Sunday, April 28, 2013

Kate Atkinson can't write without a title. "If you have a title, your thoughts gather to it like iron filings to a magnet," she explains during her Q&A session at Bay Books in Strawflower Village, just off Half Moon Bay, on Thursday night.  It's an unexpected privilege to hear a master of her craft in this crowded little bookshop the other side of the world.  She's a witty speaker, with the same dry humour as in her characters use ~ particularly when responding to the more baffling aspects of audience sycophancy: ("How do you know when to turn from yin to yang, Kate?" "I have no idea.").
Dave Minton and I arrived with notebooks in hand, agog to glean tips, while Mo was there as a long-time fan of her Jackson Brodie books.  He lent me Case Histories, which is utterly brilliant, full of blood and dour hilarity. (Does Kate like the TV version? "It is what it is, it's television. If you do a deal with the devil, at some point you have to stop screaming.") Here's Jason Isaacs as her laconically sexy private eye: Kate likes his look but his Yorkshire accent she says is rubbish.

There's been coastal fog in the morning several times this week, holding back the sunshine and blitzing blue sky until afternoon, which has been good to keep me focussed on the writing schedule I arrived here with, or at least some of it. Amazingly, I've kept up the poem-a-day-throughout-April challenge from Carrie Etter (whose blog has some great prompts.) Not all achieve what could be called lyricism, but musing and scribbling along the beaches, headlands, and coastal paths has been a fabulous way to spend the hours. I've been up as far as the Moss Beach marine reserve to watch baby seals bouncing down the beach like hoppity balls, and all the way down Half Moon Bay where the dunes are thick with pink and golden iceplant flowers. The birdlife here is amazing: plovers and curlew fishing in the lowtides, while on the cliffs there's the drama of egg-robbing raptors mobbed and chased away by the tiny blackbirds. It's easy to go into a total reverie but that would be dangerous when re-entering human habitation: road rules here, to my alien mind, seem completely chaotic. Crossing the highway involves pressing a button and waiting for an illuminated little man on the far side, which is logical, but almost immediately a big red hand starts to flash a warning countdown as six lanes of traffic thrums beside you, and as in America drivers are allowed to turn right when the lights are red against them if the road seems clear, and truck drivers appear to think this means clear of vehicles not bodies, this can be scary. On sideroads, paradoxically, cars courtously stop at the sight of me lurking on the sidewalk. Baffling.

On Saturday night we drove 'over the hill' for supper ~ about the distance of Bristol from Frome but over here this is almost like popping to the local. Fusion Peruvian Grill does a fantastic platter of red snapper and seafood, if you're ever wondering where to go in downtown San Mateo. Today the sun's out, the sea's blue and so's the sky, and I can't believe my time here is half over already...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday morning in El Granada... in Café Classique beside the shore, with mellow guitar playing and full-on sunshine through the cedar trees. It's my writing-and-walking month in California, but after the winter we've had I've done more striding than scribing. I think when I packed to come here I'd forgotten what spring is supposed to feel like, I had to get myself a tee-shirt from the Thrift shop I was so unprepared for warmth.

This is the view I never tire of. 
Silver-grey sand, platinum blue where newly wet, 
spreading from my feet for miles beneath 
that inconceivably enormous, unbelievably blue, sky. 
Soft moon, frail as half blown dandelion down. 
Purr of white waves at the lip of the long topaz sea. 
Cliffs saffron in the afternoon sun, flickered by 
seagull shadows.  The moon rises as I write. 
A moment of eternal transience.  Another of them. 
I gather it in with the rest of the harvest.

Mo and Anja's new house, where I'm staying, is not only temptingly close to the beach but also has an enticing back garden perfect for reading in the sun... cue for a book recommendation: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joy ~ an engrossing tale beautifully told, plangent with truths about life and death and love. Harold learns along the way that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other... and he learns more too, in a touching redemptive conclusion to his 627 mile pilgrimage. Mo's friend Dave Minton is a writer too, and my first evening here coincided with one of his Spoken Word nights. I persuaded Mo to co-read my short play Park & Ride as my contribution, and his perfectionistism demanded so many rehearsals the piece went down a storm. Quieter evenings all lovely too, conversing over supper as sun sets over Half Moon Bay.

Back in the UK: May 3rd is the next Story Friday in Bath at Burdall's Yard where I would definitely be at 8pm if I could, since as well as organising a really good event, A Word In Your Ear will include my latest monologue In These Shoes, performed by Kilter Theatre.  If you go, do send me feedback, I'll be wondering with fingers crossed...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday night's Hip Yak at the Archangel in Frome was, as performance poetry enthusiasts will see from a glance at the names on the poster, joyful, provocative, and 'Blimey, kaleidescopic!' as aptly summarised by my vox pop. Chris Redmond, Jonny Fluffypunk, and Liv Torc are all worthy headliners in their own right, and if you add Byron Vincent as guest, you're certain of a fantastic night of offbeat wit & highly original imagery. What's great about all these poets' observational comedy is the way they share something of  themselves, and Byron digs deepest of all. I randomly managed to win the Yakety Yak slam too ~ didn't have the forethought to photo my trophy in situ so here it is back home about to be ceremonially placed on the telly alongside the Mother's Day card that says 'Well it's been lovely but now I have to scream.'

And now I'm off to pack. My next posting will be from Half Moon Bay in California, where I intend to divide my time between writing and walking along the bay where the Pacific waves roll against dunes rich with pink and golden ice-plants... and enjoying the company of my generous friends who take me into their home for a month at a time. It's a loving connection that goes back to 1964 so plenty of reminiscences too...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Two Gentlemen of Verona the second of Andrew Hilton’s productions for SATTF this spring, is one of Shakespeare’s early plays but it has all the confidence and zest of the later comedies with a plot slightly more easy to follow. Basically, only one of these two avowed friends is actually a gentleman: the other is a disloyal, devious, and disturbingly inattentive to detail since he can’t recognise his own dumped girlfriend in slacks pretending to be a boy… Mistaken identity, and the convention of impenetrable disguise, are themes and conceits the bard used much in later plays, and here they send abandoned Julia off with her maid to find, and forgive, deceitful Proteus and restore Silvia to loyal Valentine so the mixed-up lovers, as at the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream, can be reunited. The laughs ~ and there are many ~ come mainly from the servants’ interaction with their masters and mistresses, and with each other, which is so fast-paced and droll one suspects much credit should be given to Dominic Power for his ‘edition and additional lyrics'. Set and costume design are delightful, elegantly evoking an indolent era of class distinctions, and an amazing cast ensure each scene sparkles with high-energy wit. Special appreciation to Piers Wehner as Proteus who manages the difficult feat of remaining endearing despite his conniving, Jack Bannell as a gorgeously heroic Valentine and Chris Donnelly who with Lollio as Crab the dog provided some of the best moments in a superb evening of theatre. It's on at Tobacco Factory till May 4th ~ go see in Bristol or follow the tour.

Monday, April 08, 2013

An untheatrical posting for a nontheatrical week. I seem to have been mostly preoccupied with stuff in the news, reflecting on the aptness of Bob Dylan's 50 year old lyrics you play with my world like it's your little toy... and re-posting parodies on Facebook.
There's more to depress than amuse, even in the risible claim of Iain Duncan-Donut that he could live on £53 a week, what with the insistence of George Osborne that welfare is 'hugely expensive' ~ not if you compare it to (as Michael Rosen does) bailing out bankers, turning a blind eye to tax havens and giving tax relief to top earner's pensions ~ and then the horrendous causal connection made by tories & tabloids between a psychopath who carelessly kills his children and everyone in the UK on benefits. A relief to read the sanity of Owen Jones and Grace Dent on this case. Even Ann Widdicombe showed a smattering of compassion until she got started on the depravity of communal living and the need for Social Services to remove children from households with more than two adults in a relationship. Good thing she didn't live in medieval times, she'd have cleared every building from tithebarns to manors. And now the Metal Lady is beyond reach of Atos evaluation as fit for work, I'm thankful again for Owen Jones to say it like it is: It will only be worth celebrating when Thatcherism is finally purged from this country, and a Britain run in the interests of working people is built. Then we really can rejoice.

Now for something completely delightful: Comme une Image (Look At Me) a movie from fantastic actor/writer/director Agnes Jaoui, made back in 2008 but fresh-feeling as well as funny, tender, and irresistible. Well-observed characters and a storyline that's endearing without being 'sweet', and above all a brilliantly economic script, showing how tight writing makes the subtext shine.

I'm ending with me on a rock called the Giant's Chair, a 100 metre drop on either side, on a four hour walk to celebrate that Saturday the sun came out...
And a link to where I began, as wonderful Elvis Mcgonagall joins a topical debate on BBC Weekend  (16 minutes in) with his incisive wit.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Creative initiatives are coming together in Frome: the Words at Frome Festival group has now submitted all our events to the brochure for publication, and Nevertheless Productions secured funding for our next pub theatre collaboration with Stepping Out ~ hence celebration, with tapas at the Garden Cafe.

Due to accidental embroilment at Tobacco Factory cafe in the launch party of Nigel Shipley's paintings of Bristol ~ I love this one of the marina ~ I nearly missed the launch party of Tobacco Factory Theatre's new season brochure which has an amazing range of innovative productions, from the ambitious balloon fiesta piece Hot Air in the main theatre to community shows like Hermione Steel and the Island of Lost Minds from Stepping Out Theatre at the Brewery. Great to see so much new writing!

Then on to An Act of Twisting at the Bierkeller, a chilling exploration of the psychology of torture ~ except 'We don't use the T-word,' the trio of novices quickly learn, 'Manipulation is the preferred term.' Trainer Penelope (Lizzy Dive) provides data on sensory deprivation, official rationales, and sadistic tips like 'a little apparent kindness can be heart-breaking' ~ all realistic enough to make this fantasy project shockingly plausible. We watch the rookies overcome instinctive aversion to be slowly drawn into the game: there's a smart one (Kirsty Cox), a keen one (Annette Chown) and a stroppy one (Laura Fautley) but who will collect the information, and who will crack... this added dimension of social experimentation keeps you guessing till the end of Ian McGlynn's thought-provoking play, strongly acted by all the women and directed for maximum impact by Hannah Drake.

Disturbing statistic from Your Somerset: almost a quarter of the county's children enter Reception class already obese or overweight. At least they can learn how to improve their fitness and social confidence, perhaps, when they're taught the skills & understanding they need to thrive in the world... which are no longer times-tables, spelling, and early English history! Get yourself a laptop with a calculator & spell-check, Mr Gove, and google the parable of the Sabre Tooth Curriculum. The wise old men were indignant. If you had any education yourself, they said severely, you would know that the essence of true education is timelessness. It is something that endures through changing conditions like a solid rock standing squarely and firmly in the middle of a raging torrent. You must know that there are some eternal verities, and the saber-tooth curriculum is one of them! Written 1939, still profound today.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

"There was culture of walking in Victorian times we've lost today," author Peter Clark explained at the start of his talk on Dickens' London at Wells Library. Nietzsche believed "all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking" and Dickens thought nothing of walking 10 or 12 miles a day ~ or rather, he thought it essential for mental balance. Many many of his characters go on long walks and the novelist's own prowls around the city provide the social observation which makes his work so rich. Peter himself is a great walker ~ he celebrated his 70th birthday with a walk up Ben Nevis ~ so we shared walking reminiscences as Wendy drove our posse home to Frome. Currently I'm reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which expresses through bittersweet fiction how "Life is very different when you walk through it."

Monday was Daffodil Day at Mells, when the village population swells by approximately 1000% as surrounding lanes become mile-long gridlocks and a mini-Glastonbury springs up. Frome is only an hour's walk away through Vallis woods beside the river path which is thick with snowdrops & scented with garlic, and I joined the pilgrims braving icy temperatures, rewarded by Frome Street Bandits in the Music Tent and Bugs in the Nunney-Acoustic-on-Tour.

Sometimes it's great to see a show without a reviewing remit, and as Michael Frayn's Noises Off has arrived at Theatre Royal Bath after a 'triumphant' West End run, there's no need for me to add my two-penn'orth as southwest columnist for Plays International.  So I went along for the promise of hysterical uncontrollable laughter and because I've been a fan of big-name-draw Neil Pearson since Drop the Dead Donkey days. Farce at its best isn't far from satire and the first act brilliantly parodies theatre company back-stage traumas, but after the interval characterisation ebbs and action becomes increasingly manic and less funny. But it's a brilliant production, a clever set and great acting so if your aunty loves farce, take her along.

And's National Poetry Writing Month, Carrie Etter tells me, so I've recklessly committed to a poem a day throughout April. Some will probably be haiku ~ here's today's, entitled Interflora window:
glitter-sprayed bunnies
profer eggs with toothy grins
Christ must be risen.