Friday, 24 October 2008

Possibilities

I have been thinking about parallel universes and possibilities quite a lot recently because of the book I've been writing.

A couple of days ago, I answered the phone.
'Who's that?' a woman asked.
'Well,' I said. 'Who are you? You called me.'
'No I didn't,' she said.

At the time I thought she meant that I had called her, and that she must be a bit crazy. But perhaps she only meant that she had called someone else and I had answered, which is not crazy at all but an example of what might happen if parallel universes were to collide.

I have written on here before that when I was travelling with my daughter years ago, before email or anything like that, I went to the poste restante (where people can send you mail care of the post office in any country) and picked up a letter addressed to Helen Smith. I opened it, read it and realised it was not meant for me. Of course, my name is not unusual so it's no surprise that it happened but still it was a strange feeling reading about the experiences I was supposed to have shared with the writer, as if someone had been living my life for me without filling me in on the details.

More recently, I thought that I might go along to an event in Islington where Chris Goode would be reading his poetry. I don't know him but I read his blog and I like a bit of poetry. In a subsequent post, he mentioned a drunk older woman who had taken a shine to him that night. I got a horrible shock when I read that because even though I hadn't been there - I was at Overspill with Lauren, she'd booked tickets - I knew that in some parallel universe, that overfamiliar drunk woman was me.

It is some compensation to know that even though I am sitting here hunched and alone at my computer, piling on the weight as I try to finish my novel, there are an infinite number of Helen Smiths living out all the choices I have ever made and never followed - a dancing, drunken swirl of them, mixed up in all the possible versions of other people's lives, having a delightful time.

I shall be sure to switch places with one of them, just as soon as I get this manuscript done.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Iris Brunette

Last night I went to see Iris Brunette by Melanie Wilson at the BAC (Natasha Tripney's review here). I have been going to the theatre for years and years, looking for something but never sure what. I think I found it in Iris Brunette.

It was such an exquisite, involving, elusive, clever, charming, atmospheric show. Melanie Wilson creates a world and puts the audience in it. I feel forever changed by the experience. In the unlikely event of my death, I have asked to be cremated and for my ashes to be scattered from one of the prettier bridges into the Thames. But if that doesn't happen - for example, if a greatful nation insists that I am buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey - and my gnarly old corpse is one day dug up again and a sort of theatrical autopsy carried out by some future Time Team types, then when they break me open with an axe, they will be able to pinpoint the exact moment when my molecular structure was changed forever by seeing Iris Brunette.

I love Melanie Wilson. 'More than you,' I said to Lauren as we drove home from the BAC last night, although that was a bit harsh. The correct order should be Lauren, then Jessie, then Melanie, then the rest of the world.

So now what? Should I try to transform myself into Melanie W as a mark of my admiration, in a stalkerish and slightly sinister Fay Weldon She-Devil kind of a way? No, because I've nearly finished my novel and I need to keep going with it; I haven't got time for surgery, dieting and a serious study of performance skills.

Perhaps it means I never have to go and see anything else at the theatre again? No. Because I'm off to see CloudCuckooLand the week after next because Stephen Sharkey has written it and I like him. And next week, I'm going along to a workshop of a new musical which a friend has written, and which my friend Kate is in. Russell (remember him, goat curry roti, previous post) said that the first time he heard her sing it was like drinking wine from a glass and realising that he had been drinking from a plastic cup all his life. I definitely don't want to miss it.

Iris Brunette is on at the BAC until 25 October. Only £10. I can't say it will change your life - I feel changed by it but it seems I'm going to carry on as before - but it may leave you feeling very happy and also quite sad. That's how I felt.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Mystical fairground rides, goat curry, scuba diving

Half way through the second drink of the evening something switches in my brain; it's like being transported somewhere - to the side of a lake, perhaps, with the faint sound of music coming from a party not too far away, colourful lights glowing across the water - and as I wait alone, a small, unpiloted craft appears out of the mist, silently. I step in, fasten my seat belt and off I go on some sort of fairground ride, powered by mystical rather than mechanical means, so that sometimes I skim across the water in the lake - and as patches of the mist clear, glimpse other travellers trying to steer their own fragile-looking craft - and sometimes soar up into the skies, or whoosh off to Mexico, or go somewhere dangerous and not get killed, and sometimes bump along the ground, coming to a halt in a rubbish tip somewhere a long way from home.

But last night I got half way through my second vodka, lime and soda - it was a lovely party, thanks, lovely people, very nice location, almost everyone danced - I felt the switch go on in my head and I knew it was the signal for that pleasure craft to launch. But I thought 'ooh, I'm a bit drunk. I better stop or I won't be able to work tomorrow.' I don't know, maybe I've grown up - in the past I've always felt it was very important (helpful, even) to try to drink every drop of alcohol until there was none left.

Or maybe it was the goat curry roti I ate before the party. I had friends staying with me who moved out of London a couple of years ago and they say they get to a certain point on the A2 on the way up here, and they start to think about goat curry roti. They buy one each for themselves and one for me, and while we eat them, we talk about whether or not we might later regret eating them and my friend Russell tells the story of the time (after six months as a customer there) he asked the shop owner to upgrade him from 'medium' to 'quite hot' and the shop owner said 'you're not ready', and how, when he went in some months later, the man said 'it's time' and gave him a 'quite hot' roti and when he ate it, he realised that he probably still wasn't ready.

I don't know if you have ever been scuba diving, but they give you a weight belt to help you sink (you need to get quite far down below the surface because otherwise it's not diving so much as swimming with an air tank on your back). The more body fat you have, the more weights they give you. The last time I went diving was in Bali, about seven or eight years ago. I was a healthy size 12 (maybe a 14 in Top Shop) and I needed five weights, which is the maximum they had available, so the Balinese dive master put two heavy stones in my pocket, and when I threatened to float back up to the surface, he and my friend Kev (my 'dive buddy') hung on to my legs to pull me down. Even so, in shallow waters, as we came to the end of the dive, I would start to float to the surface, looming helplessly above them like a stricken parachutist whose canopy has caught in the branches of a tree. My point is that last night, the goat curry roti seemed to act like some sort of weight belt (forget the pleasure craft analogy, we're with diving now) which prevented me from floating away.

One thing that struck me - and I have been sober at parties before, honest, but I always forget - is that while it is true that you can lose your inhibitions when drunk, you also lose your peripheral vision. When you're sober, you can see across great distances very clearly, and you see other people and notice what they're doing. Maybe one of the reasons it's so easy to behave badly when you're drunk is that - like a very young child playing hide and seek - you think no-one can see you because you can't see them.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Courage, Mon Brave

I used to drink a lot (not a boast, I'm just saying) and there is a moment on waking up after a good night that other convivial drinkers will recognise, when you mentally check yourself over and think 'it's OK, I got away with it, just a few bruises,' and then the memories come crashing in - all the awful things you said, the risqué jokes, the improper behaviour, the insistence on something or other that doesn't seem nearly so important the following day.

I have tried to manage the outcome in a couple of ways. One - not the preferred method, although it seems to work - is to go without drinking. The other is to try to switch off the feelings of embarrassment by pushing the limits - to go further and further so that you use up all your shame reserves or, if that fails, so that when you eventually rein things in, your behaviour doesn't seem so bad by comparison with earlier times. This has never worked for me, although Lord knows I have tried it often enough. All that happens is the next time you drink, all the accumulated memories come crashing down like heavy toys from an overhead cupboard when you wake the next day.

It seems, however, that there might be a third way: Last night, after a blameless evening in which I did voluntary work with refugees then came home and watched a recording of Blue/Orange on TV, I went to sleep sober, not having touched a drink for about a month. But I woke up with the cringe-making memory of having said to someone 'courage, mon brave' at some point in the night. I don't know who I said it to, although it wasn't well received. Obviously, it was a dream. How awful, who speaks French in their dreams, especially in such a patronising way?

But in trying to deal with the embarrassment of it all, a solution to my hangover horrors presented itself. Why not attribute all shameful memories to events that have taken place in my dreams? That time I tried to lie on a tramp's bed, explaining that I too had been homeless and could feel his pain. That time I.... well, never mind. The vehemence, the sex, the smoking - what if I could say it had all been a dream?

Ach well. I'm off to a party tomorrow night. I'll let you know on Saturday if this new approach works.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Overspill and Ducktastic

Last night I went to see Overspill by Ali Taylor at the Soho Theatre. The Guardian on Saturday mentioned that the play dealt with the soaring problem of knife crime which, I must admit, made me grit my teeth a bit. I don't like plays, books or films that deal with racism, knife crime, gun crime, domestic violence or the problems faced by inner city youth. I categorically won't watch or read anything that is likely to depict torture, rape or genocide. I also avoid domestic dramas for fear of being bored.

There's plenty left to see - fantasy, mystery, comedy, anything poetic, anything that tries to convey or discuss interesting ideas, anything where the actors give knock-out performances. Above all, I like anything that sets out to entertain.

I read a review by Lyn Gardner about a year ago, I forget the show she was reviewing, and she said something to the effect that the show was not for the sort of people who enjoyed Ducktastic. I like Lyn Gardner and I like her reviews but I saw Ducktastic and I thought it was fabulous. I went in the week before it closed down, and there was something affecting about the way the actors played it to the hilt, knowing it was doomed. Because it was closing early, I paid £10 for stalls seats that would normally have cost £45. Also, I went with my daughter and when she's with me, it adds something special to any night out. These were circumstances which enhanced my enjoyment of the evening but even so, the show had plenty of elements that appealed to me; physical comedy, magic, outlandish costumes and a live duck - marvellous.

Anyway, Overspill was wonderful (although not in a Ducktastic way - that was a digression, sorry). Ali Taylor's writing was clever, poetic and stylised, Tim Roseman's direction was fast-paced and witty, with a striking, effective set by Paul Wills integrated into the performance. The actors were terrific. It's on for another couple of weeks, it's only £10, it's entertaining. I recommend it.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Poetry, Porridge, Depth of Field

Last night I had a dream in which I watched a piece of film animation and the depth of field was all wrong. And I woke up and thought - that's awesome; for the first time I understand why depth of field is important.

And then I had some porridge and wrote a poem, and I looked up 'depth of field' on the internet so I could write a post about it and link to the information. And I thought - no, actually, that dream didn't reveal why depth of field is important. It revealed why it might be important to fake depth of field when you're making a film animation.

So this is what I have learned i) dreams are all about the interpretation ii) faking is good, sometimes iii) porridge is an excellent start to the day.

Friday, 10 October 2008

National Poetry Day

Over on Write Here, Write Now, screenwriter Lucy Vee is documenting her progress in writing a novel. She has written almost as much in a week as I have in six months. She seems to be writing it as a kind of stream of consciousness with a view to going back and revising once the first draft is complete, and mentions that she is surprised to find that she has used the word cock many times, and also that baked beans crop up quite often in the manuscript.

My recipe for writing novels is to include swear words and references to drug use where appropriate but to avoid sex where possible (much like my life ha ha ha) and to liberally scatter my poems throughout.

I used the word 'cunt' quite early on in my first novel, which I later came to regret. My friend Fiona sent me an email a couple of years ago to say that my goddaughter was reading it and I wrote back to say that she should remove the book from the child's hand before she reached page 8 or whatever it was. But Fiona works in a sensitive environment and my email was quarantined by her IT people and she had to call me and ask me what I had written in the email and it was all very awkward. But if you avoid the specifics of that situation - inquisitive godchild, a friend with a sensitive work environment, a reference to a swear word used in the book in an email to the friend, etc - then you can get away with all sorts of filth in your novel. Not that you or Lucy or anyone else has asked for advice about writing novels. But unsolicited advice is so much fun to give - if I didn't want to force my opinions on others, I wouldn't have become a writer in the first place, would I?

Elsewhere on other people's blogs - well, all the screenwriters seem to be writing novels. All the experimental theatre practitioners seem to have fallen in love. Here I am, plodding away with my own novel - I feel I should break away somehow and do something worth writing about. I could say I celebrated National Poetry by having a performance poet beaten to death in my novel. But actually, I wrote that scene a while ago so if I said it, it wouldn't really count, as it would be a lie.

Very Discouraging

I haven't written much on here because I have been sitting in the house, writing. Things are going well, thanks. Nearly there.

This week I took a break and went to the theatre, twice. I'm working on a novel at the moment but I have written for the theatre, too. When I write novels, almost every character is based on me - I have discussed this on Far Away's blog, but I pop up time and again in different disguises, like Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets. When I write scripts, I write about other people. I only mention it because it seems odd to me, and might mean I'm going wrong somewhere, probably with the scripts.

When I was a child I thought that I would like to be a novelist and when I was 18 I gave up reading books altogether in preparation for my great career, not wanting to be influenced by other writers' styles - worried that their rhythms and speech patterns might get inside my head. I don't recommend it at all. What a silly idea - like preparing for an Olympic sprinting race by not running. Fortunately, I had already read quite a lot up to that point. Piers recently put up a list of 1,000 books you should read before you die. Of the ones I had read (don't make me count again), I had read almost all of them before I was 18. Yes, of course I'm reading again now. Books are my favourite things in the world. The only trouble is that I can get discouraged when I'm writing and I read something that's brilliant - however proud I am of my work, I know that it will never be as good.

Which brings me to the theatre I saw this week. Normally I don't need to worry about being discouraged from writing when I go to the theatre as so much of it is so dreadful. But this week I saw Six Characters in Search of an Author by Pirandello (a free adaptation with new bits by Rupert Goold and Ben Power) and How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Fin Kennedy (reviews here). Both were fantastic - stunning pieces of theatre, beautifully acted, brilliantly directed, beautifully written. Very discouraging.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Naked Alzheimers Penis

If anyone asked, I'd have said this was a blog about writing but these are the searches that bring people here:

Margaret Thatcher Alzheimers
My friend Brad tipped me off about this two years ago. Two years before that, he saw a spacecraft hovering directly above him in Covent Garden.

Matthew MacFadyen naked
Can't help with that, sorry.

Helen Smith naked
! But thanks for asking.

Rafe Spall penis
You do realise that penis has a very fine actor attached to it?

I hate theatre
This is a very popular search term

Penelope Wilton
She's haunting your dreams too?