Monday, 19 November 2012

things that get lost in time and space

I was looking online today for a piece I wrote which had something to do with reviewing, but couldn't remember when it had been written, what the title was, and so forth... and it prompted the thought that 1) I must revamp my old website which is a static, rather dated looking thing (but I can't afford to pay anyone to do it right now, which is why I began using this easy blog template...) and 2) that perhaps I should pull together a list of some of my online stuff before I forget what they are, or were, and list them for future reference, instead of each time having to google myself (an act of insanity & sometimes humiliation).

So.. here's a start

- essay: 'The Book Reviewer's Tale' which I was asked to write by Anora McGaha 
- essay/reading guide: on Scottish Comic Writing for
- essay: 'Stories From The Dressing-Up Box' about the Little Black Dress anthology (2006)

- story 'First Catch Your Poet' in the Scottish Arts Council online archive (pub 2009)
- story 'Mae West Optional' in The Guardian, on publication of Furthermore (2005)
- mini-story 'The Rain' in Scottish Pen's online magazine

- interview with Jen Campbell on her blog This Is Not The Six Word Novel (2011)

Monday, 1 October 2012

advancing after a retreat

I'm back. The writing retreat which took me away from home for the entire month of September was at Hawthornden Castle, not far outside Edinburgh.

The castle is built from pink sandstone, set on a craggy bit of rock overlooking the river Esk; every day I walked in the grounds, on pathways lined with huge mature trees. Every day I listened to the wind rushing through them, to the noise of woodpeckers, pigeons, crows, to the high cry of a hunting falcon and the scamperings of many squirrels, and - on a few days - was lucky enough to see deer, and a rather bold dog fox - all of which made the place magical... already I miss that contact with nature (not easy to find in my bit of Edinburgh).

Here's a pic of my room's desk on which lies a MacBook my friend Shona very kindly gave me on the day she drove me out there (the eagle-eyed will note an old iMac keyboard and mouse, brought along because I'm not up to speed on trackpads.)

There was no internet, no phone, no TV, nothing to distract one from work except books, conversation, food, and plenty of sleep. There was a grand dining room, a comfortable drawing room, lots of curious staircases and eccentric (but highly efficient) bathrooms.

I could say a lot more about the place, its ethos, the staff who looked after us, the way we passed our time; I could describe the interiors, detail the antiques, discuss the prevailing atmosphere, name my 5 fellow-retreatists and tell you my work schedule (and resulting word count) - but, for several reasons I'm not inclined to do so - not yet, anyway.

Firstly, because I've only been home two full days, so it feels too soon to dissect any aspect of it; secondly, one of the things I've learned from that month away is that energy focused on the work is better for me than chatter; thirdly, any retreat is what you make it, what you take to it and away from it, and for everyone involved that will be different. I'm happy to preserve some of the mystery for those who have been there and know it for themselves, and for those who've not yet been but might like to.

It's a place run on slightly old fashioned principles; if you're interested in applying, write a letter c/o The Administrator and ask for application details to be mailed to you.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

While I'm away

I'm asking myself if there's any point to writing a blog post advertising the fact that I'm about to go away on a writing retreat.
'So what? Who cares?'
 For that matter, who's likely to read this and be other than envious at my good fortune or furious that they've not been given the same opportunity? 

And then there's the question of where I'm going.

From what I've gleaned in researching the organisation, in going through the application process, and after a couple of brief emails, the place itself has something of a code-of-honour about it, an agreement to keep silent... an antiquated notion that seems to suit the purpose rather well.. and which deters me from giving the details here (besides, you haven't been yet, how much detail do you have to give? Ed.)

Suffice it to say, I'll be one of five writer guests at a castle (yes, a real castle, not merely a poetic metaphor. Ed)  set in extensive grounds close to a river, in walking distance of a small village and within bus distance of a major city. If things go well - I'm about to receive a donated laptop, but not till the day I set off, so I'm slightly anxious about getting set up with it - (but you will of course have pens & paper? Ed.) I may not leave the establishment for the whole period of residency except to wander around the garden in a daze.

The gift of this retreat - gift is the right word; it comes with no financial support, but the offer of a quiet room and three meals a day is a sizable gift - is that I'll be deprived of instant communication with the outside world, at least by the methods which now seem so natural. No internet connection, patchy phone reception.

That pleases me. I do have plenty of will power, but when it comes to Twitter, chocolate, and the inane pleasures of watching television (no TV there either, good news! Ed.) there's a bit of internal struggle. (I see you're still hesitant to use the term 'addict'... Ed.)

Someone else kindly arranging to remove those temptations, so that you can immerse yourself in thinking solely about the story you want to explore, is the basis for a really good writing retreat... and I'm grateful for the award of it.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Dr Who?

Only after the Leonard Maguire 'GREAT LIVES' programme aired, when I was compiling masses of info to update the Wiki page, did I realise I'd forgotten to mention in discussion that he'd been in a 1980s series of Dr Who, with Tom Baker as the Time Lord. 

The episode was called Full Circle and Pa played the leader of an oligarchic community in the E-Space Universe (how visionary!) stranded on the planet Alzarius, a stern, bearded character called Decider Draith. He meets a messy end...dragged into a swamp by a mysterious Marshman, a creature with gills.

How could I have missed the cultural significance of that role?

Well.. now we're all much more aware of 'cultural significance', especially with regard to things like Dr Who - partly because the BBC has upgraded the series by putting vastly greater sums into the production, and the worldwide marketing of the Who brand has amplified its importance as an example of British Eccentric Creativity Of The First Order.

In October 1980 I was in my thirties, so although I thought Tom Baker was wonderful (and still do), I wasn't watching the Dr Who series with the same degree of fascination I had in my childhood.

It was perhaps also something to do with Pa's professional attitude. He didn't really talk about his work; he didn't 'not talk' about it, meangfully, but... it was work, and therefore it seemed normal for us that he would indeed, from time to time, be offered work.  Some of the results of his labour we might see on TV, some of it in theatres, some of it heard on radio, and some of it not seen or heard at all.  (Behind the scenes stuff, narrations for corporate industrial clients, or documentaries about shipbuilding, that kind of thing.)

The unfortunate thing about this, and remembering it now I feel slightly sick, is that we had his copy of that Full Circle episode script and didn't think it worth keeping in a vault.. it lay around the house for years in the piles of scripts from other things - Dr Finlay's Casebook, Redgauntlet, Candide - all of which were used - the clean sides - as scrap paper to write on. He would write drafts of letters or plays on them, my mother used others to type up what he was writing. And at some point, during a house-move, anything which was deemed not-vital was - *gulp* - chucked out.

What I would give to reverse that process!  Somewhere in our family archive we will still have sheets of paper with TV script on one side and Pa's handwriting or Ma's typing on the other - but entire scripts, bearing only his working notes, call times, location info...? I don't think any survived. 
Roll back the clock, roll it back... 
Why do we always know too late what we should have valued? And I'm not talking here of pecuniary value (though there is that, and a Dr Who script - if one was allowed to auction it - might buy quite a few groceries now. Ed.) but of the fact that when your parents are gone, and you want to ask then what it was like for them to be, say, 50, or to be in a tight spot creatively, or how to approach some aspect of their life or career... all you have left are memories, letters, if you're lucky, or significant artefacts. And as writer and sometime performer, I would love to have copies of those particularly significant artefacts to examine and interpret now.

More specifically, I'd like to have copies of all the very early scripts he wrote for BBC Schools programmes, inventive, funny, playful things, written in his late 20s; treasures lost due to the later decision by my parents not to keep dragging 'everything' around with them for ever...  Trying to find those in the BBC's archives now costs money (yes, they used to do it free, I seem to remember, but you did manage to find two such scripts, in the '80s. Ed.).  In any case, he never listed anywhere the titles of all those stories, those curious little dramas, so I wouldn't know what to ask for, now.  They were just performed and broadcast live, given to the ether... spoken to the skies...

Perhaps those words are still travelling through space, bouncing off a very Dr Who that would be.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Old Man, Outside In

The Leonard Maguire 'Great Lives' programme aired on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. It's now listenable-again, here - and if you do listen to it, and enjoy it, you might like to read the text of the poem written and read by actor John Bett

My own - so far, my only - poem about my father is 'Old Man, Outside In'; both the poem and the title came from - well, experience, memory, of course, but also from looking through a bundle of photographs from his childhood, and being struck by his expressions.

One shows him in a white linen sailor suit, probably in Belgium, aged about 2; another in his first school uniform, blazer & short trousers, neatly brushed blonde hair, aged perhaps 5.  I can't lay my hands on them just now, but in any case I don't think I'd post them here. I feel protective of that child's privacy. His gaze was, even then, both curious, looking out, and guarded, aware of the world looking back at him.

So this poem was/is, I think, an investigation through the lens of time; looking at the older man, who knew his time was limited, and underneath that - the palimpsest - to the younger versions, all the way back to the boy who didn't know what his life was going to be...but who never stopped being curious.

 Mais, ca s'explique!

Erratum: the date at the top is an error (mine, worsening eyesight) - d. 1997 not '77.

'Old Man, Outside In' is from my collection 'How To Hug', published by Mariscat, 2009.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The trouble with blogging..

The trouble with blogging on Blogger is that when you're writing a post, and re-writing it, editing it, saving it, and previewing it, a task that may take hours, your eyes get tired, so that spelling errors creep in.. (e.g posts referring to Matthew Parris as Matthew Pariss. Tut-tut. Ed.)

Why, you ask with barely concealed impatience, do I not spell-check everything?

Because although that's something I'd do for any piece that was being published by someone else - a newspaper, a literary editor, an important submission, etc - it's not something I associate with email, or twitter, or blogging.

Those are formats for communication which differ - in my mind - from the more composed pieces I'd call 'my work'.

Reading back through earlier posts I do frequently notice things incorrectly spelt and wince a bit, but tend not to edit or update them because of the way Blogger works. Each tiny correction would, I gather, cause the post to be reissued to those who've signed up for it, and those unfortunate recipients to wonder what tiny thing had changed between drafts. That would swiftly become extremely annoying.

(I could compose and edit stuff off-line and then post it, yes, that's true - but that just adds to the time involved in the whole process, and contradicts the nature of the blogging experience, for me anyway.)

I'm talking about vanity, I suppose. I like to discard the usual standards of professionalism a little bit when I'm online; to stow any anxiety about spelling and perfect syntax and finely nuanced phrasing in the attic, reclaiming it as part of my writing-identity where it's most useful - for writing fiction, prose, poetry.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it.

On the other hand... now I've got this stubborn issue out of my psyche and examined it, perhaps I will start spellchecking everything... hm...

*finger hovers over 'publish' button*

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Whose story is it?

I've recently set up a webpage in the name of my late father, Leonard Maguire. For the sake of simplicity, I've made it a Blogger page, which rather implies that he is blogging 'from the grave' (or from Heaven. Ed.) That's an unintentionally comic idea of which he might approve (if he could grasp what 'blogs' are). It also reminds me of the story of Kynd Kittock going to Heaven, how she sneaked through the Pearly Gates when St Peter wasn't looking (it's in a poem thought to be by William Dunbar, about whom my father wrote a stage play 'The Wasting of Dunbar', in 1976)

The point of setting up the page is partly to provide background information for those who might listen to the forthcoming BBC Radio 4  Great Lives episode devoted to him, as championed by Bill Paterson (and side-kicked by me); the other reason is that, actually, he does have a wonderful series of stories to tell, and some day I'd like to tell more of them, on his behalf - i.e., in his words, and in mine.

A book, some kind of memoir? Why not? Perhaps a joint memoir with my mother, pulled together and edited by me. Both parents wrote screeds of biographical narrative, by request of their children. The story of their lives, working & private, covers the years from 1917, when my mother was born, to 2008 when she died (my father b.1924 - d. 1997).

Here's a photo of the happy couple, Frances and Leonard, in their first home together. Note the ubiquitous cigarette in my father's hand. Note the tie (he never wore one; this pic is from a rather stagey 'at home' series instigated and snapped by his older sister, Kay, visiting from Canada, c. 1956)  My mother, in the covetable yellow cardigan and intense red lipstick, looks to me impossibly young and beautiful. The tea-cups on the dresser on the right are from a Susie Cooper set. I think we still have some of them, and the stripey Cornishware jug.

The colours of the paintwork, the quality of the clothing they wear, their body-language, the presence of the 'home help' (I think) holding a pie (lemon meringue? apple?) resonate with me... however staged, the moment captured here by Aunt Kay makes me want to revisit the past, ask them about their lives, in one way or another.

(to be continued)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Listen With Mother - Nostalgia

People of my generation brought up in the UK may remember that there was a radio programme for children called Listen with Mother. It opened with a piece of music and the presenter's voice saying "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin." 

Listening to this clip sends me into a nostalgic dwam. In fact, I don't remember listening to 'Listen With Mother'. I do remember listening to MY mother. I know I was read to as a child, by both parents, and remember very strongly the feeling of not wanting the story to end, of not wanting the precious one-to-one time to stop because of something inconvenient like the advance of sleep with its dark smothering blanket... No, no, tell me more about how the wolf escapes from those horrible three little pigs, please, please... But I digress.

My own mother - Frances Campbell - presented a television series in the early '60s for Scottish Television, called For The Youngest Scot. She would read a story, make a toy or a diorama from some scraps of material or other household objects (a circular box from those triangles of Dairylea cheese became a glittering miniature roundabout, complete with cut-out horses that whirled round a central pole; a small handbag mirror became an icy loch surrounded by twigs with green sponge for foliage and cotton wool for snow). For each day of the week there was a differently dressed doll.
"What day is it? Can you remember? It's the milkmaid doll, so it's... a Tuesday."
Alas, STV in their wisdom appear to have wiped them all. We still have somewhere a page from the Radio Times circa 1964, a promotional photo in which, with carefully coiffed hair, Ma is featured demonstrating her Scottish and motherly qualities for the camera.

I've been thinking and writing a lot about my father's work and influence recently, and of course my mother's work and influence matter just as much, even if there are fewer ways to demonstrate it. (Thanks, STV.) (Hey! Watch the sarcasm! Ed.) This doll for instance, is not one that Ma used from the TV programme but a doppleganger found years later and with great joy in a local charity shop.

Our childhoods are constructs, aren't they? Formulated from real memories, amplified by significant and treasured objects, held together by a large amount of information gathered later from variously un/reliable sources, filtered through our imaginations.

However they're composed, they're real to us, and their effects may often be present in how we view the world, what moves us or drives us, throughout our later lives.

I 'remember' lying in my childhood bedroom, looking up at a loved (if weary) face telling me a story, but that probably comes from my mother telling me about her reading to me, about her difficulty in staying awake as she tried to get me to 'close your bloody little eyes' and go to sleep... another layer of that memory might come from a visit in the early '90s to our old house (in Edinburgh's Regent Terrace, the building which is now the Norwegian Consulate). The shape of the room, the way the light came through the window, all felt familiar, even though the rose-strewn wallpaper and twin beds with pink cotton chenille bedspreads and puffy quilts had been replaced by bland office furnishings.

Memory and the past can often feel like lobster traps, tricky to negotiate a way into and even trickier to exit. On the other hand, if you're as cunning or persistent as, say, an octopus, or an otter, you're probably able to visit and leave at will. One of the things my mother produced for children's radio was dramatised readings from books by a former neighbour, Major-General R.N. Stewart, who wrote about salmon and wildlife and boats and the Yukon and huskies and... some of the books were anthropomorphic tales, others were practical and adventurous and For Boys. I was a tomboy and I liked them. It was my mother's working with the General's books at the BBC that led to our family moving, for a while, to live in Ardnamurchan.  That, in my memory, was mostly a very happy time.

But that's another story for another day. Listening time is over now, children.

ps - that obituary-link gets several facts wrong. I remember giving the information by phone, just after her funeral, to a young journalist who must have mixed up his details. It says there that my mother's participation in For The Youngest Scot was as producer; no, she was a producer/director of hundreds of children's programmes for BBC Radio Scotland, up until 1958, but she was the presenter only of this particular TV programme.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Behind The Scenes - researching a life

While researching my late father's life and work for the BBC's Great Lives series (this one is due to air on Radio 4 on 21st August 2012) it was clear that there were going to be problems finding suitable audio material. The producer sent me a list of what the BBC had in their sound archives; lots of short programme descriptions of weekly Radio Scotland Arts/Magazine programmes he presented in the 1950s, (i.e. before I was born), but there was little that seemed to me to demonstrate the variety of his abilities as a broadcaster, or indeed as a writer.

Of his 3 award-winning plays - The Wasting of Dunbar, Navigator In The 7th Circle and Henrysoun and the Ploomdam - the Dunbar had been broadcast on Radio Scotland and the Navigator on the Third Programme (as it was then called) in the same years as their theatrical premieres; but the actual tapes were gone. I'd heard it was common practice to re-use/recycle those big expensive reels of tape, but the knowledge that those particular plays no longer existed was depressing, and on behalf of my late Pa I undertook some grumbling and cursing.

However, after hours of scrabbling about in our own family archive (a series of boxes underneath a staircase) I found a parcel, tucked into my father's old briefcase. It contained three boxes of 1/4 inch BBC magnetic recording tape, purporting to be from the 1976 studio recording The Wasting of Dunbar. I had no idea if they were the originals, or copies made by some friendly sound engineer with a nod from the Producer, or if they might contain only sound effects, either from the broadcast or from the original stage production. No way to know unless I could get them transferred to digital format. Luckily, the Radio Media Manager at the BBC's new Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow agreed to try this, so I handed them over, and she did the job, and sent the sound files by email to the producer in Bristol.

Emboldened by that discovery, and having been reminded by my father's actor friend David McKail (himself author and performer of several plays) of an enterprise called 'Diversity' which is, among other things, a non-BBC archive for culled radio programmes, I wrote to Diversity, asking what they might have from Leonard Maguire's radio days; to my great surprise they replied that there was indeed a copy of his Coleridge play, Navigator in the 7th Circle. With generosity and with great speed, Nigel of Diversity reformatted and emailed it to the programme producer in Bristol, just in time. I was hugely relieved that now we'd have at least two elements from his own written and performed work to include.

So on the day of recording of the programme, I got up at 5.30am and caught a plane to Bristol, spent the morning walking around (the Zoo is nice) and arrived at BBC for 2pm. Met Bill Paterson (whom I'd met once before, on a boat in the firth of Forth, but that's another story) and Matthew Pariss and we settled in the studio to begin the 'conversation' - that's what it was, really, Matthew asking questions, Bill and I dredging our memories to supply detailed personal answers and anecdotes. During the recording, a number of audio clips were played. The sound quality of the 'lost & found' Dunbar play was not great - (perhaps years of lying in a briefcase had damaged the oxide) - but it was astonishing to hear my father's voice once again speaking this poem:
Now, of wemen, this I say for me:
Off erthly thingis nane may bettir be,
They shuld haf wirchip and honouring
Off men aboif al uthir erthly thing...
(Trans: Of women, this I say for me/Of earthly things none may better be/They should have worship and honouring/Of men above all other earthly thing.)

It took me straight back to 1976, to standing inside the door of the Salisbury Church hall in Edinburgh, taking tickets, and hovering at the back throughout many performances, every time transfixed by watching Pa become a 15th Century poet...

(to be continued)

Friday, 13 July 2012

'Great Lives' studio day

Yesterday I was in Bristol for the day, to participate as 'expert' on a BBC Radio 4 Great Lives programme featuring my father's life and career (the two being entirely separate things, to my mind, but joined for the purposes of discussion). 

The programme is presented by Matthew Parris, who was not familiar with Pa's work or life, but he seemed to relish hearing the voice (a number of archive clips) and seeing photos from some of Pa's theatre, TV and film appearances.

The 'proposer' or nominator of Leonard Maguire as a 'Great Life' was actor Bill Paterson. Bill worked with him on several occasions, including in Panto one year, (Cinderella at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum in the '70s) when Pa played Baron Hardup and Bill was 'his lovely daughter Snowdrop' - one of the ugly Sisters (the other was John Bett, who wrote - and has read for the programme - a wonderful poem about my father.)

I won't pre-empt the programme's revelations (I hope it's good; we talked for nearly 2 hours but it will all be edited down to 30 minutes, and frankly I never remember much about my own contribution to a thing other than too-late anxiety about fluffs or getting dates or details wrong), but what struck me most, when Bill talked about my father, was the impression of affectionate regard in which he was held, not only by Bill himself but by others of his generation of Scottish actors - the ones whose names are known now - and that was very touching.

During his lifetime I don't think Pa could have imagined he'd be the subject of any sort of tribute or memorial (he'd more likely have pondered the accounting he'd be obliged to give on arrival at the Pearly Gates, and whether he could smuggle his baccy & roll-up papers past St Peter). However, in a rare newspaper interview he did in the mid-70s, this quote stands out clearly: 
"Every performance is your last will and testament. Even in the matinees there may be one boy back in the gods who will be fired by what you are doing and do something great in 20 years because of it." 
He would be modestly gratified to know that, on the basis of this programme at least, others were 'fired' and indeed inspired, by his work - and by him.

(pic: from appearance in the title role, Edinburgh International Festival production of Macbeth,1965)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Stories about my father

Recently, I've been writing about my father, Leonard Maguire. Thinking about him, his career, his professional & private personae, his talents, my perception of them, of him, over time, both during his life and since he died. It's for a programme in the BBC Radio 4 series 'Great Lives' and will air in August (date tbc).

Liaising with the producer in Bristol on the running order for clips and discussion about his life has caused me to focus on him a lot these past few weeks, and to become even more aware of the parallels between us. I'd describe him as an actor/writer, whereas I might perhaps be described as a writer/performer. Spot the difference? He really was a remarkable actor, and I've no claim to such skill (Well of course not, he had a lifetime's experience learned from working with & observing the very best: you, daft lassie, rarely worked in ensemble pieces, learned by doing stand-up & comedy presenting, and have done little performance of any kind since the '90s other than read the odd self-penned radio story. Ed.).  When I read his plays and his unpublished prose, I'm always moved by what a perceptive eye he had, how beautifully he phrased a sentence - balance, content, tone, character, direction, humour, drama, space to breathe, all in his gift. Our writing styles & themes are very different, and I'm not attempting to draw a comparison - there isn't one, except perhaps in intention or in sincerity of purpose.

He began acting when, in 1943, he joined the newly-formed Citizens' Theatre Company, after which he worked in the '40s in London's great theatres with the greatest actors of the era (Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Edith Evans, Tyrone Guthrie, John Gielgud). In the '50s, he moved back to Scotland, worked predominantly for the BBC on radio, writing dozens of scripts for Schools' programming and then presenting a magazine programme, Scope, (in collaboration with writer Eddie Boyd & producer  James McTaggart) weekly for 4 years. In the '60s, Television and Stage roles continued, with appearances in many plays and prestigious series, both historical and contemporary, and he had leading roles at Edinburgh International Festival official productions (an exhausting bear-skin-cloak-wearing Macbeth being one of them.)

Acting earned him not only a living but the respect of his peers (and his juniors, who used to imitate him); it brought accolades and - particularly in later years - opportunities to work in some very interesting places (Greenland, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Germany, Italy) and with some very talented people (Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Michael Caine and many more.)

What I'm reflecting on now, as the recording date draws near, is that although his working life brought him into contact with so many people, the man I knew was quintessentially a 'loner' - and that now, as a writer of some years myself, I understand so much better the nature of the work (the pitfalls of it too). I'm also very glad that I encouraged him to write accounts of his life, which he did in letter form; and to have so much written evidence of his love for me, his approval for my own labouring-with-words, and examples of his humour and intelligence which still delight me to rediscover.

For years after he died I felt the loss of him more deeply than I could express, and at times more than I felt able to bear. More recently, I feel that he is not 'gone' -  that people live in our minds as long as we have memory and love and the desire to commune with them.

This process (assisting in research for the Great Lives programme) has been rewarding because it's reminded me, in a very practical way, of who I am, of where I came from, of what I'm doing and why, as I write my own work. My OWN work: work which I own. With hindsight, I see that need - to say something that nobody else could say - also drove him to write his personal projects; among them, 3 Fringe-First-award winning plays on the lives of poets William Dunbar, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Henrysoun.

More on this, perhaps, when the programme has been made, or after it airs. Meanwhile, here's a pic of my father from the early 1970s - a look one might describe as wary-mischievous.

p.s. yes, that Leonard Maguire Wikipedia page is pathetic; no idea who wrote it. When I've got more time I'll update & correct it...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Sunshine and Shadows

It's a while since I posted anything, and that's good, because it means I've been busy working. 

Writing. I have been busy, writing.  A novel. Or, the effing novel, as I call it in moments of stress.

For how long? What's it about? Why am I still not finished? Horrible questions, but understandable, even when asking them of oneself. 

Things keep interrupting the regularity of the actual writing, and as I don't own a snarling guard dog, don't employ a personal assistant or butler to snarl politely on my behalf, don't have the luxury of entirely shutting off the outside world while I sit in a white space being beautifully creative...

In fact, I was working on the novel up till the day I went on holiday/to visit my sister, at the end of May; but just before that I was asked to take part in something both interesting and personal, but also time consuming to help organise, so my brain and hands and keyboard have been sidetracked from novelling. Good and also not so good. Good if it works out, but not good for the concentration on the book. From my experience of it, novelling is like swimming the channel without a wet suit or a support ship; all contact beyond the fictional world is like having to drag yourself out into a boat in order to change costume and look presentable and hold a conversation and be 'normal', until you're released, and are able to dive back in again and try to rediscover your rhythm for the rest of the epic swim. Difficult.

Just what that interesting and personal thing is I'll reveal in due course (never talk about ongoing projects until the contract is signed, one of the pieces of advice my father always intoned, referring to acting work) but it relates to BBC radio and to family, and has necessitated digging through box files of archive material, much emailing and photocopying, and some degree of anxiety. Thus, whatever good my 'holiday' was supposed, in advance, to do me, it has not really worked as a rest-cure.

Perhaps I don't do holidays very well. If I looked back over each attempt I'd probably find that in most of them I was either ill or with the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place, except for the childhood memories of sunshiney days spend on windy Scottish beaches (I've almost forgotten the negative aspects of those, the midges, the clegs, the rain, the serious indignation at the chill of the ocean when I dared to dip a toe into it).

It would be fair to say that, at this point, my idea of leisure is to have someone else cook (or nudge delicious morsels of food in my direction at appropriate intervals) while I lie around thinking with my eyes closed, or reading books, and every so often raise my head to observe the sun or a passing bird or to wander around aimlessly until I spy a curious trinket in a junk shop or meet a friendly cat. Sometimes I'm energetic enough to look at an ancient monument, or float in a pool, too. Sometimes.

The fact is that, while a work is 'in progress' - unfinished - anything holiday-shaped is merely a postponement of the finishing, and one can only do so much displacement activity before that project returns to demand one's mental attention. Somebody said a writer's life is like always having homework, and the more I write, the more I find ideas stacking up around me waiting for time and attention - so yes, there's the rub.

Nevertheless, I have evidence of my having been on holiday, in the shape of this photo. Those are my sister's plants. I have sat in that chair. I hope to sit in it again, but probably not until I have finished my very long swim and can write The End, with some dizzying mixture of relief and joy.  (Hmm. Is the end really ever The End??)

Monday, 20 February 2012

NOTHING - a limited edition mini-book

I have a story-poem or poem-story, or dream-poem-story-type-thing that doesn't seem to fit into a category anyone in the world of Real Publishing would be interested in, but I rather like it, so over the past few weeks I've been playing with layouts and templates and have now assembled it into a miniature book. (Pages 2 to 9 are text, 1 is front & 10 is back cover)

It's called NOTHING and I'm making a limited edition of 25. They're cut, folded, glued, assembled by hand, numbered & tied with a piece of ribbon. Each one is subtly different due to the folding and glueing process, my aptitude on the day, and the ribbon I find in my sewing basket.

Some I will give to friends & fellow writers but I might also offer a few to Twitter followers. 

NOTHING begins: A young man walked into a large, empty, white, windowless room, and wondered that it was that made him so restless (the absence of shadows, perhaps; the source of its light, or the silence within?)...

And the last word is: nothing.

Monday, 9 January 2012


In my last post of 2011, News for a New Year in Which New Things May Happen, I wrote about the recent meeting between the Society of Authors, the Writers' Guild and Equity, (three organisations representing writers & actors) and the BBC's representatives responsible for the cuts to Radio 4's short stories.

I wrote: "....Mr Davie..[is].. head of 'Audio & Music' not of Drama. "

Well, I was writing with passion (& gloom) rather than journalistically; I've just looked him up on Wikipedia - (What do you mean Wikipedia isn't always accurate?) (Stop talking to yourself rhetorically. Ed.) (Stop editing me, Ed. S.) (Both of you stop squabbling. Senior Ed.) - I see that Tim Davie's job title 'Head of Audio & Music' covers everything that BBC Radio broadcasts - ie, the whole network. 

So he is indeed responsible for the Drama output. Therefore he will surely have noticed that today's press release about the BBC Radio Drama Awards underlines my earlier point about stories or readings not being seen as part of the Drama output. There is no category for Best Reading or Best Original Story.