Saturday, 27 June 2009

Lowdam Book Festival

I did my schtick at the Lowdam Book Festival this morning. I did about 45 minutes with two actors taking care of the readings. For the opening moments I kept calling one of them Kevin, although I knew that wasn't his name I couldn't stop myself, and eventually he interruptede to point out that his name was Gary, which I knew perfectly well. There were more there than the one man and a dog I expected which was gratifying and It seemed to go okay - people said nice things afterwards but then they would, wouldn't they?
Still no word on the project we pitched last week. Although we know we won't hear anything until the company have had a couple of important meetings, you sort of hope that there'll be a phone call along the lines of 'I'm going to do it, I'll make the board approve it, it's the best idea we've had pitched to us in years. The contract's in the post.'
Tomorrow we fly to New York for four days before visiting family in North Carolina. Sunday night will be a meal in Little Italy and jet lag. Tuesday night we're going to Waiting for Godot . That leaves two nights in hand. Monday at the Village Vanguard? Try for tickets for Shakespeare in the Park? The free concert at Battery Park? Which day do we spend in Brooklyn? So many decisions to make. I can't remember having gone on holiday in June before and it feels very decadent, like coming out of the pictures on a Sunday, or coming out of the cinema to find it's still daylight.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Cracked it!

Yesterday I finished the youth theatre piece, one day ahead of schedule. A small miracle. I spent an hour or so in the evening looking through it and correcting the most obvious typos, and then gave up when the urge to start rewriting became too great. As soon as I've finished a first draft I can see, with great certainty, exactly what to do with it next, and I'm almost always wrong. Which is why it's a good idea not to touch it but put it away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. This morning I shall e-mail it off, send in the invoice, and pretend to forget about it for the next few weeks.
Tomorrow I'm doing an hour at the Lowdham Book Festival. I usually do this sort of stuff for writers' groups but I thought it might be a good idea to try the stuff out on a more general group. I shan't be alone as I'll have a couple of actors - Kevin and Sylvia - with me to read the extracts. I'm trying to tell myself that it isn't a shameless act of self promotion, but I know it is. I did it once before in a public library in North Carolina on an RSC residency with two actors from the company. The majority of the extracts are examples of bad writing and usually get a laugh but on this occasion we were greeted with baffled looks - my fault, I'd not explained it was supposed to be funny.
The contract from aurorametro for the script of We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea came in the post. They are publishing it early next year and then I shall have two books in print. I can't see how they make any money out of it, I certainly don't, but it is good to have a book on the shelf, it keeps you noticed and prolongs the life of the piece. They sent me a catalogue too, and it was already in there, and I got really excited. Hopefully, the retour with Eastern Angles will come through and the book can be launched alongside it. One of the best parts is googling the title and discovering that it's in the library of the University of Miami, or being sold second hand in a bookshop in Brooklyn. How did it get all the way out there on two print runs of 500? I'd like you to know that googling my one published book is not an obsession, and it's just by chance that I happen to know that at the moment, on the Amazon sales chart, it's rated 2,158,327th.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

It's research, not a jolly.

I went down to London yesterday. I was supposed to be going to a Writers' Guild Theatre Committee meeting but they'd changed the date. I could have got a partial refund, or tried to change the tickets to another date, but, as there is the possibility of a commission in the offing that if it comes through will need a trip to town, I decided to have a day in London. When I got home my wife asked if the trip had been useful.
Yes, it had. Firstly, on the train down I had listened to music, dozed, and made notes for the youth theatre piece I have to finish by this Friday. Taking a day away when I should have been working is good because it means that now I only have two days to finish the first draft and that will help to concentrate the mind - as soon as I make a start on it, that is. When I got to London I had a cup of coffee and watched the world go by, because it isn't good to rush into things, and then made my way across town to the building I wanted to visit. (Please note that I shall remain coy about the proposed project until it becomes a reality and contracts are signed. Could be thought of as needlessly superstitious but I don't care.) Mooched around there for a while. Went to the V&A. Stuck my nose into the Science Museum. Discovered the Serpentine Gallery is closed for redecoration, got nearly to the end of Melvyn Bragg's brilliant, honest Remember Me in Hyde Park as I dared, stopping only when I was in danger of weeping in public, caught a bus to Trafalgar Square, crossed to the South Bank, had a coffee outside the National, bought Kenan Malik's latest book in the NT Bookshop AND discovered that they had a copy of Warrior Square on sale, and yes, I've looked for it every time I've been in and I don't care about that either, wandered up to the Algerian Coffee Store for 500 grams of Java, had a glass of wine in the French, a meal in the Amalfi, and went home. And that is a useful day.
Why? Because I didn't talk to anyone all day. I wandered. I did nothing. I stared at the world. I sat on trains. And ideas seemed to pop up all over the place because I wasn't searching for them. Most of them won't be any good, but some of them might. In the building I visited for the project that shall be nameless I only wandered about, but my characters will go there, and it is important to them, and now I've been there, I can go there again, with them - if the pitch worked and we've sold the project, fingers crossed. I suppose what I'm really trying to say is that writing is a selfish and solitary commitment and much as I need and relish people - especially those I love - a bit of self imposed exile, even if for only a day isn't a bad thing.
Got back to an e mail from Boris my agent in Germany saying that he'd like to try and get a theatre to take up the project I was working on for Hannover and would I send him a brief expose. I note this as it is the first time in eight years he has ever misused a word in English, and he doesn't think he speaks the language very well; I wish my German was as bad. I shall do this, but not as it was for Hannover because I've had time to think and I want to do something different now, and anyway I think it's not a bad idea to leave some room for manoeuvre.
Also discovered an e mail from Paul Harman saying that he'd read my blog and that he'd enjoyed it. That's the third person who's told me that they've read it.
Right, it's now 10.45 am. Time to start work on the youth theatre piece that's due in on Friday. That means I open the document, look at yesterday's notes, decide to play best of three Spider Solitaire to clear my mind, make a cup of coffee, look at the document again this time scanning through to the last page, play more solitaire, and eventually, hopefully, actually write something. And I wish I was joking.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

And so to Warwick

Last weekend I was at Warwick University for a theatre conference - All Together Now? The British Theatre after Multi - Culturism - a topic that the conference was successful in avoiding for most of the two days. There were some real high points, amongst them were Michael Boyd on Shakespeare's own relationship to history both cultural, historical and personal, Stewart Lee and Richard Bean and particularly Kenan Malik on the nature of offence. And it was good to see colleagues and to meet new people. But I wish we had spent more time discussing how we move onwards to a more inclusive theatre.
One of the speakers looked forward to a time when theatre audiences can be shocked and offended rather than the offence being reserved for those on the outside of the building holding the banners. But we can't be seen to be offended even if we are, because we're all part of the same club, and to be offended would mean that we lacked the sophistication to understand the metaphor, and we also assume that whatever happens on stage can't really be about us. I resisted An Inspector Calls for years but when I saw Stephen Daldry's revival I realised that it was so much more than an amdram warhorse, it was a precise and brutal dissection of the hypocrisy of the very people who would have been sitting in the stalls on the first night. But of course, like us, each one of them would have been convinced that the play was about someone else, not them.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Young Voices, Punk Rock, and Warhorse.

This week I finished the Young Voices project I have been working on for Nottingham Playhouse. The seven plays the children had written were linked together to form a narrative about three children who meet, fall out and play together on a piece of waste ground. The youngest writers were top infants, the oldest top juniors. The writers were invited in for the dress rehearsal which was also watched by Club Encore the Playhouse over 50 group. It was good to see the adults wanting to talk to the kids about their work, and the surprise on the kid's faces when they realised we meant what we said when we told them their work would be performed on a real set, with specially composed music and real live actors. It was a long project, frustrating at times - organising anything involving seven different schools is bound to be fraught - but ultimately, I think we got it right for the kids.
The same night I went to see Garage Band Andy Barrett's new play about a group of 40/50 somethings who try to recover their lost punk youth. I can't remember when I've seen four actors having so much fun.
The one piece of theatre that's stuck with me since I saw it a couple of weeks ago is Warhorse. We nearly went one Sunday afternoon in November when it was on at the National, and they had some returns. I actually had the tickets in my hand when I sensed something wasn't right. I turned round, saw my wife's wobbly lip and handed the tickets back unbought.
We'd recently been to see John Tams, who did the music for the show, and he played a couple of the songs explaining the context so movingly and singing them so beautifully that there was hardly a dry eye in the place when he'd finished - Anne's included. And mine, a bit.
Since that Sunday when we had to return the tickets she read the novel and the play text and finally decided she was ready to go a see a play where horses die.
She was a little watery as she read the programme and we couldn't leave our seats at the interval but she survived and she's now able to talk about it without bringing on an emotional crisis. I don't get easily affected by cheap emotion, but this wasn't cheap emotion so I had tears on my face almost continuously from beginning to end and there are moments it's not safe to dwell on even now, three weeks later.
I keep thinking about it because it is like nothing else I've seen. True the story gets a bit lost, it takes a while to get going, because of the size of the horses the actors are literally left on the periphery most of the time, and it's all a bit shouty, but I bought every minute of it. A friend asked me if the horses spoke and they don't, but they are so eloquent they might as well have voices. I have no idea how they did it but I believed every moment and at the end all I wanted to do was to go and give them a pat and an apple.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Welsh Connections.

I spent the last couple of days in Cardiff at a small conference on German Theatre for Young People organised by Kevin Lewis of Theatr Iolo. We looked at six plays in all, workshopping four of them and seeing rehearsed readings of the other two. On the surface the overall impression was that German writers see life for the young as very serious business, suicide attempts, death, abuse, loneliness, violence, sexual assault, on the face of it not a lot of laughs. But it did underline how much more freedom there is in the German theatre for writers and young people. Everything we do has to be filtered through the national curriculum and how will it play in a school hall with an audience of year four.
I like visiting Cardiff. I lived there for a short while when I was small and I love the Taff and the arcades and the bay where I was never allowed to go because it was Tiger Bay then and a den of vice and iniquity in my aunt's eyes. But most of all I love Spillers - the oldest record shop in the world. For the last few years it has been hidden away in the building site that seems to have taken over more and more of the city each time I visit. Kevin has taken a pledge to buy his cds nowhere else in his own personal effort to help it survive, so I did my bit with the new Christie Moore and another Spillers t - shirt, very good value at only £6.99 and almost guaranted to get you into conversation with interesting people when and wherever you wear it. In Nottingham we are dominated by HMV and that is not good, If you've got one, preserve your local record store, Amazon is no substitute.