Saturday, 20 December 2008

pale and peaky

TFI Christmas. In full grip of the flu, and I'm getting high on the mild amphetamines in Day Nurse. All good. I even turned down the free bar at the work Xmas do last night, so I know I'm poorly. (Went for an hour or so and drank green tea - you've never seen someone so shocked as the barperson at a free bar being asked for green tea). 

So, this is the to-do list for the next two weeks I've got off work:

1. The usual Christmas feasting, flu permitting. Because it's just not the festive season without gout-enducing amounts of port and stilton. 

2. Family stuff: wherein the deeply-troubled emotional dynamics of family relationships are played out in an argument over who cooks the sprouts and how. Etc.

3. Filing all the things I haven't filed for the last 6 months and which are in a big pile in my room. God, I'm depressed just thinking about it. Maybe I'll save this job for the summer holiday...

4. Rewriting the comedy script. I had a go the other day, and it went ok. All the ideas that have been percolating for a while came out, and I think it's better than the orginal. Although I will be asking for feedback...

5. Steeling myself to look at the playscript, and no doubt notice all the things that don't work, and stupid typos, and generally feeling a bit embarrassed about having submitted it for something at first draft stage. 

6. Being really bloody glad I'm not at work. 

So that lot should keep my busy... Happy Christmas!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

musings (not very profound)

Hurrah! I thought I might have forgotten how to write, having had a few weeks off, but I don't think I have. I've decided to embark on a complete rewrite of my comedy script. It's not too bad, as is, but it starts in totally the wrong place, namely at the beginning with everyone saying hello and introducing themselves*. Awful.

*(Not literally, by the way. I'm not that bad a writer.) 

Some of this was motivated by finally managing to watch Gavin and Stacey. Despite all the hype, which usually ruins these things, I loved it. Warm and witty and nice. And it starts somewhere you don't expect, and keeps going to places that are familiar but not obvious. So I'm trying to learn from that. Also, the fine art of putting character above the odd cheap laugh. 

The play, incidentally, is still in deep storage, and awaiting its own special rewrite. But I can't even contemplate that right now, especially with two magazines to go to press in the day job. Aargh! 

Monday, 1 December 2008


I am overwhelmed by the amount of theatre in London.

It's brilliant, don't get me wrong. But I feel like I don't get to see even a tiny amount of what I'd like to. Time and money are the main obstacles. Money mainly. Also dithering. I dithered over the David Hare play at the National until it was sold out and the decision was made for me.

The other problem is that there's lots of interesting mainstream stuff on, but I'm trying to make an effort to see things that are a bit more off the beaten track. I recently went to see a new Czech play at the Tristan Bates theatre. The play, Theremin, was fascinating.  It was about the inventor of the Theremin (yes, the clue was in the title) and it sent me straight to Wikipedia to see if any of it could possibly be true. It was, of course. It's hard to make up anything half as interesting as real life - no question.  At £3 a ticket it was also excellent value. Credit-crunch-culture-tastic. 

I think I'll have to set myself some kind of cheapskate challenge for January, and see what theatre I can find for a tenner or less. Experimental Polish mime here I come. 


I met up with some lovely writing pals yesterday. I met them through a writing course I did earlier this year. I've always been a bit unsure about creative writing courses, a bit uncomfortable about the idea that this stuff can be taught. But what can I say? I was wrong. I went to Arvon and started writing the play that I have a kind-of-first-draft of. 

It was nice to catch up with other writing types. And it turns out everyone has similar issues. Mainly time. I can write in quite short moments, which is helpful. But having the mental space to do stuff is harder. You need to have a bit of energy. When I'm knackered and I try to write stuff, it comes out all limp and lacklustre and generally meh.

Good job I still have some stuff in the notebook from my mad creative period which I can type up and try not to fuck up in the edit. Writing is re-writing, apparently. It must be true. I read it on writersroom. 

Right,  back to the hedgehog-based comedy script. (Really.)

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

tick tock

I always thought I needed time to be a writer. You now, endless afternoons, with endless cups of coffee to gently coax my writing out of hiding.

I really don't.

I'm rubbish when I have a lot of time. Endless time means endless ways to put things off. Far better is to snatch 10 minutes here or there and start writing before I have time to worry about it. Often the first page is not good, but I kind of warm up into it. I don't let myself faff on with it all. 

The only drawback with this is that I'm doing it all longhand, and I do actually need some time to type it up/edit. This is where more hours in the day would definitely come in handy. Especially because I seem to have lots of new ideas percolating away, but until I actually make a start on one of them, they're a bit pointless. One of my many bad writing habits is to plan an entire play/novel/film trilogy in my head, decide it's brilliant and not actually write a single word of it down on paper.

So I'm trying to avoid that. 

Monday, 17 November 2008

still tired

I watched 15 minutes of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here tonight, and it felt like many, many brain cells died in the process.

Day at a conference today. Climate change. Fascinating stuff, and I feel fully up to speed on the relative merits of carbon trading etc, but by the time it got to the bit about the new eco-process for cleaning jet engines (or something) creativity seemed a long way off. 

More of the same tomorrow. It's going to be a long week. And probably without much writing. 

Some things I keep meaning to blog about and not getting round to:

The Czech play I went to see.
Why exactly I can't explain what my play is about to anyone I know. 

Tch. Next time. 

Thursday, 13 November 2008


The effort of getting my play finished, or at least in a fit state to be read, has almost done me in. In an ideal world, I'd take a few weeks to relax, spend some time hanging out in coffee bars reading papers and generally replenish my writing mojo. 

In reality, my day job just got ludicrously busy and I have another imminent deadline which requires me to both write and attempt to be funny. I submitted a comedy script for a competition thing and it's getting put on next year (along with lots of others.) Which is totally brilliant except I now have to write more of it. Aaargh. 

I don't know if being busy helps or hinders creativity. I think it's worked both ways round. Sometimes being busy gets my brain going and sparking off ideas like neurons or one of those things I'd know about if I understood science. Other times, like now, I have the intellectual sharpness of a cabbage and following a Hollyoaks plotline is a challenge, let alone writing finely-crafted dialogue that will induce gales of laughter.

Anyway, the above is the last few drops of writing energy for the day trickling out. So I'd best stop. 

My play, by the way, is called bedhead. Maybe I'll write more about titles when I have a brain again. 

Monday, 10 November 2008


I accidentally went to a yoga class tonight. I say accidentally. I was in the gym. I did intend to go to a class. But I thought I was going to a pilates class. I was standing there, in tree pose (honestly), and I was feeling quite disgruntled. This isn't pilates, I thought. Maybe the instructor hoodwinked the gym by saying she was a pilates instructor, when all along she was a yoga instructor and couldn't be arsed to even make it look a bit different. I'm going to have words, I thought. This is not the advertised class. I'm going to - get this - tell on her. 

And it wasn't, of course, because I'd gone into the wrong room, being new to this gym as I am. Two thoughts struck me at this point.

1. Oh bugger. I really wanted to try the pilates.
2. Oh bugger, I'm turning into some kind of north London liberal chattering classes type, who not only goes to pilates, but also has strong opinions on the relative merits of aforementioned exercise system versus yoga, and is prepared to report the instructor for deviance from said system. Not only am I now officially middle-class, which is bad enough, I'm middle-class and unpleasantly officious to boot.

I should have known. It's not without precendent. I had a minor strop a few months back because I tried to buy quinoa and they only had cous cous. I've been in denial ever since. This is AWFUL.

Anyway, I finished my play today. Well. Not exactly finished, but got it to a stage somewhere between first draft and finished. To a point where I could submit it for a competition, which I did, cabbing it across London in my lunch break because as per flipping usual I left it till the last last last last minute.

Having spent the last week or so re-reading and re-drafting, I'm now at a point where I'm thoroughly sick of my bloody play and don't intend to even look at it for several weeks. (I know I'll only spot all the disastrous typos too late). Still no further on the pithy explanation of what it's all about, but I do at least have a title, which is... 

No. That can wait till next time. 
(Suspense, you see. Told you I was a writer...)

Monday, 3 November 2008

On my travels...

So, I was on my hols last week. I took my notebook in case of any writing opportunities, a tad optimistically as it turned out. I didn't scribe a single bon mot all week. Not even a mal mot. 

To be fair, it was a city break to New York, so not the most conducive for reflection and writing. I thought I might be inspired by the place and the pace and the excitement of it all, but it didn't happen.  

Take last Thursday. Sipping on a glass of wine, looking out over the people rushing past through Grand Central Station. With the beautiful ceiling, and the US flag hanging obtrusively, as if you could forget where you were. This is the kind of scene you should feel inspired by, isn't it?  No. Not me anyhow. These were my musings - not written down, and you'll see why in a moment. 

Central Station. 
Look at all those people. 
They must have, like, so many stories. 
This is like... a metaphor for something.
The American Dream? 
Is everything in America a metaphor for the American dream?
I wonder how much I should tip the waitress. 

So it turns out I'm probably not writing some amazing scene set in Grand Central Station. Ah well.

Friday, 24 October 2008

music matters

There are the bands that I love with all my heart. (In no particular order.) 

Belle and Sebastian
Broken Family Band
Arctic Monkeys

I can't really listen to any of them when I'm writing. No sirree. I start singing along and getting far too distracted. 

My best ever, number one spot for band I can listen when writing is (drumroll please)...

The Lemonheads. 

Random, I know. I think they have just the right blend of tunefulness and familiarity and background warmth. I don't know why they never got more famous. I think they're great. Shame About Ray is the obvious place to start, but Come on Feel is very underrated I feel. And very good to write along to. Trust me. 

(And when you've stopped writing, definitely listen to the Broken Family Band - Welcome Home Loser is a good album to start with). 

Sunday, 19 October 2008

jumpers can be very inspiring. really.

So, I'm tidying my room, and I'm putting some jumpers away, and the drawer gets stuck. Really, really stuck, and I'm tugging away and all the stuff on top of the chest of drawers is starting to fall off. And I just lose it. I get really angry at this stupid bloody chest of drawers and really angry that I just don't have enough storage space and really angry that I had a really rubbish week at work, and this is somehow all converging on a stuck drawer. 

So I throw out all my clothes onto the floor, including lots of cedarwood balls which are there to deter moths, and which are more than likely to cause a comedy wobble/painful fall/broken arm at a later moment. And I do a big old scream of rage. Then I worry that my neighbours might think I'm being murdered, as opposed to having a childish strop while tidying woollen garments. 

So I sit on the bed in a mix of anger and anxiety for a few moments. And a little scene for my play emerges more or less fully formed. It's sort of based on a scene I've been trying to write for years, in different pieces of writing, and this is the first time it's actually worked, even a little. So I write it. And this is kind of a happy ending to the tale of stuck drawers/inadequate storage space/unsatisfying jobs. 

Except that, if I'm ever in the very fortunate position of having someone ask me what my inspiration is, I'm going to have make up something a great deal more interesting than the above. Some transcendent moment, or traumatic childhood event or the like. So I'll get thinking on that. 

Saturday, 18 October 2008

a play wot I liked

I've been to the theatre quite a bit lately. The last thing I saw was Now or Later, at the Royal Court. I wasn't sure about it at first. It's a very talky play. It's set before a fictional US election but explores issues of race, religion and identity I hadn't realised it would cover. 

The things that were good:
Acting: Exceptional. Especially Eddie Redmayne, recently in Tess of the D'Urbevilles, and sporting an impressively whiny American accent. 
Themes: More complex than I anticipated. And handled well. I didn't know what I thought by the end, and this was a good thing.
Overall niceness: I don't know how to describe this, but there was a real warmth to the play, and some good humour. 

The bits that weren't so good? Well, it was a tad didactic at times, feeling the need to explain US political history in a rather clunky way. And there were a few moments when it went a bit Dawson's Creek Election Special. You know, everyone expressing themselves very eloquently, and showing off their full range of vocabulary and tortured vowels, and doing those unnaturally long monologues while other actors ostentatiously nod at appropriate moments. 

But these are small things. Still an excellent play. And now I know how hard it is to even try to write a play, I'm all the more impressed by people who actually get things written, and written well. 

Monday, 13 October 2008

what's going on? I dunno.

Here's the thing: just how much do you explain? I mean, obviously your (entirely hypothetical) audience aren't imbeciles, obviously. And the half the fun of theatre is trying to work out what's going on, and filling in the gaps for yourself. But, with all this in mind, I think I might have to explain a little bit more, even if only to myself. I think I should understand how it all works, or I'm in trouble. In case someone asks. I just have this sense that it's something you're supposed to know. Sigh. 

Anyway, talking of how much to explain, let me recommend Six Characters in Search of an Author, a new adaptation at the Gielgud theatre. It's brilliant and emotional and creepy and lots of WEIRD SHIT happens and it's sort of explained but sort of not. I'm still spooked by the characters, but then I've gotten quite worried watching Columbo in the daytime before now, so it's fair to say I'm a total scaredy-cat. 

Go and see it, anyhow. 

Sunday, 12 October 2008

the fine art of putting stuff off. and not getting started. even though you know you should. oh look - that skirting board definitely needs dusting...

I've been writing for a little while now, and my main enemy is procrastination. You know, the kind of procrastination that sees you sit down at the 'puter, all set to write your masterpiece, only to decide to clean the kitchen instead. My house is never tidier than when I'm writing, or at least attempting to write. 

I fear this is a common problem. 

Some strategies I have adopted to overcome this include:

  • Writing in the park (or the cafe in the park): so long as I don't take a newspaper, this one works pretty well.
  • Writing the word 'notes' at the top of any document I'm writing on (whether on the computer or longhand). Ridiculous, I know, but somehow this soothes the demons inside - the ones that whisper at every line 'well that's not very orginal/insightful/interesting'. It doesn't matter, it's just 'notes'!
  • Not giving my characters names. What? I hear you cry. And rightly so. I find that writing scenes with 'man' and 'woman' as characters is really helpful. Otherwise I sit there for hours going 'but is he a Tarquin or a Tito' and working out cultural baggage therein. So I'm a convert to this now. (And I read somewhere that Pinter writes using A and B when he starts, so I'm in good company on this, even if this is where the similarity ends.)
Er. That's it.