Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Mr Mojo Risin’ (Phase 2: Week 8)

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.

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs (1944)

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.

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London

Simon Chinn interviewed by Dick Fontaine at Google HQ London

 

 

I Ain’t Got Rhythm (Phase 2: Weeks 5 6 & 7)

nick cave rock star singer

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.

A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey

I’m not too bothered about destiny or even explanation but I do like the notion that there’s pattern and purpose.

Stuff Done (Phase 2: Weeks 3 & 4)

Still not really in my rhythm but getting some stuff done. The highlights of the last couple of weeks (The Story conference displaced last week’s entry) are primarily interviews. Today I did an interview with Barbara Windsor who was one of the third generation of Joan Littlewood’s acting ensembles doing Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1959, before transferring to the West End, as well as Oh What a Lovely War on Broadway in 1965 (where Barbara was Tony-nominated). It was fascinating to hear how tricky Barbara found Joan’s loose, improvisational approach after a training in the West End where the script was the script and you did exactly what the director told you to do. But what emerged from the experience ultimately was the actress getting more in touch with her real self, after years of playing down her East End background. Joan really admired her work in EastEnders - and thought she was the only one with a decent Cockney accent. Barbara learnt from Joan during Fings at the Garrick when she was drifting into artifice and over-blown performance, too Judy Garland, not enough Bethnal Green, and carried that lesson forward for the rest of her career.

Barbara Windsor with Victor Spinetti

Barbara Windsor with Victor Spinetti

Last week I interviewed Hamish MacColl, son of Joan’s first husband Ewan MacColl (folk singer and playwright), brother of singer Kirsty MacColl. He was kind enough to share some of his memories of Joan from his teenage years. He has his mother living with him, Jean Newlove, the third corner of an artistic triangle at the core of the Theatre Workshop with Joan (director), Ewan (writer/music) and Jean (movement). Hamish arranged for me to interview Jean too. Jean is an associate and champion of Rudolf Laban’s analytical movement work, using people’s physical actions, in the theatre context, as a key to their character and portrayal. She is 91 now and sounded incredibly energetic and youthful, quite inspirational. She told me a bit about the early years of the Theatre Workshop including when they were camped out at Ormesby Hall near Middlesborough in a kind of proto-hippy thespian commune.

Movement was central to Joan Littlewood's approach to directing

Movement was central to Joan Littlewood’s approach to directing

I also sent my Proposal document off on the start of its journey to a potential publisher which would be a real coup if it all comes off. I sent it on a particular day to mark the memory of a friend of mine who checked out way too early.

Steve, put in a word with the Big Man for me

Steve, put in a word with the Big Man for me

So progress made, even if a little unevenly.

The Story 2014

#TheStory2014

#TheStory2014

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.

Stella Duffy and helpers

Stella Duffy and helpers

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.

Bryony Kimmings as Catherine Bennett

Bryony Kimmings as Catherine Bennett (and a monkey)

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”.

Kyle Bean and the future of the book

Kyle Bean and the future of the book

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.

Kyle Bean illustration for 'hand-made' edition of Wallpaper

Kyle Bean illustration for ‘hand-made’ edition of Wallpaper

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.

Bill Wasick (no actual corduroy jacket)

Bill Wasick (no actual corduroy jacket)

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.

So it's goodnight from me... and it's goodnight from him

So it’s goodnight from me… and it’s goodnight from him (BBC double act of Tony Ageh R and Matt Locke L)

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.

Meg Rossoff getting the Conscious Rider attuned to the Horse of the Unconscious

Meg Rossoff getting the Conscious Rider attuned to the Horse of the Unconscious

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…

Shaggy hat story from Gruff Rhys

Shaggy hat story from Gruff Rhys

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 ;-)

Alan Rusbridger tells the tale of Snowden White and the Seven Spooks

Alan Rusbridger tells the tale of Snowden White and the Seven Spooks

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.

Getting back into the swing of it – really (Phase 2: Week 2 – part 2)

Burroughs made his love for all things feline known in his book 'The Cat Inside', in which he refers to cats as “psychic companions”

Burroughs made his love for all things feline known in his book ‘The Cat Inside‘, in which he refers to cats as “psychic companions”

Well, that’s more like it. Had a productive evening and got two and a half hours in, even after a full day’s work. Prepped for an interview tomorrow which I’m really looking forward to – a major player on the London counter-culture scene in the 60s and 70s. Then watched the doc (A Man Within) kindly given to me by director Yony Leyser in Leipzig back in the autumn to get me even more in the mood for tomorrow. Not that I really need it, I’m so there at the moment. Just wrote a poem derived from the Beat Hotel – I really wanted to try out a technique and last night’s radio listening gave me a phrase to play with. There’s still a fantastic energy around these writers and artists and thinkers and storytellers and hustlers. Because I’ve always been really into collage the whole cut-up phase is particularly fascinating. And that’s a big theme of the week. Reading about Brion Gysin. Going to the opening of the Richard Hamilton exhibition at Tate Modern. And trekking over to the Hannah Höch show at the Whitechapel last Saturday. This last gave me an idea for a graffiti character I’m going to try out this weekend.

Hannah Höch self-portrait, c.1926

Hannah Höch self-portrait c.1926 – with furry psychic companion

And I forgot to recount yesterday that part of this week involved me doing the first public reading from When Sparks Fly. My Other Half organised a Words & Music night at our place on Saturday night and I read from the opening chapter first about Ginsberg & Burroughs in Tangier compiling Naked Lunch and then about Ginsberg’s foundation, COP. To round off I read a short Ginsberg poem, Dream Record, about Burroughs’ wife which linked directly to the opening scene of my book. It was a great night with some fantastic offerings, from short stories to rap. Words & Music, that’s pretty much where it’s at. And Love, of course.

Richard Hamilton, Hotel du Rhone, 2005 - the cat's behind the flowers

Richard Hamilton, Hotel du Rhone, 2005 – the cat’s behind the flowers

Getting back into the swing of it (Phase 2: Week 2)

Michael Horovitz

Michael Horovitz doing his thing

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.

allen ginsberg at albert hall

Allen Ginsberg at the Albert Hall, 11th June 1965

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…

Albert Memorial, London, 11 June 1965. before International Poetry Congress at Royal Albert Hall.  Top Left: Barbara Rubin. Back row L-R: Adrian Mitchell, Anselm Hollo, Marcus Field, Michael Horovitz, Ernst Jandl. Front row L-R: Harry Fainlight, Alex Trocchi, Allen Ginsberg, John Esam, Dan Richter.

Albert Memorial, London, 11 June 1965, before International Poetry Congress at the Albert Hall.
Behind L: Barbara Rubin.
Back row L-R: Adrian Mitchell, Anselm Hollo, Marcus Field, Michael Horovitz, Ernst Jandl.
Front row L-R: Harry Fainlight, Alex Trocchi, Allen Ginsberg, John Esam, Dan Richter.

In The Air Tonight (Phase 2: Week 1)

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.

letter from Australia

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?

'Seaview' in progress

‘Seaview’ in progress

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.

Alexandra Bastedo The Champions actress

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.

First hand account (Days 93 and 94)

Spark between fingers

Good vibrations

Well, the day had to come – today is the last day of my sabbatical. It’s been a trip. I rounded this phase off by completing the Outline document to accompany the manuscript-to-date. It’s pretty substantial – 14 pages long – covering all the basics from target market to competition, from elevator pitch to marketing tactics.

Day 93 began with a phonecall from Terri Hooley, on his way to a funeral in Belfast. The dear departed in question, appropriately enough, was a second-hand bookseller who had got many a Belfast writer, poet, artist and musician into reading with a first inspirational tome. We chatted about the Good Vibrations movie being named No. 1 of 2013 by Mark Kermode (with Gravity no less at No.2). After that the day was bitty and I repaired to the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood (which has emerged as my favourite mobile office thanks to its tranquil and reliable emptiness and its sun-catching qualities) for some ultraviolet-assisted tapping away and the reward of some reading/research (Barry Miles’ Beat Hotel book). I knocked off early for a functional outing with the Enfants Terribles which proved a fun ending to a just moderately productive day.

Today was way more concentrated, with a complete pass at the Outline, which I think reads well. I had lunch with the Other Half at the local Italian to mark the occasion, then kept my head down, with accompaniment ranging from Day 1′s Hot Rats to my current craze, John Newman, until I finished at 7:15pm, just ten minutes to spare before I had to leave the house for an appointment.

I’ll write a separate post reflecting back on all 94 days later this week – I head back to Channel 4 tomorrow morning. The bottom line, I’ve had a liberating and creative time – and When Sparks Fly is nearer finished than not by a reasonable margin. My aim is to finish by the summer. At this point I’ll switch to weekly updates (this phase ends with Simple Pleasures part 4 having had over 567,000 views).

The hand of Adam

The hand of Adam

To cut a short story shorter (Day 92)

Spandau Ballet singles

Did an  interview today with Gary Kemp, musician and actor, driving force of Spandau Ballet. We’ve only met once before, briefly on Heddon Street, the day he unveiled the David Bowie plaque there. Des Shaw of Ten Alps introduced us. He’s a very well informed man who has thought carefully about music and art, creativity and society, so has interesting perspectives and ideas about various aspects of what I’m working on. We started by talking about the Preraphaelites and William Morris, of which he is a collector and aficionado – I’m thinking about combining Jeremy Deller and one of the Preraphaelites to make the Art case study have an underlying theme of industrialisation. Then we moved on to broader issues of Creativity, openness and generosity which lead us to the theme of Creative Gangs, particularly pertinent to working class boys in bands. When the British Beat-connected poet Michael Horovitz talks about Allen Ginsberg and his circle he often refers to them as a “boy gang”. I will centre one of the ‘inter-chapters’ on Creative Gangs, Risk and Uncertainty. We met in a cafe in Fitzrovia, his home turf these days, not a million miles from his native manor, Islington, where my Day 91 peregrination unravelled. Particularly enjoyable were the insights into the New Romantic club scene around Billy’s and Blitz, and the familial relationships of the Spandau gang and its circle. Gary went off after to the cutting room to finish the forthcoming feature documentary on Spandau Ballet.

The rest of the day was spent slogging through the first draft of the outline document, trying to refine the sales pitch to make clear the book is distinctive without being in any way wide of the mark or too out there, free-flowing without being unstructured, entertaining but with insight.

Angelic Upstarts (Days 90 and 91)

Creative Gangs: the Blitz Club generation {photo copyright of & courtesy of Herbie Knott}

Creative Gangs: the Blitz Club generation {photo copyright of & courtesy of Herbie Knott}

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.

Joe's handiwork

Joe’s handiwork

Joe-Orton---defaced library books

Collins Guide to Roses

 

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