Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Sirens

I was about to sit down to write this when Bob Geldof came on the radio to discuss his documentary ‘A Fanatic Heart’ about the Shakespeare of Ireland that is WB Yeats. During the lively and fascinating interview (with Robert Elms on BBC Radio London) he mentioned that Yeats helped secure a Civil List pension for Joyce.

Joyce and Music and specifically the Sirens chapter of ‘Ulysses’ was the intended subject of this post.

But the radio intervention provides an appropriate Overture for a piece on that chapter which begins with an Overture composed of seemingly randomly colliding sounds and words.

Yeats made a mistake (self-confessed) about ‘Ulysses’. He read parts of Joyce’s great Modernist novel in the ‘Little Review’, the American literary magazine in which it was initially published, and judged it “a mad book” (ironic, given that Geldof has just characterised Yeats as “nuts”). But on further reading Yeats changed his mind: “I have made a terrible mistake – it is perhaps a work of genius… It is an entirely new thing – neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Yeats bought himself a copy of the first edition of ‘Ulysses’ (1922) like this one I saw in Dublin in December while I was over working at RTE (the launch of whose TV services Geldof also mentioned in the wide-ranging interview in relation to Ireland’s sense of itself as a nation).

1st edition of james joyce ulysses novel

This one has a €30,000 price tag. A bargain given that a copy sold in 2009 for £275,000.

Yeats was an early champion of Joyce. They first met in October 1902 at the National Library in Dublin (which I visited a few minutes after taking that picture of the 1st edition, it’s literally a stone’s throw away). Yeats was 39 at the time, Joyce half the age at 20. As they parted Joyce declared: “I have met you too late. You are too old.” The kind of thing Geldof would have said when the Boomtown Rats first made their mark.

When Joyce travelled to Paris in 1902 and 1903 he passed through London and hooked up with Yeats (who lived a stone’s throw from Euston), had dinner with him and allowed Yeats to introduce him to his London literary circle.

Here’s another piece I wrote (Yeats Mates) prompted by the Robert Elms show about Yeats (in London). I wrote that piece back in 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth, on 14th June, the day after his birthday and the events described in that post. Yeats’ birthday is therefore the day after Robert Elms’s (which I happen to know as it is the same day as my wife’s) and three days before Bloomsday (the day Ulysses takes place on): 16th June. Things seem to be aligning themselves.

So Geldof, a musician, was talking about Yeats, a poet/writer, as I was preparing to compose a piece on the chapter of ‘Ulysses’ which examines “what … the ear hears”, the seduction of Music.

Last night I went for the second time to the Charles Peake Ulysses seminar, a seminar series that has been running monthly for yonks. I was first told about it some ten years ago by Fritz Senn at the Stiftung James Joyce in Zurich but I never quite got my act together to track it down. Until December, prompted by a visit to the shop where Leopold Bloom bought the bar of lemon soap he has it his pocket throughout 16th June 1904. I wrote about that visit here (Back in the Old Country).

sign for Charles Peake ulysses seminar university of london senate house

On my first visit to the seminar I was welcomed with enthusiasm: “You’re timing is lucky – we’re just starting a new chapter.” I didn’t quite appreciate the significance of this until it became evident that the group had spent 4 years doing the last chapter. When we reached the end of our session someone commented, straight faced, no messing: “Great session, folks – we did 76 lines!”

So the rambling mind comes to the point of this post (which will be an evolving post). While we were working our way word by word, comma by colon, through the next few lines last night I made an observation that when the boots (servant) in the Ormond Hotel bar on the north bank of the Liffey (where the Sirens chapter largely takes place) slams down a tray of tea things for the two barmaids who are those said Sirens, it is like the cymbals player in an orchestra, a lowly member of the ensemble delighting in his simple task and loud execution. For some reason it brought to mind the crescendo of Hitch’s ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (1956 US version) in the Technicolor Albert Hall.

The crashing tea tray made me reflect on the sequence of non-verbal sounds in the chapter so I took a notion to make a list of those sounds and see what patterns emerge.

So here is a list of the sounds making up the music-focused chapter (No. 11) of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – ‘Sirens’:

(page references are to the Danis Rose edition of 1997 (Picador) which my Mrs bought me two decades ago as ‘Ulysses’ emerged as my favourite book)

  1. the “ringing steel” of hoofs from the cavalcade passing by the bar (p.246)
  2. tittering of Lydia Douce (one of the barmaids)
  3. laughter of same
  4. “chattering china” of tea for Lydia and Mina Kennedy (the other barmaid) followed by the tea tray being “banged” on the counter by the boots
  5. steel and hoofs (reprise) “steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel” (p.247)
  6. “shrill shriek of laughter” of Mina (p.248)
  7. “huffed and snorted” – Lydia
  8. Lydia “chimed in in deep bronze laughter”
  9. “giggling peal young goldbronze voices blended” – both barmaids “high piercing notes”
  10. “panting, sighing, sighing”
  11. Mina “gigglegiggled”
  12. Lydia “spluttered … choking … laughter … coughing” “a splended yell, a full yell of full woman”
  13. [to be continued – from p.249]
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Media Technology & Stories

I’m a bit wary of the fetishisation of ‘Story-telling’ in recent years, but nonetheless I really like this quotation recounted by Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman in his entertaining volume  ‘Which Lie Did I Tell? (More adventures in the screen trade)’.

William Goldman book  'Which Lie Did I Tell? ( More adventures in the screen trade)'.

The words come from legendary literary agent Evarts Ziegler (who acted for many top screenwriters) – he was told (back in the 70s) that technology was going to change everything about Hollywood. His response was… 

I don’t care what you say. I don’t care if your fucking technology figures out a way how to beam movies from the moon directly into our brains. People are still going to have to tell good stories.

 

 

List of the Day: Jack Kerouac, 27 items

img-jk-radio

Essentials of Spontaneous Prose

1. Write on, cant change or go back, involuntary, unrevised, spontaneous, subconscious, pure
2. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild type written pages, for your own joy
3. Submissive to everything, open, listening
4. Be in love with your life every detail of it
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what it is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. Work from the pithy middle eye out, from the jewel center of interest, swimming in  language sea
17. Accept loss forever
18. Believe in the holy contour of life
19. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself
20. Profound struggle with pencil to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
21. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
22. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge
23. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures
24. In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
25. Composing wild, undisciplined pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
26. You’re a Genius all the time
27. Writer-Director of Earthly Movies produced in Heaven, different forms of the same Holy Gold

4 reasons to go see Café Society

Tomorrow sees the UK release of Woody Allen’s latest movie, Café Society, starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Holy Rollers, Batman v Superman), Kristen Stewart (Twilight, On The Road) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Foxcatcher). Here are 4 reasons why it is not to be missed…

cafe-society 1

Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) & Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) fail to have dinner in his rooms

1. Vittorio Storaro’s coffee-coloured cinematography

Now into his late 70s, Storaro is the man who photographed Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor and Bulworth (the first and last of these being among my very favourite films). In this movie he paints 30s Hollywood and New York in a palette of yellows and browns which is as delicious as a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain with a dash of cream, making it the most beautiful looking film you’re likely to see this year. He is already working on Woody Allen’s next.

Rose: Too bad Jews don’t have an after-life – they’d get a lot more customers.

Cafe-Society-11-2

Vonnie faced with a heart-breaking dilemma

2. Woody Allen’s masterful writing

Phil: Two time Academy Award winner.
Bobby: Wow, congratulations.
Hollywood Writer: Thank you. You’ve never heard of me, I’m a writer.

Having written nearly 80 films, Woody has gotten pretty darn good at it. Café Society has absolute economy – you see what you need to see, you hear what you need to hear, you linger when you’d like to linger, you catch fleeting words and moments that delight. You get the laughs, you get the philosophy, your heart-strings get tugged, all leading to a bitter-sweet moment that doesn’t even need any words.

lead_3

Grown up Vonnie

3. Santo Loquasto’s Production Design

Woody’s Production Designer since 1987’s Radio Days, Loquasto delivers again – a golden LA at the height of the studio years contrasts with a darkened NYC of clubs, cramped apartments and alleyways. The film opens on a luxurious poolside party beside a bright white Deco mansion – Hockney meets Gatsby – and sets the tone: this is a world to which we’re going to enjoy every minute of our visit.

Party Guest: [to Bobby] Unrequited love kills more people a year than tuberculosis.

allen-cafe-society-4

Bobby’s fashionable club in New York

4. Unique Story-telling

No-one in the movies tells a story quite like Woody Allen in his elder statesman years. It’s thoroughly American. Profoundly Jewish. Shot through with European. Café Society has the voice-over of the early faux-documentary films (e.g. Take the Money and Run), performed by the ageing voice of the writer-director, rich and literary but still restrained and judicious. It has that distinctive Allen thing of having a young Woody avatar – there’s an aspect of Eisenberg’s performance which is reproducing Woody’s screen persona – much like Owen Wilson’s excellent performance in that other fabulous late bloom that was Midnight in Paris – yet he transcends it to produce a poignant and memorable lead character living a poignant and terrible love.

Narrator: Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.

 

The Story So Far

Sparks Fly dreamstime_s_18055930

In the last part of 2013 I take a sabbatical to mark my 10th anniversary at Channel 4 and write five eighths of a factual book entitled ‘When Sparks Fly: the creative rewards of openness and generosity’. I write 9 to 5 every working day during the sabbatical and get five chapters more or less completed.

I document the process from Day 1 to Day 94.

The plan is to try to write the last three when I’m back at work in evenings and weekends. The thing is I value my marriage and I’m keen on my kids. And also I commission 26 series of short form video and 9 pilots in the following 12 months. The best part of 250 episodes. that’s a fuckofalot of work.

A couple of weeks ago I have 7 days holiday left for the year which I have to use or lose so I go over to my favourite place, Donegal. I find empty beaches, the sun splits the sky from the moment I walk off the plane in Belfast till the day I return. I chill and I’m in the mood to write. At the prompting of my venerable & wise mentor, a veteran and very committed documentary maker, I set aside Book 1 for now and move to Book 2. Book 2 is not massively research and interview heavy like Book 1. It is about my day job. I’d had it in mind as a way of clearing the writing pipes.

25552161790_ba0d5b45d8_o

So I write the opening on an isolated and very difficult to access beach on Fanad Head, my favourite place in my favourite place. What a beautiful moment suspended in time.

I write the outline by the lake in the garden of artist Derek Hill’s house in Churchill. Intense, fast, no mucking about – in the zone.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 09.36.07

I start the main text on a secret beach up the coast from Port Salon. I have to leg it to escape from charging cows to get to the beach – but it’s worth it. Got it completely to myself.

What’s a rush is that I can just write (unlike Book 1). No notes. No looking up anything. Just tap away at the speed of thought.

And so, as I embark fully on Book 2, the story continues…

[writing location: a train just outside Durham 7.1v.16]

 

 

 

Cut up by Bowie’s black-out

Cut_up_lyrics_for_Blackout_from_Heroes_1977__The_David_Bowie_Archive_2012_Image__VA_Images

Blackout from ‘Heroes’ (1977)

Something happened on the day he died

Karma is keeping quiet for now

Beloved by luscious

Then I’m useless in the evening

Night owls might be more creative

Spiders May Live in Every Room of Your House

Three Scottish boys discovered a strange cache

A Blast from the Past

And Air & Space

Show off your genius

Rock Genius

Because I can

When I Come Around

Millions of songs

We rise and shine driven

After mourning the passing

Black on white

With teachers at all levels

Move Beyond

For the twenty-first century

Cushioned within the box

We are losing all our heroes

People that simply do not exist anymore

The dance sequence is my favourite part

Non-stop pop

Das war noch Musik

Where they trashtalk each other

Fame and offending people

And it was impossible to find

Compulsive ice cream consumption

You just broke the internet

And a bunch of Silicon Valley dudes

Either help them or get out of their way

A “blessing to one another” he noted, chomping at the bit

And an environment teeming with wildlife

That will help shape the island’s future

The worldwide association

And improve trajectories.

burroughs-cut-up

[This was written by taking a phrase from each web page (starting with the lyrics of Blackstar) and then clicking through to an adjoining page and taking something that caught my eye from that and so on… – the pages ranged from an advert for a job on the Falkland Islands to scientific analysis of the benefits of early rising.]

Shiny New Things (Phase 3: Month 1)

I haven’t written about my book When Sparks Fly since Train of Thought back in June. That’s around the time I begun commissioning what amounted by the close of the year to 17 series of short form video for Channel 4 Shorts, including Tattoo Twists and Futurgasm. So I was a busy boy and writing had to take a bit of a back seat for the tail-end of the year. My attitude was that I needed to be patient with myself and accept that space would re-emerge.

I managed to get odd snatches of time to work on the book. Another train of thought to the Edinburgh TV Festival afforded one such opportunity, six or so hours of chuff chuff. I spent a fair amount of time around Jamie Oliver’s various companies doing interviews for the Business chapter of which he is the protagonist, culminating in an interview with the man himself. I’d expected relatively short shrift but he was strikingly generous with his time. Most recently, when I was over in Northern Ireland for work, I did an interview with Aidan Murtagh of Belfast punk band Protex for the Terri Hooley section of the Music chapter. But it’s only this week, with the advent of 2015, that I managed to get back to writing in earnest – and it feels good.

How do you like them apples?  (photo courtesy of JC Dhien)

How do you like them apples?
(photo courtesy of JC Dhien)

I went back to the Business chapter and picked up from where I left off, enjoying the process of tuning back in, just slightly back-tracking to get back into the flow and dive in. It’s a different kind of chapter, the first I’ve written with a living central character so the research is more focused on the original interview material. I’ve set myself October as a deadline to finish the whole she-bang so let’s see how it pans out…

Train of Thought (Phase 2: Month 4)

Steam train colorised

There’s something about trains that’s very conducive to thought.

But let me back track. The last time I wrote about the progress of When Sparks Fly was over a month ago when I was in Toronto. The way I’m working on it is not as I’d planned – a regular pattern, albeit less concentrated, like when I was on sabbatical. In practice what’s happening is that I get fits of inspiration, often after reading something stimulating, and I’m writing in intense bursts. So I’m switching now to monthly reports.

During Month 4 of the post-sabbatical phase (i.e. May) I went to meet a big publisher – the first I had approached. It was a good meeting, good chemistry and strong interest. What became evident from the meeting though is that I need to start the book slightly differently. I wanted to plunge in in media res of a striking story about murder, drugs, guns and writing. To suit this publisher I’d need a more conventional intro. I started work on the intro on the train up to Sheffield for DocFest last Sunday as referred to in History Boy.

Bournemouth seaview

Today I was headed in the other direction to Bournemouth to visit the university with Enfant Terrible No.1 who is interested in Advertising and in Digital Media. Despite it being an early start for the weekend I had the double delight of (a) finding that the first half of the intro I wrote last week (when a bit drunk on champagne from a party just before travelling), which I thought was a bit of a stream of consciousness blurt, was actually pretty coherent and (b) finding an elegant way through to the end of the piece which flowed well into Chapter 1. So by the time we got to Bournemouth (stopping occasionally to watch the England-New Zealand rugby test on ET1’s phone) the intro had been wrestled to the ground and I had a complete draft with which I was contented, even excited.

After the university visit I walked down to the sea with Enfant Terrible No.1 and came out by chance where my grandparents used to have a flat, at Elizabeth Court by the cliff lift. Quite a nostalgia trip. Took photos of the building and its view on my phone, conscious of the fact mobile phones were scarcely invented last time I was in that spot.

Off the back of the visit I got an invitation to come and talk about the book and its Advertising chapter on Paul Arden as a visiting lecturer. That will be fun to do pre-publication to road-test the material.

As part of the response to the publisher I also changed the sub-title. He advised that I broaden the scope from a tight focus on Creativity. I had no problem doing this as that was inherently in the text. So I altered it from “the creative rewards of openness and generosity” to “the creative & personal rewards of openness and generosity”.

This week I’ll revise the Proposal document accordingly and send the intro and revised Proposal back to the publisher. And carry on writing the Film chapter on Danny Boyle. A couple of DVDs arrived in the post on Friday including, neatly enough, Film4’s  Trainspotting.

Marilyn in Bloom

1955 by Eve Arnold

1955 by Eve Arnold

Photographer Eve Arnold on the background to this photo…

We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet…. I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it — but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned — but almost more her input.

A couple of other Ulysses posts if this puts you in the mood:

Starless and Bible Black

Caught in Session

ReJoycing in Dublin

Chapters and Verse (Phase 2: Weeks 12 & 13)

Danny Boyle Oscars winner

joyful

Took a moment to look back over the chapter titles I’ve fixed so far and enjoyed seeing them arranged together:

  • With a Little Help from My Friend
  • Take A Chance And Say You Tried
  • The Rock of Change
  • Give Away Everything You Know
  • (Everyone you meet is) Fighting a Hard Battle

All but the first are quotes from the chapter protagonist. I was taking stock in a comfy hotel room in Toronto where I headed for a few days peace&quiet. The crappy English-type weather helped focus the mind, and together with the jetlag that had my brain pin-sharp at 2am, meant it was a productive trip. I alternated between processing Joan Littlewood-related interviews (interesting to listen back with a few months separation) and starting my next chapter, the one on Film which focuses on Danny Boyle. He represents a different kind of openness and generosity from what I’ve covered so far – his centres on bringing out talent in others and sharing the praise, very much leadership qualities which is the essence of being a film director.

While I was away I had the pleasure of meeting various directors at Hot Docs, the annual international documentary film festival (billed as the biggest in North America). I particularly enjoyed chatting with Charlie Lyne whose film Beyond Clueless was playing and James Motluk who is working on a really interesting Dylan-related doc.

london 2012 olympics rings

danny boyle london 2012 olympics model

clueful

Trainspotting choose life ewan McGregor renton

beyond clueless still small

beyond clueless

 

 

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