Friday, 24 July 2015

Gasping

                            This week, I’ve been having another of my ‘reading deprivation’ weeks (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I put the term in inverted commas because I have to read as part of my job. In theory, you’re supposed to avoid all reading, all television, all recorded spoken sound (i.e.; radio news). You can listen to instrumental music, look at paintings or sculptures, and talk to other people. The idea is to give your brain a rest from stories, and being sucked in by them. For writers, anyway, because stories are absent for a week, you’re compelled to make up your own.
                I’ve been listening to music on the trains to and from work. Kraftwerk, which once upon a time, I wouldn’t have bothered with, but I found it great for losing myself in. For one thing, it’s loud enough to hear over the whine of the tracks and the boom of the tannoys. And Oasis. I never realized how joyous their songs are (but about twice as loud as anybody else’s). I’ve listened to odd bits of jazz, but I find it difficult to grips with. I do like a tune.
                It’s been weird, though, seeing exhausted passengers while you’re ipod’s playing. The dried sweat on their faces, the hair plastered to their scalps.
                At the start of the week, the reading deprivation made me feel angry. A lot of feelings were boiling up inside of me. I felt like a smoker at a funeral, counting the seconds at the service so that he can go out and light a cigarette, because he’s gasping. Definite withdrawal symptoms. I know that, when I do start reading for pleasure again, I will enjoy it.
                For a while, the anger and negativity made me attract the bad stuff. I’ve met more than one awkward bleeder this week. The old woman who kept moaning and moaning about not being lucky in life, then getting stuck in the lift on her way out (I defy you not to laugh). And then the two drunks who decided to start on me, and call me a prick.
                I told them to leave, and when they wouldn’t I called the police, even though, strictly speaking, my superior should have done it. I rang 999 in panic. As I was ringing, those two germs bravely stood at the counter jeering at me. As soon as I put the receiver down, they walked off, throwing a paper ball at me for added humiliation. Ten minutes later, the police at the local station rang to see whether the two drunks were still there, and whether I still wanted help. As I was speaking, the call was cut off.
                By the time I reached the end of the week, I was beginning to get used to reading-deprivation. It felt like a detox, and I had more energy, more enthusiasm. I can’t honestly say that I’ve found the golden idea I’ve been looking for, or that I’ve started a brand new project; but I have felt happier, saner, more stable. I’m steadily filling in my Writing Practice notebook, and I’m becoming happier, more contented. Maybe I had to get rid of all the bad stuff, like a fever.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Trickle

                My writers’ group have broken up for the term. I didn’t feel all that inspired at the start of the term. When it came to my evening, the evening when I was supposed to bring something to read, for the rest of the group to critique, I didn’t really have anything. Nothing that I was excited about, anyway. I nearly asked to pass. In the end, I brought in a story which I had lying about. Everybody was polite, but it wasn’t my best, and I felt like I’d let everybody down.
                There were days when I simply couldn’t face going. Racing there from work on the underground, bolting down a sandwich in half an hour. And I didn’t know what to say about other people’s pieces. The teacher would look expectantly around. I felt slightly like Arthur Dent having in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy having to be polite about the Vogon captain’s poetry. Actually, that’s not fair. We’ve got good writers in our group; but I’m the sort of person who finds it easier to say what I don’t like than what I do.
                Around the same time, I felt like I had less and less time to write. And I didn’t know what to write anyway. I’ve been scratching around looking for ideas for horror stories. At times, I felt like my whole life was hanging on coming up with the next story. And it doesn’t, of course. There’s plenty of good stuff around, just go to the Classics section of your local library. I felt that, if I could only start writing a piece of fiction, not only would it sort itself out along the way, but so would the rest of my life. The fun was ebbing out of it.
                I was supposed to be using this year as a fallow year, to replenish my unconscious’s ‘soil’. I was going to write nothing but Morning Pages and Writing Practice pages, I wasn’t even going to think about a finished project. I’d heard that Nick Hornby does this, has years when he doesn’t write anything, but gears himself up for his next novel. But somehow along the way I kept forcing myself to think of stories, and then the trickle dried out.


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Wembley Way

                On Saturday, my wife and I went to see Lord Of The Dance at Wembley Arena. It finished at exactly the same time as the AC/DC concert taking place in the stadium. It only took us one hour to travel to Wembley, but it was close to four hours getting home again.
                You couldn’t get near the underground station, so we wandered about aimlessly looking at bus stops. Could we walk to Brent Cross? Harrow and Wealdstone? Anywhere else with a station that didn’t have thousands of people trying to get onto the same couple of platforms. The AC/DC crowd were good natured, but there were so many of them, you felt claustrophobic.
                London Underground will be running all-night trains on Fridays and Saturdays soon, which is good news (there was a race to get on a train before the lines closed down). I think it’s criminal, though, that London Underground won’t employ any more drivers and staff to cope with the increased schedules. I support the RMT’s (the train drivers’ union) strike this week. The same drivers who work through the week during day times are expected to then switch to nights come Friday. Furthermore, London Underground are already planning to get rid of staff from the ticket offices.
                To be honest, I’m sick of people moaning about the RMT. It is simply looking after its members’ interests, as a good trade union should do. The trouble is, it’s the only union in the country with any clout; and so, when it does call a strike, it stands out. We should not criticize it but try to emulate it.
                It struck me, as we were getting into a cold sweat about getting home, that no other venue in London abandons you quite the way Wembley does when the gig finishes. At Hammersmith, Hyde Park, the 02, you get the options of trains, buses and cabs (at the 02, you can even get a ferry). But at Wembley, after you’ve paid £100 for a couple of tickets and another £50 for programmes, tee shirts, popcorn and nachos, you are left to it when the house lights go up. Surely, with all the money that the stadium and arena make (and it must comes to millions), they could club together for a few buses, and get their audiences at least into the centre of London?
                Possibly, though, because the stadium was built for sporting events, and the people who tend to go to those are working class (and the residents of Wembley are not especially well off, either), they are left to get on with it. But the audience for Lord Of The Dance had its fair share of OAPS in it, and a fair few children, too.
                                                                                                *
                I’ve been less anxious this week about writing. The clue to that, I think, has been writing practice. You’d have to read Natalie Goldberg’s brilliant Writing Down The Bones to find out more about it, but basically you set yourself a time, say ten minutes, and a subject, say your childhood, and you write about that subject for that amount of time. Ideally, you do this each day, and you do it, not with the intention of completing a project (although it can often spark something off), but more as a sort of meditation.
                I’ve made it a rule to try and write about real life. Things which have happened to me, things which I’ve seen or heard, things which I’ve said or done. I always feel resistant to start with. I want to do anything else but examine reality (my latest delaying tactic is to list all the ideas I’ve had for horror stories, which I tell myself is brainstorming). Yet the first sentence leads to the second, and before you know it, you’ve filled a page. Like going to Mass, you feel better afterwards.
                I’m not, at this moment, working on a project. I want to begin a new one. I’ve got loads of first drafts of stories which need more work, and I really ought to get around to revising those and sending them off; but once again, I feel that resistence.

Friday, 3 July 2015

To Be Continued

              For a few weeks now, I’ve been itching to have the flat to myself. I was tired of getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed. I felt like I was on a treadmill. I wanted to watch a film from beginning to end. I’m utterly unable to do that with my wife in the house, and because she lost her job, she’s in the house more often than not.
            I don’t mean to sound uncharitable. I love my wife, I love the time we spend together. I also know that my wife now doesn’t see or speak to many people now, so if I have a day off, she will adjust her timetable to spend it with me. So, if she was planning to visit her family, she will simply go on another day.
            When we’re watching the telly together, we tend to watch the programmes she likes. Which means soap operas, Loose Women and Judge Rymner, programmes which drive me up the wall. I would much rather watch a film, perhaps even one we both like. God, I’d rather sit through Dirty Dancing than Coronation Street. I love horror films, which I know she’s not wild about. I don’t want to issue a diktat. I don’t want her to feel, just because she’s not working, she has no say in what we watch. And I know she fights depression on a daily basis. But I have felt so frustrated, with the dvds all staring at me, having to see them in 15-minute instalments just before bedtime.
            My wife attends a course on Wednesday mornings, but I never seem to get Wednesdays off. So I made a plan. I booked myself a day’s leave last Wednesday without telling her. On the morning, when she woke up, I told her that I’d rung in sick. She volunteered to miss a class to look after me, but I told her that I’d be fine.
            As soon as she was out the door, I put on the first Christopher Lee Dracula. A quarter of the way in, I dozed off and missed the rest of it.
                                                            *
            I know why I’ve become so obsessive, lately, about watching films. I’ve become particularly desperate to write fiction. I’ve been itching to write a horror radio play for at least a year, now, and lately I’ve also had the hankering to write a contemporary novel, too. But I haven’t had the right idea for either project.
            I’ve done everything that I know inspired me in the past. I’ve written Morning Pages (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), and I’ve done Writing Practice (see Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones). I’ve listened to radio drama, I’ve started reading an Ann Tyler novel. I’ve read horror fiction and I’ve watched horror films. I’ve cut out stories from tabloids and I’ve researched facts. None of it has helped.

            At the weekend, I fished out The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind (I couldn’t find my copy of Writing Down The Bones), and I began rereading them. And I came to a decision: that I would not attempt to write fiction until I got the right idea. A specific story idea, one which excited me and one which I felt confident in writing. I am not going to force it. I’ll wait however long it takes for my muse to present it to me.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Muse

Yesterday, I wrote a sort of angry letter to my muse, telling him (it is a he) that unless he came up with ideas, I wasn’t going to write anything else except memos and shopping lists. I felt melodramatic afterwards, but I’m sick and tired of going to the blank page day after day and straining to come up with. Stephen King thinks of his muse as the fat guy who sits in the corner of the room smoking cigars whilst King does all the donkey work. So it is with me. Unless my muse gives me something, that’s it, we’re finished.
They say that, if you want something done, delegate it to a busy person. That person’s mindset is already thinking speed, efficiency; you don’t need to wind her up. Another way of putting it is, that you get ideas when you’re already working on something else. Ideas come to you at a time when you don’t need them just yet. That’s definitely the case with me. Right now, when all I need is one workable story idea, I’ve got nothing.
You can’t do anything without the muse. He might not do a lot, but the  little that he does do is crucial. Unless you get a story idea which you think is good, which you think that you can write, and which excites, perhaps even scares you, it’s no good. The conscious mind can do everything else, but it cannot supply that spark.
Anyway, maybe now is the time for a change of pace. I’m re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder And Lightning, her book about turning your writing practice pieces into finished work. She says that if you are a beginner writer, you should do writing practice for five years before you attempt to write something for somebody else to read. If you have been writing already, you should give yourself six months when all you do is writing practice.
I balked when I first read that. 6 months of nothing but writing practice? I’ve got deadlines to meet, competitions to enter, things that I want to write. I want to make enough money to quit my job.
But this week, I’ve been doing writing practice (which does have a slightly religious element- Natalie Goldberg uses the word practice as in buddhist meditation) all week, and to be honest, it feels like a big, long job, to get in touch with my own mind. I’ve gone over some painful stuff, and it’s left me feeling raw. Sometimes I’ve felt angry or depressed for no apparent reason.

What I think is happening is this: that I’m going through a personal change. This week, I also picked up an anthology of poetry and a copy of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I’ve also began to watch/read/listen to the news, and have begun collecting newspaper stories. Simultaneously, I’m reading up about political and social matters. I want to try to get to grips with both my past and the world around me. I want to try to write a straightforward contemporary story, perhaps as a novel, perhaps as a short story, perhaps as a drama script. And that means digging deep.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Writing Practice

            I’ve made a new resolution: I’m going to carry out Writing Practice each day, regardless of whether I’m engaged in a project or not. I know it will stand me in good stead. If you want to know how it works reading Natalie Goldberg’s brilliant Writing Down The Bones.
            Basically, you buy a notebook, put a heading at the top of the page each day, and then for a time which you set yourself, write everything that comes to you about that subject. You don’t edit or censor it in any way, you don’t even worry about grammar. What you write is for your eyes only, the writer’s equivalent of the visual artist’s sketchbook. You are after honesty.
            It is slightly different from Morning Pages (see Julia Cameron’s equally brilliant The Artist’s Way) in that you set yourself a topic. With Morning Pages, which are equally important, you write in a stream of consciousness fashion whatever comes up as it comes up.
            I’m not engaged in a project at the moment, and maybe that’s a good thing. I was beginning to feel like I was on a treadmill. I was obsessed with horror fiction, whereas now I would like to write whatever story comes up. Whether it’s in a genre or whether it’s a straightforward contemporary story; provided only that at least one character tries to do at least one thing in order to achieve at least one goal, makes at least one mistake in the process and learns at least one hard lesson as a result.

           

Friday, 13 March 2015

What You Got Cooking?

          The delivery men brought our new cooker on Sunday morning. Once again, there was that sense of High Noon: would they be idiots? Would they take all day? Would they arrive at the crack of dawn? They said they would arrive between 9.30 and 1.00, so potentially we could spend the whole morning waiting. One of us would have to wait indoors until they arrived.
          We’d been to the theatre the night before, and got home at midnight, so when my alarm went off at five o’clock in the morning, I could not drag myself out of bed. Nor could I at six or seven. It wasn’t only tiredness but the feeling of dread. I had to keep telling myself that it would be alright. Chances are, they’ll be quick and professional, and afterwards we’ll have a brand new cooker, the first one we’ve ever bought together in twenty years of marriage.
          We said farewell to the old cooker, which was rusty, grease-stained, with a defunct grill and loose lock on the oven door. We’d inherited it when we bought the flat, in 1994, and I’m not sure how long it had been there before us. Its particular model is no longer manufactured, and it was apparently thinner than all current models, which is why we had to have the alcove enlarged. We still didn’t know whether the new cooker would fit.
          There were two engineers, both dressed in Knowhow t-shirts and what looked like black combat trousers. One was cheery, the other- who was in charge- more serious. They attended to the new cooker with spirit level, electric screwdriver and electricity detector.
          I don’t know why I feel such dread about these things. I couldn’t honestly say I’ve got any real horror stories about workmen. But each time we need work done inside the flat, my nerves are on red alert.
          After the engineers had fitted the cooker, they told us that we needed to replace the carpet on which it now stood with kitchen tiles, because carpet is a fire hazard. My heart sank. Had it been a fire hazard when the old cooker stood there? It would mean more workmen, more disruption. Also, because the old cooker had a control panel above the hobs and the new one doesn’t, the back wall was now exposed, and we would have to get the power cable covered with something called metal trunking. The new cooker apparently blows hot air out the back, which the old one didn’t, and tcheaphis might melt the cable, another fire hazard.
          They left, and we congratulated ourselves on our brand new cooker. But then we began worrying about the safety aspects. So we walked down to Homebase and bought some cheap floor tiles, with the idea of putting them loose across the carpet- that should give you some idea of my diy skills. Eventually, we would hire a professional carpet fitter to remove the carpet and put new flooring down properly.
          I had Monday free. I pulled the cooker out to try and place the tiles down. For some reason, it came forward a few inches, then the front end lifted itself up in the air. There was some obstacle. I eased the cooker back, then tilted it towards me to try to free it. I looked at the back. The engineers had fixed it to the wall with a metal chain on a clip, which I hadn’t realized they’d done. I unclipped the chain and then I heard something snap.
          It was the front leg. A simple plastic thing, an inch long with a screw fixing. It had snapped under the weight of the cooker as I had tilted it. I felt cold sick. My wife was going to give out to me. We’d only had the cooker for 24 hours and I’d broken it.
                                                *
          I’ve barely written anything since my last post. Only morning pages, on those days when I could get up in time. Rarely did I fill the six sides of A5. I think it’s best to write morning pages all in one go, rather than fits and starts. I didn’t read much, either. And in all the leave I’ve had lately, I’ve hardly seen anything of my own choosing. Consequently, I had no inspiration.
          Then on Sunday, before the women’s programmes took up the airwaves (Poldark and Mr Selfridge), I persuaded my wife to let me put a dvd on. I chose The Godfather, the first one, with Marlon Brando in it. I’d forgotten how good it was. And watching it, getting involved with a fictional story, seemed to rejuvenate me.
          I also began listening to stuff on Radio 4. I began a Radio Drama diary, as advised by Claire Grove and Stephen Wyatt in their book So You Want To Write Radio Drama? Somehow, the very act of writing seemed to loosen me up. I began a new writing practice notebook, too.

          I had to admit it, but going back to work seemed to help, too. It wasn’t as mad as it usually is, I actually got to chat to workmates. In a more relaxed frame of mind, I began thinking about a couple of story ideas I’d had kicking around. And while I can’t say that I’m out of the woods just yet, I do feel as though I can see a clearing.