Monday, 30 November 2009

The research can't go on forever.

It's amazing how confident it is possible to appear when the meeting is discussing your latest commission. Actors are great at pretend confidence, they do it all the time. In an audition if you ask an actor a question they'll always answer 'yes'. Unless 'yes' is going to involve them in something illegal or disgusting, and not always then.

-Can you play the saxophone?
-Ride a horse?
-Ever removed an appendix?

Bless them. Yes to everything and don't worry what you might let have yourself in for until you get the part.
I felt like that today. Is it possible for you get the rough draft in by the 10th and not the16th? As in the week after next. When you've got Peterborough, the thing for the BBC, and the outline Big Window to think about. So I lose six days. I can handle that.
Of course, no problem. Ahhhh!
I will get in by the 10th. I will. Absolutely.
But there is so much research, so much reading, so much to absorb and process into something that resembles the dramatic. Once it's all over and I've written The End, we can start to work on it and shape it into what we want it to be, but oh, how long away that moment seems when I'm only on page 53 with nothing more than the vaguest idea of where to go next.
I mean it is all there, more or less, in some sort of order. All I've got to do is write it. And forget about trying to get it right all in one go. At least she said what I'd sent her was easy to read - that's always a good note to have. Tomorrow I go to Peterborough for a read through of A Workhouse Christmas, but I don't have to leave until the afternoon so I could get a couple of scenes done. And tonight instead of the box set of Spooks I could reread my notes and get the timeline properly worked out. And if I don't take any time out to go to the gym or sleep I can get it done by the 6th which leaves me a couple of days to reflect and check for spelling mistakes before I send it in. Yes, I can do it.

Memo to self: don't over dramatise problems in case those who commission you read what you've written.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Alan Bennett, the Natural History Museum, and Toilet Brushes.

Last night I went to see The Habit of Art and here's hope for us all because at 75 - which for all I know might be the new forty in a few years time - he's written another cracker. Before I saw it I read a piece Bennett had written for the LRB on the relationship between the writer and the director, specifically himself and Nicholas Hytner, which endeared me to him. He said - and I paraphrase - that he was glad that he wasn't so highly regarded that every word he wrote was accepted without question, he felt that the dialogue of development and rehearsal was an essential ingredient that his work couldn't do without. Or something like that. And it's true. I'm lost without the critical voice and I enjoy the process.
At the moment I'm enjoying the research. In London for a few days to spend time in the Nat Hist Mus library poring over old documents to do with Buckland, Anning, Mantell and Owen for the Oxford piece - which will continue to be known as the Oxford piece until the next stage of the contract has gone through - many a slip. It's great fun. Coming across quirky little details that immediately give you a sense of the person. And while I'm in there I get two messages. One, the German film of A Dream of White Horses has acquired a new producer and there are further hopes of money being forthcoming, and two, a company that want to work with me have got the money that will allow the project to go ahead, so a definite yippee for that one.
And it is in fact time I got down to work. Last week I spent in the Lakes with friends and my laptop. I didn't open the laptop, but I had a great time. It was self catering. For ten of us. You know you always get instructions left for you explaining where to find the stop cock and what to do when you leave. I don't really want to imagine what ghastly experience prompted our landlords to leave the following message:

On leaving there will be no dirty lavatory brushes.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Erotic Art

The other week in London I went to the Pop Life exhibition at the Tate Modern. I came away with an increased admiration for Andy Warhol that grew the further I went into the exhibition. By the time I got to Damien Hurst and his identical twins I felt I was surrounded by naked emperors. And that is an appropriate image as by then I had had two of the least erotic experiences of my life. I wouldn't like to suggest that I am an aficionado of erotica but I know what I like. Jeff Koons. I entered the room that was barred to the under eighteens and saw the uber lifesize model of himself and his porn star wife shagging. (Incidentally I was charmed to discover that a poster outside a church in North Carolina advertising Saturday Night Shagging Classes for all ages was encouraging the faithful to learn a complicated dance step peculiar to the southern states.) On the walls in glorious technicolor were photos of Mr Koons inserting himself into various bits of La someone or other. I didn't stay long enough to comment on Mr Koons bit, but I did come away amazed at the size of his ego. Deconstruct the whole process, starting with all the assistants who must have been milling around during the photo session, the workers who made the sculpture and probably pissed themselves silly in the process and the words silly and exploitative come to mind.
Later in the exhibition I was particularly taken with the video of the couple having sex on a hotel bed. Apparently, it said on the card on the wall, she - I've forgotten her name - had approached a dealer to find a collector who would pay to have sex with her for an hour and be filmed. One was found, the deed was done, and a tape of this coupling plays - for an hour - in the Tate as we speak. I admit I only watched about thirty seconds and therefore I could be accused of jumping to conclusions, but frankly it is, if I may be excused for descending into the rarified language of art criticism, total bollocks.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Last week I went to see the Northern Broadsides production of Othello and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. It was clear, the performances were excellent, it was moving, frightening, and three of the fastest hours I've spent in a theatre, and that is no mean praise because put me in a comfy seat, turn the lights out, and it's up to you to keep my attention.
One of the things you tell writers on workshops is that the most powerful thing you can do is put the audience in charge by giving them information that that is not available to the characters, and Othello is a master class of how to do it. From the moment Iago opens his mouth we know exactly what is going to happen. His technique is reminiscent of Max Wall who would inform you he was going to tell you a joke, outline what it was about, explain how it worked and where you were going to laugh, and then, tell it, and you laughed exactly where he said you would. Iago is a poisonous, twisted, evil monster, and yet he is funny and full of life and energy. I've just finished script reading and almost every play was written with passion about a cause or an issue that the writer felt deeply about, and in every case, those characters represented the opposition to the writer's own views were cardboard cutouts without an ounce of life in them. Can't say that about Iago.
It was the first production I've seen that captured the pettiness of Iago's imagined slight. Othello feels he's conferring a favour by keeping his beloved Iago close to him, Iago feels passed over for a new friend, Cassio. Straight back to the playground. But how often after the most terrible crime do we find out that the mayhem was precipitated by the daftest of reasons? And what about the end where, when questioned, Iago, who has poured words all over the play from the opening merely says,

Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
From this time forth I never will speak word.

Shakespeare, what can you say?

There ain't half been some clever bastards.
Ian Dury