Thursday, 24 October 2013

Misadventures & Echoes

In July this year, I wrote and delivered a new short story for BBC Radio 4.

It's part of a series* called EDINBURGH HAUNTS, which starts on Friday 25th October and mine - THE MISADVENTURES OF MAGNUS LOVATT - will be broadcast on Friday 1st November at 3.45pm.

It concerns an actor at the Edinburgh Fringe, doing a one man show based on little-known tale The Misadventures of John Nicholson by Robert Louis Stevenson. You can read the RLS text here

The RLS story follows the (mis)adventures of a foolish young man in Edinburgh, his disgrace, his flight, and his prodigal return to yet further difficulties, not least of which the disapproving eye of his stern banker father.

RLS himself considered it not one of his best efforts, dashed off as a Christmas story for 1894, but I heard it adapted for radio and read by John McGlynn, many years ago, and it stayed with me.

'Misadventures of Magnus' was a commission and it came about by a circuitous route, the details of which may interest other story-tellers.

In late August last year I happened to spot a tweet from the BBC Radio 4 Commissioning Editor Comedy & Fiction, saying that she'd been in Edinburgh during the Festival and had seen a ghost, in the New Town - seen it twice.

Normally I would not approach online someone I know in a professional capacity about possible work (and don't recommend anyone else try it) but we had met and emailed before and I do have a track record with Radio 4
I tweeted back, "...idea there for a series of Edinburgh ghost stories?"

...and she kindly suggested I email her with an outline.
So I did. Given the cuts to the Afternoon Reading strand, knowing it was more likely to be greenlit if not a solo project, I suggested sharing it with two other writers.

The Comm. Ed. liked the basic outline and - given the logistics of this theme, and the location of the ghosts - handed the proposal on to a drama/readings producer in Glasgow, whom I didn't know personally. (I had for some time been working with producers based in BBC Bristol, not in Scotland, but that's another story). It would, I knew, be added by BBC Radio Scotland's Drama department to their bunch of offers (er, technical term) for the next commissioning round, i.e. it would eventually head back to the fore-mentioned Commissioning Editor for a swift and executive style yea or nay.

Time passed....

In January this year I heard that the proposal had been accepted 'in a slightly altered format' - instead of Festival Ghost stories, the BBC wanted Edinburgh Haunts, broadcast not at Festival time but around Halloween. The plan was to record them in the locations featured in each story (that element was, in the end, ditched for perfectly sound reasons). At this point the project was handed to another producer.  And so on and so forth.

I'll cut to the chase a bit...

From the moment I spotted the Comm. Ed.'s tweet, I knew my narrator would be an actor of a certain age and temperament - a bit like X in terms of career path with some Y thrown in to leaven the raging egotism. (Who? Not telling.)

Then it was just a matter of how to conjure ambiguities of interpretation - by the hauntee, and by the listener - and sow them into the story at various stages. And fit everything in. (Not everything fits, ever, and that's fine, and that's why I love short stories.)

RLS looked over my shoulder from the outset; I've been aware of his stories and their supernatural elements since I was a teenager when, for a few years living abroad, my only reading material in English had been a full Household edition of Dickens and the Tusitala edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's works - i.e. about two yards of Classic Literature.
I devoured them, slowly, with some fromage frais and a nice Orangina.
About writing for radio.. even when it's a commission, essentially you're writing for yourself, writing to your own critical standards the kind of thing you want to read and/or hear. A short story is the perfect vehicle for such megalomaniacal control - I don't mean that in a negative sense at all.  But authors aren't present in the studio when short readings are recorded, they're at home biting their nails, so it's the producer and an actor who - together - lift your narrative off the page and twist it carefully so that it fits into the listener's ear and stimulates his or her own imagination.

I hope listeners to 'Misadventures of Magnus' will get the performance-within-performance aspect of this, where the actor is speaking the RLS text inside my text.

This project gave me the nudge to revisit the Scottish Storytelling Centre - the former Netherbow Theatre on the Royal Mile - where Magnus's show is staged; it's a venue I remember not only from seeing actors of repute perform literary gems there in the '70s, but where, in the '80s, I performed comedy in various personae for audiences who'd not yet heard the words 'Alternative Comedy', let alone seen any such thing on their home turf.

As it turns out, much of what I did there wasn't Alternative in the least - I didn't do jokes, as such. Didn't like hearing jokes about either Tories or Tampons and didn't make them. My kind of comedy starting with inventing a character - voice, intonation, fixation, compulsion, some or all of those emerging and developing - then following that person's thinking out loud in a kind of trance-state.

It took me approximately 10 years or so to gain the confidence to believe I could do that on the page.

When I did, BBC Radio in Queen Street in Edinburgh was where I sent my early efforts - to the three producers who guided the now defunct Storyline strand on Radio Scotland - and it was a rewarding way to get my start. I hope there will always be avenues for other writers to learn through the broadcast medium (pun intended).

If ghosts exist, I might rather like to be haunted by RLS. Then again, in a sense, living and working in Edinburgh, maybe I already am?

*The other tales in this series are by Val McDermid (25th Oct) and Louise Welsh (8th November)

Saturday, 19 October 2013


 I remember Hallowe'en being quite a low key thing in my childhood - it wasn't seen as quite proper to celebrate the dead, or make fun of ghosts and hauntings. 

We lived for a while in a remote part of Argyllshire, and one year my brother and I were invited to a party in a rather grim grey stone castle around Hallowe'en time, for which we had to dress up.

My brother had a plastic sword, shield, helmet and breastplate, which he wore with set of knitted grey wool 'chain mail' - I thought it looked pretty good. My outfit was adapted from one of my mother's 50's skirts, a dark purplish blue, covered with little figures, which draped around me like a full length cape, and she made me a pointy witch hat out of newspaper, painted black.

We were not a camera-owning family, alas, and I'd love now to see what we looked like. The strange intoxication of dressing up at that age was far more exciting - and memorable - than any other aspect of the evening; though I do remember - as if it were an illustration from Dickens' A Christmas Carol (the Fezziwigs' ball) - standing on the threshold of a very large room, seeing our hostess - an imposing woman, tall, with a shelf bosom and glinting spectacles - beckon us in towards a row of spooky silhouettes which turned out to be guests standing in front of a blazing orange log fire in a hearth the height and breadth of a Highland cow.

Thinking about all this made me go looking for vintage postcard images of Hallowe'en, and I found many online, mostly American. I particularly like the nightmare-inspiring vegetable-people in some of these. 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

After a week of migraine...

After a week of migraine, today - feeling at least able to get up and think a little - I wondered what had happened to the paper copy of the migraine article I wrote in 2008 for The Herald.

I've spent about 2 hours going through boxes of files (You idiot! Ed.) and wasn't able to lay hands on it (though I have located more or less every other form, article, rejection letter, script idea, proposal, thank you letter, birthday card and photograph for the last 20 years).

Before doing a physical search of boxes and files, I'd spent half an hour online trying to find a cached copy of it from The Herald's archives, but it had been deleted. (Google seems to have removed their helpful <cached> facility - when did that happen?) I'd already searched this computer, but wasn't able to find any track of the original document.

Eventually - exhausted and annoyed at my own stupidity (and you're so impatient, couldn't this have waited? Must you be obsessive? I wonder if that contributes to the condition, hm? Ed.) - I wondered when had been the last time I'd 'seen' it, or read it. I thought I'd sent it to a friend quite recently. Who? When? More searching, this time archived mail.

Ah. Yes. That's where I should have thought to look first.
My muddled thinking is possibly down to the residual effects of days of pain.

If, like me, you're a sufferer, or know someone who is, or if you're just interested in what migraine is, where it comes from, why it's so hard (for some of us, anyway) to get a diagnosis or adequate treatment for the condition.. I hope this might be useful. 

It's apparently beyond me just now to get these pages to post properly or to line up neatly.  Grr.

page 1

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page 4

Monday, 20 May 2013

Stories in your ears

This morning I discovered that the trilogy of stories I wrote for BBC Radio 4 in 2011 - Portrait - is now available online, on AudioGO and on iTunes.

This came as a complete surprise to me - the BBC hadn't notified me they were making my work commercially available.

At first I was indignant that they'd not asked my permission or had the courtesy to inform me of their action.

Then I was really glad that the stories were out there and could be heard (because I think they're good stories, and good readings).

Then (quite possibly because I was doing all this before breakfast) I became irritable in an all-round writery fashion... so I dug out the original contract (over which there had been a lot of tricky negotiation, in which I was very usefully advised by the Society of Authors) and inched through the complex clauses I'd forgotten about since signing it, namely the rights to commercial usage.

Ah. Yes, it was in there, but written in language that hadn't stuck in the crevices of my mind. And yes, some miniscule percentage of the original fee will trickle my way in the fullness of time. I intend to keep my eye on that.

So they are legitimately available, and I'm relieved and glad and far less irritable. I still think they could and should have alerted me!

Below is the original BBC R4 blurb about the stories themselves -  they're a sequence which builds to form a whole, much like painting a portrait in stages...

If you listen, I hope you'll enjoy them.

Download them for 99p each

PORTRAIT: A Triptych - 3 stories looking at the significance of a portrait. 
First broadcast August 9th, 10th, 11th, 2011 - produced by Sarah Langan at BBC Bristol.

1-The Painter's Story, read by Burn Gorman - Tom meets Nic at an arthouse cinema. She's out of his league, but he throws her a line about wanting to paint her, and one day she turns up at his studio and agrees to sit for him. By the time the canvas is finished, Tom realises she means more to him than just a female form he can observe.

2-The Model's Story, read by Federay Holmes - Nic wakes up in a hospital; she's battered and bruised, and as memory begins to return, her husband turns up. But is he there to console her, and will she go home with him? And what happened about the portrait of her painted by Tom?

3-The Voyeur's Story, read by Bill Paterson - screenwriter Andrew meets painter Tom on the set of a detective series, for which Tom has supplied the original artwork in a story about revenge. What's the real story behind the canvases, in particular the beautiful nude?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Things I used to be

photo by John Brown
Ages ago I promised someone that I'd find and post some photos of my 'musical career' - that sounded quite grand, and it really wasn't, though I did have a song-wot-I-wrote* played by John Peel, and then 'playlisted' by Radio Forth.

I began doing comedy in the early 1980s with an Edinburgh-based Feminist Theatre company called Mother Hen (don't blame me, I didn't name it!). One year (date eludes me) we called ourselves Polly & The Phones (groan) and took on the offer of a two week run at Theatre Workshop during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Here's a pic of me being Deeply & Seriously Feminist.

School For Clowns/TheatreWorkshop
I was also performing in a production of Ken Campbell's School For Clowns in the mornings (an hour's solid frolicking - phew - never been fitter) during the course of which, on the first performance, I managed to break my own finger by sitting on it (I was supposed to pop a balloon, and it wouldn't always pop, so...). Ouch. Art-injury.

(I'm the naughty clown on the bottom right, tootling a tootler.)
Anyway - in the evening shows I did sketches, did a monologue (as another of my alter egos, Mrs McGillicuddy, who talked a lot about the quality and price of groceries) and, more to the point of this rambling story, performed a rap called 'Classic Tweeds' (*with the help of music-maestro Lenny Love, the single was sent to the John Peel show and indeed he did play it) with the house-band (eek, we had a drummer and guitarist who were not women, though the bass player was).
Poppy Newton Stewart/ Derek Reid

The rap consisted of me, as yet another character: Poppy Newton-Stewart. She spoke in a posh voice, and in rhyme, about the marriage of Charles & Di, of jolly times skiing in Gstaad, and of the dreadful ignominy of having to walk home in a ball gown. I wrote this half a year at least before Tracey Ullman did her 'Yah' sketches on A Kick Up The Eighties. Tough, when someone famous gets there first.

We recorded Classic Tweeds and a couple of rather dirge-like you-broke-my-heart songs in a tiny studio in Penicuik. I wasn't involved in the Grand Plan of selling the resulting vinyl object at the door of the theatre; and unfortunately those who were responsible (financially, too, so I have no gripe really) on that side of it didn't know anything about the music business, or about selling. I may still have a few copies - in their hideous yellow paper sleeves - up in my attic, but I wouldn't care too deeply if it was never seen or heard of again.

Except that, dammit, the lyrics were funny, and it's useful to remember where one started liking things one writes, and attempting to regain the sense of play of early times.

Around that time I'd also begun singing a capella with two other women. We called ourselves The Midget Gems, at my suggestion, because we were all under 5ft 3, and it was a kind of comic reference to all those Motown-ish girl-groups with more glamorous names like The Supremes, or - well - The Pips - whilst also being the name of teeny little iced biscuits mostly popular with grannies.

Midget Gems/GinnieAtkinson
The Midget Gems entire act was to croon songs from the '40s, '50's '60s & sometimes later, adapted to emphasise the stupidity and sexism of their lyrics; so, we'd speed things up or insert ridiculous harmonies, make our voices very deep or very squeaky, and generally camp around.

Songs included Cliff Richard's nauseating 'Living Doll', 'I'd Like To Get You On A Slow Boat To China', 'Bye-bye, Blackbird', 'Let's get Together, Yeah Yeah Yeah'- ah, can't now remember what else, but I really enjoyed listening to old '45s on my red Dansette, transcribing the words, working out ways to make them funnier. 

Here we are 'rehearsing' for the camera, c. 1985. I'm on the right, with the punk haircut, having my dress unzipped by Myra McFadyen who is being fawned over by Grace Kirby.

We would come on stage wearing sunglasses, big 1950s duster-coats, stilettos, fishnet tights (apart from Myra, who didn't dress 'femme', so she went for a more 'If Sammy Davis Jr hailed from Winchburgh' look). After a couple of songs we'd take off the coats and sing a few more; after that we'd take off our shiny little dresses to reveal 1940s swimsuits. One night we shared the stage (as they say) with The Proclaimers (who got booed quite heartily) and Billy Bragg (who suggested we might tour with him as a support act. My fellow Gems didn't want to. Regrets, yes, I've had a few...  *sob*)

Hang on, you're saying. Swimsuits? SWIMSUITS? Yes. Feminists, having it both ways... happy days.

NB - the costumes all came from my years of trawling jumble sales and charity shops. I still have some of these items up in the famous attic.

 End of part 1

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Olympia and her sisters

Urbino Venus ~ Titian ~ Uffizi, Florence

Further to my previous post, I re-read my own short story 'Olympia' about Manet's painting 'Olympia' to remind myself of how I'd done it.

I already knew, when I started writing, what I wanted to say about it, knew at least that it would have to incorporate or hint at the facts of the artist's life; his studio practice, the model herself, the clothes and language and manners of the era. I read a little Zola to tune my ear to the tone I wanted for the narration, and read one of those Eyewitness Guides which looked in some detail at the paints he used, the textures of canvas, the period during which he was painting this particular work. It helped me to realise how much Manet (like many artists) was borrowing from extant images, and how in this instance he was re-intepreting a classical Venus, and deliberately setting out to alter the effect of a female nude on the sensibilities of the viewer. (That was stuff I thought I knew already, but it helps to have a firm foundation on which to build a fiction, especially when writing about so famous a work of art.)

Because the story is narrated neither by the artist nor the model, I had to find a way to inform the less-informed listener (or reader) a little, without spelling it out so that the actual narrator (the studio cat) sounded intelligent, and of his time, but wasn't giving a lecture. Tricky. Here's one para of the story, to give a flavour of the result:

"Some years earlier [Manet] had painted a study of the Urbino Venus by Titian, and this he hunted out from an old portfolio, and studied as the basis for his composition. At first, he directed Victorine to lie with her left hand on her knee, the near leg drawn up, the fingers of her right hand toying with a twist of hair. But after one drawing, it was clear that this pose did not altogether please him. He tugged at his moustaches, scratched a brush through his beard, paced the room, stopping before the Titian copy. There, the Florentine courtesan lies languid on crumpled sheets with her head turned in coy invitation, a bunch of flowers dangles casually from her right hand, while her left, at the meeting of her thighs, alludes to the source of her power. At her feet lies curled a sleeping spaniel and, beyond, two serving women occupy themselves with items of clothing in a pillared hall."

If you'd like to read the rest of the story, it's in Furthermore

p.s. - I like these two paintings which also play with the notion of the classical Venus. Manet was himself influenced (as seen in his portrait of Zola) by Japanese art, so it's rather pleasing that a later Japanese artist was sufficiently influenced by Manet to attempt an Olympia, in a way which brings the two distinct styles into one painting. Of the Cezanne, I just love the playfulness, the dream effect of that plump woman on her cloud, and the nods to Titian again with the maid, the flower arrangements and the attentive dog, and the upended top hat casting its shadow on the couch.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Considering Victorine

'Considering Victorine' ~ Susie Maguire (c) painted by John Behm
This afternoon I was googling an artist - John Behm (in order to mention his work to another artist who lived, I thought, nearby) - and came suddenly upon an image of myself that he'd painted. It was a rather odd feeling. I haven't laid eyes on this picture for many years; it was bought soon after completion by my brother, Tim, who lent it to the Paintings in Hospitals scheme. It may possibly be illuminating a corridor somewhere in a Scottish hospital still, or it may be relegated to my brother's basement, swathed in bubble-wrap and propped against a wall. I have no idea.

It existed for me in memory only, until now - and this sudden visual prompt made me think about the usual things historical images of one's self do; who was I then, who am I now, how are the two related, what's changed since,. Also about ego, vanity, representation, the gaps between how one sees one's self and how one is seen by others. Those themes sometimes find their way into what I write, in fictional form.
I remember the experience of sitting for the portrait; the practical, physical circumstances and the internal, emotional ones. We'd been together for around 5 years, and split up about twelve months after this work was made.
I would go down to the studio for a couple of hours at a time, talking a little, but often quite happily not talking. At that time he, and half a dozen other visual artists, had colonised a semi-derelict jumble of old two-storey workshop buildings in a yard off a cobbled lane in Edinburgh's New Town (now knocked down and/or converted into flats, I believe). It was a long, dark, dusty, cold space, cluttered with skip-trophies, things to be mended or incorporated into sculptures or dragged to the next cheap-enough-to-rent work space, in the boot of the next last-legs car.

I sat there in a 1950s metal & red-leather chair found in a junk yard, wearing cotton leggings of an unlikely purplish colour, a soft black jersey held together with a late-Victorian butterfly-wing brooch, a black wool shawl draped round me in an attempt to avoid pneumonia. The light source on the right side was from the 6ft wooden door/window which could be opened to allow use of an industrial hoist mechanism. It might have been autumn, or spring, I can't remember precisely, but there's sunlight flooding in towards my left cheek. I can almost remember the cold/warm contrast of it.

I had forgotten until now that this painting had a title. 'Considering Victorine' alludes to Manet's famously provocative painting 'Olympia', for whom a woman called Victorine Meurent was the model (she also features in several other Manet paintings, but this is the one which outraged Bourgeois Parisians at the Salon in 1863). Hers is the shadow-image lying on the left side.

At the time 'my' Olympia portrait was made, John had been reading 'Alias Olympia', an investigation into Victorine's career, and an attempt by the author Eunice Lipton to rescue the model from the label of 'street player and prostitute who died in the gutter' which had been allotted her by male art historians with hard hearts & disdain for all demi-mondaines.

What does the Behm portrait of me say? One woman dreaming of another woman? An artist combining his vision of a fantasy model with a real model? An arrangement of colour in space with a good back-story for those who wish to explore it? I can't speak for the artist's intentions - I probably could have at the time but have forgotten now.

From the model's point of view, I can say that it was the 6th or 7th time I'd sat for a portrait (Fionna Carlisle, Tot Brill, Derek Reid, had also 'borrowed' me before, and a various photographers whose names I forget) and it was not unfamiliar to me to be the 'object of the gaze', with all that entails. This time, at least, I was comfortable with the role, and interested in the history of Manet's work with Victorine, and naturally very interested in the personal history between myself and the artist (which, like it or not, always permeates the finished work).
Self-consciousness at being the subject in focus is a curious thing. Can be intimidating, or empowering, and lots of other things besides. What was I actually thinking about, while ostensibly looking up from a book? What time is it? What will we have for supper? Did I pay that bill/make that haircut appointment/post that letter? When can I move, please?
What does the image say to the viewer? What does that conjunction of brushstrokes mean to an outside eye? The model looks thoughtful. Is it a finished work? No action, but there's drama in the colours, and it's a warm painting. The model has a direct but slightly inward gaze. Replicating the gaze of Victorine in Manet's painting? Ye-es, ish, but clothed. Guarded. So no, not like Manet's work, not an image designed to shock or outrage. What does it say about her? What does it say about the painter?

At the time John Behm was painting me in that pose, holding Eunice Lipton's book, I seem to remember he was thinking about entering it for a portrait award (don't know if he did, though.) He was also doing a large canvas with 9 or 12 assembled 'heads' of Victorine, in which he examined how she might have looked as she grew older - he copied her 'heads' from Manet's Woman With Parrot (1866) and The Railway (1872) and Street Singer (1862) and then used both my own and my mother's faces as templates for taking the imagined life/lives forwards. (I have no idea if that canvas still exists...).

Later, in 2001, I wrote an 'imagined life' story called 'Olympia' (subtitled 'la muse s'amuse', which nobody else seemed to appreciate as the witticism I thought it to be) for a series of BBC Radio 4 stories with the working title 'voices from behind the canvas'. It was an idea I'd proposed via one producer, which had then been handed on to another whom I didn't know, so that only (rather grudgingly, it seemed to me) after several had been commissioned, was I asked to write mine (a salutary lesson about being definite about owning your own ideas, instead of modestly and gratefully accepting crumbs, which I learnt the hard way, twice.)

Anyway, suffice it to say that my story was about the experience of artist Manet and model Victorine, in a Paris studio, during the process of that painting, narrated by the little black cat which stands at the foot of the bed. (If you're curious, you can find that story in my second collection, Furthermore.)

And there I'll leave it, for now - the mystery of the paintings and the story behind them, still lightly veiled.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Start as you mean to go on (and on and on)

I don't generally do New Year resolutions. Declarations of intent made at the darkest, coldest time of the year seem likely to be coloured by all kinds of emotional issues, and the arbitrary choice of 1st or 2nd January as the day when Everything Will Be Done Brilliantly From Now On is at the very least ambitious and at the worst the kind of thing that comes back to wave its finger in your face by the end the first week. Fate has a way of divining when you're occupied in a creative pursuit and coming along to scupper you, to test your faith and self belief and patience. Fate is a little bastard. (Do you really believe in Fate? Ed.)

However, I have made a start on re-engaging with my WIP despite the irritations and miseries of January and broken drains and a heap of other things too annoying to list. Over the weekend I set up the laptop (one I was given in September and on which I worked so fruitfully during my retreat), tinkered with the widgets that allowed me to connect it to the internet (purely so that I could download a second licensed version of Scrivener ) and spent yesterday making 1000 words of notes as to what was still to do in this not-quite-finished-really-rough-and-patchy-first-draft. It felt good. I was happy. Hollow laugh.

Fate (or whatever it is) must have known that and decided to offer me a test. (Yes, but what do you mean by Fate, exactly? Ed.)

This morning I discovered (you can probably work out how) that the cistern in my loo was broken. It's an old device, 1940s-ish, and the action of the handle operates a plunger type thing (rather technical language, don't you think? Ed.) which is supposed to be held in place by a metal pin which was not there when I moved in (aeons ago) and which has to be replaced every so often with a bent paperclip, until that rusts and the whole process starts again. (What, replace the cistern? Yes, yes, all in good time, when the next ship comes in with plenty of bullion...).  So I found a paperclip, mended that, then made a cup of tea and as I drank it I peered out of the bedroom window at the weather, opened it wide to let in some cool fresh air, and glanced where a drain that was flooding the front garden of the tenement building  - and which was meant to have been cleared before Christmas (I never saw the workmen, was told by the Council they'd been and 'sorted' it. Ha.) - was doing so again.

Once you've seen a thing it's almost impossible to un-see it. Discuss.

So I growled a bit, fired up my desktop computer, opened the mail app, referred to previous correspondence on this matter, sent another message to the Bloke At The Council Property Department who'd been dealing with it (or said he had) and then naturally found myself answering other incoming emails, and notifications, and then - before I knew it - straying onto Ye Twitter. 

Free Will?  How d'you spell that? A-d-d-i-c-t-i-o-n? (Of course, this is why you were setting up the laptop, so you'd distance yourself from the lure of the internet, isn't it? Ed.)

Fatal mistake, you're muttering to yourself, fatal, never, ever, open email in the morning if you plan to write in the mornings. And you're right. I HAD marked out mornings in my diary as writing time. I HAD planned (not quite a resolution, but nearly) to spend each morning writing from now until 'The End'. I had every intention of doing that and relishing it.

Best laid plans of mice and women, blah blah.

All this put me in mind of a comment by a brilliant Catalan writer I met some years back, Jordi Punti. He described email as being like playing multiple games of chess. Each time someone moves a pawn and signals that to you, you go to the board and look at the pieces and move a piece of your own, and feel good that you're now setting the pace of the game; however, other players are also signalling moves and you have to go to other boards and examine those games and move pieces on those other boards, and by the time you've done that the earlier players will have responded to your move and moved another piece... and so it goes on. One damn thing after another.

Real Life is one damn thing after another.  (So is a lot of fiction, I would tentatively suggest. Ed.) If I did New Year Resolutions, I would resolve - no, less dramatically but with genuine commitment, I would make an effort - to push Reality aside for at least an hour in every day, so that Writing Would Come First. Before broken drains, cranky cisterns, emails about tax-returns, or - bloody hell - Twitter.

I'll tweet the link to this, in a moment. Then, when it's off my mind and out in the world, I'll turn off the desktop and attempt to return to work on the laptop. Don't think the irony is lost on me.

ps. Fuck you, Fate.