29 February 2012

Remaining a Writer's Silver Anniversary

This is my twenty-fifth post on Remaining a Writer, and therefore, in a somewhat desperate sort of a way, it marks the silver anniversary of the blog.

A Remaining-a-Writer reader enjoying my short story about worms in The Failed Anthology.
The most popular posts here on RAW are:

1. Writing in Cafés: Five Places to Write in Edinburgh

In this post I list five places you might like molesting Moleskines in. It's not the deepest of posts I've ever written, but that just goes to show that it's the title of the post that gets people to click on the link rather than what's on the other side.

Features: a picture of a rabbit using a laptop and a passing reference to the evils of Scottish history.

2. Should Creative Writing Degrees Exist?

Here I argued that creative writing shouldn't be taught in universities, and that if you insist on doing so, you really shouldn't be handing out degrees in it.

Features: a comment from an American friend revealing that in the US they have a better system for teaching creative writing than we do in the UK, and a picture of Marilyn Monroe draped over a piano.

3. Youthful Novels: Six Crossed Wands Introduction

For an event at the West Port Book Festival I dug out a novel I wrote when I was eleven. I say "novel". What I mean is "the first few chapters of a first draft of a novel", but this distinction would have been disheartening to my 11-year-old self. In any case, I transcribed the first chapter for this blog.
Features: a lengthy aside about variant spellings in Welsh, leeks, and the word "seeyasoonedly".

I have learnt a lot over the fast five months. In fact, a lot has changed in my life in general.

1. I have become employed

Over Christmas, I worked in a huge chain bookstore as a shop-floor elf forwardslash Bible-gimp. I was working six days a week, and as I discussed a bit on here, I didn't manage to write very much in what remained of my spare time. NaNoWriMo was a bit of a NaShoStoWriMo, to risk making no sense.

Having discovered the delights of having money, I've taken a job as newsdesk editor for Broadway World, which is a humongous theatre website based in New York. I work for four hours a day, but it remains to be seen whether I will actually make something of my time off. This is the remaining a writer of the blog's title, of course, because the challenge isn't writing in the first instance, but keeping on writing for the rest of one's life.

2. I actually wrote some stuff

I finished drafts of a short story about octopuses and a short film about a young magician. There's a cauldron-full of bits and pieces as always, not least of all the 14000 words of my NaNoWriMo novel and a detailed episode plan for a three-part television series based on pre-Greek mythology starring Hugh Grant.

3. I learnt that people dislike footnotes

I follow this really awesome blog about medieval manuscripts (yes, I am that person) called Got Medieval. One of the many awesome things about it is its abundance of footnotes.

In my naivety, I thought it would be a good idea for me to also use footnotes in my blog. But, no! Every single person I have discussed my blog with has said that the footnotes irritate them.

Well, consider them gone from now on...

But what of the future?

For upcoming posts I have planned:
  1. A post about the demise of the sermon as a literary form.
  2. An analytical commentary of Fawlty Towers.
  3. A bitch about medieval joke books, or "codexes" as medievalists like to call them.
  4. The delights and pitfalls of on-the-nose plotting in Battlestar Galactica.
  5. A reduction of the style of P.G. Wodehouse into seven easy-to-follow rules. (Possibly titled "P.G. Tips".)
  6. The history of the Failed Novelists Society.
  7. A review of Three Uses of The Knife by David Mamet. (I hate this book with an extraordinary passion.)
It is quite possible that none of these will get written, so don't get excited, but do let me know if there is an idea in there I should rush to the top of the queue. Or indeed if there is an idea in your head that I should rush to the top of the queue.

22 February 2012

Gay AND European: The Legacy of Legally Blonde The Musical

Now that the West-End production of Legally Blonde the Musical is due to close in April, it is time to reflect on what it’s legacy for the future might be. Is Legally Blonde just a frivolous waste of time, or is there more to the Bend and Snap technique than meets the eye? Clue: the latter. 
Legally Blonde is a musical about image, both the image we projects to the outside world and the way we use images of others to construct our own, despite the fact that we know these images are false. To put that in buzzword terms, it is a musical that conducts post-colonial analysis on itself.
Read the full article here: http://www.oxonianreview.org/wp/gay-and-european/

15 February 2012

Reading A Poem A Day

I wanted to dedicate a post to my mum's blog, Poems for a Year and Forever. It's only one of a veritable battalion of blogs that she runs, the most active of which is the Stephanie Green Blog of Poetry, Jazz and Dance, which you should also be reading, but I won't make a point of it.

The basic concept of Poems for a Year and Forever is that Ms Green posts a poem a day. The criteron for selection is that they "electify", which seems to me like a pretty good way to define good poetry.

It all began because I know so very little of poetry. At the age of 21 I was intimately familiar with the works of Carol Anne Duffy, Liz Lochhead, Jo Shappcott, Penelope Shuttle and Dorothy Parker, but that was pretty much it. Quite why my university years were dominated by contemporary(ish) female poets I don't know.

Quite happy in my relative ignorance, I was struck by a strange and unquenchable desire to work in the Scottish Poetry Library. The date is November, 2011:
Me: I love poetry!
Mum: Do you now?
Me: Totes! Poetry is the nectar that runneth through my veins etc.
Mum: Who wrote about the plums that were in the icebox?
Me: *tumbleweed*
Mum: You have much to learn, young one. Fear not, for I shall provide.
And so Poems For a Year and Forever was born!

So, go and follow http://poemsforayearandforever.blogspot.com/. Whether you are as ignorant as I am or think you might enjoy smugly knowing all of the poems as they come up there will be something there for you.

PS: It was William Carlos Williams, not E.E. Cummings as many seen to think.

8 February 2012

Traverse Reading Resolutions

Alan Wilkins has asked each of us in the Traverse Young Writers' Group to write a list of ten plays we resolve to read or watch this year. The plays should be classics that we've never quite got around to seeing.

As I've discussed on this blog before, it's actually quite easy for very famous plays to bypass one completely unless you go out of your way to obtain copies of the script. In summary, I'm a stingy old fish and only go to plays that I'm reviewing.

Although I have chosen ten plays, I only have interesting things to say about five of them, so here is the incomplete list:

1) Look Back in Anger by John Osbourne

Kenneth Tynan's review of Look Back in Anger is a bit of an icon in the history of theatrical reviewing, and I'm often to be found discussing it drunkenly with theatre reviewers in seedy bars.

The wonderful SJC produced it at the Fringe last year, but I was warned not to attend because of a market of fleas that had spread into the auditorium. (Blame was placed on a stuffed boar head used by another production sharing the space.) Being a creature of soft skin, I ended up passing on perfectly good opportunity to watch LBA. :-(

So you see between the Tynan review and knowing people who have been in it, I feel like I know a lot about this play except what actually happens in it.

2) Cockroach by Sam Holcroft

This was the first production of the National Theatre of Scotland and the debut of Holcroft, who I gather is an alumni of the Traverse Young Writers. We read the opening during a workshop with the new literary director of the NTS, and I was sufficiently grabbed to want to finish it. Rather fittingly, the purpose of the exercise was to study what makes a gripping opening.

3) What's Wrong with Angry? by Patrick Wilde

This was a Fringe to West End hit back in the day and clearly an important work in the history of gay theatre. The Fringe revival production was produced by the owner of a magazine I work on, and every time I stay with him in London the show poster is prominent in the hall to make me feel guilty.

4) The Chester Play of Noah's Flood

Although I'm on speaking terms with Renaissance drama and Classical theatre, I've been more of a smiler and nodder when it comes to what happened in between. The Chester Play is, according to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, "the most durable" of the medieval mystery plays, so I thought I'd give it a punt.

5) An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley

I first encountered this beauty at a playwrighting workshop run by Peter Arnott and I've been gasping to read it ever since. It came up in the context of someone's play in development about earthquakes caused by oil mining, although I've yet to work out why it was relevant.

Luckily, I managed to avoid studying Inspector at GCSE through the simple expedient of not taking GCSEs, so the play hasn't been killed for me yet. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading this one the most out of all my list.

1 February 2012

How to Write like David Sedaris

Anyone who works in a bookshop is familiar with that sinking feeling of inferiority that strikes whenever someone asks you about a big-selling book that you haven't read.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is one such book. It's one of the perennial sellers in the bookshop I worked in over Christmas. It was on special status at the warehouse, so that whenever anyone bought a copy from the shop another was sent in automatically so that there were always three copies available on the shelf. That's how popular this book is.

I even recommended it to a couple of customers despite never even having heard of Sedaris prior to selling his work.

So I thought it might be worth giving it a read, you know, what with its insane popularity and everything. I wasn't disappointed. It's a fine mass-market bio-comedy, and I do think you should read it.

The book consists of 28 column-length autobiographical essays. Although not all of the essays follow the same pattern, I noticed that a few of them fit a perfect four-act structure.

In particular, the first two chapters "Go Carolina" and "Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities" are pretty clearly of the same breed. I thought it would be interesting to look at the act structure of these chapters in order to see how one might apply narrative structure to autobiography.


1) An outside force arrives in David's life

In "Go Carolina", this is the speech therapist Miss Samson, who is determined to iron out David's lisp.

In "Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities" this is his father's desire for his children to appreciate jazz music as much as he does.

2) David reacts to the outside force, which comes back at him stronger

David loathes the outside force and takes some action to take it out. Naturally, this action only makes it worse or changes the nature of the inconvenience the outside force poses. In "Go Carolina", David's tactic is to avoid all words containing "s" using a thesaurus.

In "Giant Dreams", by agreeing to go to a jazz concert with their father, David and his sisters encourage him just enough for him to arrange music lessons for them. The resulting lessons with a midget guitar teacher are David's idea of hell, and now we have a personification of the evil force of music in the form of, um, a midget.

At this point, the outside force is discovered to effect other people too, or to be more serious than previously expected. The other students of Miss Samson provide this foil role in "Go Carolina". A suspicion that everyone forced to attend speech therapy was suspected of homosexuality is adds a conspiratorial element and makes Miss Samson seem even more darkly sinister.

In "Giant Dreams" David's two sisters are also forced to take music lessons. Although they are presumably as effected by Papa's annoying taste in music as much as David, it is only at this point of escalating antagonism that their inconvenience is mentioned.

3) Some disaster befalls the antagonist causes David to repent of his resentment and try to make the best of the situation in some way.

In "Go Carolina" the disaster is Miss Samson crying about being a bad teacher on the last day of term. David awkwardly attempts to console her, even though he secretly agrees she is dreadful.

In "Giant Dreams", David sees his midget music teacher taunted in a mall by some local rough types. He feels sorry for him, and decides to stop pretending to practise the guitar and ask the musical midget to accompany him while he sings advert jungles instead.

4) David's action backfires

I mean, of course David's action backfires. That's what actions are for.

It turns out Miss Sampson was only pretending to cry so that David would say "I'm thorry" and she would have evidence to consign him to more therapy. Once David has fallen into the trap, the chapter ends pretty sharpish, with just about enough time for a final in joke.

The midget musician meanwhile, is so horrified by Sedaris's artistic self-expression that he refuses to give him any more lessons. It's unclear whether this is simple homophobia or if David's raw singing ability is also a factor, but the end result is the same. This traumatising experience gives David the necessary courage to tell his dad where to go next time he tries to spin a record, his emotional growth is dramatised by David and his sisters refusing $5 for listening to a record.

Watch out for four-act structures in my next blog posts...

Me Talk Pretty Once Day
David Sedaris
Abacus, 2000