Archive for the ‘writing process’ Tag
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
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
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
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.
[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.]
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
So progress made, even if a little unevenly.
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.
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.
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).
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.