Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category
Lying on the couch in Brighton, balcony doors open, ‘Crescent’ (John Coltrane) playing, Enfant Terrible No. 1 doing his revision at the table, spirit of my dad floating around and seagulls making those seagull noises outside over the water – and I’m feeling pretty fine. Just finished the first full draft of the Littlewood/Theatre chapter. The two of us drove down last night to get a couple of days’ quiet and get some hours in.
We had our lunch break just before down in Rottingdean – a Ploughman’s lunch each in the sun (god knows what the ploughmen ate) and then a walk down to the beach for some chat and stone throwing.
The last three weeks have been bitty but at least progress is still being made.
I hooked up with a couple of writers this week to glean some know-how and advice both around the practice and motivation of writing and the business of publishing. The first of them has a string of factual books to his name, including one really big hit. We did beer and chat, sharing our mutual Hibernophilia, and he gave me a copy of one of his books about Ireland. The second is about to have his first novel published and is just completing his second. He used to work as a TV journalist/presenter and is revelling in his new-found life as a full-time writer. We did blood-orange juice in the sunlit bar of Soho House, welcoming in the Easter holidays. Both encounters were very encouraging and inspiring.
Meanwhile ‘When Sparks Fly’ went in to a Penguin group publisher on Monday and the wait begins…
Last week I got to write some of it in the pleasant surroundings of Juan Les Pins. I was there for the TV market MIP and came home after work to a gueridon (round metal table – that Modern Languages degree comes into useful occasionally, not least for the title of the book which comes from Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto), a spacious balcony, palm trees framed in the view – a pretty nice place to write.
As is this…
Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.
Here’s what was on the menu…
Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):
The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.
Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.
Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:
For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:
THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.
At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.
Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) - she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).
She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).
All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).
Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.
All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).
Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…
Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?
I’m at my book group. A few more people there than usual. There’s stuff going on around gay issues with some gay people (I think one may be Boyd). We’ve got an hour slot and I’m starting to get concerned we’re wasting too much time. Una is with me. When 45 minutes have elapsed I get up and have a row with Jon, storming out in a huff.
I’m at a party. Jon is leaning against a wall and I approach him from behind along the hallway. I say I must tell you about this dream I had that you were in and I start to tell him…
I’ve made a music documentary about Radio 5. A senior producer tells me I can get it on air but it has to be today or never. The producer I’m working with has the extra material and music needed to finish off the documentary to make it suitable for airing today. Somehow this material and this colleague are impossible to pin down and I pursue them in vain. This brings me to a situation where I am in a bed. Near a river. I’ve taken my shoes off on the river side. They become lost or washed away. The water comes up half under the bed. A huge pike swims under me.
I’m at my book group. [I finished a novel last night and was wondering whether to read a play next or my book group book which I'm not in the mood for.] A few more people there than usual. There’s stuff going on around gay issues with some gay people (I think one may be Boyd). [I was in bed early with the radio on and the legalisation of gay marriage was the lead story in the news.] We’ve got an hour slot and I’m starting to get concerned we’re wasting too much time. Una is with me. When 45 minutes have elapsed I get up and have a row with Jon, storming out in a huff.
I’m at a party. Jon is leaning against a wall and I approach him from behind along the hallway. I say I must tell you about this dream I had that you were in and I start to tell him… [dream within a dream - pretty far out. See Dali below]
I’ve made a music documentary about Radio 5. [Radio 5 was on as I half-slept.] A senior producer tells me I can get it on air but it has to be today or never. [Today is the 20th anniversary of Radio 5.] The producer I’m working with has the extra material and music needed to finish off the documentary to make it suitable for airing today. Somehow this material and this colleague are impossible to pin down and I pursue them in vain. This brings me to a situation where I am in a bed. Near a river. I’ve taken my shoes off on the river side. They become lost or washed away. The water comes up half under the bed. A huge pike swims under me. [This is the interesting bit for me that prompted me to write this post - I came across the word Pike three times yesterday - (1) Yesterday I was finishing off 'New Boy' by William Sutcliffe, a novel set in my old school, which would actually explain why Jon was in my dream. At one point the two friends at the centre of the book walk out of school to a place called Pike's Water. I would have gone there with Jon at lunch breaks very occasionally. (2) Yesterday evening I was writing my book, the chapter about Joan Littlewood. In it I was mainly writing about Brendan Behan. Behan's play The Quare Fellow [quare - queer - perhaps another link to gay issues though I think that mainly came from the radio news item] was originally put on in Pike’s Theatre, Dublin. (3) Actaully I think this one was after the event and therefore not source but Serendipity. The blog post just before this which I wrote Around Midnight last night was Liked shortly after midnight by Timothy Pike, Freelance (Editor? – the text of his name is harshly curtailed by WordPress ironica…) – I didn’t see the Like alert email til this morning, though within an hour or two of the dream. So none of my three pikes were fish as such, though (1) contained fish perhaps.] Fish, staple diet of the Surrealist.
P.S. I once saw this painting, about the moments before waking and the way one dream fragment arises from another, in the same way this memory is arising from my recounting of these dreams, in an exhibition in London – at the Tate or Royal Academy, I can’t quite picture it. A teacher was standing in front of the painting talking about it to his pupils. With a Bic biro in his hand. I saw him point something out with the biro and touch the canvas. No way! I went to check after the group moved on. No shit, that scrufosa just put a blue mark on a Masterpiece! How delicate is even great art…
I’m firing on all cylinders again. A really productive week’s writing. Was on a real roll tonight writing about Joan Littlewood and improvisation – her openness to the moment and to others’ ideas, from the renowned actors to the fella that swept the stage.
Yesterday had an illuminating chat with the Chief Exec of Channel4, David Abraham, about the nature of collaboration, in connection with When Sparks Fly. He was talking at one point about artists and creatives who are so gifted that they need not collaborate and who can afford to be difficult, rude or whatever. It drew my attention to the fact that I need to be very clear about what I mean by the collaboration which stems from openness and generosity. I’m not really focusing on collaboration in the narrow sense of A and B make a thing together. It’s more about circles of creatives who inspire, support and catalyse one another’s work. Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – all responsible for at least one work of genius, all arguably good enough to be contrary fuckers, two out of three largely were – but this didn’t prevent a highly productive collaboration giving rise to a movement with influence across the decades. Tony Wilson, Joy Division/Ian Curtis, Peter Saville et al. What I’m mainly exploring is how peers nurture and champion one another to the advantage of all. As Ginsberg recognised, better a movement than a few disparate successes.
On other matters, had an inspiring evening at Google HQ in St Giles’s last night. It was a National Film & Television School event showcasing their Film Clinic initiative with Google. Producer Simon Chinn, of Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man fame, who I last chatted with on a roof top in Tel Aviv at the CoPro documentary festival, explained the genesis of Sugar Man and how he helped get it to happen on a grand scale. Between him and me was sitting former NFTS head honcho Dick Fontaine who was great fun. I was introduced to the founder of the Film School, Colin Young, by John Newbigin – Colin had great anecdotes about its early days. Alcohol seems to have played a key part. And to complete the set of NFTS grand fromages, enjoyed chatting again with Nik Powell, the current head. Seemingly he turned down Billy Elliot twice. The same can’t be said for my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross who execed it, and who yesterday announced her departure from Film4 after 11 years at the helm, culminating in this year’s Best picture Oscar with 12 Years a Slave. She has been very encouraging about When Sparks Fly and was tickled by the premise.
I’m due to go out to NFTS in Beaconsfield in a couple of weeks to do my annual lecture there to the TV students about Multiplatform.
Just hanging in at the moment. Been working on the Joan Littlewood/Theatre chapter tonight but really fallen out of any kind of regular routine and slowed way down. The day job is pretty demanding and I get home knackered most days. Chuck in some child stuff and that just about does you in. Occupational hazard of the part-time writer of course.
That said I feel another burst of activity coming on. Maybe I needed a bit of a break. My plan is just to work steadily through Stuff I Have to Do til I get back into my flow. Carry on with the Theatre chapter until I get some real momentum going. And, as a motivational treat, I’ll watch the interview with Joan Littlewood on the BFI DVD of Bronco Bullfrog, a 1969 black & white film featuring some of the teenagers who hung around the Theatre Royal in Stratford East with Joan. I need to immerse myself back into this world.
I took Enfant Terrible No. 2 to see Oh What a Lovely War at the Theatre Royal early last month – he liked in almost as much as the pizza marguerita before the show, and was particularly struck by the scene where the countries tumbling into conflict are personified in representative men and women and their fatal manoeuvrings played out like pieces on a chessboard. I’m going to see A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre (which Joan was pretty down on for its lack of accessibility and authenticity and its narrowness) in a month’s time. And I’ll probably go to see Gary Kemp in Fings Ain’t What They Used t’Be at TRSE in May.
A Taste of Honey was written by a teenage factory worker from oop Narth (Shelagh Delaney) who, after seeing her first theatre, reckoned she could do better and banged out a play in a couple of weeks. That Joan took it on and helped build on its youthful energy and naive confidence is testimony to her openness – to new talent, to non-metropolitan perspectives, to alternative voices (a link to Channel 4 I should try to bring out). Fings is similar in that it was written by an ex-con, Frank Norman, who Jeffrey Barnard described in an obituary as “a ‘natural’ writer of considerable wit, powers of sardonic observation and with a razor sharp ear for dialogue particularly as spoken in the underworld.” Joan loved the energy and particularity of that outsider, street voice. She took his play and fused it with music and songs from echt East Ender Lionel Bart to create an unlikely but bang on mix.
In the forthcoming 20,000 Days on Earth – the best music film since Stop Making Sense – a Film4 production (directed by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) centred on Nick Cave which I saw at C4 HQ a couple of weeks ago, Nick Cave gives ‘the secret of great songwriting’ – “counterpoint” and the kind of unlikely combination typified by Joan’s bringing together of Norman’s words and Bart’s songs. As Cave says not 5 minutes into the film:
Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key. Putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.
The title of this book of mine, When Sparks Fly, does not derive from Nick Cave (it actually comes from Andre Breton, which may well be where Cave’s words have their roots) but it was a lovely C4-F4/book coincidence which illustrates well this kind of thinking (from American scribbler Jonathan Ames) which really speaks to me:
I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.
I’m not too bothered about destiny or even explanation but I do like the notion that there’s pattern and purpose.
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.