that is Solid Melts into Air (Jeremy Deller), Manchester
Andy Murray winning Wimbledon
My birthday party – incorporating The Box