Tuesday, October 31, 2006

20 Years Ago

Old Friend came, with family, for end of half-term. Met her at University of East Anglia, 20 years ago. MA in Creative Writing. That was a good year. Ten of us, aged between 23 and 50 something, different backgrounds, nationalities, experiences. Same hopes. And by some surprising alchemy instead of all hating and distrusting each other, trying to step on each other on our way to stardom, we all got on.

It was taught back then by Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. Malcolm Bradbury took the workshops. Legs twined together, sardonic mouth, what my mother would call kind eyes. Somehow getting us all to open up to each other. Outside the classroom he might mistake you for someone else (possibly not seeing you properly through the haze of pipe smoke), but inside he was warm, engaging and sharp. You’d introduce your 20 pages, then he’d make sure everyone had their say, then he’d summarise the criticism and extend it and ask penetrating questions, and you’d finish up looking at your writing in a slightly different way.

And then Angela Carter. We met her for one to one’s, and since I lived in London I went to her house in Clapham. First time, looking down this long street of terraced Victorian housing, I knew which would be her house. It was the only pink one. And inside all this intriguing clutter, including a horse from a fairground ride. And her perched on the edge of a chair, all in black, with her cloud of white hair. There was a thunderstorm that first time, and a crack of lightning when I entered. ‘Sorry,’ she said. You sensed it was a bit of a chore for her to read your stuff, a slight air of weariness to her, but her observations and questions were acute, and often disarming, and she once began a comment to me ‘Well, obviously it can be published but …’ I didn’t catch the rest of what she had to say. Angela Carter thought it could obviously be published! She gave us presents when we finished, books she felt were apposite.

I was one of the stars that year. Wrote my first novel there, got it published the following year, had two more published and a bunch of short stories before I was thirty. Shame there was no fetish for younger writers back then. Good looking younger writers. Good looking younger writers writing thoughtful, moving, serious literary fiction. Old Friend was a slower starter, but now she’s a Leading Light of the London Literary Scene and I’m only now, all these years later, getting my 4th book published. But I’m not jealous and bitter. I have been in the past, but I’m not now. Your 20’s are for ambition, your 30’s for disappointment and your 40’s are for stepping back a bit and saying ‘Yes, this is OK, this is pretty good.’ Someone wrote that, or something like it. In fact several people probably have, including me. Does it sound plausible?

3 Books I’ve read recently and highly recommend

The Damned United David Peace

The Accidental Ali Smith

Runaway Alice Munro

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Welcome to Blackpool

Half-term. Time for a Day Out. Access to the town centre from the station is via a dark, wet, litter-strewn subway. Daughter spontaneously says Blackpool is the dirtiest place in the world. Down to the Prom. Poundstretchers, Woolies, bars offering topless waitresses, lapdancing and exotic this and that. (It’s Sunday lunch-time.) We consider the Sea Life centre, but I’m worried about what they might get up to with the eels in there. And so to the Dr Who exhibition, our reason for being there.

Daughter tries to act as if it lives up to her excited anticipation, tries not to admit to the mild disappointment that seeps in as you wander round the place. Mild disappointment – it’s what life has in store for most of us, isn’t it? There’s loads of authentic props and costumes, but it’s shabby and underfunded and more importantly under-imagined. What does it need? I don’t know – a Dr Who companion to show you round, actors in costumes wandering about, some decent lighting effects, maybe a soundtrack. It’s one of those places that seems to exist mostly for its gift shop. Where we buy a Dr Who bath set. No home should be without one.

Daughter mostly enjoys Air Hockey in a cafĂ© we stop at, and the journeys to and from. I’ve packed food and water, a magazine, Snakes & Ladders. She spends the journeys with her friend on the floor in the luggage space between the seats. Home to Spouse and poorly Son. Reassure them they haven’t missed much.


3 of Daughter’s Favourite songs

Sk8ter Boi Avril Lavigne
Who Will Buy Oliver
Downtown Petula Clark

Friday, October 20, 2006

On and on and on and on ...

So, had Story Conference for The Show this week. Involves Writers, Script Editors, Storyliners, Researcher, Producer and Assistant Producers, all sat round a table at the studios talking stories for two days. And going out for a nice meal in the evening. It’s a tough job. Some shows I’ve worked on, you are a tiny cog in a big machine. A small elite group deal with stories, you just work on your little episode and change it and change it again because of someone else’s whims. Much better where I am now. Very democratic approach. That does sometimes lead to problems mentioned below (‘We’ve had some thoughts in the Story Office …’) but no system is perfect. What’s good is a brand new Writer or a brand new Storyliner can say ‘Why don’t we do such and such?’ The worst you risk is a tumbleweed moment as you realise your idea is not exactly enthusing anyone. That long silence, those sidelong glances, the tactful let-down from the Producer.Is that a coyote howling in the distance?

And of course there’s all the fun of the group dynamics. The most articulate not always having the best ideas. Someone who goes on and on and on and on in a repetitive, unproductive and - oh God I’m going to chew my own arm off - boring way. The difficulty of getting a word in. Getting a word in but not expressing yourself very well. Getting a word in, expressing yourself reasonably well, and yet somehow your comment simply not being registered. But that’s OK – that’s all a bit like life, isn’t it?

So Story Conference is a Good Thing. Nice break in routine of life, and breaks in routine of life are usually Good. Especially when Son and Daughter are simultaneously on antibiotics, and miserable.


Son’s first three words (in order):

Star, Ball, Car

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


So, a quiet day. Nothing much happened. Except the day unfolding as usual. Taking Daughter home from school. It's a steep road. Small voices like chattering birds. The sky is heavy and there's a wet smell in the air. Up the steep road, a car growling. We wait for it to pass. 'Hello there.' Mick emerging from a door, looking at the heavy sky. 'Do you think it's going to rain? I want to paint this door.' Then the slippery path up the snicket, placing crutches carefully. A squirrel freezes, looks at us, jumps away. A dog barks angrily. Her small hand grips my fingers. Rain spatters, but we're home. She lets go and runs away from me, towards the green door, pulling at the handle, and waiting.


3 Things I can see from my window

A spider, about the size of a 50p piece, on its web, snacking on a small fly.
The church on the hill across the valley.
A tall dark brick chimney, nicely integrated into the landscape.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Open, Friendly, Relaxed

So, sometimes Waiting To Hear is better than actually Hearing. They say No Thanks to Radio Idea. No particular explanation – just doesn’t grab them. So I’m going to try to rework it as a TV idea. It will be fantastically successful and they will be Very Sorry. Sometimes Hearing is much better than WTH. An e-mail arrived. We’d like to publish your Book next spring, if that’s OK. Let me see – Yes, I think that would be fine. Haven’t had a book published for many, many years, and am hugely chuffed. (Wrote ‘very pleased’ first, but that doesn’t really cover it.) Next spring may well turn out to be next autumn, but hey, I’m not fussy.

Immediately got invited to a launch. Intended to go but couldn’t due to Son being awake for much of previous night and me being shattered. Why was he awake? Did he know? Is he trying to sabotage me? Arguably, it’s just as well. I’m basically, not exactly socially inept, just too complicated and interesting and, you know, special, for those social events where I don’t know anyone and it would be helpful to make a good impression. Tend to avoid them. But I have been trying to get better at them. I’m a great believer in pretending to be confident. Almost as good as the real thing. Open, friendly, relaxed – that’s my motto.

In other news … sister-in-law has just left after stay of ten days. Easiest, pleasantest guest you could imagine. No, really. Kept taking Daughter off and entertaining her for long periods. Took her to school and picked her up. Bottles of red and bars of Green & Black’s kept appearing around evening time. Smoking was all done outdoors. Discreetly absent during hectic breakfast times – probably because her breakfast is a fag and two strong coffees. She lives in Munich but is buying a house four miles away to move into when she retires in a few years. Daughter is already planning sleepovers. Excellent news.

Still WTH about TV idea, co-written with my friend S. Should know more soon.


3 DVD’s I bought, new, for under a tenner.

Edward Scissorhands
Stand By Me
Groundhog Day

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


So, just finished a double episode of The Show. Will be on end of January. Quite pleased with it, tho it may be changed radically in the edit, then get insensitively cut, then have new storyline imposed at last minute. (‘We’ve been having some thoughts in the Story Office …’ No! Don’t have thoughts in the Story Office. Bad idea.) The Show’s in Good Shape at the moment, holding its end up, building to a big Christmas story. Altho, as I understand it, TV generally is in a very Bad Shape, due to us all playing on our PlayStations and imminently giving up TV in favour of watching on-demand DVD’s on our iPods or mobiles or something. So there goes my livelihood.

There’s always Radio. I love Radio. Had a play on in which everyone turned into a fish at the end. Don’t see that on TV very often. Another in which a man turned into a woman. Got an idea with a Producer at the moment, waiting to hear. Waiting To Hear is a near-permanent state when you’re a writer. Also WTH about a TV idea for a six-parter me and a friend are working on. Also WTH about my book, with a small publisher who’s been sitting on it for a year. Hopefully not literally.

Also going on in my life … Spouse, looking after two children and doing a Psychology degree and writing a novel. Son, 21 months. Shouts a lot. Daughter, 6, has taken to saying ‘If you don’t do such and such, I’ll kill you.’ I said to her, Do you think you could find a less unkind way to say that? She thought for a minute, looking at me, then said ‘I’ll punch you and punch you until you faint?’ Lovely. We had a little discussion, and settled on ‘I’ll wrap you up in lava until you vanish.’ I’m very proud.