Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Postcard From The Coal Face

A Postcard From The Coal Face

Dear Reader,

This is just a quick couple of lines, due to things like my having actual paid work to do (for there is a Press Night in three hours). But I promise this is a significant couple of lines. Probably.

The reason for my writing this postcard? I have a first draft! Of a new play! Something that can clearly only be noted through the over use of exclamation marks! It would be called The Invention of Love if Stoppard hadn't gotten there back in the nineties and swiped that title before I even knew I wanted it. So now I have to think of a title that hasn't already been ruthlessly taken. But it is still exciting. Because I do love it muchly. Even though I haven't read it all back (yet).

Because of the work thing I am celebrating with a chocolate penguin and some strawberry flavoured water. For I am rock and roll.


Friday, October 19, 2007

You Know How I Love A Good Spotted...

You Know How I Love A Good Spotted...

Dean and I are strolling towards Covent Garden, wasting time before Dean goes off to work and I go have adventures near Earls Court in an attempt to visit the Finborough Theatre. A man, head down, walks past us.

"There!" Dean hisses "Brian Dowling!"

I turn round in the least subtle manner I can muster. It is indeed the Big Brother winner.


This is possibly our best spotted of the week, given that otherwise we are limited to various actors who have appeared at the WYP whom we spotted in Joe Allen (for, sadly, Sienna Boho Princess hadn't chosen this night to visit).

"There he goes, head down, trying not to be recognised" Dean says with the right amount of glee.

"I voted for him!" I exclaim. It is true, for BB2 was the days when I loved Big Brother enough to actually watch it, and marked such love by voting in the final. For I may have the reality tv gene, but I am also from Yorkshire. Any more voting would have required a much bigger commitment.

And now I am warming to my subject. "He owes me 25p!".

"Plus interest!" Dean notes.

"Exactly! That 25p is now worth sixteen pounds fifty!". I am not so sure that this is accurate inflation, but had I invested that 25p in a house or something then my guess is on the low side. Brian Dowling should be happy for this. "I should run after him and tell him that!"

"That's a good facebook status" Dean responds, for it is true, we do sometimes talk to each other in facebook statuses.

"Corinne is running after Brian Dowling in Covent Garden demanding the money he owes her".

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Everyone's got these crazy secrets that will one day become an offhand line in a song, I think"

"Everyone's got these crazy secrets that will one day become an offhand line in a song, I think".

My gaydar ringing, Blonde Boy from the next table leans across -

"Are you two not going to play any more games?"

I have just spent the last ten minutes playing a moderately drunken version of 'Connect Four'. After we had worked out how to put the bloody thing together and we'd both made some elementary mistakes it had settled into a pleasing routine - namely, my winning. I am, if I do say so, a good winner.

"I think that's it now; I was winning".

I smile, suggesting that my competitiveness is not as terminal as it might appear, something only made possible by the fact that my tablemate is currently at the bar.

"Are you two going on when Sela closes?"

This is not as odd a conversation as it might appear, Sela is infamous for its drunken conversations between strangers, a by-product of the board games and the tables being so close together.

"I'm not sure - we're a bit impeded".

I gesture to the large case which, though not mine, is - as its owner has already joked - pinning me in. I have accepted the inelegance which this causes when I need the loo in exchange for all the money it has saved me as I am unable to get to the bar.

And because I feel the need to point out that we don't normally drag our lives around with us -

"He's just got back from London".

Blonde Boy looks at me. "He's keen".

I form my face into something which resembles a smile but do not say anything, realising just for a moment what the other people in this tiny bar are seeing. The same thing that, later, much later, my Taxi Driver will see when he asks if my boyfriend is coming with me. And knowing that it bears little resemblance to anything approaching reality.

The evening moves on, Blonde Boy says his goodbyes, we continue drinking, his pint glasses collecting, my veins filling with vodka, the momentary blur of aniseed flavoured shots. And we talk; of inconsequential things and jokes before we tell the truth and I take a deep breath and tell him about the things that scare me and, somehow, he finds exactly the right words to respond.

"I like it here" he says eventually.

"Even though it's spelt incorrectly" I jest.

"It should be pronounced Sailor not Cellar!"

"Remember - you're in Leeds".

We smile, he leans over and removes a piece of fluff from my hair and I make the decision that, just for tonight, I have permission to think that he is utterly wonderful.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007



"You do have these strange habits - playing with wax, eating paper -"

"Yes". There is a pause as he considers this. Feigned gravity is one of his specialist subjects. "I can get away with it because I'm pretty".

Though we are several drinks into the evening I recognise even now that this is not merely ironic. There is a knowingness here, a knowingness that makes me exhale sharply.

He decides to elaborate.

"If that guy over there did it, it would be weird. If I do it, it's quirky".

I look at the unknowing guy, dragged into our conversation and ruthlessly forced to stand in comparison to the man across from me.

I nod. It is true. I wonder how many times he has been told this. I briefly consider telling him that I saw his double at work the other day, or at least how he would look if he were taller, and a bit thinner, with slightly neater hair and with less of a penchant for everything that goes with his lifestyle.

But, of course, I do not. For he is not incorrect. He is undeniably pretty. At times beautiful. And I suspect that it is written across my face that I think so.

He smiles.

"It's all about genetics".

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Fine Line Between Genius and Insanity

The Fine Line Between Genius and Insanity

"Are you attempting it again?" History Boy asks looking over my shoulder.

I nod.

"Only this time there's a crucial difference; this is an official international thing".

History Boy looks at me with just the right amount of scepticism. I continue.

"Their definition of a novel is 50,000 words, when I had the idea of writing a novel in a month I was working at something around 100,000*. 50,000 should be no problem".

I smile as I say this, endowing the 'no problem' with more confidence than I really feel.

History Boy doesn't buy it. He, maybe more than most, senses the depths of my procrastination.

"And what have you written in the last two weeks?"


"A play!" I say with a confident flourish. In my excitement of winning this particularl bout I do not acknowledge that I have in fact written just over half a play, mired as I am in the second act. But half a play is impressive too.

I can see History Boy wasn't expecting this, the tilt of his head marks a concession. "How many words is a play?"

"20,000". I look smug, concealing the fact that my word count currently stands at 8,200.

"I've managed about 50" he says and I take this as victory for me and my incorrect statistics.

But it does also mean that, in a moment of supreme genius stupidity, I have pledged my November to NaNoWriMo. At the rate I'm pounding through my as yet unnamed play I should have a first draft completed (with a few additions I'm inclined to make) in a couple of weeks. And then it's only healthy for me to sit on it for a little bit to get some perspective before I embark on The Eating Lots of Expensive Chocolate Stage (also known as Second Draft Hell). So in that sitting period what could be better than to complete a novel marathon? With absolutely no pressure as to the quality of the thing. My inner Editor will undoubtedly make up for it by being utterly anal about everyone else's apostrophes.

Part of the deal of NaNo is that you go public on what you're trying to do, just because it is one thing to face your own shame at not having done something, and something entirely different to have everyone you have ever known point and laugh at you. Obviously I am not going to tell you what my novel is about (yet) because this is me and I still have difficulty telling people what SSoB was about, even though it was on stage and you could see the bloody thing. But, just to heap the pressure on which I will know I will need when I hit about 10,000 words and it seems like throwing it in the bin would be the best course, I'm going to attempt the novel I pitched to Dean as his Christmas present last year. So you all know just how much grief I will get if I don't hit 50,000 words...

*I made about 20,000 before, erm, I had other things to do like hang around coffee shops with Dean.

Friday, October 05, 2007

"Make Me A Willow Cabin At Your Gate"

"Make Me A Willow Cabin At Your Gate"

There were a few observations that sprung up as I stepped into the hotel:

1. I was reasonably glad that I had already eaten, suspecting that the prices of afternoon tea here might have stretched beyond 'I work in theatre' prices.

2. I was equally pleased to realise that I knew one of the Front of House staff. We are like the Mafia. But without the weapons.

3. Possibly most pressingly, that there was a good four decades between me and everyone else who had purchased tickets. And I realised in that moment, that me, in my black denier tights, silky grey dress and ballet pumps was to be the voice of youth. It is not a mantel which I take lightly. I wondered if I should have prepared more.

To maybe explain how I ended up here I shall continue the list format. I'd booked to see Libby Purves at the Ilkley Literature Festival for twofold reasons:

1. She too is a Stanner. They inject you with such notions of loyalty the moment you step over the gravel in the lodge. Plus she is on the list* as one of the female writers who came out of the college I affectionately say resembles a car park.

2. I had just finished reading Love Songs and Lies in a frenzied burst of excitement, terror and knowing realisation. I'd taken the book to my heart and I, in that geeky not so secret part of me who makes imaginary friends with authors on the basis of their writing, wanted to hear what this woman had to say.

I should probably talk a little more about Love Songs and Lies since I am here. The title is not great and the blurb on the back is worse. I don't quite think it manages the leap of covering 35 years of the main characters lives, its weak point being without a doubt the final section of the novel which rattles through twenty years in the blink of an eye. There are continuity mistakes that even I, blinded by my connection to the story, noticed. The Spectator said the narrator was the most annoying woman in literature since Miss Havisham, and - at times - they may well have a point. I could have hit her around the head on more than one occasion. And the ending (or at least how they get to the ending) is all too self-helpy, caring and sharing for my liking.

But - and it is a huge but - two thirds of the novel are so well placed that you can smell them. There are a couple of characters who fly off the page and into your head. One of these characters, so flawed, so wonderful, made me sob, rattling gigantic sobs as if the world would never quite be the same. There is a darkness to the novel that even the preppy cover and blurb cannot deny, a darkness which is never quite put right. And though it is followed through to an extreme extent, at the heart of this novel which is ultimately about unrequited love, is something so truthful that I would challenge any girl not to shudder slightly. If you are a girl who sees the world through the eyes of Shakespeare and Shelley and Epic Romance and favours well spoken boys with floppy hair then it might be wise to look away altogether.

Which is probably the rather long prelude to why I found myself in this room. There is an irony now, one that I did not foresee when I was gulping down Love Songs and hastily booked my ticket, for I did not know then what would happen in the weeks in between. But it serves only to make my sense of the novel even more acute.

Libby - for I feel I may call her my her Christian name as we are almost friends - has, as anyone who has heard her on the radio will know, a lovely calming voice. It is a voice you wish to listen to. And because she is used to this speaking malarkey she's actually good at being interviewed, she has anecdotes, seems wonderfully indiscreet and knows how to use a well placed expletive (which, surprisingly, seemed to go down well with the 60+ Ilkley brigade). She lost me slightly when she insulted Nick Hornby (for there is a lot of love in the Nick Hornby room as far as I am concerned) but pulled it back when she talked about climbing over the back wall at St Anne's. You've got to love a girl who can do that.

As for the novel itself, she said she had pondered whether the type of love at its heart still happened to the younger generation - did everyone move on too quickly now, had attitudes both to sex and how women view themselves mean that this has been consigned to the past. Would Sally still fall hopelessly in love with her Max Bellinger? And the thing that suggested to her that she might? The whole train of literature from Chaucer through Shakespeare and the Romantics and on to Yeats and Auden and the pop songs that Sally pens the lyrics for (ah, the love songs of the title). How much do people change really, Libby asked.

Afterwards because I am a Geek but not so in awe of Libby that I couldn't queue myself (cf. Alan Bennett) I joined those waiting to get their books signed. And because this is me and I have stepped up to the role of 'Voice of the Youth' (possibly for my first and only time) I talk.

"You're right" I say. "It does still happen"

I pause briefly and realise that I can't stop there. Compulsive author-reader sharing. It is probably a good thing that Byron and I shall never meet.

"I read English at Oxford" [as, it is probably important to point out, Sally does because I have not had enough alcohol yet for this to be an ego thing] "and I very much had a Max in my life".

I do not say that when Libby's Max stepped on to the page it was as if she had taken a photo of mine. I also step over the slight un-truth of the sentence, the tense and timing which is not quite accurate.

Libby stops signing my book and looks up at me.

"I hope he's not there any more".

I do not say anything. There is nothing I can say.

"Get rid of the bastard!" And then, jokingly as the woman behind me in the queue starts to laugh "He'll ruin your life!"

I laugh too as I thank her and take my book. For I may have a Max, but I am not Sally.

I am still giggling as I step outside into the rain and make my way down the hill, the awaiting warmth of the pub pulling me onwards.

And when I am caught smirking I deny all knowledge of a secret joke. For there are, I suspect, some things which should remain unspoken.

*Obviously that list is not just of the writers, but it should give you an idea. You might also want to note the amount of Conservatives on that list, though I suppose Polly Toynbee is doing her best to outweigh them.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Suddenly Everyone's A Critic

Suddenly Everyone's A Critic

It is the end of the interval and almost everyone has trooped back in for the second half of the play.

Brunette Lady with Guide Dog moves to go back into the auditorium. Guide Dog sits down in front of the doors, refusing to budge.

Brunette Lady bends down to Guide Dog:

"I know you don't like it, but we've got to go back in".

Guide Dog continues to long non-plussed for sixty seconds before re-taking his seat. And then probably writing a letter to the Guardian.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007



If, after my early September blogging rush, I am a little quiet on here then be consoled that my neglect of you is for good reason.

There has been the first aid course (which I passed without killing anyone and now will react to any emergency situation by telling the person involved to lie on their back with their legs in the air). I enjoyed the week more than I expected to (though the rush hour commute was as hellish as I remembered from that post Oxford summer), I learnt stuff that might actually save someone's life and I laughed quite a lot. But it was intense. And dealing on a minute by minute basis with everything that could go wrong, the nagging feeling that one day this plastic dummy might be an actual person, might even be someone you know - it drains your reserves. Each night I came home and wanted to do nothing more than curl up and not think.

There has been the voracious reading that, with the blissful moments to myself which the last few weeks have afforded, seems to characterise my Autumns. I have launched myself from one book to the next, whole other worlds opening up before me, these words - these wonderful, joyous, heartbreaking words - wrapping themselves around me. In two cases I have sobbed, hard, harder maybe than I have for a while. One for a book and a person and an event that is so far removed from me that I should not be able to touch it (though the theme of Mister Pip, would always suggest otherwise), the other because it felt - almost - as if the writer had peered into my soul and served it up for my reading pleasure.

There has been coloured tights. This might not sound important but I have made the decision - I am waving the flag - as I sit here in my plum tights - for interesting legwear. It is how I shall remember this season I suspect.

There has been pounding the floors of the theatre, learning the quirks of my shiny new attendants and having a show in the upstairs auditorium which led the Guardian to question whether we were all "delusional" (and no, I am not linking, the theatre in question keeps me in coloured tights).

There has been endless male voices on my iTunes, James Blunt's album on repeat winding its way into my soul, Mika making me want to jump about in my room, Rufus Wainwright soothing and giving range to my own diva moments.

There has, of course, been a little too much vodka, a little too much wine, a little too much inappropriate flirting. I rather loved the fact that a mere mention of our names was enough to have me asked whether we were spending the next week "walking around Roundhay Park with him quoting poetry at [me]". We are not, of course, but I love the fact that our reputations are such that people think we might.

There has been a decision or two, things that have hung in the air, a late night conversation that has rattled around my brain until I found the answer. Choices that have been made and then re-made.

Tomorrow I am spending the day in Ilkley, in the afternoon seeing one of those female writers whom St Anne's so regularly churns out and whose ranks I so desperately wish to join. Afterwards I suspect there will be food, and more wine, and, not inspite of everything but maybe because of everything, stomach lurching excitement.

But above all of this, and the real reason that I have been pushed away from the blog, stands the fact that I am writing with a zeal and enjoyment that I cannot remember having for a while. A half formed new play at my fingertips. It is exciting and terrifying and finds me waking up in the middle of the night with the actions of these newly created beings.

It is safe to say, I have missed this.