Saturday, 27 September 2008

Song Meme

I got tagged by Potdoll - I'm supposed to tell you a song that sums up writing for me. Regular readers will know what the song is - I've referenced it before on here. MacArthur Park by Donna Summer. Specifically:

Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it,
Cause it took so long to make it
And I'll never have the recipe again. Oh no.

Sometimes, when I'm working on a piece of writing, it'll come together and I'll have the whole thing in my head and it's perfect - I wish that I could just beam it into other people's heads at that point without having to write it down. But I'll get distracted, and when I come back to it, I can't quite remember what I was going to write.

Obviously this has happened often enough that I take steps to try to prevent it happening again. For example, last week, I had some thoughts about changes I should make to the structure of the first half of my novel. I spent a long time thinking about it because I didn't want to start making changes until I was sure what I was doing. But then I had to work on another project with a very tight deadline - and walk the dog and go to Sainsbury's and make the dinner and clean the house, etcetera, etcetera. So before I got sucked into the other project, I made some notes for myself about the structure of the novel so I would find my way back into it:

i. They together
ii. She goes through the letters
iii. J and the old lady
iv. They at home. He tells of his day.
v. J gives piece of paper to boy. Is killed.

Marvellous. Very helpful. I just sat down to work on it again today and it doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Here's the karaoke version of MacArthur's Park. You can sing along if you want.

As for the meme, all the people who I would normally tag have already done it. But if you're reading this and you'd like to do it, consider yourself tagged. (I stole that idea from Stuart. As we're writers and stealing ideas from other writers is wrong, consider it an homage.)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Calibrating Auspicious Sightings

Lots of very exciting work-related things have happened in the last few weeks. I wonder if these are attributable to a sighting of Miriam Margolyes on the north bound platform of the Northern Line at a station close to my home a few weeks ago. It seemed quite auspicious at the time. I felt she had a message for me but couldn't quite discern what it was.

Or is there a connection to a more recent sighting of Anne Reid round the back of John Lewis in Oxford Street? She's very pretty in real life, and was wearing a nice shade of lipstick. But she didn't seem to be trying to tell me anything. Perhaps, on that occasion, I was the apparition, sent with some messenge for her? If so, I can't tell you what it was, being the vessel and not the originator. Even if I did know, there's probably some kind of confidentiality clause that covers that kind of thing.

Although I tend to feel that it was Miriam Margolyes who was the harbinger of this change in my fortunes, it's quite possible that I have missed out on seeing other bearers of good news. You see, a friend of Kyle's told him the other day that he had found £97 on the ground in the last three months just by looking out for it. I'm not sure that I quite believe it, although Kyle assures me it's true - apparently the floor of supermarkets offer particularly rich rewards. I have been keeping my eyes to the ground. So far, all I have found is 20p, and that was on the carpet in the living room, which doesn't really count as it probably belonged to Kyle in the first place. Perhaps he was just trying to give me hope that I would find money if I looked hard enough?

I think I will go back to walking with my eyes on the crowds and my thoughts in the clouds. In the mean time, I have the sighting of Miriam Margolyes to sustain me. I wonder if there's a way of calibrating these sightings in terms of the good news they herald? e.g. one Miriam Margolyes equals x number of theatrical commissions, an Anne Reid foretells a successful meeting at the BBC, and so on.

I read an interview with John Hurt recently, in which he said he likes walking around London because no-one recognises him. People do recognise him, of course - they just pretend not to. He passed within an inch of me once, in Soho about ten years ago. Was that around the time I heard I was going to get my first novel published?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

The Bite, Not the Groove

I wrote so much today (2,044 words and it's not even 5 o'clock, yay!) that I got an indentation in my left forearm from resting it on the desk while typing. I immediately broke off work to post this. Not much has happened that has been worth mentioning recently, the most interesting being that I spilled some - but not all - of a packet of Readybrek belonging to the junior members of the house while reaching for a cookery book, and it went over the floor and in the cupboards.

Lauren has been working for the last few weeks in a dangerous yet artistic environment that involves the use of powertools and I made the mistake the other day of telling her the story of the Readybrek in a breathless and melodramatic way (first, I made her guess what had happened) before asking about her day. Hers had been more eventful than mine as, for the second day running, one of her workmates had sustained a nasty injury (the tip of a finger chopped off that day, a hand pierced by a blade the day before) and another workmate had tried to lift everyone's spirits as they mopped up the blood by telling how she had been menaced in her own home the night before by a stranger wearing a banana suit.

Even my own work-related injury turns out to be unspectacular and nothing of the sort. I have just looked at it again and I do have a groove in my arm, which is about where I rest it on the desk, but my arm just below it looks weirdly fleshy, like it belongs to one of those putti in Renaissance paintings, and feels hot to the touch. I've realised it's because I have a mosquito bite on my arm that I got while lying in the hammock yesterday evening, drinking gin. In other words, my arm goes out, rather than in. What I'm seeing is the bite, not the groove.

Maybe it's a sign? I should go out? Rather than, er... rather than in?

Nah. I'll stay in; I can do at least another 500 words tonight. Ah, that's what's so delicious about getting to this age. You probably dread it, you young ones. But when you get here, you find you can do whatever you want. And the funny* thing is, it turns out you don't want to do anything.

*not that funny, obviously - cf. the Readybrek story, which is not that interesting.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A Month in Show Business

Being in show business is much more difficult than I had realised it would be when I signed up exactly a month ago, on August 10th 2008, and so I am abandoning it, at least temporarily.

From studying other, more successful short films, it appears that it is sensible to try to build a set in a controlled environment so that it can be used more than once, and to use props and equipment that do not obviously have some other primary use. Lauren has also mentioned that other people's props and sets do not seem to be as dusty as ours.

You can click here if you would like to see what I did with the set I built the other day in the garden. As you may be able to guess from the quality of the musicianship in the title music, I have no plans to switch from show business to rock and roll. I think I will stick to writing, for now.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


We're dealing with a terrible sense of loss in our house, having finished Series Four of The Wire, and knowing that Series Five will be the last.

We have taken to sitting around saying 'sheeeeee-it' to each other in a mournful way, like wounded buffalo at the watering hole trying to console each other with our last breath. If we do get visitors from the future any time between 10 September, when the Hadron Collider is switched on, and 22 September, when the next series of The Wire comes out on DVD in this country, and they take a peek in at us through the sitting room window during one of our disconsolate 'sheeeee-it' exchanges, they will surely turn to each other and say ' It's almost as if these primitive people have feelings...'

One of the reasons The Wire is so good, of course, is because it has ongoing storylines. Intelligent writing, outstanding acting, good storytelling and a social conscience; each series is like a novel on the screen. People like The Wire for the same reasons they like the BBC's bonnet stuff - and it's not because of the bonnets.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Preparing for the Future

Last night we had sushi and watched two episodes of The Wire, with the first fire of autumn burning in the grate. Does life get any better? Well, that depends on your perception, of course. I remember a time when I used to want to go out and dance all night - the idea of sitting at home watching TV was an anaethema (and the idea of sitting at home watching episodes of TV from a boxed set of DVDs was unimaginable and would have seemed weirdly futuristic if someone had tried to describe it to me). I used to consider it something of a disappointment if I went to a club that shut before 8 o'clock in the morning. Now, on the rare occasions when I leave the house, I hope that I will be able to find someone interesting so I can talk about work.

On Friday I went to a lovely party and talked about work a lot. I met a director - actually, I wasn't sure if I had heard right and had to clarify whether she said she was a director or a doctor, which led to a series of rather fine jokes about whether or not the scene of an accident could be improved by having a director in attendance, and whether or not, in case of emergency, airline personnel should check whether a director is on board, etc. Come to think of it, I didn't really talk about work at all, just made some rather facile remarks about her job that amused me very much at the time.

However, I also met a very nice film producer and so of course I could talk about a subject which is very dear to my heart at the moment, which is filmmaking. I mentioned that the thing I like most about it is that you can film something in the afternoon, edit it in the evening and have it up on YouTube the same night. She mentioned that the film she was working on was about to start principal photography next week and would be out in about a year. Still, I think we found some common ground.

Today, I can't work out whether to work on my novel, try to make a short film or clean the house, in preparation for visitors from the future. It's not clear to me whether people will turn up in Switzerland on 10 September and make their way to their destinations from there by conventional means, or whether they will come straight to us from wherever they are. One thing scientists seem to agree on, however, is that they really might turn up.

I'm not sure who to expect. I can't say that I'm looking forward to meeting grandchildren particularly - I have been on red alert expecting them to show up for the last five years, and I don't need the Hadron Collider to be sure of catching a glimpse of them before I die.

If I thought there was a chance of it, I might travel to Switzerland, break through security and try to throw Jessie through the wormhole into the future, to a place where they have perfected a reasonably-priced cloning technique for dogs, then have someone throw her back. But 10 September is all about people coming to find us, so let's concentrate on that.

I don't know whether your future self can come back, or you can only be visited by other people. If it's my future self that I should be preparing for, maybe she (I?- grammatical considerations are not the least of my concerns about the troubles this new world may bring) will be able to give some hints and tips about filmmaking. In which case I may as well concentrate on the housework today.

One thing I know (from watching Hollywood films) about meddling with space and time is that all sorts of maverick killers and mysterious government agencies are likely to spring up in response to it, and try to suppress time travel. They will don black clothes and carry big guns, and pursue ordinary, innocent people like me, asking obtuse questions such as "Can you remember a time when you were happy?" to test our mettle and decide whether we should be disposed of, or allowed to live. Fortunately, I have my answer ready - "I was happy on 6 September, when I watched The Wire with my family, and ate sushi. Jessie was still alive and the first fire of autumn burned in the grate. It was wonderful."

But of course, whether that answer means that I will be allowed to live another day or whether the evil-doers in black clothes will blow my head off, I can't say, and have no way of knowing until after 10 September.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Poetry, Knitting, Filmmaking, Dog Shit

I love the change of seasons. Goodbye summer with your unflattering skimpy clothes, your hateful barbecues and cheerful parties. Autumn brings with it lots of lovely excuses for not leaving the house - too dark, too rainy, too cold. I'm very much looking forward to spending my evenings at home watching further episodes of The Wire with the fire on and a nice bowl of soup or a plate of stew.

September is traditionally a time for setting goals and revising plans, partly because it's the start of the school year, even though none of us are at school any more (and if you are, what are you doing reading this? Go outside and play), partly because there are still a few months of the year left to run, and a decent chance of ensuring that something is achieved, so the year doesn't get written off as a failure or disappointment. It's a time when I ask myself - what have I achieved so far? What have I learned?

Readers who have been with me from the start will know that dog shit provided a particularly rich source of inspiration and learning in the early days of this blog. There isn't much use for dog shit - you can't put it on the compost or spread it around the garden, you just have to pick it up and throw it away. But you can always get a poem out of it, and while that may not seem like an important lesson, it's very comforting, and does say something about life. Remember, it doesn't matter whether the poem is any good or not, it's the act of creation that counts.

Filmmaking, for me, is the new dog shit. I thought it was the new knitting - suitable for all skill levels, the results of your effort growing in front of your eyes, sometimes frustrating, ultimately rewarding, can be done at home by yourself, etc - but there are so many lessons to be learnt from it that, really, I'm going to have to say it's the new dog shit.

One thing I have learned from filmmaking is that small achievements bring happiness and big ambitions bring unhappiness. Of course, you can go and live in an Eco Tipi and learn much the same thing but this way, I don't have to leave the house. And while small achievements (e.g. my short films) have led to big ambitions (e.g. the creation of a futuristic city in my garden) which did indeed bring unhappiness, I do feel that there must be further lessons to be learned, that the unhappiness* is only temporary and there's another step I have yet to find that will lead to happiness. I'll get there in the end.

Meanwhile, I just wish there was a way to incorporate dog shit into filmmaking. If only you could use dog shit to create a futuristic city, for example. But then, by rendering it useful - by taking away its essential and unassailable uselessness - perhaps I would also take away its potential for poetry?

Poetry, knitting, filmmaking, dog shit. One day I will find a way to combine all these elements. The question is, would it make me more happy or less happy to realise such a dream?

*Actually, I'm not unhappy at all. I've got over it and I'm going to make a city out of sweets next time round. But to say so rather spoils the argument.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Yet More Good Fortune

All I want to do is sit at home and work on my novel but all sorts of things keep getting in the way. Today I had to go into town for some meetings and I must say I was very irritated at having to leave the house without any hope of getting my word count up. But as it happens I was struck by three pieces of good fortune:

* First, I had a brilliant idea about how to approach a new piece of writing that I have been thinking about starting for some time.

* Second, I saw Miriam Margolyes - a very auspicious sign. She materialised in front of me on the northbound platform of the Northern Line as I stepped off a southbound train. Regular readers will remember that last month when I was finishing off some cheese I had left over from a dinner party, I had to contend with all sorts of theatricals appearing in my dreams, seemingly to discourage me from any further involvement in the theatre. However MM only looked slightly distracted and did not seem to wish to discourage me at all.

* Third, I found a pound coin in the road in front of the 137 bus, which I picked up and used to buy butter in the corner shop. We get through quite a lot of butter in our house and I was very pleased to be able to buy some more of it this afternoon.

So hooray for everything.