Archive for the ‘trains’ Tag

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.

First light (Day 14)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

A London coffee house 1668 (Photo courtesy of Lordprice Collection / Alamy)

Sitting in a cafe at Marylebone Station on Sunday morning the book, let’s call it When Sparks Fly for now, got its first airing. I read half of Chapter One to my other half. I hadn’t even read it back to myself yet, other than in bits and pieces. Bottom line, she found it engaging, followable and made up of stories she enjoyed hearing. Which was encouraging. Because at this stage I have no real idea how I’m doing.

The story point is particularly essential. Many books of the type I’m trying to write hit the Pareto rule junction. A vestige of maths or physics lessons at school, I can’t even remember which any more, this is the rule about 80% of the effects coming from 20% of the causes. Or, as here applied, you squeeze 80% of the juice out of a book from 20% of the effort. What that usually looks like is: Chapter 1 – here’s my model, here are some brief illustrations. And the model is good, the examples interesting, but by the end of Chapter 1 I’ve got the idea and I reach the junction. Get out while I’m ahead, I’ve grasped the idea, I’ve only expended 20% of the time and effort? Or plough on for the other 80%?

That’s why I started writing this book in a different way from how I’d normally write. I began with a narrative only layer, a sequence of what I hope are interesting and funny and moving stories which illustrate my points – but not much by way of analysis or theory. What was interesting in the read-through was that my wife questioned the need for much analysis and the question arose of how far the stories spoke for themselves, the implications for creative practice for the most part being pretty evident.

On the train journey to Warwick I also came up with an unusual way of summarising the principles, not a way I’ve ever seen, more visually driven. So that’s some good writing progress on the Brighton train this week, an original idea on the Warwick train, a writing landmark in Patisserie Valerie in Marylebone Station, an insightful meeting with Ruth MacKenzie in Notes cafe, St Martin’s Lane. Perhaps the best way of doing this kind of thing is to travel from place to place by train and stop in at cafes along the way.

Chris Ward, author of Out of Office, kindly got in touch the same day in the wake of reading this blog with the offer of a coffee house meeting to discuss the role of the hot black stuff in creativity and related matters so I may chuck the contribution of choo-choos into the conversation.

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