More lies


The night you told me ‘love does not exist’

I slept with the projectionist.

Our hands unleashed trapped light

and let it spin. I couldn’t face another night

with you debating how much past

is present in the present’s aftermath.

‘It doesn’t have to mean something.’

She spooled, unspooled her tongue along my inside shin,

your negative. It’s funny how it all winds up again.

My body was a planetarium. Her fingers were a laser pen.

The projectionist drinks Pabst and rolls her own

and has no message on her telephone.

Her thighs are piled high with celluloid.

At home you smoke and stare into the void,

change channels, read a book that you tells you books do not exist.

I wake up next to the projectionist,

our mouths both pop-corn dry. The darkness hums with fiction.

I’m tired of you and all of your predictions.

She never has used the phrase ‘the seventh art’,

but she can tuck her toes behind her ears – look.

White mercury ignites your Ingmar Bergman book,

the room lights up the way stained glass

was made to do if God ever came past

to thank the Best Boys, make the credits roll.

There is an empty socket in your soul

that paper couldn’t stuff should it exist.

I told these things to the projectionist.



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Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais/Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye

As you will already know if you’re reading this, because you’ve met me and you don’t have anything better to do at the moment, I’m leaving tomorrow morning for seven months in France.

Today in a burst of final preparation I have packed an additional three books (WHY?), shoved some DVDs into a broken and potentially hazardous wallet, harassed a number of friends via text message, downloaded a Planxty album, got heavily into Arab Strap, fought the clock to finish a book about medieval England, created a calendar, sent off an application for a travel bursary, failed to remove duplicates from my iTunes, toyed with the idea of writing a Brasenose College murder mystery, and literally made a spreadsheet detailing almost every book I currently own for future reference if I want anything brought over. I’m not really sure why I did this last bit, and I think it reflects badly on my sanity.

But luckily, I’m leaving in roughly eight hours for my QUARTER TO SIX IN THE MORNING train. Hopefully someone will be meeting me at the station, or I’m pretty much knee deep in merde. I’ll keep you posted.

It won’t, however, be here. Well, it might occasionally, but the general idea is that all Nantes-related banter (Nanter) will be available on a dedicated new blog, predictably named, to serve as a helpful resource for future generations or at least a distraction for myself. There’s nothing on it yet, but there will be in a day or two. So if you want to follow my adventures through French bureaucracy, vegetarian-phobic dining, educating posh school-children and avoiding isolation/alienation by any means necessary, up to and including exercise, Another Night in Nantes is the place.

A bientot!

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New age fun with a vintage feel

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet recently – other than watching ‘Being A Dickhead’s Cool’ about 10 times in the last week I don’t have much other excuse, though I have been intermittently away. Regular service should be resumed when I switch to my new exciting French blog to keep a record/you all updated after I move on Saturday –, currently blank. For now here’s a poem I just wrote that may or may not make much sense. I’ve been reading and bloody loving Robert Lowell but I’m still having trouble getting my head around this varying-the-rhythm thing. The title’s a reference to a repeated image in Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote which I just finished reading but am too tired to discuss, but might do later/on the new one along with a play of his I saw last week.


Sitting on the couch, chapel-cold, still as a cat,

you send the blood beside St Vitus dancing,

but the veins are vitiated in my tongue.

Edwyn Collins has forgotten how to sing;

you say he couldn’t anyway, and though I long

to bludgeon you with ‘Consolation Prize’, no sane man does that

kind of thing. I change the channel, don’t lift my arm too high,

and wonder how to spin this one. Your vowels are round,

the neck of a canopic jar in which I am steadily embalming my spine –

a long, determined effort, I hope you will concede.

A flash of damp reveals itself beneath your arm as the remote

slides over your grey jumper, up past your classically liberal throat

and the static momentarily resolves on the reassuring sweat

that shows you haven’t given up; or not on me, or not yet.

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Reading, Writing, Recording

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..


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It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

I just finished reading Alan Bissett’s Death of a Ladies’ Man, and I’m going to try to work out some of my thoughts about it for this entry. Originally I wasn’t sure if I was going to use this blog for book reviews (or anything that might be considered similar) – as a literature student I’m wary of writing essays on my own time, and considering that a lot of what I read even outside the syllabus counts as ‘classic texts’ there wouldn’t be a good deal of validity or point in ‘Here’s What I Thought About Jane Eyre.’ Bissett’s novel only came out last year, though, and with only a handful of reviews to compare against I think I might still be in with a shot of saying something new about it – so here goes.

As the title suggests, the story is essentially a tragedy, a decline and fall. The hero (in that particular tragic sense) is Charlie Bain, a young Glaswegian English teacher who seems to be exciting, inspirational, and likes to talk to his classes about watching The Strokes before they were famous. He’s also, having internalised the theories of The Game before their actual publication (though the book is peppered with quotations from a suspiciously similar volume), spectacularly successful with women. Too successful for his own good, as it turns out.

The majority of the narrative sees Charlie flicking between a series of women who catch his interest – Julie, a fellow teacher and jaded divorcee; Nadine, a long-term school friend with deep-seated psychological issues of her own; Dawn, an uninhibited artist friend of Nadine’s; Monise, a pupil whose creative writing work he is advising her about in off-the-premises coffee shops; and a variety of random indie-club hipsters and girls in bookshops whose names he sometimes doesn’t bother to find out.

His powers of seduction are impressive, but there’s something Faustian about the whole business – it seems that his abilities are unlimited, but at one point he announces ‘I think my soul is in danger’, and he destroys himself at least as badly as the women he knocks down like skittles.

If there’s a problem, it might be that he’s too sympathetic, though maybe I’m just projecting – a lot of the back-story, which adds great depth and wholeness to the character, deals with Charlie’s nice-guy status and romantic frustration in his school years, and there’s a certain amount of wish-fulfilment which I imagine most male readers will share. Because he can do this, and distances himself from laddish, sporty men who hang around letching on women by presenting himself as a kind of sex-positive feminist (at least at first, his arguments for this position seem convincing), it’s hard not to want him to.

I personally got to the final twist of the knife – and make no mistake, his fall from grace is savage and collateral – feeling that the incident that pushed him over was no fault of his own, and that he was entirely justified in feeling misled. Which doesn’t excuse any of his previous actions, and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t been more condemnatory of the damage he was doing to his various associates, not least his long-term-ish girlfriend Julie who he blithely cheats on through the entire course of the novel.

For me Julie’s character wasn’t hugely interesting or inviting of emotional investment, though not badly-drawn – I just didn’t engage with her, and thought Charlie could find a better match, but Bissett doesn’t make it that easy. I’d be interested in hearing a female reader’s perspective – I think Bissett wants Charlie to be sympathetic, and it’s possibly the privileged knowledge of the collapse he’s effecting in his own character that stopped me feeling particularly incensed about the consequences he was having on others – but for the fact that many reviewers have called the character misogynist whereas I still finished the book feeling he didn’t hate women, but had just become deeply emotionally detached in the way he interacted with them, it’s a deeply troubling work.

I’m partly so concerned with how this play of sympathy works because the book I’m currently trying to write has a central character whose sexual obsession makes him gradually, unwittingly misogynistic – I want him to be self-aware and distressed about it, but I’m not sure that so far I’ve got the balance right, or the correct timescale for revealing his trajectory. At the moment I’ve got some sections of narrative coming before their time, which might mess up the way it develops. Once I’ve got to a certain point I’ll probably read back through to check about that.

Back to Death of a Ladies’ Man, though – it’s Bissett’s first novel in Standard English, his first two having apparently been in dialect Scots. I’d like to read them now to compare the narrative voice, and see how much I get of the regional character, and a section in this one about James Kelman has also made me want to read more Scottish writing from the last century.

Other things I liked – the constant, strikingly up-to-date reference of modern Scottish indie music, the way Cohen is weaved into the narrative as a kind of presiding genius (possibly suggesting an alternative path for Charlie’s character, or at least a more gentlemanly one); the use of experimental games with typography in what’s still a broadly mainstream novel (not sure what Tom McCarthy would make of that, mind); the detailed evocations of Charlie’s childhood and the running theme of his fear of adulthood, his desire to be a schoolkid again, with the motif of his desire to care for his niece Elizabeth, in all her charming innocence; the fact there’s an entire novel based around The Game; the strong sense of place in Glasgow, which I went to for only a few hours a couple of weeks ago and am now really keen to go back to; and the recurrent device of big blocks of text listing famous works of art – books, films, albums – with interjections between entries in a different font saying things like ‘Can you see me in here?’ and ‘Let me in!’. I know the feeling.

I’m afraid this post has turned out quite badly written, and not particularly analytical or incisive. But if you’ve read it or you’d like to hear more about it or ask anything, leave a comment – it’s a quick read given its length, it’s a fantastic piece of modern writing which is really plugged into the way people and technology work together, it interacts really well with pop culture as well as the art of the past, and it’s highly recommended.

For the record, I decided to buy it after hearing ‘The Rebel On His Own Tonight’, a song Bissett wrote for Malcolm Middleton on the Ballads of the Book compilation, to which he contributes a brilliant spoken-word section. And I can’t praise that song highly enough either.


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Home Again, Garden Grove

Except I don’t live on Garden Grove. I’m afraid this probably won’t be a very interesting post, since it’s mostly deals with the fairly dull theme of being back at home in a fairly dull place. It’s quite a contrast because I’ve just spent two and a half weeks in Edinburgh, effectively a full-on assault of THEATRE! ALL! THE! TIME! Like being stalked by Steven Berkoff.

One conclusion I’ve come to that surprised me is that I really hate street performers – on my last trip to the Fringe two years ago it was free and vaguely charming; this time with a job and free tickets to works of art other people have paid to see, my natural instinct faced with the crowd gathered around a magician in Hunter Square was GET OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY.

Other than trashing hard-working performers I had a really fun time trashing hard-working performers indoors, although more than half of what I saw I think I gave a good review to – very little I was exposed to was bad, but when it was it was usually awful. A lot of new writing was great, but a lot underwhelmed me, which hopefully isn’t just professional jealousy/spite.

No need to be nasty though, so I’ll single out the new voices I was most interested in hearing. Freddy Syborn’s The Love Story was a fascinating, complex and poetic take on love, death and human possibility, and his four-person monologue Anatomy Act was an interesting exploration of empathy and savage self-analysis, though (admittedly deliberately) a little crowded. Funny, filthy and fresh out of Cambridge, I’d love to see more by him, and find out how he got this far. Jonathan Pointing’s The Head of the Fork was a skilfully-observed study in stasis, with a stab at something darker underlying its sitcomish setup. I embarrassed myself congratulating him in a nightclub.

There were some good lyrics in the award-winning Fresher: The Musical, but I can’t find anything nice to say about the script – obviously its closeness toTurn Again Lane made me grudge its success, but I genuinely think we did something different and more interesting. I’m strongly considering altering it to take it up next year, but I’m really not sure what sort of show would be best.

So anyway, I didn’t post my reviews here like I said I would, and I’m a bit too tired to copy or summarise, but I might do later. For now they can all be readhere if you’re interested. My personal highlight was seeing my review ofWednesday in the Broadway Baby Offline publication, cut out and used for advertising on the Royal Mile. The Scotsman thought it was just ‘nasty, nasty, nasty’, apparently – but sod that for a weak analysis. The production company have quoted it on their website though, so at least they can take a joke.

37 reviews in two weeks is I think pretty good going, but also exhausting – I’ve been home since the 1st and sleeping very heavily. I got up at ten to one today, which I rarely do and don’t feel pleased about. I’m not going to be home for very long though, so I suppose I might as well be lazy for a while – on the 25th I’m going to Nantes on a 5am Eurostar (well, 5am leaving Peterborough) and won’t be properly home for quite some time.

I’m looking forward to it, but terrified I’ve got no idea how to teach a lesson and that I’ll forget to insure my shoelaces, trip over them, and be paying for French healthcare for the rest of my life for forgetting my Sécurité Sociale number. None of which will hopefully happen, but the level of admin is unbelievable. I don’t understand! I’m a child! Etc. Except the fact I’ll be doing a job, admittedly 12 hours a week, and living on my own for a year, means I’m probably an adult by now. How’d that happen?

What being home has made me realise is that I really don’t like being alone for very long – left here for whole days, even surrounded by books and DVDs and the infinite possibilities of the Internet, I start to go out of my mind. Solitude leads to morbid thoughts which are generally unwelcome, and although I need time alone to think and write, I don’t function well without human contact, conversation, or something to pass the time.

Even in Edinburgh I felt pretty lonely going from show to show on my own, although when they were good I didn’t notice too much. So when I’m in France, as nice as a petit studio of my own would be, I think at the moment I’m going to try to find a flatshare/collocation – to some extent I’m a social creature and although I like my space I definitely need other people around; I just hope I can find some French ones to live with so I’m not speaking English to other English people all year.

It turns out I haven’t written that much about home, but maybe that’s because it’s just not very interesting – I might go into more detail another day. Today I went to the Springfields shopping centre and yesterday I went for a walk around an actual fen – this is literally the middle of nowhere. Flat fields, flat skies, brown earth. It’s dull as fuck, and after a while it’s corrosive. Watching Secret Britain I yearn for some hills, or lochs or something, and wish I’d got to see more of Scotland. But a change of scenery is coming soon.

Until there, a couple more weeks in my child’s bedroom, currently painted vaguely gothic purple, with a soon to be jettisoned cabin bed that I’ve had since I was thirteen. Yesterday we threw out twenty years’ accumulation of unworn baseball caps, and three cheap and ragged suits I wore through sixth form – £16 each, and clearly made of milk bottle tops.

I wonder how much this room will change when I move out – I’m a compulsive hoarder of rubbish, much of which is crying out to be cleared, but so is my mother, so to be honest it’ll probably fill up just as badly with her mess when mine’s gone. I wonder how the chinchilla will cope without me. Probably very well. To be honest, we don’t have much contact anyway. Maybe before I go I’ll attempt some kind of full catalogue of the house’s attributes and defects, but now’s not the time.

PS: Read some biographical information about Graham Greene online today. Still probably my favourite author and a really interesting thinker and character, but seriously – what a dick. He spent the afternoon with a prostitute after going alone to his wife’s mother’s cremation. Don lad? Sadly quite likely.

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There may not be posts here for a couple of weeks as I’ll be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, spending most of my time writing (hopefully not too snarky) reviews – so when I’m not watching other people’s lives in a darkened room or typing up my assessment of them, I might not have time to write here  as well. I’m going to ask my editor if I can cross-post them, but I suspect not, so if you’re interested in what I’m writing look on Broadway Baby for my reviews.

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