Thursday, 31 July 2008

Far Away's Law of Karmic Accountancy

I had a letter from the Tax Office yesterday. As I opened it, the first thing I saw was a leaflet entitled 'How to Pay'. That was a hint that it might not be good news. I read the letter anxiously. Apparently I owe 90p in unpaid tax which I must pay before 31 January 2009 or incur a fine. I will spare you my calculations about how much it might have cost to send the letter.

Instead, I refer you to Far Away's law of Karmic Accountancy which suggests that a sum of 90p may turn up sometime soon, by way of compensation. Who knows what governs such quirky magic - perhaps I don't even qualify? If the 90p should appear, I'll be sure to let you know.

Update: More details from Far Away here.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Martin Amis, Giles Coren, Buster Martin

The kids are going away for a bit so I am going to switch off the phones and the broadband and dedicate myself to cracking the novel I'm working on. Last night I had an auspicious dream in which I joined the literary fast set by having an affair with Martin Amis. The circumstances were that I was interviewing him in a house in Suffolk by the sea - possibly for a national newspaper. He looked young and handsome and obviously fancied me very much. We agreed to meet in a 'love hotel'* called The Mansion in Piccadilly Circus the following day. (I don't think this is the usual procedure in interviews and explains why I would have been unsuited to journalism.)

We did meet, although it was rather trying because, for reasons that were connected to a previous dream, I had rescued a dying woman by bringing her home with me on a double decker bus and had to call the emergency services before leaving her outside the house to be collected - rather as you do when you have something to be collected on Freecycle and you aren't going to be in.

Anyway, we met up at The Mansion and as I caught sight of Martin on the CCTV in the lobby, I noticed that he looked rather like Audrey Hepburn and I commented on it. And to complement his look, I wore a tiara for our assignation. And so we went through the lovely Art Deco lobby and up to our room. But before I could dream about the act of love itself, I was interrupted by the words 'Caution: This Pimlico Plumbers vehicle is reversing,' repeated over and over again very loud outside my bedroom window, with the 'is' stressed for some reason.

Since the Giles Coren debacle, of course, one is very interested in who stresses what and when and why. I met him once and he was very nice in real life. But I didn't dare go back to sleep to try to dream about Martin Amis or even Giles Coren - who writes very well, also - because dreams are erratic and I might have dreamt about Britain's oldest marathon runner, Buster Martin, who works for Pimlico Plumbers and is either 101 or 94, depending on which newspaper you read. And although I admire his fitness levels, dreaming about him wouldn't have put me in the mood for my literary endeavours at all.

As erotic dreams go, I'm not sure that it was all that erotic. But as auspicious literary dreams go, it was top notch.

*They have a lot of these in Hong Kong. It's just a place to go and have sex. You pay by the hour. I don't know if there are any in Piccadilly Circus.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Working Outside When the Weather is Fine

Thanks to Piers for tagging me in the 'work space' meme. Here I am writing one of my books. As you can see, I use a special pen to write directly onto the pages of each book before placing them on the shelves in the bookshops. This is time-consuming but creatively very satisfying. Also, I wear magic glasses which allow me to look into the minds of the book-buying public so I can be sure to write something that will interest them.

When I have something very complicated to write, for example a script, then I call on the help of my amanuensis, Jessie Kirkels, seen here at the computer.

We both enjoy working outside when the weather is fine.

I tag Potdoll, Far Away and Stuart. Unless you have already done it.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sandra and Me

When I met up with Far Away, Potdoll and Lara the other day and we all got very drunk, I came back from the toilet or the bar at some point to see Far Away reading Lara's hand. Naturally I wanted to have mine done too, while explaining at some length that I didn't really believe in it. She said my hand was very interesting (of course! And maybe there's some truth in it after all?) because I have two life lines, as if I have a twin. She used a word - and since I was a child I have never been able to admit to a deficit in vocabulary, I always nod and then look it up afterwards - and it sounded like nirwal or narwahl but when I googled it, the online dictionaries would only let me have narwhal, which is a kind of a whale with a horn.

So anyway, I have this... I have a twin. I made a few suggestions - could it be my brother, only a year younger than me? No. Or my ex-boyfriend - our lives intertwined for more than twenty years now? No. Or my daughter, we're very close? No. And by that time, fascinated though I was, everyone else had ceased to be fascinated and we drifted on to talking about other things.

Since then, I have thought it over a few times and yesterday I realised the explanation for the second line on my hand, this other person who shares my life with me. It's my drunken self.

Like all basically shy people, I gain in social confidence when I have had a few drinks. I haven't had much alcohol this year because I have been writing a lot and I'm getting old and the hangovers are too much to bear. But I have just completed two weeks of intermittent drunkenness, beginning with Auntie Vi's 80th birthday a couple of weeks ago (rosé wine), followed by the meet up with F A, P & L (Grolsch), a meeting with Jason, Piers and Stuart on Wednesday (vodka, lime & soda) and a vegetarian meal at my house on Friday (gin & tonic and red wine).

I can behave very badly when I'm drunk, making unnecessarily coarse remarks and hogging the conversation. The following day I sit around trembling and feeling needy, eating fried egg sandwiches (very restorative) and swigging handfuls of milk thistle (ditto). I talk to my friends on the phone saying 'I'm sorry - was I awful?' By way of reassurance yesterday, one of my dinner guests told me that I hadn't been awful at all - and one monologue in particular had been 'very funny.' But of course, people don't come round to your house to be treated to a monologue. I turn into Sandra Bernhardt when I'm drunk. She's my narwhal.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Under the Blue Sky

When I went travelling with Lauren when she was little, if we saw someone more than once and made their acquaintance - or even if we just took an interest in them - I would point them out to her saying 'oh look, there's our friend.' I wanted her to feel that the world was populated by people we could care about and that although we were on our own, we were not alone.

I have stuck with this special category of our friend when I approve of someone but have only a vague connection to them. I may never have met them, probably not got drunk with them and almost definitely not told them a secret or heard one of theirs. I might think twice about donating a kidney to them. Once I get to know someone and they're my real friend, then of course they are upgraded, simply, to friend.

And so it was that Lauren and I went to see Under the Blue Sky with our friends Andrew and Phil of The West End Whingers. The play was written by our friend David Eldridge, who we met at the Whingers' party. I used to read his blog - sadly now discontinued - and like him very much, both in print and in person, although we aren't quite in the kidney-swapping category with each other. The play stars Catherine Tate, among others, who is our friend, although I have never met her, because Lauren's boyfriend Kyle did the sound on her first TV show and so we take an interest in her career (one almost feels responsible for her success, under the circumstances) and because I feel very well-disposed towards all women with red hair.

I think this is the first play I have ever seen - except Shakespeare - where I had read the text before I saw it. That's because I wanted to see something DE had written when I first started reading his blog, and he had nothing on in London at the time, so I bought a copy of his plays to be going on with. It's interesting to read and then watch because you see what the actors and the director have made of it - they wring a laugh from every single line that deserves one; they do more with it on stage than I did with it in my head, just reading it. Which is the point of the theatre, of course, otherwise you might just as well sit at home and read the text.

So anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the play, not just because our friend had written it. It is well-written and brilliantly performed. Francesca Annis is beautiful and wonderful. The set is elegant and clever. The direction is - oh, more than fluid, because having read it I could see for once how much the director had got from every line. The direction's very good.

We met DE very briefly after the show and pestered him for exciting back stage secrets. He explained how it is that Chris O'Dowd manages to avoid being harmed by the large knife used in the first scene and why he does not need to wear a breast-plate under his shirt - the solution which first came to my mind as I watched and worried. So, after hearing that, I feel very showbizzy and insidery and I don't hate the theatre at all at the moment.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Treasure, Sausage Rolls and Amy

Yesterday was a very lucky day. I saw seven magpies while walking with my daughter and my dog in Battersea Park. We mis-remembered the rhyme and thought it signified 'gold' whereas in fact seven magpies are supposed to mean a 'secret never to be told.' Never mind. As with all self-fulfilling prophesies, because I was expecting to find treasure, I did so. I found 20p on the path near the cricket pitch and then Lauren found 5p. As if these weren't riches enough, I then found an Oyster card in the car park when we got back to the car. I wasn't sure whether to leave it, in case whoever had dropped it should come back for it, but decided to pick it up and hand it in at a Tube station. It's fortunate that I did because - you'll never guess what - it turned out that it was my Oyster card. What are the chances of that? Some mischievous sprite had taken the card from my bag, fled with it to Battersea Park and been so subdued by the power of the Peace Pagoda that it had dropped the card right there in the car park just as I arrived. Tsk. Strange times, eh?

In other news, on Saturday I met up with fellow bloggers Potdoll, Far Away and Lara and we all got very drunk in a womanly, bonding kind of way. And although there has since been some discussion about how the hot sausage rolls could possibly have vanished so quickly as soon as they were brought to our table (never mind the wine, beer and chips) we definitely plan to do it again.

On Sunday I went to the Lambeth Country Show, which was a new experience for me. I normally avoid it because I hate the countryside. However, a dear friend had entered the vegetable sculpture contest (very Midsomer Murders, I'm sure you'll agree) and scooped first prize with a wonderful likeness of Amy Winehouse, so I went to admire the work in situ.

Although Brockwell Park is a lovely setting and there were indeed lots of countrysidey attractions, this being Lambeth the otherwise peaceful atmosphere was disturbed by the awful noise of a man on stage with a microphone shouting into a horribly distorted PA system. Why is it always men? Why does it have to be so loud? Why is it the most talentless people who broadcast loudest at these affairs?

Anyway, I had an epiphany: maybe it's time to leave London after all.

Thursday, 17 July 2008


Jason Arnopp wonders where other writers get their inspiration. He gets some of his best ideas when he stops writing, whether on holiday or at the gym. Thomas Hardy liked his daily walk, and I read somwhere that playwright David Greig finds it helpful to go out for a run. Any kind of activity which gets you into a day dream-like state is good - swimming, walking, running etc. Moving your body seems to help move your brain. Mind you, I had a break-through with something I'm writing while sitting at my computer this morning, so that can work, too.

Last night I dreamt that I saw a film made by Danny Stack, and the film was brilliant. It was about a man whose shadow separates from him and leads a life of its own. When I woke up and realised it was a dream, it occurred to me that as the ideas in it had come from my imagination and not Danny's, I could simply make the film myself. But unfortunately when I tried to re-run it in my head, I couldn't remember the details. Also, even as I 'watched' it, I realised that it was technically complex - the face of the shadow was depicted as a kind of sepia coloured doily, which was very effective, I can assure you - and therefore something I would not be able to recreate with my current level of film-making knowledge.

So, of the two methods of generating inspiration that I have experienced today - having a dream about Danny Stack and sitting at my computer, writing - I would recommend the latter of the two as being more reliable.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Leonardo Stole My Crayon

I went to a rehearsed reading of King's Cross Award winning play Leonardo Stole My Crayon by Jane Elson at the Courtyard Theatre on Thursday. It's about a group of Young Offenders entering an art competition, and it makes the point that a lot of people in prisons and Young Offenders Institutions are poorly educated, with many of them dyslexic. Jane is dyslexic herself and teaches drama workshops to dyslexic children. If it all sounds rather worthy, it isn't. It's a moving play with lots of very funny lines in it. People in dire situations use humour to bond with each other, to assert their intelligence despite a lack of education and to make the days bearable as time passes, and Jane has captured all this in her play.

The actors were brilliant. Writers often rely on the goodwill of actors to read and workshop scripts and I am always astonished at the quality of the performances at readings like this, when the actors have had very little time to prepare and rehearse together, and when they are doing it pretty much out of the kindness of their hearts, because they like the script and want to help the writer. Extraordinary, really.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Best Week of My Life

I just came back from a Forkbeard Fantasy workshop in Devon experimenting with various film and theatre techniques with a small group of visual artists, designers, performers etc. I made (alone and in collaboration with others) four 2D and one 3D stop animation films, devised a short performance that mixed film projection and live theatre and made two short films using actors based on a monologue I had written. The workshop leaders were clever and interesting, and so were the other participants. As if that wasn't enough, the food was great and we stayed in holiday cottages with a pool, so I swam every day. I can say without embarrassment that it was the best week of my life.

I have allocated various time slots this way. For example, I spent five days in Tokyo about four years ago, and that was the best five days I have ever spent. I have got best years, best months, best nine months, best weeks... I haven't had the best day of my life yet. (Yes, I have given birth - but I'd describe that as a night of terrible pain with a good outcome. Sometimes you see famous people interviewed about their best and worst times in the newspapers and some will say the days their children were born were the best days of their life - but if you look closely, it's always men saying it.) I suppose I need to try and have the best day of my life shortly before I die, so I can keep building up to it, and not have it and look back on it for too long, knowing it has passed.

Anyway... I feel inspired. I'm still working my novel, and another novel that is supposed to be temporarily dormant and keeps rearing up and insisting on being written, and a play and and and... But while getting on with these, I might try and keep up with the (ahem) film-making. It's even more satisfying than knitting.