Monday, January 29, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

After a bit of deliberation I've decided to move my blogging activities across to my Myspace page. The reason being is that I've not really had the opportunity to do this blog much justice. I post little bits and pieces on my Myspace blog currently, nothing very interesting, usually pretty inane stuff about music or something I've seen on TV. It gets more readers than this blog so it makes sense I think to concentrate my efforts over there. I seem to have less time for this kind of stuff now so I thought it probably best to try and streamline what I'm doing.

Anyway, my Myspace page can be found at :

Martyn Clayton

I'm still blogging, still posting the usual rubbish, spouting off my half-baked theories on irrelevant stuff that rarely matters. Just that I'll now be doing it over there. If you've not yet got a Myspace page then you should go get one. It's a great forum for meeting new people, finding out about new music, events etc. I'm getting increasingly addicted to it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Unlit boxes, oysters and tarting up Ottamans

Finally I've got a moment to do a bit of blogging. It's been a really busy week. I was determined to finish the first draft this week and I managed it. Last weekend down in Suffolk was really relaxing. On Friday we headed down to Mersea Island in the far reaches of that much maligned county. Big skies, marshes, the grey sea and thousands and thousands of oysters. Very windswept and bracing, just what I was needing.

Saturday evening we went along to yet another pantomine, this time it was a rock and roll version of Dick Whittington at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. They don't have the space in the theatre to do a big lavish production so they came up with the idea about a decade ago of filling their annual festive production with some classic tunes. It works quite well and the actors/musicians involved are all highly talented and multi-skilled. We also ate out a few times at some great pubs, particularly the one down in Essex, but it's name I can't remember for the life of me. If you're down that way it's just before the tidal bridge onto Mersea. You'll know the one I mean.
The photo at the top of the boxes with images on forms a part of a series of art installations called LUX currently in-situ on Micklegate. They're actually pieces of illuminated work that come into proper being after 6pm. The one pictured I thought actually worked OK unlit in the daylight.
Other than Little Man Tate and work, I've done precious little. Watched the first episode of the widely trailered, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll teenagers of SKINS on Thursday night. I was actually presently surprised by it. It's quite tightly written and well casted. Far from representing the downfall of western civilisation as the divvy papers suggested, it's pretty tame really.
Yesterday I decided to stay off the computer completely and do something more productive. An old 1930s ottaman that belonged to my Gran has come into our possession. It was looking a bit worse for wear but I thought it could probably be saved. I bought some white paint and a groovy retro design bit of fabric for the top and set about giving it a make-over. I'm generally rubbish at anything crafty, but I'm quite pleased with my handiwork in this instance. What do you reckon ? Hope Gran would approve. Now I'm off to watch the football, eat some ravioli and relax. Back to square one with the book tommorow morning.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Take Me Out - First Draft Complete

First draft of my little old novel is now complete. Do you know what ? I'm actually quite pleased with it. It currently stands at 71,000 words which I expect to grow a bit by the time I reach the end of the third draft. The story is all there, quite different to what I'd originally envisaged, stronger I reckon. Lot's of interesting ideas and themes to try and develop a bit in the second draft and my confidence is now growing that this thing will somehow or other see the light of day. Time for bed I think.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Little Man Tate @ York Fibbers

Coming onstage to Sheriff Fatman by Carter USM and chants of "Yorkshire, Yorkshire", Little Man Tate were amongst friends at Fibbers last night. They're too big for such a tiny venue as Fibbers to be honest, but they always promised to return no matter how big they got. They've so far stayed true to their word.
It really does feel that LMT are on the verge of big things. They have a devoted and loyal fanbase who follow them all over the place. They were out in force last night giving the proceedings a celebratory atmosphere. From the two-fingered salute of "Man I Hate Your Band", through the current single "Sexy In Latin" and an anthemic singalong, fists in the air version of "What, What You Got" they appeared to be a band on the top of their game. Their set was short, driven and tight, all of it delivered with great humour and clear enjoyment. They seem to be liking life at the minute and it's refreshing to see a band without any pretension or front. If you ever get the chance to go see them you should. They are perhaps the most Yorkshire of all the current crop of of bands to come out of the region and none the worse for it. It's kitchen-sink pop music about everyday life in Northern England and it deserves to turn them into serious players. It used to be that working-class lads from Sheffield got jobs in the steelworks, now they form bands and sing about setting fire to Portaloos. This is definite progress in my book. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Little Man Tate are writing contemporary folk songs. Thought I'd also mention one of the support acts, The Hussy's who are a female fronted band from Glasgow who are in a similar mould. Nice line in wry observational songs and an energetic performance. All in all , a really memorable night at old York's own little answer to CBGB's. I've already stuck a LMT vid on the blog, but I thought I'd post another for the sheer hell of it ;-) This is the Blackpool filmed video to "What, What You Got."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Time is pressing, Little Man Tate, promised re-jig

I'm still plugging away on the first draft at the minute, so I've still got little time to blog. I'm off to see Little Man Tate on Wednesday night, they're another Sheffield band on the verge of doing big things. This is possibly the last chance you'll get to see them in tiddy venues before they go all semi-stellar in a Kaiser Chiefs fashion over the coming year. I'll make time on Thursday for a review of the evening's proceedings. I want to do a bit of re-jig on here. I don't like the new Beta templates, I'm struggling to use them. Sunday will see a bit of a redesign I reckon. Until then, this is Little Man Tate. If you've ever been to a dodgy house party you will surely recognise yourself in this vid. Remember the name, you'll be hearing a lot of it over the coming months.

Monday, January 22, 2007

East Anglian Weekend

Just got back from an extended weekend of walking, eating, lounging about and doing quite a bit of work on the book. First draft should be complete by the end of the week. Not much time to blog properly at present but I'll be back in the next couple of days with more of the usual rubbish. The photo was taken during a walk on Mersea Island down in the deeps of Essex. Very Great Expectations I thought. Hope you're good.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Getting there, clearing out drains and the Act of Union

We've been having problems with our plumbing. The drain from the bathroom to be precise. It's had a blockage. Water has been taking ages to go down and has instead been seeping out across the back yard. It's kind of been one of those "not that pressing" problems. Nothing major really, bit irritating. Unless the thing around the house is hitting me around the head screaming "I'm a big scary house thing, fix me now !" then I tend to just let them lie for a while. Today, I got rush of blood to my head and decided to prod around in the drain. It wasn't pleasant let me tell you. I had prior to prodding purchased (nice alliteration there don't you think ?)some mighty chemical disaster of a drain unblocker. There goes my environmental kudos. It was like Teesside in a bottle. Anyway, I decided I see what was down there causing the problem and got a big stick and started fiddling around. I pulled out masses and masses of matted hair. It had formed a thick hairy, gunky carpet so dense that water was unable to seep through. Pulling it out it took all my concentration not to retch and the water just seeped down and off on its merry way without any problem. I still poured my liquid Middlesbrough down the drain just for good measure. Actually, I'm not knocking Middlesbrough. It's one of the friendliest places on god's earth, and there's plenty of far worse places. Like Darlington.
Now the drain is clean, confident and assured in it's dealing with my dirty bath water and I feel quite useful. This always happens after I've had a go at doing something like that. I've been slapping my thigh in a manly fashion, chuckling like Brian Blessed and contemplating power tools all afternoon.
Boringly, here comes the bit where I tell you about the book's progress. First draft should be complete by the end of next week. That's the date I'm trying to work to at least. I'm giving myself deadlines to concentrate the mind. Some cool folks on Myspace have responded to my plea for potential cover designs. Within hours of me posting my request. The book's page has also been recieving friends requests which is quite bizarre. I'm doing all of this with a "let's see what happens" attitude and so far I'm being pleasantly surprised. I've just got to ensure that what I produce ultimately lives up to expectations.
We're off to Suffolk for a long weekend. My folks-in-law have a lovely peaceful house which should be conducive to getting on with some writing without other distractions.
Apparently today is the 300th anniversary of the Act Of Union between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. Apparently a BBC poll found most people in both countries still generally supported it without much passion or chest-beating. It's kind of just there like an old jumper. This is a safe, comfortable corner of the world, we seem to get along just fine most of the time. I quite like the unity in diversity as long as everyone is respected. The politics of minor difference don't really do that much for me.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Take Me Out

If last year was about Introverts Anonymous, then this year is all about

Take Me Out

Which is a song by Franz Ferdinand and the title of my work in progress. It's got it's own Myspace page already and is looking for friends.

More dreams, not having opinions and doing it yourself

I dream a lot. I always have. Last night I dreamt loads. From about 3am when I had to go to the loo my head was full of odd dreams, right until the alarm went off at 6.15. In one we'd moved house to somewhere which was riddled with damp, in another China was about to nuke the States and a state of emergency had just been declared here :-0 . Then I seemed to spend ages drifting in and out of sleep thinking existential thoughts about the meaning of life. I came to the conclusion that Buddhism was probably nearest the mark, stripped back of all the superstitious accretions. Weird. I can do without that too often. I put this down to cheese on toast for supper and my having been watching Desperate Housewives on E4 just before bed. I do appear to be in a very odd headspace at present, prompted I think by the writing of the book which is now hurtling towards 50,000 words at present. I'm hoping to get the first draft completed by the end of the month. We're off to Cornwall for a couple of weeks at the end of February when I hope to be working on the third draft and knocking the thing into shape without other distractions. Apologies if I haven't been around much on other peoples blogs, I'm not finding the time at present to pay my usual visits to blogs I enjoy, but hopefully I should do again shortly.
I'm still completely unable to stand anything to do with current affairs at the minute. I thought I'd give the Today programme a go this morning whilst eating my porridge. I had to turn back to 6 Music after about five minutes. I just can't be doing with any of it. I've always been interested in politics and debates right from my early teens. At times I've perhaps over indulged in debate and gotten down about stuff that I'm probably completely powerless to change. Now having, at least temporarily, removed myself from thinking about much that's happening, I feel mentally much lighter and probably happier. There is an element of ego-indulgence in the idea that your opinion makes the blindest bit of difference. Having listened to countless phone-ins and radio discussions, read bloggers opinions and letters pages on loads of different subjects over the years you do eventually come to realise that most people know nothing about most things they feel compelled to share their thoughts on. Realising that I don't have to listen to them has been really liberating. The Buddhists definitely have a point I reckon.
I want to try and get my head down over the next three days, so I might not be around much. The first draft is now getting tantalisingly near completion and over the last few days I can see the quality level has risen again. What is quite interesting from a DIY artistic point of view was the entry into the music charts yesterday of a song by a band unsigned by a record label based purely on download sales. They have built their following through gigging and Myspace. This is the first time this has happened but it surely won't be the last. The way technology is empowering people to bypass the traditional media outlets is exciting. Yes, it allows lots of dross to hit the market before disappearing without trace , but within all that you can find some real gems. I'm going to put this wee story of mine out myself I reckon and try and do something with it through Myspace and a website. It'll be a good learning experience if nothing else. I've got no appetite for trying to do the rounds of agents and publishers waiting for one to bite. There may well be a time and a place for that in the future, but I don't do the lottery and I try to keep my pipe dreams in check. In the meantime I can probably sell a few copies. I'm going to fnd a clever person on Myspace to do me some cover art and see how it goes. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Sugars @ York Fibbers

We toddled along to top York grubby music venue Fibbers last night for a wee bit of doo-wop cabaret from Leeds based band, The Sugars. Two ladies, one gent, all looking absolutely fantastic and sounding incredibly tight. There's a definite White Stripes influence in there with their howling vocals and scuzzy guitar. The chemistry between Anna and Matt at the front works really well Lots of attention has clearly been paid to detail, which I like to see in a band. There's just enough knowing in what they do without slipping into cheesy parody. Standing right by the speaker stack, my ears are still ringing as a result. My dad always said I'd be deaf by the time I was 30 due to my Dj-ing activities and love of noisy music. You were wrong dad, but perhaps by the time I'm 40 if I carry on this way. If you're going to lose your hearing it's better to lose it to The Sugars than someone naff. At least that way your final memory of what sound was like will be fantastic. I always felt really sorry for that bloke in Touching The Void, who at the point when his senses are failing him and he's going strangely mad get's Boney M's "Brown Girl In The Ring" playing on a loop in his collapsing mind. How terrible would that be. I'd quite like Monsters by The Sugars please.
Thought I'd mention Grammatics as well who opened the proceedings. They have perhaps the skinniest, most sickeningly attractive front man in the universe. It's just not fair, it really isn't. These young folks look much better than I did when I was their age. Anyway, they were fantastic as well. After the bands are done, on a Friday night Fibbers becomes Up The Racket indie disco. And disco indeed we did ! Until Rach remembered just before 1 that she had work this morning, and we came home. That's just how rock'n'roll we are ;-) I quite enjoy these things now as I get to watch the casualties being entertaining, rather than being an entertaining casualty myself. At least I tell myself I was entertaining, it helps ameliorate the feelings of intense embarassment I get when I'm reminded of some of my youthful behaviour.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Lookielikies, my weird dream and doo-wop cabaret

Current Celebrity Big Brother decaying man, Leo Sayer and....

My mental old hound, Barney ? (See below for reference purposes)

I personally find it quite spooky. Nearly as weird as the time I encountered the haunted face of Ted Rogers, former presenter of 3-2-1, imprinted on a cream cheese and chive Pringle at a family buffet.

Thankfully, the dog hasn't started singing falsetto or dressing in a clown like manner. Neither does he have a deluded belief that he's up there with the Beatles and the Stones in the canon of British rock greats. They are a similar height however. Did Leo Sayer really say that when he came close to death a few years ago that his management told him that they thought they were going to have to tell the people of the UK that "they'd lost their boy " ? Now I'm not sure if I've missed something here. Wasn't Sayer a bit of an embarassing 70s pop-star or was he in fact the Buckinghamshire equivalent of Gandhi ? This needs to be cleared up. Maybe he really is the queen of our hearts ? Or was that someone else. Maybe I'm thinking of Graham Norton.
I had a weird dream last night that Francis Maude, whose some kind of Tory person, was murdering a beggar in the centre of York with his bare hands. I think this might have been prophetic. Thankfully I managed to stop him by hitting him over the head with my man-bag, which was ladened down with books from the library. In fact I ended up killing him but was pardoned by the authorities as he was a Tory and it was seen as public spirited. Really I did. Not that I'm advocating the bludgeoning of Tories with fully loaded man-bags, or indeed lady-bags for that matter. Although I don't think I'd object that strongly if you just wanted to knock one of the really nasty ones around a bit. If you do give it a go please make sure you post it on YouTube so I can see.
Have a great weekend. We're off to see The Sugars tonight at the salubrious York nitespot, Fibbers. If you fancy a bit of hardcore doo-wop cabaret, check out the vid below

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Panto changed my life, oh yes it did.

Tuesday night we went along to the pantomine at the Theatre Royal in York. Being a lover of vaudeville and music hall, panto is one of the highlights of my year. I don't have many. The pantomine is a great British art form which has been sadly debased by bastard Aussie soap-stars and rubbish boxers whose names apparently put bums on seats in struggling provincial theatres. They have turned what should be a deviant bit of charivari style seasonal madness into an aneamic middle-of-the-road borefest. Here in York we have two pantos. One at our elegantly decaying "Grand" Opera House is pretty much in the latter category. This year it features Sid Little and a fat bloke who used to be in Brookside. Meanwhile at the Theatre Royal we have the absolute daddy of Pantos. Run as a benevolent dictatorship for 28 years by jobbing actor Berwick Kaler it features not a single household name, b,c,or, d-lister just a carefully nurtured repetoire of actors who know or at least learn how to do the genre justice. It's full of adlibs, surreal flights of fancy and lots of humour for the adults as well as the kids. The Guardian and The Times put it in their top three pantos in the UK, and the Independent made it their numero uno. Not bad for a little provincial theatre. People now travel from all over the place just to visit the York Theatre Royal Panto. On Tuesday night we had a New Zealander and a Fijian in the audience, and a couple of rows in front of us a French couple discussed amongst themselves what the hell they thought was going on.
This year it was Cinderella, but that is largely by-the-by. People go year on year to watch the interaction between the main players who are now a much loved part of peoples annual Christmas and New Year festivities. We went to our first one in 1995, before we lived here when we'd been staying for a few nights at a B&B in Clifton in the early New Year. We were both students at the time and passing the theatre we popped in for a coffee. One of the ladies who worked at the box office asked us if we'd be interested in a couple of standby tickets for that evenings panto. For the princely sum of just £3. We couldn't really refuse and had a fantastic evening, aided in no small part by several rum and cokes at the bar before we went in. We talked about how brilliant it had been for ages. Shortly after that I think we both decided if we could we'd come and live in York as it had a cool panto amongst it's many other attractions. Then in July of that year I rented myself a place to live, got my dad to put my computer, my clothes and my writers yearbook in the car and here I came. I think my parents thought I'd probably last about six months. A couple of months later Rachel joined me and that has been pretty much that ever since. Not going to the panto would just be plain wrong. It's like being part of a big mad cackling family for a couple of hours. If you're ever this way over Christmas and the New Year, go see it. You'll enjoy it. I promise.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Anarchists parade, faux fur and our future in Pop Tarts.

Write about what you know. That’s one of those pieces of advice you are often given when you begin to write. I grew up in a dreary backwater where nothing of interest ever happened. That’s not strictly true now I think about, there was small incident with a serial killer, but that aside, nowt happened. Ever. The weekly local paper used to feature stories about the changing of the floral displays on the High Street, or the disappearance of a shopping trolley. Occasionally there’d be some kind of collection to send a sickly child to swim with dolphins and the like. Then apocryphal stories would circulate about how the kid wasn’t really ill at all and it was all just a dreadful ruse by their money-grubbing parents. Every year we had a local carnival. This consisted of a bit of a parade by local businesses where people would dress up along a theme and travel at a snails pace on the back of lorries through town. The quality threshold of the floats was usually pretty poor. I remember one business one year just sent a huge earth moving tyre on the back of one lorry. Nothing else. Not a single human sitting alongside in novelty attire. Just a giant black bit of rubber. How our little eyes must have lit up.
Carnival meant the annual carnival princess competition where local schoolgirls sent in their photos to the local paper and the readers had to vote for a winner. The gene pool in our town was quite small. There had been little real input since the Vikings. This meant that attractive people of either sex were quite thin on the ground. Those that were good looking were deified and worshipped as primitive gods by the rest of us. The winner of the Carnival princess competition always seemed to be an aloof girl who wore too much make-up and who knew lads who had motorbikes. Not ever desiring a motorbike, we were never to be introduced. My sympathies were always with the less facially gifted entrants of which there were many. Why their parents did this to their daughters I have no idea. Being held up for public mockery in the local paper was our equivalent of the medieval stocks.
As a rebellious teenager I decided I’d try and spice the paper up a bit. I sent them a press release claiming to be from an anarchist organisation threatening to disrupt the local carnival parade with some decent, honest British mayhem. Nothing violent, just a bit of direct action.
Now I like to think that if I had been working on the paper at the time I’d have asked myself a few questions upon receiving it. Why would an anarchist organisation be interested in a parade of travel agents and primary schools for instance ? How many members can they have in our tiny uninteresting town ? But no, they took it at face value and ran the story. On the front page. Not only that they also wrote an editorial condemning this kind of thing and expressing the sincere hope that “anarchists of all types will be dispersed among the prison system.”
This to me seems a bit harsh. Maybe I’m a bed wetting liberal and all that but surely the threat of a 15 year old waving a placard at majorettes doesn’t warrant the full force of the British legal establishment does it ? This was in the days before Swampy admittedly but even so. I went to ground and tried not to look awkward when people talked about the anarchist threat. I couldn’t look a policeman in the eye. Come to think of it, I still can’t. Even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong they make me feel guilty. Teenagers should get up to more of this kind of mischief. It’s more entertaining than mindless vandalism but probably less distracting for them than casual sex and class a drugs. Speaking of which have you seen the trailers for that Skins programme on Channel 4 ? I’m looking forward to that, principally because it will annoy the “we’re all doomed brigade” something rotten. Teenagers sleeping with each other and getting off their faces ? Whatever next the invention of the wheel.
I knew nothing then and I know very little now. Therefore when I write I have to find stuff out first. So currently I’ve been doing extensive research into the proceedings of Celebrity Big Brother. I am a complete Pop Tart. I like trashy culture quite a lot. I manage to combine this with the occasional 19th century Russian novel and visit to an art gallery without my head imploding but if I’m being honest I find Girls Aloud more exciting than any classical composer you could care to mention. I know that to some people this means I’m a deplorable wreck of a creature responsible for the creation of a generation of airheads who spell the collective doom of the species but I can’t help it. Somehow or other more of the population have got more intelligent, read more books and visit more museums and galleries than ever before despite the influence of The Word and Take That in the 90s so it can’t be all bad. Actually, what happened to Euro trash ? I used to love that.
I think it’s great that you can do PhD research into pop culture. I think we need more pop culture graduates. It’s what the economy is crying out for. Mathematicians are all well and good but they’re probably not as groovy. We could employ lots of overseas graduates to do the boring stuff and we could concentrate on being attractive, knowing and wry : “Britain : We’re sexier than you” could be our national slogan. That’d really annoy the French.
I’m therefore probably not properly qualified to talk about Big Brother but I will anyway. This years collection of oddballs and non-entities have been as satisfyingly mad as usual. I think a part of me watches the programme to be reassured that actually I’m quite sane after all. Relatively speaking.
Leo Sayer started out as the bookies favourite for the main prize. I’ve always found him an odd character, even when he was an unlikely lust object for my sister when I was tiny. It’s that diminutive stature, the unlikely hair and the falsetto at inopportune moments. Things started well for Leo. I reckon he thought he had it in the bag. He entered house saying “I’m a big personality, I just light up a room”, which is the equivalent of saying “I’m the mad one” when a new housemate joins your shared student house. Over the days Leo has been slowly unravelling, his behaviour getting increasingly erratic and unpredictable. On last nights programme he was seen telling the footballer’s girlfriend whose name I can’t remember that he had contemplated making love to her coat. There are some things that are just wrong on so many levels. Sprouts for instance, alongside other unmentionables such as incest, comb-overs and Tory governments. Leo Sayer shagging a faux fur jacket is another. Thankfully he didn’t follow his lust as I dread to imagine what the dry cleaning bill would have been like.
This years twist has been introduction of 2002’s fourth place contestant in the regular programme, the not very fragrant Jade Goody. Jade has been accompanied in the house by her “problematic” mother Jackiey and trophy boyfriend Jack. The sight of a confused Jermaine Jackson trying to reason with an aggressively dysfunctional cockney lesbian is the kind of quality TV experience I think few of us would want to be without. How can people say that Big Brother is dumbing down ? Jade has turned her life around since leaving the house and has become a millionairess in the process. She claimed the other night to be the 25th most influential woman in the country yet couldn’t pronounce the word “influential”. I really wouldn’t like to predict a winner.

Damn you blogger and your evil ways

I've just written two insightful and searing posts about Celebrity Big Brother which Blogger has conspired to send into the nothing. What's happened to them I do not know. I can't be bothered to write it out again now and it's nearly two in the morning. I need to get a proper host for this blog as blogger is currently doing my head in.

36,000 words which must be half-way I reckon. My characters are acting in quite an unusual manner at present. They're very different to how I originally imagined. You give them life and then they take off and do their own thing. Bit like kids I guess.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Liberace of the northern counties

Go check out Street Pianos. Every street should have one.

Good but no cigar...

30,000 words have now been passed, I've collected £200 in Monopoly money and managed to avoid being sent to jail. This is surely a good thing. I reckon the story is shaping up for around the 70,000 mark so I'm probably not even half-way yet, but this still feels significant.
We heard from Rach's bro, my brother-in-law Nick yesterday. He spent his Christmas and New Year cycling around Cuba. He had a really great time from what I can gather until he managed to fall off his bike and fracture his wrist. This meant he got to spend quite a bit of time in a Cuban hospital. The level of treatment was pretty high by all accounts and he spent a great deal of time comparing scars and injuries with his Cuban ward-mates who were quite impressed by this daredevil Inglese. He'd promised to bring me a cigar, hand-rolled on the thigh of some attractive latino lovely, but I'm not sure if this injury has intervened on the prezzie score. Get well soon Nick.
I'd love to be able to tell you loads of interesting stuff or wow you with my insight into hot topics of the day, but I'm currently struggling to think about much more than Celebrity Big Brother and whether to have cheese on toast for dinner at the minute. Anyway, hope you're well and I may be back soon with something marginally less boring than usual.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Living with the imaginaries, tortured outsiders and Pan in the trees

I think novel writing has put me into some kind of shutdown mode. When I’m not engrossed in getting the thing written all I want to do is watch TV or read. All my thoughts keep popping back to the story and where it’s going. I’ve been talking about the characters as if they have an existence outside of my head. The book is set in York and when I pass places associated with it I start wondering what they’re up to. Is this normal ? It’s not unpleasant, just unusual for me to be so focused. I’m really liking the story for it’s own sake. All thoughts of publication seem to have been put right to the back of my mind for now. I’m sort of thinking that if I read it and enjoy it and a few friends do as well it will in itself be worthwhile doing. Whatever else happens is a bonus, to quote every band ever interviewed in the NME.
Christmas TV is meant to be pants and it pretty much has been over the past week or so. You can always find something interesting if you persist however. Saturday evening I watched Spirited Away which is the most successful Japanese film ever. It’s an Oscar winning animated adventure in which a suburban family are transported to a bizarre fantasy land after eating in the deserted restaurant of an old theme park. The central character is a little girl called Chihiro. Her sense of moral duty and innocence are transformative within the context of the strange land in which she finds herself, and in which her parents have unaccountably become a pair of pigs. It was full of Japanese oddness but totally charming and beautiful to watch. The director Hayao Miyazaki insisted that it was entirely hand drawn rather than using CGI like most of the animated hits of the past few years.
Later on Saturday night I watched The Hours. This was a poignant meditation on the nature of art, gender roles, and the challenge of reality. The film ended and begun with Nicole Kidman, almost unrecognisable, as Virginia Woolf walking into the river in which she ended her life. In the film Virginia Woolf is struggling in suburbia with her overbearing husband Leonard as she attempts to write Mrs Dalloway. This links to 1950s America where a suburban housewife is reading the completed novel as she struggles with the conventions and restrictions of her life. She has one small son and another baby on the way. The claustrophobia of her surroundings was perfectly captured in the lighting and layout of the 50s dream home in which she found herself imprisoned. Then in present day New York we are introduced to Meryl Streep as book editor Clarissa Brown. She is busy nursing a male writer friend who is dying of Aids in an crumbling, graffiti strewn apartment block. Isolated, with more than just a touch of madness the figure of the writer is that of the classic tortured artistic outsider. The tenderness of Brown towards this brilliant but difficult man is touching, and the parallels between him and Woolf are made fairly obvious. It later transpires that the boy in the 50s house, has grown into the dying adult writer. I don’t want to ruin the film for you if you intend to watch it so I won’t divulge anymore details. Needless to say it was a really poetic, beautiful and moving film which I keep finding my thoughts returning to.
New Years Eve was spent in with the promised cheapo bottles of Cava, lots of Cds, the new version of The Producers on DVD and Jools Holland. We both really enjoyed The Producers. I’d seen the original any number of times and I was a bit dubious about a need for a remake but in the end I was pleasantly surprised.
Last night I sat down and enjoyed the BBC’s new dramatisation of The Wind In The Willows. That was a book that really got me into reading in a big way and I still re-read it quite often. I’ve always been totally enchanted by the story and the characters. I’ve always had an element of Mole about me, and our house bears a startling resemblance to his hidey-hole. I thought the casting was excellent, Matt Lucas was born to be Mr Toad, and Lee Ingleby as the hesitant, innocent and decent Mole was particularly good. I got goosebumps at times whilst watching it. It took me back to my childhood and those long lazy days of summer freedom. The night boating scene was particularly special, as the river becomes a dream land. Mole and Rat spy dancing orbs of light and in the branches of a tree a Pan figure plays a haunting melody. This is the magic at the heart of things, the precious moments when you forget yourself and everything makes sense for just a split second. I think you have lots of those seconds when you’re a child, but it can be harder to spot them as an adult. My hope for 2007 is for plenty of those magical moments and for the simplicity of spirit to recognise them.