2008 has been a good year. There’s not much to crow about in
terms of public ‘achievements’, but I'm ending the year feeling happy
I finished at Sigmer in January then took a month off in Blackpool
before starting an EJB contract in Coventry. Living in Coventry was
good: I needed a break from Brighton and, due to the cheaper
property, I lived in a fantastic two bedroom flat for the price of a
studio in Brighton. I didn’t know anyone in the town when I
arrived and kept myself to myself. I watched a metric shitload of
movies, decluttered my life, and got fit.
One attraction of a contract was that I could save up and take a
substantial break at the end of the year. I returned to Brighton at
the start of September and have been on sabbatical since then. Being
able to take so much time off is a luxury I greatly appreciate. I’ve
had the space to work out who I really am and what matters to me.
As far as writing goes, I’ve been working hard without much to
show for it. I've only had one story published this year, despite
having a massive stockpile of finished stories – I've been very slack
in sending work out. However, I've done some live performances
at Short Fuse, Sparks, Tight Lip and had a story read at Liar's
League. I also finished a draft of the clown novel (which I may revisit in
2009) and have embarked on an exciting long project.
After taking up running at the end of 2007 I've continued through
2008. Checking my running diary I’ve run 392 miles (which doesn’t
actually sound that much). I’ve entered several races: the Breedon
Run in June, the Morecombe Half-Marathon, the Brooks Brighton 10K,
the Santa Dash and the Diseworth Run on Boxing Day. The Diseworth
run was lovely, as I was 30 seconds faster this year and placed 15th.
2008 was a year of lying fallow, which is how I'd planned it.
I'm feeling healthier and happier than I've ever felt. I’m very
excited about 2009.
I was very nervous before last night's Tight Lip reading but in the event it went well. It's far harder to read serious stories than it is to read funny ones. With a funny story (assuming it is actually funny) you can tell the audience is engaged. Serious stories can feel like reading into a void. People I spoke to afterwards seemed enthusiastic and I was glad not to have settled for something jokey. It's given me the confidence to think about reading more serious pieces in 2009.
I enjoyed Heli Clarke's reading, and had a very interesting discussion with her afterwards about improvisation in reading. Her approach to reading in public is very different to mine and has given me lots to think about.
It was very exciting to see Lee Rourke. He read a piece from his book Everyday, The Fat Slubberdegullion (online here), as well as a new piece that is scheduled to be published in Ambit next year. The Fat Slubberdegullion was a very funny satire on office life, and worked well as a spoken piece.
I had a fantastic night – thanks to Jay and Sam for the invitation to read. The next Tight Lip is at the Latest Music Bar on January 9th and features a discussion with Nina Antonia, author of a recent Johnny Thunders biography.
I've spent most of this week being ill. I had hoped to finish a new story to read at Tight Lip, 'The Wood and the Trees', about books, playing in forests and moving house. Sadly, after losing a couple of days, I've put that one aside. I will return to it, but that might be some time in the future.
Instead of the brand new story I've been finishing another story that I wrote a while ago. I've not read this one in public before, but the two people I've tested it out on really liked it. It's a more serious piece than I normally read but I think it will work at Tight Lip. I'm going work at it some more today, mostly removing words to make it flow better. Also, at Rosy's suggestion, I've added the word 'rollicking' and corrected my misuse of the word 'less'.
There was a a half page interview in yesterday's Argus with tonight's headliner, Lee Rourke (online here). I've been reading some of the stories from his book and am looking forward to hearing him read. It should be a good night. Entry is £4 on the door, at Brighton's Permanent Gallery, 20 Bedford Place, from 7:45pm.
The weather at last year’s Santa Dash was poor, but this year it was significantly worse. The strong wind on the return portion made it very hard work. I’m significantly fitter than I was for last year’s race but, to give you an idea how tough running into the wind was, I was 1¼ minutes slower than in 2007. In the last kilometer or so I came very close to giving up and walking. But I didn’t.
Still, it’s the only opportunity I get to dress up as Santa Claus and run about; it’s fun to see that many bedraggled people in costumes; and there’s the one great satisfaction of a race like this: nothing I do in the next week is likely to be as tough. I’m definitely going to be there for the 2009 dash.
The poster for the next Tight Lip has appeared on Sam Collin's flickr account. I'm going to be reading with Lee Rourke and Heli Clarke, with music from Birdengine. I'll be putting the finishing touches to my story over the weekend. There's still some more to do, but it's going to be about moving house, buying books in Borders and getting lost in forests. The night starts at 7:45om, entry £4 and should be very interesting.
I'm currently working on a story to read at Tight Lip on the 19th. As background I flicked through Pierre Bayard's fantastic text How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. It's as good as I remember, and this time I decided to follow-up one its references, Shakespeare in the Bush. This essay describes Laura Bohannan's disastrous attempt to tell the story of Hamlet to a tribe she was studying.
Bohannon starts out convinced that human nature is similar enough around the world that the great tragedies should be possible for anyone to follow. This doesn't turn out to be the case:
"The old man made soothing noises and himself poured me some more beer.
"You tell the story well, and we are listening. But it is clear that
the elders of your country have never told you what the story really
means. No, don't interrupt! We believe you when you say your marriage
customs are different, or your clothes and weapons. but people are the
same everywhere; therefore, there are always witches and it is we, the
elders, who know how witches work."
The essay, with it's improvised retelling of Hamlet, is very funny while raising some fascinating questions.
Last night was the second Sparks night at Brighton's 3 and 10. Brighton has a good range of literary nights, and both Sparks and Short Fuse feel like short anthologies. Last night's stories were an interesting range. They started with my story about a ventriloquist's funeral, 'A Bad Place to Stick Your Hand', and ended with Vanessa Gebbie's polemic about World War 1; in between were stories about gym trial memberships, ice-cubes of rainwater, school reunions and gold-fish. It was a fascinating mix.
What makes Sparks unique is that each story is illustrated by a specially-commissioned photograph. The image below is the one provided by John Biggs to illustrate my story – thanks, John.
After the stories everyone milled around in the bar – it was one of the
friendliest night's I've been to. Thanks to Jo for organising
everything. I'm looking forward to the next one.
PS – Sparks now has a new blog.
After eliminating several thousand lines of notes I'm now sorting out my almost-finished and barely-started short stories. A week or so back I had about 70 fragments and I've been working through these, either finishing or deleting them. So far I've eliminated about 15 stories but I've also turned up some lovely pieces. Some of these fragments are over 5 years old and the need to make decisions has forced me to rethink them.
One of the downsides of cheap electronic storage is that everything can be kept rather than what is most useful. Over time this can become overwhelming. Any idea that's truly good will be memorable whether or not it's stored on a disk.
In between this, I've been practising reading 'A Bad Place to Stick Your Hand' in preparation for tonight's performance at Sparks. I'm very excited to see how this works out, and can't wait to see the photograph that's been commissioned to illustrate the story.