As teachers are fond of saying about the school-bell, today’s post is a signal for me, not for you; feel free to read it, but it might be incredibly dull. I’m going abroad and I want to use that time to do more reading and writing, not less – I’ll obviously have new distractions, but I’ll be away from a few of the more prevalent old ones. And in this post I’m recording what I want to get written and read throughout the year, as a reminder to myself. Writing first – these are the ideas that ought to be developed if I want to actually back myself.
1) A novel, currently called The Exhibitionist, though that might change – possibly to The Exhibitionists. Possibly to What Will Survive Of Us, though that might be spelling it out too much. I’ve briefly spelt this out before but humour me: it’s about a junior curator in a London museum called Darren Crystal, obsessed with one woman and abusing the affection of another, who documents his daily miseries, fixations and banalities on a private blog which – and here’s the twist – he’s unaware has been selected for a national competition as the basis of an exhibition on an average early-twentieth-century life, to be assembled 70 years after his death when the copyright expires. He’s kind of like a shit Samuel Pepys, with a growing tendency towards virulent misogyny that he doesn’t realise his desire is leading him into. Cultural detritus, sexual frustration and medieval history are the order of the day. It’ll probably have an epigraph from Lucky Jim, though I hope it doesn’t just become it.
2) A one-act play for a potential night of new writing at the Oxford Playhouse, based on Greek myths. I didn’t choose the theme and I’ve got no idea if it’s still actually happening – no one’s been in touch for a while – but if it does I’ll be adapting the story of Diana and Actaeon, which I’ve already used as the basis for a poem which is among my favourite that I’ve written. It’d have a modern setting and probably comprise two main scenes – one establishing an awkward relationship between the two characters, with Diana presented as a kind of Joules-wearing bloodsport-loving aristocrat, an interlude in which his ‘hounds’ dance and sing around him dressed in red foxhunting jackets, and the classical scene where he walks in on her bathing (showering…) and the jovial fun hounds get all physical theatre and tear him apart.
3) I think I might need to write a new play for Edinburgh – I’m pleased with the one I’m currently planning to take, but I think the cast, set and length might all be bigger/longer/higher than a good festival show ought to have. So I’ve got an idea for a four-person, small set, one-act show. At the moment I’d call it What Goes Up, but I might decide that’s ridiculous. It’d focus on a younger teenager (around 13) being forced to go on a camping holiday with his single mother and a ‘male friend’, Bernard – a strange expression I heard someone using on a bus in Edinburgh this year which sparked the idea. The ‘male friend’, who the son loathes, eventually turns out to be the boy’s father, and the trip to be conceived as a family bonding exercise so they can get to know each other before it’s too late, because he’s in the early stages of dementia.. or something like that. There’ll still be comedy but it might be a bit more Serious, Issues, Royal Court, etc.
4) I’d like to enter a BBC Writersroom competition called ‘All Mixed Up’, which asks for the first ten pages of a sitcom that shows ‘unrepresented voices’ and something vague about cultural diversity that doesn’t specifically mention race or religion. To be honest I think the general point of the project is to stop BBC comedy being almost wholly written by white men from Oxbridge, but it’s not specific about that and presumably is still judged on its own merits. I don’t know a huge amount about the fairly vague topic area, but Peterborough is quite a multicultural city anyway and I might try something set at a failing local paper there. Alternatively I could try to revamp the gay detective novel I wrote nearly 50,000 words of two or three years ago as a sitcom, but I’m not sure how much mileage is in it, much as I loved some of the characters and situations – it might be that more of the humour is in the prose, and that it’s not the sort of thing they’d be looking for. I jokingly suggested to a friend I could combine the two, but I think it’d be far too much to handle at once.
5) This isn’t a specific project but I want to apply for the Noel Greig Young Writers Travel Bursary for ‘exploring a new idea’. According to the person I contacted the idea doesn’t have to be that defined, but equally I’m fairly sure I can’t just ask them for £750 to go to Sweden on a jolly and see if anything inspirational comes up. My general gameplan for travel after my assistantship is to go to Montreal/Quebec for two to three, but save saying I want to follow in Leonard Cohen’s footsteps I’m not sure I’ve really got any way in with that one. I did vaguely think about writing a play about the dancing plague of Strasbourg, 1518 (A Time to Dance, A Time TO DIE – remember?), and Greig was a playwright; but I don’t know if that’d be enough to justify going to Strasbourg on.
6) I found out recently that the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust gives money to people doing projects which contribute to ‘an awareness or understanding of Graham Greene, or would have appealed to him had he been alive.’ I’ve got no direct Greene-related research to embark upon yet – though I might well do later – but on further enquiry one of the previous awards was given to a young writer to finish her first novel. I’ve no idea how Greeneian it is, but that might be worth trying.
7) Someone in Oxford is running a competition to adapt August Strindberg’s A Dream Play for a modern audience. I’ve already missed the deadline, though, but I don’t know how flexible it is. I just read the play though, and I’m not sure what I made of it.
8) I need to write more poetry if I’m ever going to enter the Eric Gregory again, get booked for any gigs, or send anything off. Whoops.
9) I’ve got a vague idea about doing a stand-up show/one-man play about the ‘why do I love rich people’/’too many horsey women’ idea; I’m fairly sure I could write about my fascination and repulsion well enough, but I’m not confident I could make anyone want to watch it – for one thing I’ve never done stand-up before.
Some of these are more ideas for getting money than for actual writing projects, which makes me think I must have forgotten some, but none are springing to mind at the moment. I’ll update this if they do.
Reading, then – here’s a list of the books currently piled up (and the piles are continually rising) on my table, that I would like to take to France with me, if I haven’t got through them in the next two weeks – unlikely. Obviously all of them would just be wildly infeasible, but I’d like to see how much I can push it.
* Graham Greene – a big anthology containing: It’s A Battlefield, England Made Me, and The Ministry of Fear. Also Monsignor Quixote and The Honorary Consul, and his Collected Plays.
* Kingsley Amis – Take A Girl Like You, The Old Devils
* Patrick Hamilton – The Gorse Trilogy
* John Berger – Ways of Seeing
* Leonard Cohen – Beautiful Losers
* Simon Armitage – All Points North
* Greil Marcus – Invisible Republic. Also Ricks’ Dylan book, but it’s not currently on the table…
* Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate
* Daphne du Maurier – The House on the Strand
* Nicola Barker – Darkmans
* Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections
* Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children
* Michael Chabon – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
* Jonathan Coe – The House of Sleep
* Rose Tremain – Restoration
* Jean Rhys – After Leaving Mr Mackenzie
* Ian Mortimer – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (currently reading)
* Malcolm Bradbury – Eating People Is Wrong
* Alan Sillitoe – The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner
* Howard Jacobson – Redback
* David Nicholls – One Day
* Claire Tomalin – Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
* Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
* J Huizinga – The Waning of the Middle Ages
* Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita
* Fyodor Dostovesky – Notes from the Underground
and various plays and theatre-related writing by – Simon Stephens, Martin McDonagh, Tom Stoppard, Antonin Artaud, Peter Brook, and others.
Those are just the ones I currently own.
If you have any strong opinions positive or negative about anything I’ve listed (other than stuff like ‘Kingsley Amis hates women’, which I’m fairly aware of) then let me know. Or if you think any of my writing ideas are shit. But be gentle..