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)