Gogol in Brexitland

Gogol stuck in the UK of 2018 would feel perfectly at home – A prime Minister masquerading a s Nose. David Davis’ Brexit negotiation diary that of a madman with no interest in connecting to what looks increasingly like reality. There is something very mid-nineteenth century Russian about the whole set up. Nothing adds up. 52% of people deluded on the grandest of scales behave as if nothing is the matter. As a Civil Cold War in the country starts to look long term 317 divided Tory MP’s start to get herded into a smaller and smaller space until the only thing left for them to do is to apply leeches to Liam Fox’s nose and pour cold water over his head. Funny though this is, and let’s hope it gets a lot funnier, the down side to this nose dive is that it affects me.   Here on my Catalan estates I am having to think about if I ‘m going to get treated like a Canadian. I suppose I could resort to a Franz Liszt Triangular tour – Girona, Perpignan, Switzerland or some such. Anyway, I do have a plan even though I am still hoping that the beneficial positive common-sense solution for the country of staying right where it is might reluctantly and as a last resort be taken. But I bet I can rely on the present excuse for a conservative government not doing that, otherwise what is it for?

Critical Faculties

Interested in classical music as I am and long since someone who is interested in what the narrow mainstream overlooks, I have found but also returned to a number of works over the last year. Havergal Brian Symphony No 3, Cipriani Potter the symphonies between 1819 and 1834 and the Anton Rubinstein Quartets No 1 and 2 both part of the Op 17 set. These works are truly a case of there being as the composer Robert Simpson said, ‘no good critics.’ Let me qualify that. Any critic who isn’t a creative artist naturally has no idea how things are created by artists. What they do is more academic cross-referencing than criticism. To an extent these people can tell you what has happened but have little or no idea about what is happening now. When it comes to now they confuse their own prejudice with insight and as a result Art History of all kinds has suffered from the long tradition of prejudiced critics deciding what is and isn’t good. Understand I am not criticising these people I am just describing them.  As well as the general damage done it is interesting how much better say a composer like Brahms would have become if he hadn’t had the support of the nineteenth century Viennese critics. Having said there are no good critics there is the great Jonathan Meades who has created his own art form for delivering cultural ideas and to a lesser extent there was the late Robert Hughes, again at his best a generator of ideas, though always a lot better talking about things he liked rather than what he didn’t. Then there is Freud, who didn’t write much about culture but did write ‘Civilization and its Discontents’ and the line, ’there are no differences except cultural differences,’ is worth the entry fee alone.  And finally we have Shelly ‘In Defence of Poetry,’ the essential short read about what culture is and does.

Snow In the South of France

Trapped by snow in the South of France is the more accurate title but I wanted to save time, which I haven’t done because I felt the need to explain it further. What happened was we chose the one day of the year in a fifty-year period when having a meeting in Nimes, a fifty-minute car journey from Montpellier, would result in a life or death struggle on the return journey. Now making lots of money as I am in the international recruitment game, does not make taking seven and a half hours getting back to Montpelier okay. We were fortunate, at least we got off the A9 and into Montpellier, unlike the 4000 people who got stuck on the motorway. In Montpellier there was no way of getting any further, and with the hotel foyers looking like a bad day in Syria by the amount of people who were stuck in a biblical scene with no room at the inn, we settled down to inside the car for the night. Fortunately, the Pompiers were doing a good job, unlike the Gendarmerie who keystone Cop like simply got in people’s way, and so we were swept up and into the Red Cross Refugee Centre in the old Zenith Concert venue.  Hot chocolate, sleeping bag, heating and camp bed now provided, we made it through to an already thawing morning, when we managed without shovels to kick the snow away with our suede shoes and get back on the road, making it back to Saint Paul et Valmalle within the hour, because 30 kilometres an hour though it was, there was no traffic on the roads to make the route its usual traffic jam hell. Parking the car up in still drift bound Saint Paul we walked five-minutes through foot deep white stuff back to square one. A day in the life now completed. It is an experience had that has no need to be repeated because I’ve done it once.

How to do it.

Every four months I will write an update of where I am with the writing, a view of things with the scaffolding still up so to speak. I usually work on three or four things at the same time, moving from one to the other rather than keeping to one thing and seeing it through. This is how I work, not a recommendation about how other people should. The most difficult thing at present is a short story called Excoffon. Four pages which will be able to be read in any order giving 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 possible sequences, twenty four possible ways of ordering the pages. All orders will give a version joined up in the way Excoffon letters can all be joined up with each other whatever the sequence of letters is, or not as the case may be. It is a one off, but I wanted to try something different. The other two works I have on the go are plays that have been around sometime, but only now are they taking what looks like their proper shape. Symphonic Poem about Liszt inventing the Symphonic Poem in Weimar in the 1850s and the National Day, a play set at a house party in Brixton on September 11 2016, which is Catalan National Day. I think all my plays are best read rather than performed, but that is only because no one wants to perform them.

The Persistence of our Pasts

In the pre-recording past everything was always up to date. Only in the 18th Century did a sense for the not so distant past appear. Stories like King Arthur being something altogether different, more mythical than historical. The past of antiquity had been important since the Renaissance and had opened up possibilities outside of the restraints of the now. The idea that we were made up of invisible elements called atoms, produced as one of several scenarios started to be backed up by a few observations which made it more plausible than most of the other options on offer. Heraclitus – Epicurus – Lucretius, ‘On the Nature of Things,’ made the biblical into the imprisoned present rather than a story-tale past. But why am I going on like this? Well, Facebook and alumni organizations are starting to take the biscuit. To avoid being annoyed by people from 1979 you never rated in the first place, these networks really need a funnel/filtre of present interests shared, rather than just past places existed in. Before they are even allowed to ask to connect they should have to give serious reasons for continuing a camaraderie that never existed.

Tempo, tempo

I have come across many people who call themselves writers but who if they were being honest with themselves probably aren’t. I think of the Peter Cook joke. who when someone told him they were writing a novel, said ‘Yes, neither am I.’ Now, there are as many ways of writing fiction as there are writers of fiction, (and in this case, I am talking about writing fiction, rather than writing a history of the Yorkshire and Lancashire railway or a book about how to collect string.) But to me the acid test of whether you are a writer or not is when you get the feeling if you haven’t written anything that day something is wrong. This ignores those writers who write in block like the playwright Alan Ayckbourne. He prepares for months, but writes the play in two or three weeks, so destroying the writing daily is important theory. However, though a writer might not be putting anything down on paper they must be thinking about it, or if the aren’t thinking about it, something must be gestating, Well I’m sure you get the picture.

I’m a 250 words a day man, though I have written as much as 600.  I have a minimum of 100 a day, which I’ve never not easily reached. It’s important to set a limit that isn’t intimidating, or else disgruntlement can set in. 500 words a day would be too much for me and if I did meet 500 a day, day after day. It simply wouldn’t be as good. Good as what? Well as good as I wanted it to be. I have a certain tempo that absorbs and then expresses, and your tempo. if you are a writer or are going to start writing is different. With me at  250 words a day, the sentences are put down fairly easily though not without some struggle.

Writing a Film Script

Using the maxim, if you want to make something real, start doing it, I am now making a film.  I don’t know how to make a film, but fortunately it seems to be a collaborative process. As Terry Gilliam said to a young Quentin Tarantino when he was mentoring him at the Sundance Festival – you don’t need to know how to make the film.  All you need is the vision and be able to communicate it to other people. You then find those people with the skills who can make it for you.

I’ve got my cinematographer. The next person would be an editor, and I’ll need someone for sound too, but I’ve written the script, or at least talking it through with Pep I’ve come up with a second version of the script. Naturally I’ll direct. ‘Action – Cut. One of the two!’ Pith helmet, megaphone. ‘What are those people doing with 1930’s haircuts? I’m trying to film history here.’ With music I’d like a full symphonic score, but have decided to drop recorded music in where it’s needed in the film using needlepoint – the first inside the business word I’ve started to use now I understand what it means.

Funding, well everything costs something, but I have a budget in mind that if we keep everything as simple as possible for creating something wonderful we should be able to keep within.  On my learning curve I’ve come across a useful piece of advice to bear in mind while making this masterpiece, ‘We all think we’re going to create Citizen Caine, and we all end up with something else.’

Do it Yourself

When it comes to publishing your own writing. Do it yourself! Of course, the question of marketing doesn’t go away, but you can learn to do that incrementally in your own time. Or find someone and pay someone to do that for you if it’s not your thing.

In publishing, it’s self- publishing on Amazon- Kindle that’s the way for all new writers, rather than a publishing house agent mechanism that was failing, and arguably has failed in its duty to new writing. Self- publishing successes can still enter the world of book industry publishers, if only to farm out the work-load, but it’s the writer who has the power not the publisher, and takes a bigger cut of the profits to prove it.

Anyway the pejorative terms of dinosaur publishers about people doing it themselves have disappeared, which is a good thing. Though it’s easy to notice a so called ‘proper’ publisher by how they charge the same for an electronic version of the book as for a paperback, except of course they have no printing costs for an electronic version.

And let me assure you when you buy my books 70% of the money comes to me, so start buying them!

Writing Comedy

I have been writing comedy lately, trying to be funny and as usual failing. A page that is supposed to fill up with funny things is the blankest sheet of paper a writer ever looks at because there is only one way out for the sentences and that is to be funny. With other kinds of writing you can describe the powder blue suit, or else like an elephant trying to pick up a pea, get involved in the emotions. But with comedy it’s a very simple litmus test – is it acid or alkaline?

To me writer’s block is the wrong expression for a failure to perform, because if I look myself straight in the eyes, something I try not to do too often, writing is, and apologies to more human factors, the thing I like doing best, something I never delay in getting down to. But it’s with comedy that nothing happens on the page for the longest, until the connections somehow get together into an order that conveys roughly what is meant, if anything is meant. And often after an hour or so, rather than 200 words of something that looks kind of Okay in a first draught kind of way, you are left with one single scrawny thing you have managed to get down surrounded by lots of white space.

There are two people on the top deck of a bus. First person: I went to see Wagner’s Ring. Second Person: Restricted 18 certificate was it?

Why are the Simpsons yellow?

The seventh anniversary of the day my Mum died has passed by. Parents when they die are still around with you until the day you die, and it’s good to have them still around. You don’t need an audience to die and she managed to do it when my dad was in Bridlington having a very short break from taking care of her. Such is life and death. As you get older, and I have now started to consider myself as older, you have the privilege or handicap of being surrounded by more and more dead people. But as studies on old people have shown it is important to get them involved in the present rather than just living in the past. Five-year old’s are concerned with what five-year old’s are concerned with, and have the direct action that comes from little experience. Such attitudes are a good tonic for eighty-five-year old’s who are nailed to the floor. The directness of Dogs is good for this too. The only thing that matters to them is thinking it’s great now. If we older guys see this it seems we remember the past positively without needing the protective goggles. On July 20, 2010 my Mum, ignoring health and safety, made the break, and so on that day I get the photograph album out and think about those questions that were important, such as why are the Simpsons yellow? Then there are the people on Television she disliked – Basil Fawlty, Johnny Morris (and the animal magic signature tune which I used to turn the volume up for so she could hear it better), Kenneth Williams, and Gloria Hunniford, which is understandable. Also, her insistence, before I’d got into double figures on supporting Lancashire in the Roses Cricket Match because she was born in Morecambe, which is always a tricky one to spell.