Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Sheridan Smith and Me

I got the Radio Times this week and when I read Gareth McLean's interview at the back of it with the delightful, much-loved Sheridan Smith, I was alarmed to see her say, 'I'm a gay man in a woman's body.'

This is a line I have been using for years. In fact, I think the exact words I use are, 'I'm a gay man in a straight woman's body.' As well as acknowledging the fag-haggery of my life and the fact that I have slept with a few gay men in my time, I was always amused by the 'wolf in a wolf's clothing' meta-joke aspect of it because after all a gay man in a straight woman's body is, to all intents and purposes, a straight woman. I'm not suggesting I invented it or SS copied it or anything like that. Who knows, perhaps I even nicked it off someone else in the first place, in which case I have no idea where it originated so I can't attribute it here, sorry.

But let's face it (and here's the point of this post), when you see one of your jokes printed in the Radio Times, it's time to come up with some new ones.

Ken Dodd at Richmond Theatre

Last night I went to see comedy legend Ken Dodd at Richmond Theatre with Roo Rogers of UptheWestEnd.com. It was the first time I had seen Ken Dodd perform live. Apparently he doesn't tour much these days - not surprising, he's 82. I know! Can you believe it? He didn't look 82. There are two possible reasons for this:

1) I wasn't getting a close enough view: The show was a sellout and the only tickets we could get were the 'Cirque de Soleil' ones - so high up in the theatre that I had to close my eyes and hold on to the guard rail with both hands to get to my seat. Though I did open my eyes again, from where I was sitting KD could have passed for any age between 56 and 73.

2) He doesn't look 82 because he isn't. We looked up his date of birth up on Wikipedia via RR's iPhone* during the interval. Perhaps KD goes on to Wikipedia whenever he's booked to do a show and alters his birth date to ensure an affectionate 'aw bless him he's 82!' reception from the audience. There was no need last night - he gave an extraordinary performance and he earned his applause.

When people ask how old I am, I generally say - do you mean my real age or my Wikipedia age? I have spent my whole life lying about how old I am. Like pretty much every other teenager in Britain, I used to add years on so I could buy cigarettes and alcohol. Then one day I started taking years off. I would have kept taking them off indefinitely except that it would have got to the point where my age and my daughter's date of birth no longer tallied. I believe that pregnant teenagers are unfairly vilified and I am an advocate of women having children when they are young. But even I can see that there might be something disquieting to others about pretending that I gave birth to a child at the age of eight.

Fortunately now I have got to that delightful time of life where it seems a good idea to add years on. There is a real pleasure in hearing people say, Oh my God! You don't look fifty! Even if it is because I am not.

*or whatever it was

Monday, 29 March 2010

Author Blog Awards Nomination

The people at Completelynovel.com have been in touch to say that I have been nominated for an award for this blog, which is very exciting (though not unexpected, as authors are allowed to nominate their own blogs and I nominated mine).

A shortlist will be chosen from among the blogs with the most nominations so please sign up and nominate this blog by Friday 2nd April if you haven't done so already. There are prizes to be won just for nominating a blog.

Thank you.

Culture and Misunderstandings

Friday night: I watched Inglorious Bastards on DVD all the way through to the end, thinking I was watching Tarantino's 2009 film Inglourious Basterds and that Tarantino had lost his way, artistically. Fortunately my friend Brenda had come to stay for the weekend and we talked through most of it, so it was hardly a wasted evening. She thought the film was by the Coen Brothers, I had heard it was Tarantino. I squinted at the tiny printed label on the DVD sleeve but couldn't see the name of either director, which should have tipped me off.

I had also heard that the film had polarised audience opinion. 'Well now we know we're in the half that doesn't like it,' said Brenda. She had been expecting to see Brad Pitt in the film, yet it was plain to see that he wasn't, unless very heavily disguised. The film was awful, the script was terrible, the acting was terrible. 'They'd never say that,' I complained of several lines of dialogue, in a writerly fashion. 'And look at his stupid seventies hair. If it's meant to be a spoof, it's not very funny.' 'It just goes to show, we'd never sit through this pile of shite if Tarantino's name wasn't attached to it,' said Brenda. Quite.

Saturday afternoon: A wonderful afternoon of poetry readings at Book Club Boutique at Black's in Soho, hosted by Salena Godden, curated by Roddy Lumsden, featuring poets from the new Bloodaxe anthology Identity Parade, including the exemplary Luke Kennard. Black's is a private members' club in an eccentric, tall, narrow townhouse in Dean Street. Real fires blazed in the grate of every room as the rain pelted down outside.

Saturday night: Show Off! Piano Bar at Cafe Koha in London's glittering West End, hosted by Marissa Dunlop and Nathan Martin. Show tunes, jazz standards, Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf and even O Sole Mio. Brenda is an Irish musician and I had persuaded her along by describing it as 'upmarket karaoke'. 'We don't use the k word here,' said the debonair gentleman seated next to us, a veteran of Greenwich Village piano bars.

Brenda said she would have liked to get up and sing Rainy Night in Soho by the Pogues* in celebration of our poetic, rainy afternoon, which she had enjoyed very much. But we couldn't find the sheet music among the dozen books of arrangements of Gershwin songs, Rogers & Hammerstein and Glee mashups, and Brenda wasn't convinced that Nathan would know it.

Sunday afternoon: La Boheme above a pub called the Cock Tavern in Kilburn. One of the cultural highlights of my year so far. Seriously, it was wonderful. It is sung in English, set in modern-day Kilburn, with an updated, witty libretto. The cast are young and talented and they look suitably impoverished (the mittens given to Mimi just before she dies had a particular poignancy for me) and they can all act as well as sing - which is important in such an intimate setting.

Act Two takes place in the pub downstairs, among regular punters who are not seeing the show. Naturally there is some comedy if you watch the door and see people deliberating whether or not to come in and brave the performance to get to the pool table next to the urinals at the back of the pub.

Sunday evening: On the Tube on the way home I sat among Southampton football supporters on their way to Southampton via Waterloo after a match. There were five men and a woman, all wearing their team's livery. The men exchanged 'jokes' about people who were not born and do not live in Southampton and do not support that city's football team ('The Saints'), along the lines that the only good thing to come out of Wales is the M4, and people who live in or were born in Portsmouth are 'pikeys'. My in-laws are Welsh, one of my best friends was born in Portsmouth, one of my favourite books of all time is The Romany Rye. But it hardly seemed appropriate to try to engage them in conversation about George Borrow so I clutched my handbag and pursed my lips and said nothing.

The female of their party emphasised her feminine side by intoning a list of West End shows she'd like to see: 'Mamma Mia, Hairspray, Midsomer Murders-' 'You mean A Midsummer Night's Dream?' said M4-pikey-joke man, forcing me to revise my opinion of him. 'Yes,' she droned. 'Mamma Mia, Hairspray, Midsummer Night's Dream, Billy Elliot...' They got off at Waterloo. I continued to Clapham Common. When I got home I added 'Inglourious Basterds' to my DVD list at Cinema Paradiso.

* Actually I believe her exact words were 'Don't be ridiculous, I'm not going to sing anything.'

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

David Mamet's Advice to Writers - Do Not Write a Crock of Shit

I found this memo from David Mamet to writers of The Unit via a link from screenwriter David Lemon on Facebook, who found it on slashfilm.com, whose writers in turn found a mention of it here although it seems it first have surfaced on Ink Canada (a collective organised by Karen Walton who I'm 'friends with' on Twitter - she wrote Ginger Snaps, among other things).

No wonder a memo written in 2005 has found so long to reach us. Let's hope it's not a hoax. It's well worth a read, though - written in caps, it gives DM's thoughts on the roles of writers, directors and actors in TV and reminds writers that the audience tunes in to watch drama, not to watch information.

TO THE WRITERS OF THE UNIT

GREETINGS.

AS WE LEARN HOW TO WRITE THIS SHOW, A RECURRING PROBLEM BECOMES CLEAR.

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN *DRAMA* AND NON-DRAMA. LET ME BREAK-IT-DOWN-NOW.

EVERYONE IN CREATION IS SCREAMING AT US TO MAKE THE SHOW CLEAR. WE ARE TASKED WITH, IT SEEMS, CRAMMING A SHITLOAD OF *INFORMATION* INTO A LITTLE BIT OF TIME.

OUR FRIENDS. THE PENGUINS, THINK THAT WE, THEREFORE, ARE EMPLOYED TO COMMUNICATE *INFORMATION* — AND, SO, AT TIMES, IT SEEMS TO US.

BUT NOTE:THE AUDIENCE WILL NOT TUNE IN TO WATCH INFORMATION. YOU WOULDN’T, I WOULDN’T. NO ONE WOULD OR WILL. THE AUDIENCE WILL ONLY TUNE IN AND STAY TUNED TO WATCH DRAMA.

QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES *OF EVERY SCENE* THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.

IF THE SCENE IS NOT DRAMATICALLY WRITTEN, IT WILL NOT BE DRAMATICALLY ACTED.

THERE IS NO MAGIC FAIRY DUST WHICH WILL MAKE A BORING, USELESS, REDUNDANT, OR MERELY INFORMATIVE SCENE AFTER IT LEAVES YOUR TYPEWRITER. *YOU* THE WRITERS, ARE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE *EVERY* SCENE IS DRAMATIC.

THIS MEANS ALL THE “LITTLE” EXPOSITIONAL SCENES OF TWO PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD. THIS BUSHWAH (AND WE ALL TEND TO WRITE IT ON THE FIRST DRAFT) IS LESS THAN USELESS, SHOULD IT FINALLY, GOD FORBID, GET FILMED.

IF THE SCENE BORES YOU WHEN YOU READ IT, REST ASSURED IT *WILL* BORE THE ACTORS, AND WILL, THEN, BORE THE AUDIENCE, AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE BACK IN THE BREADLINE.

SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE THE SCENE DRAMATIC. IT IS NOT THE ACTORS JOB (THE ACTORS JOB IS TO BE TRUTHFUL). IT IS NOT THE DIRECTORS JOB. HIS OR HER JOB IS TO FILM IT STRAIGHTFORWARDLY AND REMIND THE ACTORS TO TALK FAST. IT IS *YOUR* JOB.

EVERY SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. THAT MEANS: THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE A SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD, PRESSING NEED WHICH IMPELS HIM OR HER TO SHOW UP IN THE SCENE.

THIS NEED IS WHY THEY *CAME*. IT IS WHAT THE SCENE IS ABOUT. THEIR ATTEMPT TO GET THIS NEED MET *WILL* LEAD, AT THE END OF THE SCENE,TO *FAILURE* – THIS IS HOW THE SCENE IS *OVER*. IT, THIS FAILURE, WILL, THEN, OF NECESSITY, PROPEL US INTO THE *NEXT* SCENE.

ALL THESE ATTEMPTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, WILL, OVER THE COURSE OF THE EPISODE, CONSTITUTE THE *PLOT*.

ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

AND I RESPOND “*FIGURE IT OUT*” ANY DICKHEAD WITH A BLUESUIT CAN BE (AND IS) TAUGHT TO SAY “MAKE IT CLEARER”, AND “I WANT TO KNOW MORE *ABOUT* HIM”.

WHEN YOU’VE MADE IT SO CLEAR THAT EVEN THIS BLUESUITED PENGUIN IS HAPPY, BOTH YOU AND HE OR SHE *WILL* BE OUT OF A JOB.

THE JOB OF THE DRAMATIST IS TO MAKE THE AUDIENCE WONDER WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. *NOT* TO EXPLAIN TO THEM WHAT JUST HAPPENED, OR TO*SUGGEST* TO THEM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

ANY DICKHEAD, AS ABOVE, CAN WRITE, “BUT, JIM, IF WE DON’T ASSASSINATE THE PRIME MINISTER IN THE NEXT SCENE, ALL EUROPE WILL BE ENGULFED IN FLAME”

WE ARE NOT GETTING PAID TO *REALIZE* THAT THE AUDIENCE NEEDS THIS INFORMATION TO UNDERSTAND THE NEXT SCENE, BUT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO WRITE THE SCENE BEFORE US SUCH THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL BE INTERESTED IN WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

YES BUT, YES BUT YES *BUT* YOU REITERATE.

AND I RESPOND *FIGURE IT OUT*.

*HOW* DOES ONE STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN WITHHOLDING AND VOUCHSAFING INFORMATION? *THAT* IS THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF THE DRAMATIST. AND THE ABILITY TO *DO* THAT IS WHAT SEPARATES YOU FROM THE LESSER SPECIES IN THEIR BLUE SUITS.

FIGURE IT OUT.

START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE *SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC*. it must start because the hero HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.

PLEASE NOTE THAT OUR OUTLINES ARE, GENERALLY, SPECTACULAR. THE DRAMA FLOWS OUT BETWEEN THE OUTLINE AND THE FIRST DRAFT.

THINK LIKE A FILMMAKER RATHER THAN A FUNCTIONARY, BECAUSE, IN TRUTH, *YOU* ARE MAKING THE FILM. WHAT YOU WRITE, THEY WILL SHOOT.

HERE ARE THE DANGER SIGNALS. ANY TIME TWO CHARACTERS ARE TALKING ABOUT A THIRD, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

ANY TIME ANY CHARACTER IS SAYING TO ANOTHER “AS YOU KNOW”, THAT IS, TELLING ANOTHER CHARACTER WHAT YOU, THE WRITER, NEED THE AUDIENCE TO KNOW, THE SCENE IS A CROCK OF SHIT.

DO *NOT* WRITE A CROCK OF SHIT. WRITE A RIPPING THREE, FOUR, SEVEN MINUTE SCENE WHICH MOVES THE STORY ALONG, AND YOU CAN, VERY SOON, BUY A HOUSE IN BEL AIR *AND* HIRE SOMEONE TO LIVE THERE FOR YOU.

REMEMBER YOU ARE WRITING FOR A VISUAL MEDIUM. *MOST* TELEVISION WRITING, OURS INCLUDED, SOUNDS LIKE *RADIO*. THE *CAMERA* CAN DO THE EXPLAINING FOR YOU. *LET* IT. WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERS *DOING* -*LITERALLY*. WHAT ARE THEY HANDLING, WHAT ARE THEY READING. WHAT ARE THEY WATCHING ON TELEVISION, WHAT ARE THEY *SEEING*.

IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.

IF YOU DEPRIVE YOURSELF OF THE CRUTCH OF NARRATION, EXPOSITION,INDEED, OF *SPEECH*. YOU WILL BE FORGED TO WORK IN A NEW MEDIUM - TELLING THE STORY IN PICTURES (ALSO KNOWN AS SCREENWRITING)

THIS IS A NEW SKILL. NO ONE DOES IT NATURALLY. YOU CAN TRAIN YOURSELVES TO DO IT, BUT YOU NEED TO *START*.

I CLOSE WITH THE ONE THOUGHT: LOOK AT THE *SCENE* AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT *ESSENTIAL*? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. IF YOU’VE GOT ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME UP.

LOVE, DAVE MAMET
SANTA MONICA 19 OCTO 05

(IT IS *NOT* YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE ANSWERS, BUT IT IS YOUR, AND MY, RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW AND TO *ASK THE RIGHT Questions* OVER AND OVER. UNTIL IT BECOMES SECOND NATURE. I BELIEVE THEY ARE LISTED ABOVE.)

Meow Meow, Soho Theatre

I saw Meow Meow at Soho Theatre this evening with theatre producer Sue Knox who had seen her perform in New York and at the Edinburgh Festival, and recommended the show. It's described as a subversive cabaret act, and involves singer Meow Meow - accompanied by Emmy winner Lance Horne on the piano - singing torch songs in French, German and English, and larking about.

There's one very funny visual gag early on when she finally takes to the stage for the first song - and if that hooks you in (as it did me), you're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy the rest of the show.

Meow Meow has previously performed as part of the Olivier Award-winning La Clique as well as touring all over the world with her solo show. She's funny and adorable and talented, and she's on at the Soho Theatre until 10th April. Tonight's show was sold out, so it's probably worth booking in advance if you want to see it.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Write a theatre review and win £50

Theatre review site UptheWestEnd.com is offering members the chance to win £50 in theatre tickets for reviewing a show. If you haven't done so already, sign up and leave a review of 350 words or less on the site before 8pm Friday 19th March. Details here.

If that sounds too much like hard work, if you're on Twitter you can follow UptheWestEnd and retweet news of the competition for a chance to win a £10 theatre token.

The site itself is a very useful resource, with all the reviews from the press, bloggers and UptheWestEnd site members in one place, as well as news of the shows that are due to open and close in London over the coming week - and there's a forum if you want to exchange news and information or even chat 'off topic' with other theatre lovers (or loathers).

Monday, 15 March 2010

Success in America

We all have different ways of measuring success but certainly I'm delighted with the modest sales I have achieved since I started selling my first book, Alison Wonderland, in the Kindle Store on Amazon. And (look away now, Dawkins lovers) the evidence seems to show that if you do something kind for others, the universe will repay you... in book sales. Check out my video for further details:

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Joys of Blogging and Twitter for Writers

I have been blogging for almost three years. I went to a meeting at the Writers Guild. Internet communications expert Tom Smith said, You should start a blog. So I did. Whatever else I might have been expecting from it, I wasn't expecting to make so many friends. I wrote a feature about it for the WGGB magazine here.

The most popular search term that brings people to this site is probably still 'I hate theater', though today I had a look and someone reached me last night by putting the search term 'wanking when wearing tights' into Yahoo. Another had typed 'pitures of a peenis in a regina and when the girl is suprised' into Google and hit search twice, as if they couldn't believe it the first time when there was no such image on my blog. So much for secretly hoping that people, after being drawn here by my scintillating prose, will spend most of their time browsing the reviews for some of my books and plays via the link on the right hand side of the page under my photo.

I've got some work through people who have read this blog, who I wouldn't have otherwise met, so I'd recommend blogging for writers, though you've got to stick with it. It's hardly a money-spinner. It's more just... well, it's a lovely way to make friends.

Recently I joined Twitter, reluctantly tumbling down the rabbit hole after friends like @JasonArnopp and @piersb, who were early adopters. It's astonishingly pleasant. Almost all my friends on there are writers (writers are enthusiastic users of Twitter because typically they sit all day at the computer, seeking constant distraction), though some are collectors of ephemera and strange facts, some are just lovely people I met on the site somehow or other, who make me laugh. I follow everyone who follows me - it's only polite, isn't it?

It's almost impossible to be dull in 140 characters and if someone does manage it, well, never mind - there's another amusing squawk from the Twitterverse right behind it. You can respond or ignore it, it's up to you. Twitter's an awful time-waster but it's also a lovely way to 'meet' interesting people and, oddly (because I didn't expect it) I've found it educational. Nobody I'm friends with on Twitter ever tells me what they had for breakfast but they do provide plenty of links to interesting sites, videos and articles elsewhere. They make jokes and express their opinions - pithily. 140 characters isn't much, and that's what everyone's restricted to in each update.

Checking the constant 'news' stream on Twitter makes me feel like ace reporter Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday though if you've never tried it, perhaps the experience is better explained as being wheeled in your armchair into a very large room where lots and lots of friends and plenty of strangers are shouting, reading funny bits out from the newspapers, telling jokes, complaining about their day, celebrating recent successes. You can join in, you can just listen or you can get up and walk away. No-one minds or particularly notices if you leave, though they always seem pleased to see you when you return.

Aww, Twitter - it's a place where everybody knows your name. Though in this case mine is not 'Helen' but @emperorsclothes. If you're on there, come and say hello.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Author blog awards

The people at Completelynovel.com are looking for nominations for authors' blogs for their awards.

You can click on the button to nominate a blog between now and 2nd April. Voters can win books as prizes.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

My first podcast

Reflecting on the success of publishing Alison Wonderland in digital format. This is my first author podcast and I had no idea that my teeth were so snaggly - I'm not sure it will help me sell any books.


The podcast is available on YouTube. I was intrigued to note that visitors to YouTube searching for related content are advised to watch 'Safe pelvic floor exercises by Michelle Kenway'.

Monday, 8 March 2010

0110: Why I Love Lara

Lara Greenway has blogged about 0110, a TV project I'm involved with that she has created. It has only been a few months since she first mentioned the project to me and in that time she has invited six writers to join the writing team, organised a pitching session, organised a development session. She has brought a script editor on board, and a composer. She has set up a website, designed a logo, talked to agents, sorted out contracts, put together the commissioning packs. She has read all the drafts of the scripts for the pilot episode and got the notes back to all six writers, in writing, within days (even hours) of the submission deadlines.

All that and she's also producing a feature film and bringing up a small child. It's inspirational. Like anyone else I have once or twice had a brilliant idea for... something. But I have never actually followed it up , whether because of idleness or embarrassment or because I got distracted by other things. Not Lara, who has followed this idea tenaciously - and has therefore achieved a lot in a short time. I'm very impressed. Let's hope the project takes off. I'll be sure to mention it on here if it does.

Soliciting Reviews

My first novel, Alison Wonderland, was published more than ten years ago, in the days before ebooks. It's now available as an ebook in the kindle store on Amazon and, as it's newly published there, I don't have any customer reviews.

I know that many of you lovely people have read Alison Wonderland so if you have ever bought anything from Amazon.com, it would be great if you'd leave a review there, and also 'tag' the book e.g. as literary fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, or 'agree with' the tags - it all helps, apparently.

You can't leave a review if you're not an Amazon.com customer (i.e. have never bought anything from the US site or the kindle store,) but if you want to leave a review on Amazon.co.uk and 'tag' the book or 'agree with the tags' there, that will do just as well. A new print edition will be published shortly and it helps to have customer reviews, even if they are of previous editions - it's the same book, after all. If you're a listmania sort of a person, you can always add the book to one of your lists on Amazon. I've added it to my lists of books I love and books I love on kindle; I hope it's considered acceptable for an author to love their own book?

Thanks so much. I hope it doesn't feel, reading this, as though you've stumbled into a Tupperware party and you're nervously looking round for the cheapest thing to buy to avoid offending the host before leaving as fast as you can. You don't have to actually buy anything (though of course if you decide to get hold of Alison Wonderland in digital format, that would be great too.)

Show Off! Piano Bar

On Saturday I went to the first night of a monthly event called Show Off! Piano Bar at Cafe Koha in St Martin's Court, hosted by Marissa Dunlop and musical director Nathan Martin. The evening is modelled on the piano bars found in New York, where theatre producer Sue Knox lived for many years before moving to London. She couldn't find anything quite like that here so she decided to put on a regular piano bar night herself.

You will hear show tunes sung by the hosts, who are professionals - and you can sign up to sing yourself, if you fancy it, accompanied by Nathan on the piano. Sheet music is provided, though you can bring your own if you have a favourite arrangement. Of course, it's likely to strain credibility if you get up from the audience claiming to be 'just an amateur, really' and then it turns out you've brought your own sheet music and even - as someone did on Saturday, I think (though we were all pretty drunk by then) - your own accompanist. But then a night of musical entertainment is all about the tunes, partly about the suspension of disbelief, and most of all about enjoying yourself - and Show Off! fulfils all those criteria.

More details on Facebook or the Show Off! website. Next event is 27th March. It's good fun and highly recommended.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

VAT on ebooks

It seems a bit daft to have VAT on ebooks*. Reading a book is not a luxury, surely? Remember the old days when we used to campaign against VAT on tampons? Now that feminism is dead, I'm not sure that anyone cares any more, although since 2001 we have at least been paying the reduced rate of 5% VAT.

I thought I'd have a look to see whether or not there was a petition against VAT on ebooks that I could sign. There is a beautifully worded petition calling for the reduced rate of VAT to be applied to digital books, launched by publisher Antoine Gallimard - it can be read in French, English, Spanish, Italian and German.

When I had a look on the No. 10 website - where anyone can create a petition and invite others to sign it - I found some curious petitions available to sign, including one that calls for a ban on dog washing machines (it makes a good case for a ban when you read it), and another calling for a ban on selling ouija boards as children's games which is slightly less articulate. You can appeal to the Prime Minister to revoke the smoking ban, save the British pub, erect a statue to Screaming Lord Sutch in Harrow and save the Teletext service from shutting down.

Petitions that have been rejected include a call for the Prime Minister to persuade Graham Coxon to rejoin Blur and a petition to force the Daily Express to acknowledge that Diana is dead and there's no conspiracy.

If you're keen to see a reduction in the rate of VAT applied to ebooks, it's probably best to sign Gallimard's petition.

*yes, the reason I'm so interested in the subject is because Alison Wonderland is now out as an ebook. Still, putting VAT on ebooks does seem daft.

Alison Wonderland ebook

My first novel, Alison Wonderland, is now available as an ebook. You can buy it in the Kindle store on Amazon, in the epub, lrf or pdf versions for Sony Reader, smartphones and Adobe reader.

As Alison Wonderland has only just been published as an ebook (with a new print edition to follow shortly) it doesn't yet have any reviews on Amazon.com. If you've read it and you want to post positive reviews, I'd be very grateful. If you want to buy it, that would be even better! You don't need a kindle, you can download the kindle programme, MobiPocket Reader, Calibre or Adobe for your pc - and they're all free.

Did you know it's 'read an ebook week' 7th-13th March? Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Four Films

Next week I'm filming an actor friend reading another friend's poetry so we can make four short films. Even though I'll be doing this in (yet another) friend's kitchen on a DV camera that cost me £100 and I'll be editing it myself, I am to all intents and purposes 'the director' and the thought of it has filled me with dread because I've been a bit stuck for inspiration about how to do the filming.

But this morning I spent a very pleasant hour translating Percy Shelley's poem Ozymandias into modern English for a group of exiled writers I work with, and a search for a recording of the poem to link to in my email* led me to the UBS adverts on YouTube with poetry read by famous actors including Harvey Keitel, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith and Paul Scofield.

Apart from the music under the readings (too intrusive), the blue tint on the film (too Avatar) and the tendency of the camera to pan and peep at the actors from behind a pillar, I'm definitely going to be stealing drawing inspiration from this look for my films. I just wish we had some boulders.


* isn't email great? It means I can only guess at the expression on the face of the lovely prize-winning poet who also works with the exiled writers as he read my 'there, that's better' version of Ozymandias.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Bottled Ghosts for Sale

Two ghosts exorcised from Avie Woodbury's home in New Zealand last summer are for sale by auction on the 'Trade Me' site. The ghosts were captured and bottled and are for sale in the bottles. One is believed to be the ghost of Les Graham, who died in the 1920s; the seller has tracked down a photo of him (left). The identity of the other ghost is not known, although Avie Woodbury believes it belongs to a little girl who appeared when she and her boyfriend experimented with a ouija board.

To release the ghosts once you've bought them, you would simply uncork the bottles and allow the holy water to evaporate. Questions and answers for the seller on the site here. They are very instructive. Bidding on the items closes on 8th March.

Concerns have been expressed about the morality of trading in souls although academic and sceptic, Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, said she thought they were "just bottles of water."

Further details from Paranormal magazine, Adelaide Now, Stuff.co.nz and TVNZ

Looking forward to longer summer days? NASA says no

The terrible earthquake in Chile - which has left many people without access to food, water and shelter - may have (less terrible) consequences for the rest of us. NASA scientist Richard Gross has calculated that the earthquake may have shortened each earth day by 1.26 mircoseconds because it shifted the earth's axis by 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters, or 3 inches).

Although, you know what scientists are like: Richard Gross also said that 'the Chile predictions will likely change as data on the quake are further refined.'

Ghost Stories, Lyric Hammersmith

Last night I went to see Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith. It's written and directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who also performs in it. I saw him in Moonlight and Magnolias at the Tricycle Theatre a couple of years ago. He was brilliant in that and he's brilliant in this, too, though he's better known as a magician and the director/co-creator of Derren Brown's shows. Jeremy Dyson is one of the creators of The League of Gentlemen and also co-wrote Funland.

Ghost Stories is billed as being very scary, which it isn't, fortunately. It's a night of illusion, misdirection and loud bangs, with the fantastic sets (Jon Bausor), lighting (James Farncombe) and sound (Nick Manning) combining to create some marvellous coups de theatre. I particularly liked the ending; endings are difficult (how often have you been to the theatre and the play just sort of fizzles out? Sometimes it's difficult to know whether or not you're supposed to clap yet) but the writers have found a neat, very satisfying way of wrapping up the show.

I went to see Ghost Stories with the West End Whingers so look out for their review, though for now the latest on their site is for Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Love Never Dies' which they have rechristened 'Paint Never Dries'.

Ghost Stories is only 80 minutes long and you can still get tickets for £10. It's on until 3rd April.

Monsters vs Aliens

There's a talk entitled Monsters vs Aliens at Conway Hall on Saturday 6th March, hosted by the Centre for Inquiry, 10.45 am - 3.00 pm. Tickets are £10.

Speakers will be Nick Pope who used to run the British government’s UFO project at the Ministry of Defence, Adrian Shine, head of the Loch Ness Project, and Paul Vella, Britain’s leading expert on Sasquatch (Bigfoot).

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Case of the Phantom Bread-Maker

People in the village of Fowey, Cornwall, have been visited by someone calling himself the Phantom Bread-maker, according to reports in local news. The town crier Mr Penphrase, the landlord and landlady of the Galleon Inn and the proprietor of Belinda's Boutique have been targeted, among others. Villagers have been warned by police community support officer Linda Thomas not to eat the bread: 'You have to question the motive as to why they are giving free bread away. Who's baking it, where are they baking it, what are the conditions of the kitchen? I wouldn't eat it.'

Meanwhile the Huddersfield Examiner and the Bradford Telegraph and Argus report that Yorkshire police are recruiting amateur detectives to help solve murder cases. Detective Chief Superintendent Max McLean is looking for members of the public over the age of 18 who have 'analytical skills'. Open evenings will run from 7pm to 8pm on March 11th and 18th at the Lecture Theatre at Bishopgarth Training School, Westfield Road, Wakefield. Police have confirmed that applicants will be thoroughly vetted before assuming their duties.

Personally, I would prefer to be deployed to Fowey to investigate the Case of Phantom Bread-Maker. I don't think there's any need to wait for the call for amateur detectives to join police in Cornwall - after all, Miss Marple (though admittedly a fictional character) just barged in under the pretence of visiting a friend or relative close to the scene of the crime. Now, who do I know in Fowey? And where's Jessie? This looks like a case for Smith and Kirkels, Dream Detectives.

Cryptozoology Online: Monster hunting news

Cryptozoology Online: On the track of unknown animals Episode 30. Monster hunting news via cfztv.


Esmail Khoi, Poetry Cafe

Last night I went with F. Mehrban to see Iranian poet Esmail Khoi at the Poetry Cafe in London. Esmail Khoi is vehemently opposed to the regime in Iran and is famous both as a poet and as an advocate of human rights and democracy. He has lived in exile in England for more than 25 years and, although he has the stature of someone like Harold Pinter or Seamus Heaney among the Iranian diaspora, he is relatively unknown among the English-speaking population here.

Last night's event was hosted by Exiled Writers Ink and included Iranian music from the Sahra Band and a poem dedicated to Esmail Khoi, written and read by Stephen Watts. Esmail Khoi read his poems both in Farsi (Persian) and English, and was interviewed by Rogan Wolf about the situation in Iran as well as a little about his life and work. He has lost friends, family and colleagues in Iran - and by 'lost', I mean that they were killed for what they believed - and tried to impress on those of us who have never experienced anything like it that censorship over there is so extreme that if you publish something that displeases the people in power, you either repent or die.

It was a wonderful evening. The tiny venue was packed, with standing room only and people being turned away eventually because it was so crowded it would have been dangerous to admit any more. Esmail Khoi's poetry was beautiful - both in the original Farsi, where I could only get the rhythm and rhymes, and in English, where I could appreciate the imagery and the meaning. And the poems, though short, were full of meaning.

Monday, 1 March 2010

How to get a commission

This just in from a friend, Karen McLeod, author of In Search of the Missing Eyelash: on the advice of her aunt, she cellotaped a coin under her doormat to welcome the idea of money flowing in to the house - and she got a commission on the same day.

I'm going to try it. Let me know if it works for you.