Category Archives: Thoughts on Writing

Dalloway – a review. Thank you for being a better reader than me.

Review of ‘Dalloway’ performance at The Riverfront, Newport, 21 Sept 2016

***SPOILER ALERT***

A dark room, with a single cream chaise longue at the rear of the stage, and long white panels draping down. Nothing else. This forms the set for Dalloway and it’s intriguing already.

Rebecca Vaughan appears, and straight away starts telling us Mrs Dalloway’s story. She wears a jade green shin-length skirt, with a fitted jacket of the same colour, and dark brown Victorian style shoes with a modest heel, her fair hair in a neat up do. All very authentic.

Now let me let you in on a not very well-hidden secret: I did not like this book. It was chosen for my bookclub (shameless plug: go visit my Reading Between the Wines page and join us in taking over the literary world) and I so very much wanted to like it because it would mean that when I told people that the sort of authors I liked were, ya know, people like Virginia Woolf and Tolstoy, I would actually have read something by at least one of them.

I bought the book, uploaded a photo of the book open halfway on my legs while holding a cup of tea to Instagram with hashtags like ‘ilovewoolf’, and then went back to the beginning to start reading it. I underlined a few lines in the first few pages then I got stuck. I found that the pace didn’t change. I found that the sentences ran on longer than this side note that I’m writing. I found that I had to re-read whole paragraphs over and over and still couldn’t work out who characters were. A book that describes a single day in the life of a character, and I couldn’t wait for that day to end.

In short, I gave up.

I grew tired of the effort that the book demanded of me and I’ve had to work hard to accept the fact that I’m not the Virginia Woolf fan that I thought I was (see here for an interesting book about the books we assume we will are fans of ‘Reading Dangerously’)

When my friend text me about meeting up at the Riverfront Wednesday to watch a Virginia Woolf thing she caught me at a hormonal time, having a meltdown, and I was so desperate to see her that I just said yes. She could’ve invited me to a Trump rally to be honest and I would’ve shown up. I said ‘yes, yes, yes, book me in’, and just assumed it would be the famous lighthousey one.

It wasn’t until an hour before the show that I looked up what I was going to watch. Dalloway. I see. Right. Okay. And I’ve paid for this? Hmmm. Okay. It’s all going to be okay. Just a Wednesday night I’ll never get back. No biggie. Get over yourself. My heart sank slightly, not least because I’ve just decided to give up alcohol (during the week at least), and I was going into this sober.

When Rebecca Vaughan started speaking, her eyes took on such life that I couldn’t help but be snapped out of my cynicism. I was transformed to a different age. In my frayed skinny jeans and messy bun I felt at home with this woman in her twee twin set and immaculate hair. I felt like she was talking just to me. Rebecca made you feel as though you were the only person in the room. Like you were her best friend. She lets you in. Of course, I know it is Virginia Woolf who employed the technique of using monologues and the telling of inner thoughts and secrets to make the reader feel this way, but I definitely needed someone like Rebecca to breathe life into the words. I couldn’t help thinking that the recently award winning sitcom, Fleabag, is a modern day Mrs Dalloway, with her side glances to the camera, and the outpouring of her real thoughts.

The swift change into other characters was astounding, not to mention the sheer skill of remembering ALL THOSE WORDS. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that before, with no break or interval.

Despite being drawn effortlessly into another era, I was acutely aware of how relevant all the themes are today. I could feel what she felt. I too have spent many a moment wondering why I didn’t marry the people I should have. I felt the anxiety of Septimus Warren Smith. I felt the pity of Lucrezia trying to comfort him. I felt it all. When she snuck off into another room at her party I was there too hiding. When she pointed and talked to the thin air at the side of the stage I saw the man she was talking to. I saw him, I tell you.

The subtle arm tremor for Septimus, the leant back swagger of Peter, the wild child Sally, the whole demeanour of Mrs Dalloway herself. All just so varied. To watch such a colourful performance with nothing but while cloth and a white chaise longue is impressive. To stand there in a twin set, a slim elegant young woman, leaning forward on tip toes at the front of the stage, and make me form a vividly sharp image of a troubled ex-army man riddled with anxiety in his final moments, is incredible.

Listening to some of the lines there were moments in which I felt truly sure that Virginia Woolf must surely be the finest writer of English that has ever lived. And surely that is the meaning of a successful adaptation of a novel? – to instil or rekindle an appreciation of the original work as well as producing a standalone piece of art in its own right?

Rebecca, how exactly you’ve made me want to go back and read the book, along with all of Woolf’s other work, is beyond me. So, I want to thank you, for being a better reader than I am and for seeing all the beauty in this novel and character, and conveying it in such a deeply penetrating way.

#ilovewoolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back on the Competition Horse – or Why am I so Pathetic That I Can Only Write When I’m Told to?

Francesco_Hayez_008

Francesco Hayez

I was sat perched on the end of a sofa Saturday evening wondering what to do with my night. If I leant back into the sofa and allowed myself to relax I would probably have inadvertently caught up on 6 weeks of shitty sleep and that would have resulted in the sack, obesity, and sub consciously getting addicted to a soap. But, if I stood up I would have to look as though I had some sort of destination. I was rapidly getting my head around plan A.

Then my phone beeped at me and told me that there was a competition deadline on Sunday.
For poetry.
On the theme of love.
In particular, romantic love, or the absurdities of love.

Now, other than writing technical manuals (Oh, wait, that’s my day job – what was so wrong with plan A after all?) there is nothing I want to write about less than love at the moment. I’m even starting to wonder whether perhaps it wouldn’t be too much trouble to take a Stanley knife to my book collection and meticulously cut around the word love in every book so that I can just get on with reading about war, misery, and political exile instead.

Perhaps it’s from my schooling, during which we weren’t allowed to take our blazers off until the whole class, in alphabetical order, had answered a math’s question correctly (sucks to be a Williams), but I now couldn’t contemplate anything other than meeting this deadline. P.S. Sorry sir, I chose words over numbers in the end.

And as though I was still stood there in the maths class sweltering under a blazer I started to panic at what was going to happen to my brain when I started to quiz myself on love. I think I actually shook my head from side to side a bit while I was writing, to avoid looking at my own words. I decided that the least input from me the better. And so it happened. I gave the guard of my self-preservation door a wink and told him to come back in a couple of hours, and let myself cough up some memories of absurd romantic love stuff.

If the judges are also looking for ‘absurd’ in terms of writing style then I may be in with a chance, but if they want decent content then I may be lacking somewhat. I’m a little out of practice but if I do happen to get placed then I may invest in a door stop and see what else comes out.

 

 

 

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Careful what you wish for, or ‘I like to tell you I’m a Travel Writer but doing it is another matter’

I have just written my first batch of travel articles for my new job.

I applied for this freelance job a month or two ago and I was lucky enough to be given the position. I have to write 8 articles a month. About my favourite subject – La Bella Paese. This seemed simple. I do not go into the office on Mondays so even the most mathematically challenged of us can work out that all I have to do is write 2 articles each Monday and I will meet my quota. Factor into the equation that I can do them in my pyjamas, saving valuable outfit choosing time, not to mention which elements of personal hygiene routines I can skip, and I shouldn’t be far off fitting an easy 3 or 4 pieces into my day.

It hasn’t quite panned out like that.

I am exhausted.

Not so much from the writing of the articles themselves, but from the fact that every single moment that I’m not writing them I am thinking about what to write in them. I also have to read around the areas a lot. Was I lucky enough to be given this job where I get to write about different places for money? Yep. Am I lucky enough to be paid to go and visit these places in person? Don’t be daft. I’m going to give myself a year or two before I start adding Guardian Travel onto the list of people who reject me.

I do not want to do the maths to work out what my hourly rate has been but I know it is far far lower than the minimum wage. Way lower. But do I want to just turn up to a job, endure the time there, then come home? No. I do that for 4 days a week as it is. I want to write. Not that I was saying that much this week. Bleary eyed at the keyboard at 10pm on a Friday night, with nothing but a sloppily put together limoncello-esque cocktail for company, I type an instant message to a pal over the friendwaves and ask why I was doing this. I said over and over again ‘why do I want to write, again, remind me?’ and they told me that I don’t have a choice. That it’s not even a want. It’s just something that I need to do. Not unlike breathing. The thing with breathing though is I can do that in a pub dancing to music at a gig, which is what I had been wanting to be doing. Holding a laptop and a 10 sheets of scribbles in that situation wouldn’t really work. We all look twattish enough when we do it in Starbucks but at least people are used to that now.

My friend is right, of course. Then again they seem to be right about a lot of things at the moment, and they are fast becoming the person that I am choosing to run most of my decisions past. But that’s another post altogether.

So, it’s gone midnight, my first batch is sent, and will be live on the website soon. I have put Elbow’s new EP on and let Guy Garvey’s deliciously melancholic tones massage my tired brain cells, while I pour a more lovingly treated spirit into the correct glass, deep thick sticky damson vodka. I unhunch my shoulders which are far too near my ears for a Saturday night, and slip my shoes off that have been on all day.

I close all my files and write this while I wait for the call from my partner to tell me he is on the way home from his gig, at which point I will get my jacket, slip my shoes back on and walk 10 minutes in the blackness, which will be a welcome emptiness after having 20 webpages open at once all day. I will walk to a fantastic pub across town to meet him for a lock-in where I will ask him how his gig went and he will tell me he is exhausted, and he will ask me how my writing is going, and I will tell him I feel the same.

We will clink our glasses and be smiling ear to ear that we get to be asked those questions and that this is what we do.

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Enforced writer’s block, or ‘Going against everything I’ve said about freewriting’

I only get 30 minutes break in the working day where I can indulge in some creative writing, taking a break from the Technical documents that I am paid to produce. As soon as the clock starts on my break I grab my pen and pad and get to work, writing anything and everything that comes into my mind. When I first started to study Creative Writing I could no sooner freewrite on demand as I could stay at my desk through lunch, but it’s been very true that if you do it every day then you get better at it. If only that were the case with my job, but that’s another post altogether. And now I take just a few seconds before something comes out and I am well practiced at not self-editing, or stopping to think too much about whether any of it makes any sense. I just get my Virginia Woolf head on and keep producing a load of dust that I can sift through later when looking for a gem to polish up.

Today has been really sunny. I have been at my desk swiveling round on my chair every half an hour to look at the window, counting down the time until I could go outside and write. I have a big deadline for this weekend and need to be writing every minute that I have spare. But when the time came to get going I just put the pen down. I am exhausted. I have been writing so much at speed in work that I just can’t do it today to order. Not even when those orders are my own. If someone else had told me all this I would have said fine, just write about that then, write slowly, write in the tone of someone who feels like they are walking through quicksand (although I would have tried to avoid that cliche), and I would have said the end product will be a good account of a character who is shattered. But I was beyond self-discipline today.

Today I had more progress with my writing by not putting pen to paper on my lunch break than I would have had I scribbled away. I think.

I have been telling the folks in my little writing group all about freewriting recently, and how you need to push through the writer’s blocks and just keep writing regardless, writing out the silence and writing out the repeated words if they are stuck in your head until you move on to another one. However, today, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I just stared ahead into the sun and let all the words dart about wanting to get out but not being allowed to. In the end I think what happened is that they all settled their arguments with each other and found a place to go and sit still for a minute, sulking that they couldn’t come out. Then, when I got back in from my break I was ready to write in a slightly more logical way than I would have done. I’m normally quite the fan of the garbled mess that freewriting produces, and would never normally try to reign in the rearing sentences, but today I was just too tired to open the flood gates. Some emotionally draining stuff has been happening around me for a while now and I was just too tired to let it all spill out and found it easier to just keep the moat up and sit with my back against all the thoughts, and then, once a bit refreshed, let them come out one at a time.

This goes against everything I have been encouraging people to do in my little group but it worked today and I may just try it again. I think the only way I will allow myself to indulge in this absence of writing on my lunch break is if I make sure that I still write later as well.

I read a tip for writing once which said that you should always stop before you want to, so that you always want to get back to it. Perhaps I’ve just taken it a step further and not let myself start when I wanted to.

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