Sunday, 28 May 2017

Keep On Keeping On

Last week Twitter informed me that David Baddiel's current London show is to tour the UK next year. This makes me very happy. Back in October, compelled by the outpouring of celebrity tweets about its excellence, I booked a ticket for the matinee of it's last day of the run. I knew I just HAD to see it before it ended. I did the four-hour round trip to watch the penultimate performance of My Family: Not the Sitcom, at the Vaudeville Theatre, London. It felt like I'd be letting Nigella down if I didn't. The peer pressure from the celebrity endorsements was too much to stand.

So on the one hand, I feel quite the fool that the end of that run was followed up with another one in a different theatre, then following that, a nationwide tour. But on the other, I'm so chuffed it's continuing. I really want someone I know in real life to have watched it. I want to talk about how brilliant it is. I want to remember the hand-over-mouth, shockingly honest, utterly hilarious and beautifully respectful homage to his parents that it is.

Baddiel sets out a series of implied ground rules at the start. Far more cleverly than I am paraphrasing here, he explains that he feels he can talk about his recently-deceased Mum's life on stage because he is her son. In her absence, he is the caretaker of her memories. He then outlines the life of his Mum in such vivid colour, he gives us all permission to share those memories and laugh with him. It's what she would have wanted. She was larger than life. She is not to be remembered in hushed tones. She would have hated that. Again, I am paraphrasing - I saw this show over six months ago. These are the ideas I am left with. These are the insights I took away with me. To truly honour those that die, it's essential to remember them as real and not sanitised. It's OK to laugh. 

Last Monday, a city down the road was bereaved by a bomb at a crowded concert. Stewart Lee began his four-night run at the Lowry Theatre the following night, 3.4 miles away from the MEN arena. I had a ticket for the fourth night. I wasn't sure what to expect. Was it going to be cancelled? Would Stewart Lee need to change his act? Would the theatre be empty? Was it going to be OK?

The Lowry Theatre in the sun. 25.5.17
The show wasn't cancelled. The sold out auditorium was full. A few minutes before it began, Lee came on stage. Being Stewart Lee instead of 'Stewart Lee' he explained that the Lowry had talked to the police, upped security and agreed that the show must go on. This elicited a big cheer. The audience were onside. He then, rather sweetly and quite genuinely, thanked everyone for coming out in the face of adversity. Then he thanked the volunteer staff for enabling it all to happen. I guess he could have been worried people would feel scared to congregate in large leisure spaces. Or maybe he thought people would think it was disrespectful to be laughing and enjoying themselves so soon after neighbours and friends experienced terrible loss. I suppose he too must have wondered if he'd be playing to an empty house. (Clearly no one in the audience had felt that terrorism was going to stop them having a top night of comedy when they'd had the date in their diary for a year.) He thanked everyone again and then went off stage. When he returned, the show began and he was 'Stewart Lee'. Being brilliant, being angry, being ridiculously clever, and most importantly causing me to laugh hysterically for two hours without stopping. Oh how needed that was.

Salford Quays by night.
From the carpark.
When I got home I tweeted my thanks to the Lowry for staying open. I also read this that added a bit more insight. It must have been a tough decision both practically and emotionally but it felt right. When routines stop, when people hide in fear, when lives are not lived to the full, it disrespects those no longer here. And that would be wrong. 

Have a lovely week, folks. 

Monday, 22 May 2017

Gym or Gin?

It's that time again, folks. Not Chico, not Hammer, not 'Of the Month' but far more excitingly, Blog Time!

Hard at work. Or am I?
Now that I am knee deep in all the messy creative juices once more, I am working full whack at the laptop every day. This looks very industrious. The reality is that it can be quite patchy. Some days I am tippy-tappy-typing all the day is long, and others I am forcing out a word or two between the Guardian crossword and a continual scroll of Twitter. (I also find The Pool a very informative way to distract me.)

In order to stay on track and manage all those pesky creative juices (let me know when that metaphor gets too icky) I have a weekly writing target. The new book takes the form of a dairy, so I aim to write at least ten days worth of entries each week. If I stick to that, draft one is done by Christmas. It's not an onerous amount of writing but rather it's the thinking and self-doubt that take up the time. Regardless, whether I write continually and create a constant stream of literary magic or whether I stumble around and force out crap more laboriously, the fact remains - I am mostly sitting down, mostly staring at a screen, from getting up in the morning to cooking my tea at night.

Aches and a hunched back require daily and immediate attention. What I should be doing once I'm done for the day, is going for a run or hitting the gym. That would be an ideal answer to straightening out my spine and blowing away the proverbial cobwebs. But as anyone who has met me will know, that would be ridiculous. It would be ludicrous. It would be as if.

Mmm. Taste the relaxation.
Taste the pint of gin!
So instead I have other means at my disposal to unwind quickly come evening. First off, gin! Yes, a large gin and slimline tonic is ideal. It is kind of healthy (as in not so very fattening) and it's refreshing and lovely. And one (very large) drink is enough to ease the transition from work to leisure. No, don't thank me. That tip's yours to keep.

The other way to unwind that happens most week nights is of course, the telly. Yep, the relatively recent phenomenon of binge-watching a new release is the perfect antidote to tense typing for the preceding hours. And so to my new favourite programme. Schitt's Creek.

It's a comedy - a laugh out loud one - written by Dan Levy. The set up is simple - a monied socialite family lose their cash and have to relocate to a tiny rural town with fish-out-of-water/culture-clash situations that result. Think the Kardashians landing in Cabot Cove. Admit it, that would be a hell of a show.  

But back to Schitt's Creek - it is marvellous. All three seasons are on Netflix UK, and at thirteen episodes a season with each one lasting 21 minutes, it is surprisingly easy to finish in a few days. Which is what I did. Then I went back to the beginning and watched again.

But here's the thing. I don't know anybody else that watches it. I only heard of it because Dan Levy was interviewed on What's the Tee - RuPaul and Michelle Visage's podcast. It's the funniest thing I've seen in ages and I have no one to talk to about it. A travesty! 

So now I've spread the word, watch it. You won't be sorry. And in addition, I am happy to pass on that the second season of Master of None (also Netflix UK) is as clever and endearing as the first, and at the time of typing, season three of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is being 'dropped' today! Woo - say it with me - hooooo.

In the meantime, I'll crack on with the writing and work my way through all the excellent unwindy TV on offer. And the gin. I'll work my way through the gin. Natch.

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 15 May 2017

That Tricky Second Album...

It’s update time!
Two weeks ago, I started writing my next book.

That’s kind of misleading. Two weeks ago, I returned to the book I started two years ago. A book I started before I spent a year of my life writing bad pitches to agents and then another year learning how to turn my first book's Word Doc into a paper-backed beauty.

A paper-backed beauty, but not mine. 
It's The Vinyl Detective Written in Dead Wax 
by Andrew Cartmel. My current read.
It’s been such a long time since I sat down to write fictional sentences, it’s taken a while to get back into the swing. I think I’m on track now.

What has been especially useful is that two years ago I did all the groundwork. I worked out the genre, (a pre-teen novel) the format it would take, (a diary) and the plot and characters, (a ten year old girl dealing with family stresses, school frustrations and the angst of growing up). Basically I’m trying to be the love child of Judy Blume and Sue Townsend. (And what a life that would be. Can you even imagine!)

Yep, I am currently imagining Diana Rigg,
Robin Williams and the lad from Stand by Me.
Amongst others.
I made a planning notebook, just as I did with Carry the Beautiful, where I stuck pictures of real people that look like the characters I was imagining. I had a plot spread out from beginning to middle to end, and I’d written the first quarter.

Picking up where I left off has been tricky. So far, I’ve written the next 2000 words and reacquainted myself with the previous 15000. If I stick to my schedule, I’ll have the first draft finished for Christmas. Hopefully sooner.

This will be a pretty big diversion from my usual writing. If I was trying to pitch it to people, I’d probably not bother. But now I know how easy the indie-publishing process ultimately is - my inner voice is shouting WTF? at me and then laughing hysterically - I want to crack on and get it out there. Then I can get back to grown up novels once again.

My attention to detail has even stretched
to sketching out a map of where the main
character lives.
In all seriousness, Book Number Two - a snappy working title, don't cha think - will be so much easier when it comes to it. I have ISBN numbers ready and waiting, I have accounts set up with a Print on Demand company (Ingram Spark) as well as an ebook company (Kindle Direct Publishing). I know the process, I have learnt from previous mistakes (you can NEVER proof read enough) and I am excited about having a new title to my name. It's just a case of getting on with it now.

So this update is short and sweet because I have to get back to it. I am back in a writing frenzy and it's intense. Except it's not really. It's all highly enjoyable and is the best part of the whole process. But enough ramblings for now. I have keys to tap!

Have a lovely week, folks.

Monday, 8 May 2017

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Brace yourselves folks. The time has come. Can you sense my uncontrollable giddiness from your screen? Is it palpable? Let's all take a few deep breaths and gather ourselves. Ready? Let's do this.

We are now in the run up to my favourite night of the year. Can you guess what it is yet? (I'm not sure that phrase is even acceptable anymore.) Christmas Eve comes a close second. My birthday holds a respectable third place. But the moveable feast that will be on 13th May this year, is nearly upon us. 
Obviously, I am talking about Eurovision. 🎶🎉

It's an actual hamster wheel. 
What more do you want?
There's something eternally joyous about the Eurovision Song Contest. It's feel-good! It's silly! It's a massive global event! But it's also not without controversy and has an impressively progressive underlying ethos. Its origins were in healing rifts in post-war Europe and today it continues to be as rooted in politics as ever. Yet what was once an evening of cultural representation from diverse nations has developed into a spectacular event. A powerhouse of special effects, jaw dropping staging and often excellent music. Of course there are still some entries that aim for comedic or novelty value rather than delivering a downloadable tune, but not as often as used to be the case. Every year my Eurovision playlist swells, as truly decent songs get added after I’ve seen them perform on the night.

The winner of 2015 - Måns Zelmerlöw and graphic friends.
Not only has the ESC changed over time, but my experience of watching it has too. Child-Me would use an empty notebook to score each country’s entry. Teen-Me would be uber-organised and record the names of the countries along with their writer, performer and conductor, before scoring them. (Back then, each country brought their own conductor - my favourite was Rolf Løvland from Norway, who in addition to waving a baton in 1992, composed songs that won in 1985 and 1995. No, don't thank me, you're welcome.) In Adult-Me times, the BBC helpfully provided printable score cards, saving me days of hassle in the build up. And it had started to become hassle. Making score cards, quizzes, sweeps (and one year, personalised badges) had become a right old ball ache. ESC night was always a family get together, but as my siblings got older, most of them sloped off with indifference - it appeared their love of the evening had only ever extended to the themed buffet. I stopped putting in the effort and concentrated on my own enjoyment. (Wise words for a multitude of situations.) 

These days I find the optimum thrill of the evening can be found on Twitter. Twitter is a hotbed of ESC action on the night. I live tweet through the whole thing and find genuine pleasure in connecting with like-minded individuals from all over the place. It is hilarious, subversive and truly a global event.

May 10th 2014. I was there!
And so to this year. This year is going to be a bit of a challenge. My sister has chosen Eurovision night to have her family birthday gathering. It’s going to be tricky. On the one hand, it’s the nearest Saturday to her birthday and she is entitled to commandeer the weekend. On the other, I am going to be glued to the TV from 8pm onwards and feeling a deep frustration that I will have to partake in conversation with the people around me, rather than set myself up behind the Mission Control of my laptop (for Facebook/iMessages from people I know saying ‘Happy Eurovision’) and my phone (for Twitter with people I don’t know but am sharing the evening with.) It will be a finely balanced line I tread, trying not to be the most anti-social person there, whilst still soaking up all the atmosphere of the best night on the calendar.
Loreen, who won in 2012. I got my second wind 
at my youngest sister's hen do when I put 
Euphoria on the silent disco.

Finally, a word about the UK’s entry. I get annoyed when people slag off Eurovision because ‘no one votes for us’ or because ‘we’re never going to win anyway’ or ‘it’s all political so there’s no point’. It’s always been political, it’s just that the UK used to benefit from that, and now it doesn’t. So stop being a bad loser and get over it. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind about the link between the 2003 invasion of Iraq by UK forces, and our plummeting down the leader board to last place and nul points that same year. (Yes, I know the song was dodge, but it really was an epic fall from our previous grace.) This year we have Brexit to deal with. I imagine Europe as a rule won’t care two jots about giving us votes, regardless of our efforts.

Our entry, Never Give Up on You, however, is not half bad. Sure, it has no key change - I despair of this every year - but having heard it a few times now, I have really grown to like it. It will get added to the playlist, put it that way. Lucie Jones (who was an amazing Maureen in Rent this year) will no doubt give it her all. I can’t see it will make a difference to the voting, but we can hold our heads high knowing it's not a bad job, regardless of the politics.

I've dusted off my merch in readiness.
In the meantime, Tuesday 9th and Thursday 11th of May are the semi-finals nights. I will treat them like the real thing, just in case people chat too much on Saturday. I don’t want to have to shush anyone at a birthday party.

Happy Eurovision week, everyone. Let’s have a belter.