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Deadlines

Alice in Wonderland

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. –Douglas Adams

Many people love that quotation, and with good reason. I’m among the worst (or, perhaps, best) for putting off things I have to do until the last possible minute, working stupid hours to get stuff done, doing other things instead – even this blog post was started as a way to keep the fingers moving while I wasn’t doing work on my second ‘full-length’ script this fortnight, more on which later. (And only finished quite some time later.)

However, if I don’t have deadlines, things don’t get done. Case in point, Alice in Wonderland. I’ve had the idea for a promenade performance of the original text (or as close as possible) of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for well over a year. However, I did  no work on it until it became apparent a week before an opportunity (sadly a failed one) to pitch the idea that I needed to have a finished script in hand, rather than the planned couple of scenes. This meant, in the week of producing my friend Ivo de Jager’s brilliant play Sweetmeat (and also acting as assistant stage manager) I had to come home and rattle off at least a couple of scenes a night.

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Writer’s guilt

One thing I have a lot of trouble with is writing on any sort of schedule. The corollary of this is that I feel guilty when I don’t, which can serve to delay getting back on the horse even more. It’s been a long time since I last blogged, so I’ll fill in some of the gaps.

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Train rolling into the station

Exciting times over here. The plays I’m directing are opening in exactly one week from now, and closing two days afterwards. The technical rehearsal is in three days, and there are all sorts of meetings and rehearsals and props and costume is getting sorted out… My actors are working super hard, the crew seem prepared for the challenges, and I couldn’t be happier with my production team. Everything is coming together, and it’s very exciting indeed. Plus, I found out that I’m producing a play written by my friend Ivo de Jager next term, which will be an exciting new challenge.

Speaking of Ivo, he was the most recent guest on my radio show. It’s going much more successfully than I thought it might. Not only am I learning a lot doing it, but the show’s being appreciated. My guests enjoy doing it, my listeners enjoy listening to my guests and readers, and I have a small but dedicated team of readers offering their voices to the mix. I’m definitely going to try to do continue it next term, as I feel I’m barely scratching the surface of the format. You can find a link to the podcast of it on the right.

On top of all this, the poetry module I’m taking is frustrating but rewarding. Each week we’re tackle a different form, each week my group produces some beautiful and interesting responses to it. The work is often astonishingly personal, and there’s a great supportive atmosphere. Although I often wish I took more time and care with my poems, I find being forced to produce them very helpful. This also means that most of them will need to be revised, but the one below I am happy to share:

A Poet’s Charm

I call the spirits, wind, and fire, and earth,
to rain on this, my latest work. I call
upon the ghosts of poets past – infuse
my verse with subtle phrases, words so rare,
so beautiful that worlds will sing them long
after my death. But I resolve that this
shall be the last time that I beg for help,
crawl on my knees for this petty assistance.
From now, I shall rely upon my wit,
to find such words in mind alone. I call
upon experience – pour lessons, heartbreaks,
joys, revelations into pointed phrases.
I call upon invention: stoke my fires,
make words that move the earth, and redirect
the screaming wind. Let spirits comfort others.
Our pens are sharp, and quick, and keen, and ours.

So yes, although the play is being neglected, the short story section of this site is a joke, and I should probably invent a personal life one of these days, were I an American I’d say I had a lot to be thankful for. As I’m British, however, and don’t observe Thanksgiving, I shall merely say,

More soon.

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Review in The Ripple

A quick update – the work for The Ripple I mentioned a while back has basically culminated in this one album review. It’s only a hundred words in print, but longer here. I’m currently mulling over whether the investment was worth the result. At this moment, I’m not feeling it.

Spector – Enjoy It While It Lasts

James Ward

By titling their album Enjoy it While It Lasts, Spector seem to be following The Vaccines by deliberately underselling their debut. It certainly starts softly, with ‘True Love (For Now)’ featuring a building synth intro. The drums kick in for the second verse, and soon enough we’re into a big chorus, with crashing drums, guitars and mastered to make your ears bleed. They’re pretty good at them, which is fortunate because it’s the record’s main characteristic. Indeed, the strongest tracks such as ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Celestine’ rip along bearing some cracking melodies to shout-along to. Spector also do a line in synthesiser-led atmospheric ballads, such as ‘Grey Suit & Tie’ and ‘Lay Low’, which are perfectly fine but nowhere near as thrilling. The best example is ‘Never Fade Away’, which makes up for not being the Buddy Holly song by building gradually and satisfyingly to a suitably grandiose finale. It also benefits from being one of the few songs where there is actually space in the mix, giving you a chance to listen to its elements rather than be blasted at by them.

The album title also points to a melancholic vein in the record. Songs such as ‘Twenty Nothing’ may sound chirpy enough, but the lyrics tend to look wistfully back at teenage abandon rather than live in the heat of it. The break-ups outnumber the hook-ups, and the declaration of ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ is delivered dripping with irony. Indeed, Fred Macpherson’s singing is pretty much Spector’s only USP – none of the instrumentation stands out as particularly inspired, much of it being a basic backing white noise. Macpherson has a deeper, more ringing sound than many other indie rock vocalists, which gives the band a grander tone. However, he performs with a strange mix of sincerity and ironic detachment, which isn’t an issue on the faster tracks but muddies the enjoyment of songs such as ‘No Adventure’. Ultimately, what this suggests is while Spector may have some witty turns of phrase, there’s no depth to the music. Although, I suppose suggesting this album is mainly concerned with surface sound is obvious from the first play.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an album being all looks, but it does jeopardise an album’s staying power. There’s certainly nothing here to suggest any future for the band, and the record may well be swept under the carpet and forgotten by next year. However, the big songs are great fun to blast, nothing save ‘Grim Reefer’ drags and it’s perfectly pleasant to mix in amongst whatever else you may be listening to at pre-drinking. So, with Enjoy It While It Lasts, we have an album where the title accurately describes the experience. The Trading Standards Agency will be so pleased.

The Ripple

Lower Than Atlantis – Changing Tune

John Anderson

2012 has been set up to be Lower Than Atlantis’ year in the realm of small-to-medium sized UK rock bands. Their first ever headline tour sold out entirely via pre-sale. Radio One guru Zane Lowe had been a fervent advocate of the Watford quartet for a good twelve months. They signed a deal with Island Records making them labelmates with such eclectic and superstar artists as Tori Amos, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Psy (yes, Gangnam Style). Promises are tricky fiends, however, despite all the hype their forthcoming album exuded.

LTA’s first two full-lengths are modern British rock gems. Far Q took the hardcore stylings of early work and melded it with a heavy Foo Fighters alternative influence – the British tend to do things with more grit than Americans. Rough around the edges, this latter style emerged fully-fledged from chrysalis on…

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Form and poetry

Happy November!

The plays I’m directing are going well. A little worrying they will be seen by a paying audience in just four weeks time, but we will persevere. It is, however, eating up all my available time, along with choir and suchlike.

Luckily, as part of my English degree I’m doing a module called Forms of Modern Poetry, which forces me to write a poem every week in different forms. We’re in a bit of an iambic rut at the moment, but that’s not a bad thing.

I wanted to do the course because I felt my poetry was getting a bit wooly, unfocused, and I wanted to develop some more skills to use. Plus, seeing poetry as exercise rather than art helps you produce more work, I find. We’re in a bit of an iambic rut at the moment, since that metre is used so much in poetry, but it’s good work.

In honour of Hallowe’en just passed, here’s a bit from Sleepy Hollow I wrote in couplets last week. Also, I’m putting in a poem I just wrote, a complete breather from the formal strictures I have been placed in, called Fishing.

Scene from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Then sudden out of misty night,
A Headless Horseman came to fight.
The spirit gave a fearsome cry
That told a man was soon to die.

A slash! The Horseman’s sword was keen.
It cut through midnight sharp and clean.
Ichabod ran, towards the stream,
Praying this was a frightful dream.

But no! The Horseman thundered to
That neck so bare, so fresh, so new.
Ichabod ran, ran for his soul,
For righteous corpses must be whole.

But then came silence. Yes, the sound
Of racing hooves upon the ground
Had stopped. He dared to look around.
The headless man could not be found.

Crane stumbled, fell upon his hand
Which broke his fall. He tried to stand.
The grass was wet. He almost slipped,
but managed it. His clothing dripped.

He looked around. The appatirion
Had ceased his unrelenting mission.
The river’s bank was empty, Crane
Free from the spirit’s foul campaign.

Fishing

They tell me
‘There are plenty more fish in the sea’
As I sit here on the dock
Line drawn, hook baited
Waiting
Still waiting for a bite.

Finally, here’s a link to a letter from Robert Heinlein, where he gives Theodore Sturgeon advice on overcoming writer’s block. It’s a good read. http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/10/help-from-heinlein.html
More soon.
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Religion and World-building, and some updates

Keeping regular is difficult for me (no jokes please), so I’m just going to throw out the draft blog I mentioned last time as a few thoughts rather than something coherent. I may get back to the subject someday. Alongside it, I’ll update you on a few things.

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Summer

Summer has been spent mainly reading sci-fi for my dissertation. Not much writing has got done. Even my grammar is slipping, as the previous sentence shows. However, I’ve got a few updates and notes for you:

  • I have finally started the play I’ve been threatening since the inception of this blog, which will most likely be called Just a Kiss – now two scenes in. I am pleased, because I need to be able to say I’ve finished a playscript, and more importantly I want to get it out of my system so I can write a play about robots. Please therefore bug me on Twitter to get it done (I’m only planning to to seven scenes, so it can’t be too difficult).
  • I’m drafting a blog post about the use of religion in imaginative fiction, which is partly inspired by the 2/3rds of Dune by Frank Herbert that I’ve got though (I’ve decided to move on, I’ve lost a fortnight of time by not reading it. It is good, but heavy-going). It’ll go up when it goes up.
  • I’m directing an evening of one-act plays for LUTheatre, performing 29/30 November/1 December. The programme is two by Anton Chekov – A Marriage Proposal and The Bear – followed after the interval by Still Life by Noel Coward. More promotion and thoughts nearer the time, I suppose.
  • A quick plug for my good friend Nick Palmer’s Tornmile series. It’s a fantasy flash fiction serial, told from multiple perspectives. He posts a short yet hearty chunk every Monday over at http://nickpalmerwriter.com/ – we’re eight instalments in, so fill your boots.
  • Pretty much everything I have worth reading is now up on the site, so have a poke around on the pages  above to catch up with my writing so far. Anything new, I’ll post it on the blog so you don’t miss it.
  • Finally, speaking of new, I mean to finally do some writing for the ULSU’s newspaper The Ripple in my final year. I’m hoping to do some music journalism, but I’ve also submitted an extremely short story for the Arts and Creativity section. If it gets published, I’ll be here preening like a proud mother. But for now, for loyal readers of my blog, and as a reward for getting through the infodump, here it is. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks to Edward Spence for his advice – his site over at http://sovereignstudios.tumblr.com/ is well worth a perusal.

First Day

Laura waited in her bedroom until she stopped shaking. Her parents had left a while ago, but she was still sat in her chair, looking at the door. All the Freshers advice said to prop it open, so people would drop by and introduce themselves. Laura’s door was firmly shut. She was starting to think coming here was the stupidest idea ever.

She wasn’t cut out for university. She wasn’t smart enough – she only just scraped in on her General Studies grade. She had no idea what clothes she should be wearing, what music she should be listening to, what was cool and what wasn’t, and she felt like just some provincial kid from a nowhere town that had no business being in this city. She couldn’t call her friends back home – she’d be so embarrassed and ashamed of herself. They were busy anyway, gone to their own universities in other cities far away, making new friends, living it up, and forgetting all about Laura. She didn’t want to be here, she didn’t want to do her course, she didn’t want any of this any more. She had never been this scared in her entire life.

There was a quiet rap at the door. Laura froze. She got up very slowly, and walked over to the door. She opened it. A boy with messy hair was standing in the corridor. He smiled at her. Laura smiled back.

‘Hi.’

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The Wicked Years

Map of Oz, from Wicked

I didn’t necessarily intend to do book reviews on this blog, but I was midway through writing this on my Tumblr and realised it perhaps has a better home here. I’ve just finished Out of Oz, you see, the fourth and final volume in The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire. It completed the sequence well, I think, and I just wanted to make a quick summary of my thoughts while they were fresh.

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Blogging

I’ve neglected this blog fiercely, I know. Keeping a personal record has never been a strength. I am improving the site as whole, though, to give a better impression of my work. Some poems are already up there, and over this week I’m going to put up all my short plays and some older work from another hard drive. Also, I’ll type up a few things currently only in hard copy. On another note, I’ve never found a free template I’m happy with that isn’t stolen from a friend’s site, so if anyone has any ideas in that direction let me know.

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Reciting poetry

In lieu of a decent update, I’m going to point you to some readings of a few poems of mine I recorded a short while ago. It’s very experimental, and I can only apologise for the sound quality, but I think it’s a more interesting way of sharing *some* (not all by any means) of my verse. Here’s a link to my playlist, featuring “Rest” and “Stratford-upon-Avon” at time of writing.

Poetry on Soundcloud

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Medium and magic machines

I’ve posted a couple more of my Proteus sketches, both unperformed male-female two-handers. Soul Music is a musical written from a female perspective, and Interview a sci-fi tale from a male.

Writing in the sci-fi genre you immediately come across the roadblock of how closely you adhere to the science part of the term. I’m not a scientist, and hesitate to declare much interest in it. I’ve used SFnal tropes in my work, most recently in this short piece, but mainly to highlight things about humans rather than exploring ideas. I’ve used time travel to talk about relationships, a robots to explore emotion, and so on, and will continue to do so. But I would like to address the science more closely in future, if only to avoid my current problem of magic machines. I’m not bothered about accuracy, but knowing more sparks more ideas, and thinking through the reality of your story is always encouraged.

However, I had the same problem with both pieces. I struggled to convey what I wanted to see on stage in script form. Also, if you peruse my short stories section you will find you cannot peruse the short stories section because none are posted. I’ve only finished one in the past six months and we’ve already covered that. I’m far too used to writing in play format and, further, having ideas for that form. It’s as if a short story section of my brain has shut down and the output has been replaced by the sketch factory.

I’m fairly busy from now until, well, the 24th of June, but I hope this only means my output will increase in true procrastination style. This is the first time I’ve had a blog I’ve needed to update, so prospects are good for at least getting three posts a month, more if they’re all as short as this.