Monday, March 22, 2010

Wherein there is some degree of the ridiculous

"How does it look?" Dean asks.

I look at the back of his oversized Barbour jacket. It looks, well, no different to how it normally looks.

"You can't see it?"

I shake my head.

For, it remains, I cannot see the outline of the box of chocolates which Dean has partially stuffed down the back of his trousers.

I am going to repear this - I cannot see the box of chocolates which Dean has stuffed down the back of his trousers.

I would say that the reasons for there being chocolates in this position are complex and many but that would be a lie. The reasoning is basically - we popped into Tesco for pastries and orange juice on our way to the venue I once upon a time referred to on here as New Theatre. The offending chocolates were on special offer and Dean promptly bought them. New Theatre, where I used to work and where Dean still works, however, has a no food in the auditorium policy. On a technicality it has a no-outside -food-anywhere-in-the-building policy but, as long as you don't bring in a McDonalds or a Sunday Lunch or the best fried chicken that South London can offer then sandwiches in tupperware are quietly ignored. But taking a large box of chocolates into the auditorium, well...

So, yes, they're down the back of Dean's trousers. Master criminals, us.

Only, it is far, far too tempting.

"But what if someone does this -"

I swing my arm to make contact with Dean's back in the middle of the box of chocolates. He moves with the speed which would normally be reserved for retreats from polyester clothing.

"Don't you dare".

I laugh, the thought of splatter chocolate only just being beaten by the thought of eaten chocolate.

We soon discover, however that there is a problem with a box of chocolates being put down the back of your trousers - namely that they restrict your walking somewhat. By the time we've reached the foyer of New Theatre, over sized coat or no over sized coat, Dean's walk has become what can only be described as odd.

"Talk about having a pole stuck up your arse".

I look at him and the full ridiculous-ness of the situation hits me full on in the face. We're in the foyer of the one of - if not the most - beautiful theatres in London, having our dress rehearsal tickets upgraded and meanwhile we're smuggling half-price chocolates down Dean's trousers.

We both laugh.

"You know - I'm blogging this".

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The One With The Best Bits

Around this time last year when The Writers discovered the fact that I had been stealing their lives and sharing them with the internet blogging I found myself trying to explain what DA was to a group of people who had, let us be clear, missed a lot of stuff. Then, after I'd umm-ed and err-ed and Charming Canadian (because he is charming) had compared my blogging to Dostoevsky, I got to the bit where I said that I felt some of the best things I had ever written had been written for DA. And then it occured that whilst I might know where these posts are, most people wouldn't. Equally whilst I've been incredibly good and done an About Me page that is (for at least the next few days) fairly accurate it doesn't really tell you about me in the way that even a couple of posts might. So, over the course of many, many weeks, I've been through every single entry on DA. And remember there's over 700 of them and, some times, I WAFFLE. So that was a lot of reading. But when I was reading I noted any entries I thought should be available more easily. Which is how, dear reader, I ended up writing this entry.

The blogs that follow are not necessarily the most obvious ones. There were some I chose because I thought they tell you something about who I am. There were those I chose because I think they tell you something about what DA is. There were a few chosen because they are, one way or another, important. Some are silly. Some are serious. And a couple are just plain embarassing. Then there were those when I sat back and, with that writery-ego, thought - hey, this is quite good.

But, if you wanted to know a bit about me and only had time to read one entry (seriously, what's the rush?) then you should read this one.

Otherwise...well, it's been a fun journey hasn't it?

The Ones About Me:
On Being Called 'Corinne'
Catching The Theatre Bug
Graduation Party
Why I Don't Work In An Office Any More
On Not Arguing With Me When I'm Drunk
Being Clumsy

The Ones With The Boys I've Non-Stalked:
Harry McFly
My Richard
John Barrowman
David Tennant
And The One I Didn't

The Ones Where I Am A Literary Groupie:
On Literature
Paddy Marber
More Geekdom
Yet More Geekdom
Finally Some Useful Geekdom

The Ones About Oxford:
Hilary Term
Name Tags
Finalist Dinner
In Retrospect

The Ones Where I'm On Tour:
Dublin The First
V Festival
Dublin The Second

The Ones With The Little Things:
Evil Eye
New Doctor Who
Video Blogging
Flying A Kite
Tie Dye
Flip Flops (and Improv)

The Ones About My Writing:
Some Sort of Beautiful
SSoB The Anniversary
'REM's Back Catalogue' and Writers' Group
You're Not The Only One
How I Ended Up Back At Uni
Ovid Reworked: The Brixton Project

The Ones About Goldsmiths:
And What I Actually Found There
And In The End

The Ones I Would Rescue In A Fire:
The First Time I Blogged About Being Ill
Shakespeare Summer The First
Shakespeare Summer The Second
Because He Was A Little Bit Wonderful
On Saying Goodbye
Unsent Valentines

Friday, March 19, 2010

Half Term (Or something like that)

There is a myriad of things which I should have done this week (like filled out more applications, and chased up some phonecalls, and returned library books, and finished a final draft of a script I have been saying I'll finish since I don't know - the beginning of time - and, oh, found somewhere to live given the fact I have three weeks until I leave Streatham). But instead I have done things like watch opera and have long lunches and window shop with Dean and hung out in East London and watched Breakfast Club Boy (almost) get to do improv rather than compere and plotted a new play and had coffee in Brixton and had a proportionally large amount of Canadians in my week and been to the V&A not once but twice. I've also used the tube three out of seven days (which is pretty much a record for me since I am a South London bunny and South London is largely the land that the tube forgot) and even went so far as travelling on the DLR for the first time. Rock and indeed roll.

Also - I've got myself plagued by an Alexander McQueen dress Dean and I found in Libertys. It's a bit like this, but not as full in the skirt and suitable for women under six foot tall and the most beautiful blue and, well, is £1,555. My general response to buying dresses is - well, I'll take an extra shift somewhere but I'm thinking that this plan might not work on this occasion.

So, I'm coveting that dress. Oh, and a plane ticket to Toronto. And a ticket to Latitude Festival. And, I suppose since we're here, a flat in Greenwich.

But mainly the dress.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Box Office

"Okay, I only have enough money on me for a concession ticket".

We're at a cash-only venue and I had assumed that there would be a cashpoint in East London. It seems that assumption was incorrect. It is fair to say that me and East London are having some problems in our relationship currently. At this rate East London is going to be dumped before the week is out.

"Use my student ID" Breakfast Club Boy says and though I have been addressed by his (obviously male) name before I doubt it's going to work as well at a Box Office as it did at Goldsmiths Drama Office.

"I should have wangled a free ticket".

Breakfast Club Boy nods.

This is enough to get me started. Sadly, I have become too accustomed to free tickets and thus think I should get freebies - or at the least large discounts - for everything. I am a bad person -

Just before I reach full steam Breakfast Club Boy interupts me with a poke: "This isn't the National, it's Limehouse - pay up"

The man sitting behind the makeshift Box Office leans over. I confess I've almost forgotten he's there, listening in to our conversation.

"I'll just sit here and wait whilst you two finish arguing".

Oh god, I have become one of those people.

It is the best I can muster: "We like arguing" I say before I thrust my money down and slink off in search of someone to shoot me.

Later we tell the story to Elephant Foot (or Charming Canadian and Surfer Girl as they are more commonly known here).

"I thought it showed personality" Breakfast Club Boy says, clearly from a different school of customer service than me and my 'hello' is from.

"I wasn't offended - I didn't take it personally" I say. Except, of course, the bit where I realised I was that customer and had to hit myself in the face.

There's a beat. I have walked in to this one.

"Well" There's the pause. "You should have done".

Sadly his reactions are too quick and my fist doesn't make contact with his head.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Glass Ceiling

It's just before 7.00pm and I'm in a room in the northern reaches of London. After spending the previous evening in what I have come to realise was probably Shoreditch the possibility of me getting a nosebleed from spending my second evening in a row on the wrong side of the river is a distinct possibility. There isn't anything particularly special about the room itself, what with its matching seating and slightly battered walls. What is noticeable is the man-thing. And by that I mean - there isn't any. I don't think I've been in a room with such a pure concentration of women since 1999 when I was in high school and had a pair of combat trousers which I not only owned but actually wore. The best I can say about that is - at least I wasn't stuck for a pocket.

Thankfully I don't have combat trousers on this time, just my I-bought-these-because-the-Fashion-Editor-on-the-final-of-Canada's-Next-Top-Model-was-wearing-a-similar-pair trousers. Who knows, maybe in a decade's time I will remember these trousers and scorn too. Turn-ups on someone under 5 foot four! The fact that they are carrot shaped! What was I thinking?

But, you might be pleased to note, I'm not here because of trousers. Though, as with my High School, I am here because of my two X chromosomes for I'm at the launch of a social enterprise which aims to campaign for and support female Playwrights.

"It's like I'm in 1912" I text, though I doubt any of us are going to jump under a horse or anything like that.

There's a panel discussion to start the night - the subject up for discussion is 'what should we do next to counter the fact that only seventeen percent of professionally produced plays are by women?' -

Let me just take a moment out for us to digest that fact. Seventeen percent. When women make up 52% of the population, and over sixty percent of an average theatre audience. And here's me worrying about how posterity will view my beautiful if fashion-forward trousers.

I am, though, surprised by some of the comments from the panel just in the way that I was surprised by that statistic:

"In a way I'm depressed to be here having to talk about this, three decades after we were first having this conversation. But theatre is still run by men, by the old-school-tie network, and it continues to exclude women".

Maybe I was suprised by how black and white the issue was being seen by some of the women sat at the front of the room. Maybe because I have never felt that being female has some how held me back. Call it that high school of mine, followed by Oxford and always and forever supplemented by my parents but gender, for me, is something - for myself - that I don't really notice. I notice it for others, it's why I'm proud to call myself a feminist, but me - I am lucky. Bloody lucky.

But being a playwright is bloody difficult regardless of gender. It's woefully over-subscribed for a profession which pretty much pays a decent wage to Tom Stoppard, David Hare, Alan Bennett, Caryl Churchill and not many others. The things I have to juggle - and let us be honest if there is one thing that kills potential playwrights it is money or lack thereof - are the same for almost every other writer I know, including those who are fully in possession of a Y chromosome.

The statistic I'd like to see is not 'how many professionally produced productions are written by women?' but 'how many professionally produced new-plays are written by women?' because professional theatre's reliance (over-reliance?) on plays by dead-white-males is something slightly different. Tell me commissioning statistics and then I'll go storm the gatekeepers if we need to.

I want great writers to get through. I don't want someone blocked because of the potluck of gender (of either assignation) and if there are barriers that can be identified then let's look at them and let's see what we can do. But that doesn't require gender rhetoric, that requires research and practical solutions (Money? Time? Facillities? Expectations? Oh, and let's get female Playwrights on to drama syllabuses as part of the main act and not in their fenced off 'women writers' interval entertainment).

I guess, rather personally, if I never end up with a play in the Olivier then I won't think it's because of those X chromosomes. I don't think I would feel it's because I wasn't good enough either (I'm not currently, one day I hope I will be). I'd like to think I'd put it down to all those little twists of chance (or fate, or luck, depending on your position) that did or did not happen.

If I don't make my career work in other ways then that might be some of (though again, not all) my fault. It certainly won't be because of an old boy's network.

There are things I can control. I can - as one of the panelists noted in a moment that made me want to hug her - go out and write what I fucking want to. I can put my own work on. I can go out and meet wonderful, creative people who want to make work. I can make choices, and make the sacrifices that they might entail.

There is the point that you have to stand up and make the change. And if England in 2010 on the issue of female playwrights (notice my distinction, I'm not talking about the pay-gap, or the lack of female political representation, or the treatment of female prisoners, or rape-conviction statistics, or even the fact that a female blogger publishes a book about her sex life and a national newspaper labels her a 'hooker' in the headline of an article she has written for them. I'm talking - playwriting) isn't the place, I don't know where that place is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What I've Been Reading: Month One

Books Bought:
The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch

Books Borrowed:
The End of the Affair – Graham Greene, The Glass Room – Simon Mawer, The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

Books Read:
The End of the Affair – Graham Greene, The Glass Room – Simon Mawer (unfinished), The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood, What Good Are The Arts? – John Carey (unfinished)

Some years ago I read Nick Hornby’s Polysyllabic Spree and loved, loved it. Not only because Hornby wrote articulately and with humour about all the wonderful (and occasionally not so wonderful) books which he read but because it soothed my conscience as a fellow obsessive-compulsive book buyer who couldn’t possibly ever manage to get through her ‘to-read’ pile either. I remember thinking at the time that I should start writing something similar and then promptly forgot to do so.

But now I’ve returned to the idea, not just to shame myself into reading some of that pile, but also as a record of all of the books I do read (and then forget) and to give me the push I need to get on with i)reading every book which has won the Booker prize and ii)reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m taking the Booker thing at a leisurely pace but in some overly-optimistic foolish pronouncement at 19 when I had my first encounter with Joyce I made a promise that I’d have read Ulysses by the time I was thirty. Now that I am considerably closer to being thirty than to being nineteen and still haven’t read any more of Ulysses than I had when I made that promise let the record show: this is going to become an issue.

But for now, rather than fill this post with my issues with Ulysses, I’m going to write about happier matters. Each month I’m going to catalogue the books I’ve bought, the books I’ve borrowed and the books I’ve read. Anything book-shaped is fair game (so that includes plays and poetry) and I’m not (yet) setting out any rules for how (or what) I write about them.

Some times you get a feeling about a book you must read (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘I’) and that was exactly what happened to me with The Glass Room. Booker shortlisted in 2009 and if I am to discount all of the hype surrounding Wolf Hall, it was the book from that list which most appealed to me. Evocative title, evocative cover – who says that I am shallow? So when I saw The Glass Room proudly displayed at Streatham Library I picked it up without second glance. When I did begin to read it struck me, gosh how well written this book is. And then there was a description of the wheel in Vienna which I’ve been on (always nice to relieve holiday moments) and foreboding and the drums of war in the background (generally a winner for me) and then there was one really, really stonking bit of writing that had the kind of beauty and subtext that makes me want to weep with joy and...Well, then I got a bit fed up with carrying a big hardback book around London and thought I’d start The End of the Affair because it was paperback and commuter sized and then the next thing I knew it was time to return The Glass Room and I was only 150 pages in and did I want to renew it? No. Which doesn’t mean that I won’t return to the novel (I suspect I will) but it does mean I felt there was something missing from it. Heart. Like the glass room of its title, architecturally the novel is stunning - it just isn’t somewhere you can imagine living.

If The End of the Affair triumphed initially because my paperback copy wasn’t going to break my back then I quickly realised I’d stumbled into something I absolutely loved. In one of those gaping holes in my reading knowledge I’d never previously read any Graham Greene and never really been too concerned about this. How little I knew. A masterclass in how to write a first person narrator The End of the Affair has so much going on under its surface that it was almost physically painful to read; jealously, grief, blotches of love that stain the page. For a novel that has a buttoned-up novelist as its narrator how visceral I found the experience of reading it to be took me entirely by surprise. I’m a subscriber to the theory that some books only work if you read them at the right age and in this respect I’m glad I came to The End of the Affair now and not ten (or maybe even five) years earlier. Old enough to have lived through enough endings and beginnings and muddles somewhere in the middle to know of what it spoke, young enough to not retreat into my room and stay there for a very long time at its conclusion. I vaguely recall an offhand comment on the Guardian book blog recently which suggested that The End of the Affair might be the greatest British novel of the twentieth century. I’m not going quite that far – [how on earth would you possibly fight that one out? Though if someone wants to put me in a room with similarly bookish people, some wine and let us fight it out feel free, just know you’re going to have to do a lot to make me look beyond To the Lighthouse or The Remains of the Day. Aherm. ] – but The End of the Affair can’t have enough superlatives thrust at it in my opinion.

The first novel that I read after I finished my English Literature degree (and thus the first novel that I’d read that hadn’t been on a reading list for a very long time) was Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I know I devoured it in a couple of days and that I most definitely enjoyed it. However, with the exception of two moments which I can visualise even now (a man walking down a deserted street in a gated community, the final moments of the novel when Jimmy peers through the trees and sees something which changes the basis on which he’s been living) I can’t remember much more about the novel. Which is what I’m going to attribute to my not realising that The Year of the Flood is Oryx and Crake’s sister book until I was about 100 pages in. That rather than the fact that I’m slow on the uptake. But – yes. Apparently they’re parts one and two in a trilogy of speculative fiction that Atwood has planned. Right. But back to The Year of the Flood rather than my stupidity which is, I suspect, one of the most accessible novels that Atwood has written. Her prose is effortless, her linguistic inventiveness delightful and whilst this is all firmly in the world of speculation there’s enough to recognise to suggest that Atwood might have a point or two to her visions of what the world might become. The structure of the book, however, quickly came to feel indulgent and I soon began to skip the hymns which scatter her prose, unable to shirk the feeling that Atwood should have been a bit more ruthless with the editing process. There’s also the fact that there is something deeply unsatisfying about the ending of The Year of the Flood. It might just as well have ended with the sentence “ BUY THE SEQUEL” so obtuse was its final pages. And that disappointed me because I’d been enjoying Flood as a stand alone book (little else I could do given the memory blank). Is there enough to be said – from a different point of view – to justify a third book on grounds of artistic merit as well as political merit? Hmm. I do hope Atwood proves so and I have to eat my words. Or, maybe I won’t remember anything that happens in Flood either, and I’ll be surprised all over again.

Which just leave What Good Are the Arts? which I first read in 2007 and I’m reading again because, with the inevitable cuts that are coming for arts funding, I think it’s exactly the question we should be asking ourselves.

In brilliant economy The Sea, The Sea stands as my only purchase this month. We’ve got a bit of history, me and this book. I started reading it last spring and didn’t get particularly far in before I gave up and returned it to the library. But I refuse to be defeated because i)I feel I *should* get on with Iris Murdoch for reasons big and small and ii)I’ve already given up on Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils which means I shouldn’t be giving up willy-nilly on Booker Prize winners or I’m only going to have to force-feed them to myself come 2020. Doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten past the introduction yet though.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


"I was trying to work out how many times we've actually met" Billygean says as we stand in the midst of a London night.

It can't be - I realise in this moment - much more than a handful. Two handfuls at most.

Would I be stood in this street if, back in January 2005, either or both of us hadn't started our respective blogs? There is the outside chance that events as they unfolded in the next five years might have led to the thousands of words which we have expended to each other anyway, but it is a slight possibility, hardly worth taking into account.

So blogs. They did good.

Less than a week after I have this realisation it creeps up on me that I'm about to make a choice. Since the start of the year I've had a burst of blogging, rediscovered exactly why I love it, written some things that I'm really quite proud of. Only problem - these blog posts weren't on DA. And one of the reasons that I realised I was loving them so much was because they weren't burdoned with the issue of writing 'me' (though some of them were undoubtedly me posts).

Is it possible to get bored of writing about yourself?

Erm, yes it would appear so.

Once I'd forumulated this idea it was clear that February was going to be the month the choice was made. At no point during DA's lifespan have I missed writing a post during a calendar month. Then February 28th 2010 came round and I still hadn't commited anything to this blog. It's almost some thread that if it is broken will mean I have to accept I have joined the ranks of those who have written their farewell letters and shut up shop.

Which I realised I wasn't ready to do. Which is why, with no reference to the battle that had been fought, I transcribed a snapshot of a text message conversation I'd just had (I should say thank you to Breakfast Club Boy for providing me with a last minute punchline and thus a post).

But I know some changes have to be made, if only to get me back into the proverbial groove. First up, a change of decor. If in doubt, wear a new dress after all.

Secondly, I'm giving myself liberty to write about lots of things I've neglected in the last few years. I'm going to write about the books I'm reading and the theatre I'm seeing (even when it doesn't star David Tennant) and pretty-sparkly things that make my stomach flip. I may (though you can hope other wise) write about how much I've been sucked into America's Next Top Model. I'm going to write about London and what it's like to live here because, eighteen months in, I'm still new enough to realise how beautiful it is and how many amazing things it allows you to see and do. I'm going to blog about some of the day-to-day stuff of writing. I'm going to take more photos and put them up here (if I ever find my cable that I tidied up a week or so ago and now can't place). And because I will forever have a prediliction for turning moments of my life into scenes to go on here, 'me' will still creep in.

So - 2010. The year of the good blogger.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Movin' Out (Again)

Movin' Out (Again)

For the third time in 18 months (let me repeat that: third time in 18 months) I'm moving. For many reasons this doesn't exactly fill me with joy and whooping (moving is getting old, or rather the bit that comes after you first move when you're not settled and your life is in boxes and you don't know the secret-quick-route to anywhere - that is the bit that is getting old). But there is at least the added comedy factor of how people advertise their flats. And because I like a list here's a list of ways to not make me want to rent your property:

1. Lack of photos. We are in the age of not only digital cameras but phones with cameras and scanners and paper and felt tip pens and c'mon it's not that difficult.

2. Worse than no photos? Lots of photos but none of which are of the bedroom. It's nice and informative that you're showing me the front of the house and the kitchen and the garden and the bush in the back garden and the front gate and that really hideous cushion you have in your living room but I think we're missing something here. Like the room that is one of the things that will make or break this relationship. No photos of the bedroom just makes me think that the room is actually the cupboard under the stairs or a hole in the floor or has wooden decking along the wall.

3. Worse even that no photos or lots of not very useful photos? When you show one photo and this is of the toilet. With the toilet seat UP. Who chooses a flat this way? And, more importantly, who thinks this is a good form of advertising?

4. Typos happen. Spelling can go wonky. Grammar rules can be confusing. I know, comiserate and nod my head to all of this but in an advertisement? When you can't even spell 'double' (or, rather, be bothered to stick the advert through spell-check first) and you get its and it's wrong - yes, I am judging you.

5. Google maps is a wonderful tool. Use it.

6. But worse than not using google maps? Pretending your flat is somewhere it is not. Yes, I know it may be close but when you say East Dulwich or Greenwich and I look on the map and (knowing South London as I now do) see that your flat is actually in Peckham or Lewisham I will tut at you. I know there are perks about living near to (but not actually inside) a desirable area so don't lie.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On Being Competitive #3975

On Being Competitive #3975

I look over to Arsenal Fan, sitting as we are in a theatre cafe just down the road from where Kit Marlowe was murdered*:

"And that is why..."

I push the palm of my hand on to the table:

"Crush them like a bug".

Arsenal Fan's eyes widen before he starts to laugh.

"You're actually evil".

I smirk.

"That's the thing - I write happy-wistful plays, you write dark-depressing plays. People think I'm good-cop and you're bad-cop. What they don't always notice is that I'm driven and very competitive whilst you're sensitive and worry about people's feelings. So under the surface you're nice and, well, I'm a little bit evil".

I'm being facetious, of course I am, but I've said it before and probably will have to say it again - sometimes people think I'm a nicer person than I actually am. I put it down to the fact that I wear lots of florals, like the word 'yes' more than the word 'no' and have a customer service 'hello'. Breakfast Club Boy once told me that he thought I only did that 'hello' when I answered the phone to him until, that is, he heard me answer the phone to someone I didn't know with exactly the same emphasis.

Hmmm. What can I say? That 'hello' got me enough tips when I was ushering at the Royal Opera House to pay for my Christmas drinks bill.

So, sometimes, people forget I'm a little harder than the outerlayer suggests.

Arsenal Fan laughs, only a hint of fear coming through.

I do the palm-to-table motion again.

"Crush them like a bug".

*Or faked his death depending on which theory you prefer.