Friday, August 29, 2008

Some of the most scathing put-downs come from theatre, especially the auditorium. My father was a drama critic, and he had a typewriter that must have been twinned with a lemon-grater. He savoured classic sneers, too: "Delusions of adequacy" was one of Walter Kerr's. Less succinct is Bernard Levin's verdict: "the depth of a cracker motto, the drama of a dial-a-recipe service and the eloquence of a conversation between a speak-your-weight machine and a whoopee cushion", but I don't know which playwright writhed under that withering endorsement. Ken Tynan opined- I think of him as someone who opined, rather than just saying - "A dramatist is a congenital eavesdropper with the instincts of a Peeping Tom."
And RT's Allison Pearson recently added to the roll of disparagement: "Why would anyone choose to pay to be cramped and uncomfortable in the same room as hundreds of other people, watching performances that are always too big and too loud and worst of all you can't get out." Theatrical productions, she says, get away with being "yawningly talky and boring", as well as brittle, mannered, stilted, "and nothing actually happens. Can you imagine anyone getting away with that lot in The Bill?"
Well no, I can't, but I don't watch The Bill. It sounds like a fair summary of most of Radio 4 though, but that's probably unfair because I don't listen to that either. I do love theatre, though. That breathless moment when the curtains draw back at the start, and you know your world is about to be changed, perhaps forever. My earliest theatre memory is crying at the end of a London production of Alls Well that Ends Well because I didn't want to go home. Family folklore has me aged three, demanding 'More, more' and refusing to leave my seat. That's the benefit of a critic for a father, even a curmudgeonly one; I'd seen Ibsen and Synge before I was 11, and in the glory days of angry young men, I was wide-eyed in the stalls.
All of which ruminations occurred because my current writing seems to be increasingly dramatic (though without facial lesions or glam cops.) I've been doing some radio shorts for Frome FM, and am keeping fingers & toes crossed my two 15-minute stage plays around the theme of marginalisation will find their way to production next year. It's scary and exciting, writing with no commission and no guaranteed outcome - yet this risky edge is part of a writer's life. Real creativity seems to live in wild places. "You probably have to be unstable to be creative," Anthony Sher says, "All great artists in any field seem a bit mad." I got that from the RT, too.
What else is occurring, as this wet summer dissolves into a damp autumn? Misty walks & cycles, mellow fruitful meetings, disappearance of Scrabulous on facebook, discovery of e-Scrabulous... life goes on in its variously wordy ways.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Have you ever dreamed of swapping urban life for a rural retreat in spectacular surroundings where mountains circle the valley and a river runs through... finding and renovating old stone buildings where donkeys and chickens can roam - maybe putting up a couple of yurts in the garden ...pictured yourself and your partner following your ideal work here as your children grow up healthy and happy (there'd be a small village locally, for schooling and community)
...imagined evenings sharing meals al fresco with friends as sun sets over the forested horizon and the sky fills with an unimaginable numerosity of stars ...And then thought, Oh it would never work.
Think again.
Sharon and Alex live the dream: they talk the talk (French) and walk the walk, along the wonderful woodland paths of the Cevennes to Gardoussel. There's only one thing to do when you find a place like this and friends like these, and that's go back, which I intend to do, next year and for longer.

This was the first Creative Writing group that Sharon, herself a talented writer, has organised here as most courses are Ayurvedic nutrition and yoga. Le Loft adapted itself perfectly as a venue for inventive self-expression, lyricism and laughter, poignancy and passion.

And who comes to write in a magical story-book place like this? Magical characters, of course: A fairy, a jester, a cat (blue), a witch, a lord and lady, a wandering minstrel, and a colourful company of shape-shifting companions.

Donald opened his comments at our book-review evening:"I suspect that the books we love above all other books are those whose heroes are ourselves: flawed as we are; ideal as we intend to be." Open for discussion in terms of reading choice perhaps, but certainly every personality here glowed through their writing.

This was a fantastic week of word-crafting and sharing, amazing meals, and forest walks - I swam under the waterfall and hiked every afternoon, except the day of the thunderstorm when every surface suddenly became a pit of writhing rain-snakes. Admittedly there was, overall, less sunshine than the terms of the contract (viz: South of France, August) implied, but wonderful writing, wild walks, and white wine were acceptable alternatives.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hazel & I spent Saturday on an 'Artist's Date'. We've been doing these irregularly ever since we started writing together, sometimes in flamboyant venues like Paris, Barcelona, and last christmas Manhatten, though more often in downtown Frome. This time it was in rural Worcestershire where Haz now lives.

A great day, divided between working on new 'Live & Lippy' material, and walking on the Malvern Hills, where we discovered a wayside shrine where passing poets were invited in Blake's words to
"see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour."
We wrote 7 pieces, walked 3 hours, & rewarded ourselves with fish&chips.

Bristol Harbour Festival expected 200,000 visitors and most of them seemed to be swarming round the docks on Sunday. Streets were in full fairground mode, the river chokka with tour boats, and Cascade Steps throbbing with poetry performances. Rosemary Dun defied an overcast sky with odes to summer passions and the rain held off, till later.

And once more on the theme of writers in their own words... did you know Willm Shakspere never penned his name the way history has selected? I'm engrossed in the Bill Bryson biography, which finds the man himself missing for most of his life but paints a fascinating picture of his theatrical world. This was a time when, despite plagues and casual violence, theatres were crowded nightly with plays seen as so relevant to current politics that performers risked erratic penalties like having their noses lopped off. Ah happy days...
I finished this book knowing a great deal less about our greatest playwright and poet than when I started, but it's a compelling read. And here's Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, one of many conspiracy-theorist candidates to the challenge Will the real Will Shakespeare please stand up - despite being 'sexually dissolute and widely disliked' and prone to murdering his servants, he was the favourite of a researcher named Looney.

Off now to Languedoc for a couple of weeks. Have a good August, y'all!