Monday, January 26, 2009

Cotswolds Conference Centre almost seems too comfortable for a Creative Writing course: warm rooms, free newspapers and constant coffee - don't real writers need an icy garret? or at least a draft and no choice of puddings. Apparently not; despite the indulgent surroundings of Farncombe Estate, my weekend group was brilliant, gelling easily and producing an inspiring range of styles and stories.
I drove home on a high, at least until the road disappeared in a sleet-storm that drowned out the radio and obliterated the landscape. It was as if all the local rivers, partially frozen, had reared up like pythons before shaking themselves back down to earth. Poor naked wretches that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and raggedness, defend you? a mentalist monarch with realm-rage might well have wondered.

Rehearsals for my plays in the On the Edge programme at the Alma Tavern Theatre begin this week and director Pameli Benham invited me to come along for the thrill & privilege of witnessing my words brought alive by professionals. The actors, Meg Whelan and Kirsty Cox, are both fabulous, morphing into their roles before my eyes and turning Pameli's diningroom into a Greek island terrace even with no sunshine spot or potted geraniums. My response to this empathetic interpretation was an intense desire to rewrite the entire play - or rather, to edit ruthlessly. I started extracting lines like they were prickly pear splinters. Exposition - Out! Repetition - Out! Gratuitous - obvious - cliché - out, out, out !!! Best fun I've had with my boots on all winter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Idiot Colony, at the Ustinov last week, was devised by Redcape Theatre from the shockingly true stories of women institutionalised during the 1940s for having children by American GIs. The 1913 Mental Deficiency Act was in operation till the 1950s had a 'moral deficiency' clause and could be activated without a psychiatrist - it only needed the prejudice and hostility of two GPs and a relative. The three women performers evoked their characters stories succinctly and the 'business' was impressive but what touched me most was the words. Clever and self-confident performances but less stage skill and more speech would have made it even more emotionally memorable.

Nikki Bennett's party at the Bath Royal Sci & Lit Institute sounded a little bit daunting, with twenty-five performers lined up. It was actually a delightful evening, smoothly run with a generous bar and fabulous buffet and everyone keeping to their prescribed 3 minutes. A really lovely night.

And on this inauguration day when America was told "the world has changed and we must change with it", if you've ever wondered who writes Obama's speeches, the name (according to the Independent) is Jon Favreau and he's 27. Obama disgorges his thoughts and Favreau crafts them into prose, and the pair then work in tandem. With disgorged thoughts like "Our patchwork heritage is a strength and not a weakness" and "We have chosen hope over fear", I guess the the soundbites write themselves.

And finally... Bath Poetry Cafe is putting on a Love Fest for February, with feisty Caleb Parkin and foxy Sue Boyle in charge. If you say it's a love poem, then it IS a love poem, says Sue, and wants "as many cafe poets and audience as possible to get a chance to read" in this UNUSUALLY CONVIVIAL, ENGAGING AND ORIGINAL EVENT. Tickets, from, are going fast.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"As you get older you realise that everyone is odd, in different ways" says Debby Holt at the lively launch of her new book Love Affairs for Grownups. This is a story about two odd people who - like the rest of us, according to the author - do not get wiser as they get older. "They're constantly stymied by things that happened in the past which they don't talk about." Debby ended with a short reading, just enough to show the novel is funny and fascinating, and invited questions. "Do you think your heroines are getting tougher?" asked one gentleman. "They're drinking less" Debby agreed.

The January meeting of Words@ Frome Festival always has a sense of vague urgency. The festival - voted by Time Out the best in the UK last year - isn't till July but brochure copy has to be ready next month... New events, regular favourites, and the return of the popular 'Authors and Publishers' day at the library.

Recording Miss Daisy:
Quantock Close, our team effort local radio soap, is progressing and Mike is working on other writerly programmes. Here's me reading my adaptation of Daisy Ashford's classic The Young Visiters as a 5-part 'Book at Bedtime'. All recordings should start with salmon and wine, in my opinion.

And only a week now before rehearsals for my plays at the Alma Tavern Theatre begin, only three-and-a-bit weeks before the opening night!
Bookings 0117 9467899 or online here.

Silly story of the week: American author JF Lewis is in trouble with his local church because his humorous debut novel Staked features a vampire. If it had featured a tortured man with blood dripping from his head and side as he died in agony, maybe that would have been ok.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Exciting news: my plays, showing at the Alma Tavern Theatre next month, have been cast: Oliver Millingham, whose work I've seen at the Tobacco Factory, Jo Lancastle, and Meg Whelan. It all seems so much closer now. They're part of the 'Writing in the Margins' programme of short plays: my two are Thursday Coma (when it's your mother's funeral and your estranged brother is arriving so you can't see your therapist, a quick coma seems a good solution) and Your Time Starts Now (co-listening? just like conversation, isn't it? what could be simpler...)
Richard (Clockers) Price says every character you create is yourself: "How do I create a young black urban drug dealer? He’s me. Everybody’s the author, it’s all fiction." That was on Front Row this week. Anne Enright said something similar in The Guardian: "Writing fiction is a habit of flipping the world or tilting it... the way children make things up all the time. We are just picking up a fish finger and flying it across the dinner table: "Vrrrrrrrrrrrr vrrrrrrrrr vrrrrrrrrrroooooooom".

And on the subject of flying fish fingers, I'm loving Demons, a brilliant new vampire series with a wicked script. Gene Hunt turns Ghostbuster to aid novice warrior Luke in battling unbeings and entities. "We don’t care to name them" he growls in a softly unidentifiable transatlantic accent, " We just smite 'em."
Luke is shocked at the interruption to his revision and unfamiliar with the opposition.
"Is that an entity?"
"No Luke, that is a rat."
They meet Gareth from the Office wearing a beak, and set about smiting him. "Very well smit, if I may say so" concedes the unbeing before combusting. Absolutely excellent.

Still on a vampiric theme, Van Helsing, a few years old now but shown this week on ITV2, is overlong but highly entertaining. Anna Valerious, aka Kate Beckingsale in a costume blending grechen with catwoman, must kill Dracula to save her family from purgatory and Transylvanians from being swooped on by a plague of winged vampires. Igor and Frankenstein are involved too, and Van Helsing has a sidekick friar called Carl, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto. There’s an awful lot of whooshing about and things flung dizzily around before exploding but the best scenes are frankly spoofy: the undead giving a whole new meaning to hissy fits, and Carl like Bond’s Q showing Van Helsing his state-of-the-art equipment (a cross bow). David Wenham as the friar had most of the offbeat lines: "Why does it smell like wet dog in here?" he mused after a particularly gruesome werewolf battle. As Richard Price says, “If you put the way people really talk on the page, it would be interminable... you take all that stuff and compress it into a shapeliness, and it’s fake but it does have the appearance of, wow, this is how people really speak."

Frome library writers' group met this week for an excellent workshop led by Val Fellows on the timely topic of New Beginnings, reminding us that every next moment fits that category. New beginnings means starting from now. It doesn’t have to be box-fresh, this start. It only has to be illuminated by mindfulness of mortality, knowing that in this moment we are alive.

Footling footnote of the week: According to stats, the average Briton spends two-and-a-quarter hours every day feeling anxious. I wish I knew how they cope with the other 21 and three quarters. I grade my anxieties from 1 to 12, which happens also to be the scale used by Philip Glenister's smiting character for the nastiness of entities and unbeings.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

It’s the first day of January and my FB friends....
- Are eating chocolate cake
In a house full of dogs and hangovers
Wishing everyone glucklich dingdong

- Are wearing a woolly hat tis cold today
Reading Plato in bed
Saying happy new year, ya mofos!

- Are baking bread
Having watched a massive firework display
Wishing everyone a brilliant sparkly starry creative and loving new year

- Are yoga-ing by the red sea
Saying thanks for a fun night
And hoping all your dreams come true

- Are wondering why it doesn’t snow in Hong Kong
Yelling Happy New Year from Glastonbury Tor
And wishing everyone all we wish ourselves
(adding confusingly
May you all break eggs with sticks.)

So we made it to the end of the year. And now, slipping between melting ice-caps and teetering past abandoned outlets of retail giants, another precious little New Year tiptoes in. Time for a detox, a reprogramme at the gym, and a new To-Do writing list... my focus is on scripts, with Frome writers' soap Quantock Court scheduled to go out on local radio soon, and my 2 short plays on in Bristol next month.

And if you ever doubted the power of drama to change the world, muse on this titbit from the Blackadder documentary: more than half the regimental goats in the British army are now called Baldrick.