Friday, 25 April 2008

Balloons and a Bouncy Castle


Sad news about the Brazilian priest who, at the time of writing, still hasn't been found after setting off on a journey powered by helium balloons and being swept out to sea by strong winds.

There's a character in my second novel, Being Light, who is swept away on a bouncy castle on a freak gust of wind. He loses consciousness and when he wakes up and sees a plump blonde woman dressed in white standing over him, with the light behind her creating a halo effect, he thinks he's in Paradise. But actually he's in a remote part of Kent.

I often see articles in newspapers by writers following up on news items with their own stories: I too am anorexic/recently got divorced/wrote a story about a man swept away on a freak gust of wind/killed my child/like to eat organic food/won the lottery etc etc.

Perhaps I should have contacted the national press in the hope that an editor would consider paying me to write a self-congratulatory story along the lines of prescient author's brilliant second novel foreshadowed sad adventure of mad priest blah blah. I dunno, it always seems mercenary and opportunistic when I see other people doing it.

Although, I must admit, whenever I get any reward or recognition for my writing - financial or otherwise - it seems dirty and wrong somehow. I have to get over that.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Raving and Blogging

It's a year since I started this blog. It is customary to mark these occasions in the 'blogosphere' with a post musing about the benefits or otherwise of blogging. I wonder if I'll be writing a tenth anniversary post in nine years' time? I doubt it. By then technology will probably have moved on so far that I will be able to beam my thoughts directly into your brain.

I wrote something about blogging for UK Writer, the Writers' Guild magazine, which has been reproduced on the WGGB website here, so I won't rehash all of it now.

I do worry sometimes that blogging isn't a valid thing for a proper writer to do. There are lots of unwritten, simple-to-follow rules about how to be a writer, chief among them that you should be an enthusiastic drinker of alcohol. Well, I'm good at that.

But how do you emulate your heroes when faced with situations that they never were? Did Evelyn Waugh have a blog? Did Graham Greene? Fortunately writers have always corresponded with other writers so having a blog seems to follow on in that tradition. Although (as I mention in the WGGB article) I mostly leave somewhat banal comments (Yay! being a favourite) on other writers' blogs, punctuated by at least two kisses. Also, when at a loss for anything else to write, I tend to fall back to writing poems about dog shit, rather than musing about the state of the nation.

But the great thing about blogging is that it is democratic, a way of saying 'hello world' without having to wait until you are a famous enough writer to be commissioned by The Times to write an article for them. You can write it yourself and publish it on your blog. Blogging is like raving. Remember when that started? Yes, I was very young, too.

When Lauren was little, her Dad was in the music business and we used to be on the guest list to go to clubs where I would stand around in the VIP area and look bored so that other people would think I was cool. (Actually, I probably was bored - no-one will talk to you in the music business unless they feel you can directly influence their career, and I think I was temping for Newham Council at the time, which didn't go down well.)

But then rave music came along and suddenly it wasn't about guest lists and who's got the coke. It was about going to warehouses and dancing for eight hours just to enjoy yourself. I didn't even mind queuing. I'd wait in the dark and the cold outside some word-of-mouth club like Telepathy in Three Mills Road making friends with the other people waiting, as the lasers searched the sky and turned the clouds green and the music shook the walls. It was like waiting to be admitted to hell having had a tip-off that you were going to thoroughly enjoy yourself once inside. Its time has long, long since past but I was glad to be there 'back in the day'. It felt like a revolution.

Would Evelyn Waugh have enjoyed going to raves? Well, who can say. It was a question I never asked; I was having too much fun.

And so, hooray for blogging. I don't hate it yet. The nicest, most unexpected thing about all of this has been the friends I have made through doing this. So, thank you for joining me. It has been a thrill. Here's to the next twelve months xxx

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Curious Case of the Stockwell Hat Thief

I have always thought that one day, when I am quite old, I will open a wool shop and sit quietly by the counter knitting and perhaps solving any criminal cases that might be troubling my customers - a sort of Midsomer Marple, but with a guaranteed income stream from the knitting patterns, needles and wool.

However last night I went to a fabulous party hosted by the West End Whingers. It was such a glamorous affair that there was even a caricaturist on hand to produce pictures of the guests with their hosts. I have never had a caricature done before and indeed I was so pleased with the result that I thought I might forgo the wool shop/detective agency idea and instead retire to the seaside to open a guest house for retired theatricals, hanging the caricature on the wall in the residents' bar as an excuse to indulge in lengthy anecdotes about my glorious past.

But just when you think you have the future all planned out, something extraordinary happens to make you change your mind. And so it was last night, as Lauren and I took the last tube home from Leicester Square. Guests at the party had been asked to wear a hat, and we had worn matching black top hats which - for obvious reasons - we removed for the journey home.

These hats lay stacked, one inside the other, on my lap as we chatted about the events of the evening - wasn't David Eldridge lovely, wasn't his wife's hat marvellous, and so on - when suddenly, as the train stopped at Stockwell station, a tall thin smiling man ran past me, snatched the hats, and made off with them out of the tube.

Well, what can you do? The doors closed and we went on our way. It was a mystery that drew comments and concern from the other passengers around us. Did we know the man? What had he stolen? Did he realise he had taken two hats, not one? Were the hats valuable? Did we mind about losing them? What is a hat party, exactly?

We discussed it with our fellow passengers all the way from Stockwell to Clapham Common but no-one could agree on the hat thief's motivation, although all had noticed the speed with which he dashed past and grabbed the hats - and the curious smile on his lips. It was all so intriguing that I realised I could never be happy retiring to run a guest house by the sea when there are mysteries such as these to be solved in London.

We don't mind about losing the hats. Despite recent spring cleaning efforts, the house is not noticeably less cluttered than it was before, and it simply means we have two fewer hats to find storage space for. And, as Lauren says, Doreen Virtue didn't see that one coming. So it also means we can take her fortune-telling 'godess cards' to the charity shop on Monday, freeing up even more room in the house.

I feel that, overall, we are the winners in this, whereas there's a tall thin man in Stockwell who has woken up this morning with two hats and a hangover - and that is at least one more hat than he bargained for, I'd guess. I can't help wondering whether he's smiling now, as he struggles to find space for these items in his own home.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

My Good Fortune

I am waiting for news - or rather, I'm waiting for good news - about something I have written.

This morning I had a letter in the post from someone who said they owed me money from about five years ago. A five pound note, a pound coin, a two pence piece and a penny were stuck to the page. Now, this is not a great fortune, I admit, and the letter, the sender and the £6.03 are unrelated to my writing career. But it is good fortune, nonetheless. The funds are readily available for spending and their unexpected arrival on such a sunshiney morning has to be an auspicious sign.

Hooray.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Doreen Virtue

I haven't done any writing. I hardly dare start my new play, for fear of spoiling it. I have been spring cleaning and drinking beer and vodka. Spring cleaning seems to involve moving all the rubbish from one room to another room, and dusting.

I have thrown out a lot of books to go to charity shops. All my favourite books have long since disappeared, lent to friends who haven't given them back. Why hang on to the less well-loved ones? I try to organise my bookshelves by putting books with others they might be friends with if they were alive. This takes some doing. It's dusty, difficult work. Hence the beer.

We found a pack of 'Godess oracle cards' by a person called Doreen Virtue phd. The rule with Spring Cleaning is use or lose. So we decided to use. Doreen is my mother's name so that seemed auspicious but she (my mother) doesn't like witchery. Sorry, if you're reading this. We tried it anyway.

You ask a question. I asked if my play, Lost, would be produced. The cards said yes. We asked if my friend Rob Hackman's exhibition would be a success. The cards said yes - if he danced and got in touch with his inner Goddess. We looked at the instructions - isn't it preferable, always, to look at the instructions after you start a task? - and Doreen Virtue phd said there are no negative cards. No point in asking when Jessie is gonna get it, then.

The problem was that we didn't have many questions for the universe. We are, as a family, incurious. Lauren says what will be, will be. When pressed, the only question she could come up with was 'Will our hats for the West End Whingers Party be any good?' The cards said 'You know what you have to do, don't delay.' I suppose it means I will have to dust off my cowboy hat that I last wore to party in 2002 when I was wearing a short yellow dress and was photographed laughing in a urinal. Sorry, I have the photo but my scanner isn't working. You'll just have to imagine.

But considering these cards are very positive and geared towards those of an artistic nature, feel free to email us with your questions and we will shuffle and ask and let you know what the universe has to say.

Sunday at the Skin Launderette


Last night I went to the launch of Kathryn Simmonds' first collection of poetry - Sunday at the Skin Launderette. Then I came home and read every poem in the book. The poetry really is beautiful - very well crafted, and witty.

I have heard it said - by way of justifying the arse-kicking that writers sometimes get in the film industry - that if they don't like it they should piss off and write a poem, as if that's the most ignominious use of a writer's talent that anyone can possibly think of.

Now, you can go wrong with poetry, it's true. There's an awful lot of terrible stuff about. Added to that, there is the question of taste. You are not necessarily going to like the same thing as everyone else. But when it works, it is extraordinary - an idea distilled into just a few lines and expressed in an original, thought-provoking way.

So anyway, if you like poetry, I thoroughly recommend this book. And if you don't like poetry... Aw, c'mon. I don't believe you. Course you do.