Friday, 29 May 2009

More More Light - and Hate

Like everyone who has a blog, I'm constantly amused by the google search terms that bring people here. Recent favourites include 'Will a miniature horse get lonely on its own?' and 'Do pangolins bite?' However, by far and away the most popular search term is 'I hate theatre.'

There's been a horrible row about More Light going on in the comments section of the Guardian theatre blog, provoked by a person called Gladys Ong, who has also cut and pasted her accusations - of 'institutional racism' - in the comments section of the reviews on the West End Whingers site and the Standard. She managed to extract an apology in the Guardian from the play's blameless director, Catrina Lear, who is also one of the performers in it (and, she says, responsible for set design, lighting, sound costume, etc, etc, as well as co-funding the production from poorly paid part-time work).

In the course of her long and detailed and very sweet response to objections to elements of the play by people who haven't seen it, Catrina reveals that none of the cast are being paid. I must admit, when I saw the show I thought the cast were probably doing it for next to nothing. But as they're young and talented and got very good notices (from professional reviewers who had actually seen it), I thought it was OK. But the information that they're not getting paid at all has made me think again. I have written before about the number of advertisements for 'interns' that crop up on websites that are supposed to list job opportunities in the theatre - too many people are expected to work for nothing.

Having said that, the kind of writing that I do (novels and plays, mostly) is speculative - I don't usually get paid until the work is published, commissioned or produced - and I wouldn't want someone to pity me or stop me doing it 'for my own good' because they feel I'm being exploited. Even so, I feel ashamed about the relish I expressed in my previous post about the low price of tickets for this show - obviously, one of the ways of keeping costs down is not to pay the cast.

I really liked this show but it has taken me through a downward spiral of emotions from joy at seeing it to disgust and anger at the comments in the Guardian (if you scroll down, mine is comment no. 32) to guilt about the financial plight of the cast. Sometimes, honestly, I hate the theatre.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

More Light at the Arcola

I went with friends to see More Light by Bryony Lavery at The Arcola last night and it was wonderful. It's one of those clever little shows with a big, interesting idea behind it - the story of Chinese concubines entombed alive with the Emperor, told from their point of view - and it's presented beautifully, the lovely design and the witty choreography echoing the poetry of the script. The cast are brilliant. It's only an hour long, the intimate setting, brevity, theatricality and vivid lingering images (not to mention the modest ticket price) a reminder of the best of the Edinburgh Festival shows I have seen. For once I was glad I'd made the effort to leave the house to go and see a show.

It's on until 30 May and it's only £13.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Ivy Bean and flapjacks

After news that 103 year old Ivy Bean was bored with Facebook and had switched to Twitter, I decided to see what all the fuss is about. It's a bit like going snorkelling - you dip your face in the water and it's much busier and more colourful than you ever could have imagined. Also, with 140 characters per post, it's suitable for haiku. Piers has told me off before about posting dog shit haiku on here but maybe Twitter's the place to do it? Currently I'm trying to perfect a haiku about some flapjacks I made yesterday:

I made flapjacks, they
shatter like Prince Rupert drops
when touched to the lips

No? Well anyway, I'm @emperorsclothes if you're on there. See you the other side.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Skinny Bitch

Last night I had disturbing dreams. I dreamt that Charlie Brooker was my boyfriend and also that I was one of a party of 49 lesbian nuns who had been forced to bear the children of north African pirates from the fictional land of Ntembe, following capture at sea. I usually slip between the first person and third person in my dreams, and in this case events unfolded backwards, so I watched the women fleeing some tragedy with their husbands and children on the deserted island they had made their home, then I was on board a ship with the other nuns trying to pack my possessions into my suitcase before it sank. Then I had sex with Charlie Brooker. I don't know why, I don't fancy him and I don't usually have dreams about famous people I don't know.

I used to have a boyfriend who spent his days arguing with me and his nights dreaming of attending fabulous parties with the likes of Princess Diana, at which he was the centre of attention. Sometimes our daily misery would intrude and he would conclude his long, long morning-time accounts of the events of the night before with, '...and then you turned up in a dress with a veil and I tried to choke you, and then I punched you in the face.'

I don't know why my dreams were so disturbed last night except perhaps that my real life is in disarray. I keep re-writing the same story/play/treatment, apparently forgetting each time that I've already done it to my satisfaction and that I need to get on with my next book. I now have seven versions of it under four different titles, three in script form (75 mins, 20 mins, 10 mins), one short story (4050 words), one comprehensive set of notes, one short story abandoned (1,000-ish words), one short story ongoing (5,500+ words). When I bequeath my papers to the British Library I pity the poor person who has to sort it all out before it can be presented to a grateful nation - and yes, I know I have to be famous but there's plenty of time for that, so long as these swine flu symptoms I'm experiencing are not a serious threat to my health.

Actually, I expect the reason I had such disturbed dreams was that a man came to the door last night and insulted my daughter. You know those people selling dishcloths and dusters who charge £4 for a j-cloth when you can get 10 of them in Sainsbury's for 34p? You buy something and you're not sure if it's because they assure you it's to 'help the homeless' or because they endure miserable lives being driven around in white vans by evil gangmasters who take a cut of their profits, or because they look rough as arseholes and probably aren't long out of prison for GBH. Last night, after a friendly chat, and establishing that the cheapest thing he had was £3.99 for a tea towel (you wouldn't pay that in a Lake District gift shop if it had the missing verses of The Ballad of Kubla Khan printed on it, would you?) Lauren declined to buy and wished him good luck. He called her a skinny bitch. It's probably not the worst phrase in his vocabulary - I doubt if he'd have called me a skinny bitch if I'd come to the door. But I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen making nutty parsnip soup.

You always wonder what you'll do if your children are threatened. You hear apocryphal stories of mothers who find the strength to lift a Ford Fiesta off a dying child. In my case, I turned into Judy out of a Punch and Judy show and went into the street and stood there in my pinny and a pair of long grey socks (and, obviously, a skirt and top as well), arms folded, and stared at the offending monster as he went and knocked at other doors along the road.

This morning, after a night of dreams in which I was used as a sexual plaything by men with such disparate backgrounds as piracy and journalism - the underlying message of which was that all men are evil, I think - I realised what I should have done last night. I should have followed the creature who insulted my daughter and stood next to him as he knocked on the neighbours' doors, and when they opened them, said 'Don't buy anything from him, he just called my daughter a skinny bitch.' And again and again, over and over, until he gave up and went home. Unfortunately, by the time I'd lighted on this course of action, I was about 15 hours too late. Never mind. Superheroes aren't made overnight. It takes a while to calibrate reactions. But next time I'll know what to do.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cyrano de Bergerac, Noses, Nudity

I went to see Cyrano de Bergerac in Chichester on Thursday. A friend's in it so a load of us went down for the Press Night. Two of the men in our party had quite big noses, which added considerably to the gaiety of the evening; a bit like going to see the Sound of Music with audience-members dressed as nuns, I should imagine.

The play was very enjoyable. At three and a quarter hours, I thought it might be a bit too long but it zips along; lots of leaping about and swordplay on stage and some rather affecting speeches delivered very effectively by a brilliant cast. I like watching plays where the thought 'well, I could do that,' never enters my head. Even from the beginning of the first scene, there was a lot of jumping from wobbly bench to table and back again that I never could have attempted, never mind learning the lines.

We had a drink with the cast afterwards and I thought I recognised an actor I had seen naked on stage at the Barbican about ten years ago. As you know, theatre has quite a lot of strictly-observed backstage etiquette and I had been given advice on what to do in such circumstances (stride up, shake hands firmly, remark 'what a magnificent penis', offer a drink) but not what to say or do if it turns out one is mistaken. Obviously, an option is to keep quiet, but I have never been able to keep quiet after two glasses of wine. Fortunately, my slightly hestitant opener of 'would I have seen you naked about ten years ago?' was met with a gracious smile; I had remembered correctly.

Cyrano de Bergerac is on for another two weeks in Chichester. I thoroughly recommend it. Who can resist the message that you can fall more deeply in love with one person's writing than you can with another's appearance? (Although unfortunately I think it only applies to men; when it comes to women, a nice arse can still trump a smart-arse.) Go and see it, if you can.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Treatments, Flexibility, Strength

I haven't started the new book yet. I'm still picking at a play I've been trying to write on and off for a while. It's basically an amalgamation of every idea for a play I've ever had. As soon as I get an idea for a new play, I just bung it in with the existing one. You know those people in offices who have a gigantic ball of rubber bands on their desk? There's always one. You've met someone like that, I'm sure. No-one knows what the gigantic ball is for. Why keep adding to it? Is the size of the ball important to them somehow? Anyway, my play's like that. Currently it's about death, time travel, memory loss, psychics and lesbians.

The other day I caved in and started writing it as a short story. It's so much easier; as soon as I can get away from a script and start writing prose I'm like Demi Moore in Ghost when the Righteous Brothers start singing, and the intransigent lump of clay suddenly turns into a towering phallus in my slippery hands.

The other day I met another playwright and she said she was writing a treatment. I forgot to check whether it was a treatment for a screenplay - which is quite standard - or for a stage play. Do people write treatments for stage plays? Who knew! What a marvellous, marvellous idea. I'm definitely going to think of this short story as a treatment for my play and then it doesn't seem like cheating or failure.

Other than not writing a play and not writing a novel, I have been going to Pilates classes twice a week and trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid going to the theatre. I went to another Miniaturists at the Arcola on Sunday, which was very good. On Thursday I'm going to see Cyrano de Bergerac in Chichester. I know from going to Pilates that I'm flexible but I'm not strong. I'd say that pretty much applies to the rest of my life.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Writers Guild Special Offer

The Writers' Guild of Great Britain is celebrating its 50th anniversary on Wednesday 13th May 2009 and, to commemorate the occasion, they are offering 50 people the chance to join the Guild on its 50th anniversary for just £50.
This offer applies to Full members, who currently pay a minimum of £150 per annum, and Candidate members who pay £100. The offer applies to a new member's first year of membership only.

Call the Guild's Membership Team on 13th May 2009, between 9.30am and 5.30pm, on 01952 214 063 and quote 'WGGB Anniversary Offer'. You can pay your £50 over the telephone by credit or debit card and your welcome pack will be sent on within a few days. The offer only applies on 13 May.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Four Signs of Ageing

I had a lovely holiday, thank you. One of the reasons I wanted to be a writer was because I imagined life would be one long holiday. But for some reason or other I have spent every day of the last three years hunched over my computer, typing away. I know that some successful writers advocate hard work as a way of getting the job done but it doesn't do it for me. I'm definitely going to spend less time working in future.

So I'm back, refreshed, ready to start on the next book and re-embrace the blog. I have sometimes thought of doing an occasional series of 'how to tell if you're getting old' posts on here. But then I go away and forget all about it. Ha. That's no. 1. I have been struggling to write a play about people with no memory. It's absurdly difficult because, of course, without our memories we're nothing. That's the point of the play but even so, I might just as well try and write something with no characters in it. Scene One, an empty room, nobody enters, nobody leaves. Then, after 90 minutes, lights up and the audience goes home. It would be cheap to stage but dull to watch unless people were allowed to talk all the way through it and make up their own minds about what's going on, as I do when watching the television. Anyway, I digress. That's sign no. 2.

No. 3 - I have recently come to appreciate the music and lyrics of the Carpenters. Oh, I used to like punk rock when I was young - and I still do, although I don't ever listen to it. And after that, what was known as happy house or handbag house, and hardcore house, and what has been called all sorts of things and is now known as R&B. Some of it was even considered cool in its day. I don't like Rock & Roll. Poetry is the new Rock & Roll, and I'm happy with that. My general understanding has been that you're on safe ground with music so long as it's a black person singing (unless it's Shaggy) so it's OK to like Desperado sung by Randy Crawford or Wish You Were Here by Wyclef. But I've been doing a lot of cooking this week and I got out my old CDs and there was a Carpenters covers one, presumbably bought in a fit of hilarious irony with a mind to playing it at one of the dinner parties I never actually have. And as I was making my tian and my pissaladiere and my Jamie Oliver Italian rustic salads, I realised I was listening to a series of wise, sad ruminations on love by uncool white people, and enjoying it.

Well, I've got some onions softening in a pan on the stove and I'd better go and give them a stir to make sure they don't catch. Hope you've been enjoying the sunshine. I have. I'm brown as nut butter although only wrist to elbow, ankle to knee and on my face, as I don't sunbathe nude in the garden any more. Whether that's another sign of ageing or whether it's because all the neighbours keep building loft extensions and with the new sets of windows high up and peering down, there's a risk they'll be able to see my um... Oh, go on then. We'll put it down as no. 4.