Sunday, 27 June 2010

The naked hen

I am beginning to look on this blog as my own personal rant vehicle. Today I have a rant that is entirely unrelated to anything creative, literary or in any way cerebral. Today I am venting my spleen about shopping.

Am I the only woman on the planet who hates shopping? Please tell me I'm not alone. It's meant to be an age-old male/female divide thing - men hate it, women love it. But I am a woman, and I HATE SHOPPING!

The reason I have worked myself up into this tizzy is a themed hen night next weekend. I have to attend as I'm a bridesmaid, and of course I want to attend, as the bride-to-be is one of my closest friends, but glamour is not my forte, and the theme of the night is Sex and the City, so glamour is something of a prerequisite.

I spent Friday trawling around Brighton trying to find a dress, and failed dismally. In fact, I started talking to myself - never a good sign. On entering Oasis, I stood in the doorway and demanded of the people around me, "When do I ever shop in Oasis? What on earth am I doing in here?" then turned and walked out. No doubt I left a few bemused shoppers in my wake. After four hours I could feel the pull of the sea - a flying leap from the end of the pier was tempting. Instead, I headed home and phoned my mama, who talked me down.

Yesterday I drove to Canterbury so that my lovely mum could accompany me around yet more shops, trying on more dresses than I knew existed and looking utterly ridiculous in all of them. I reached the point where I could no longer be civil to the incredibly helpful and patient shop assistants in Noa Noa, so called it a day and once again headed home empty-handed.

Currently my friend will have a naked hen... well, I have some shoes.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Call me Kyra

After an amazing audition on Sunday, I have just found out that I have, once again, landed the part of Kyra in Skylight. And thanks to the casting of a superb male lead, I feel confident that the play will be good, if not great, and I am finally looking forward to doing it. I had started to fear my enthusiasm would never return.

Having turned down the role for various reasons earlier in the year, I was caught in a strange limbo land of not being entirely sure I wanted to reaudition (even though I had said I would) but also not sure that I wanted anyone else to play the part either. It was all dependent on the right chap playing opposite me, and I do believe, having seen him in Equus earlier in the year, the director has bagged himself the right actor for the job. Hurrah!

I now await my rehearsal schedule...

Monday, 21 June 2010

What NOT to do

Okay, I'm not anywhere near the point of approaching an agent to represent me - I think it's safe to say that's a good couple of years down the line (unless I surprise myself). However, I shall be referring to this blog - SlushPileHell - daily, for handy tips on what not to write in my query letter.

It's very funny, so if you want a good laugh you should definitely check it out - my favourites thus far are June 20, 11, 8 & 3, and May 30, but they're all cracking in their own way.

I'm a novice, I admit, but I like to think I have enough common sense not to make mistakes like these. But then I guess they thought that too...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Six fingers and one thumb

So here's something I've been wondering - how do people prefer to write and why?

All the way through my last OU creative writing course, we were told again and again, write in your notebook, but I have to be honest (now that the course is finished and I can't be berated) and say that my notebook is sadly bereft of scribblings.

It isn't that I don't have ideas, and it isn't because I don't know how to hold a pen, and it's not because my handwriting is illegible - I just find the pen and paper system extremely longwinded.

I know there are writers out there, famous, prolifically published ones, who write in ratty old notebooks, piles and piles of them, until they've produced their masterpiece. But then what? I'm assuming they go back to the beginning and start typing it all up. Which seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time.

That said, I also imagine that may well be an excellent way of starting the editing process and the ideal time to begin cutting paragraphs and waffle. So perhaps I'm missing a trick...

I am an advocate of typing from the get-go - albeit inexpertly with only six fingers and one thumb out of my available eight and two, in a configuration that would make a typing teacher cringe and clench. I'm not sure if I type faster than I write with a pen, but I think, psychologically, that I feel I'm achieving something more quickly by seeing all those neat black lines appearing on the clean white screen - even if they don't make sense!

I'm thinking of investing in one of those little A5 laptops to use as my 'notebook' - small enough to carry around, which will hopefully encourage me to jot down ideas the moment I have them, rather than carrying them around in my head until I find a moment to sit down at my laptop and write. Until then I shall keep my redundant notebook and pen in my bag, just in case.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

My first award - hurrah!

Many thanks to the lovely Mandy for giving me my very first award! I would like to thank my mum and dad for creating me, and the world for letting me live in it. :o)

According to the rules I now have to tell you ten things about myself that you don't know. So here goes:
  1. Sweet Williams are my favourite flower
  2. One day I want to live in Aldeburgh in Suffolk
  3. I have an interesting family: My step-grandad was a journalist amongst many other talents and interviewed Elizabeth Taylor and Salavador Dali in his time. My granny, amongst her many other talents, was known as the Queen of Portobello Road (a term coined by The Observer I think) and brought back the trend for vintage clothing in the Sixties. My great-uncle, who is American, was a Senator. My mummy is a vicar!
  4. I'm terrified of Daddy Longlegs
  5. Sometimes I snort when I laugh and I'm not ashamed to admit it
  6. Cinnamon gives me a headache
  7. I am really quite obsessed with the Twilight Saga, even though I am no longer a teenage girl. If you haven't read these - you should!
  8. I HATE hoovering
  9. I don't play sport and am not interested in watching any sport - apart from the Tour de France, which has me glued to the screen every summer. One day I would like to hire a camper van and follow the the whole tour.
  10. I have absolutely no idea what the future has in store for me - sometimes that scares me, but most of the time I find it thrilling.
I would like to pass this award on to:

Fanciful Alice

Lucy Diamond

Clara Wieland

Sally Quilford

Emma Darwin

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Better late than never... I guess

On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you suppose it is to be 40 minutes late to a pre-audition audition? Hmmmm.... That's what I thought, so it's safe to say that I have made a bad impression this afternoon then!

Earlier in the year I auditioned for the part of Kyra in Skylight (by David Hare). I got the part but turned it down as the performances clashed with the end of my course. But the director postponed the play until November and asked me to audition again when he recasted, which was today and next Sunday. Today was a read-through so that actors could get an idea of the parts, before next weekend's audition proper. I thought it was at 4.30, but got a phonecall from the director at 3.40 to ask me where I was, as it had started at 3.30. Needless to say, I drove like the wind to get to the theatre, but was still VERY late and on the receiving end of some unimpressed faces. Ah well, 'tis all in a day's muddle for me!

On a lighter note, last night I went to the theatre to see a play called Two by Jim Cartwright, he of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice made famous by Jane Horrocks. Jak was prompting and two friends, Duncan and Bertie, were in it. The play is set in a pub, with the landlord and landlady leading the charge, and the two actors playing them also playing the various customers who pop in for a drink.

By turns poignant and funny, scary and slapstick, the play was brilliantly written and the various characters wonderfully observed. From a little old man who has conversations in his head with his dead wife, to a violently jealous man and his downtrodden, defeated wife, a colourful array of characters pass through the doors. And all the while, the landlord and landlady deal with their own unresolved problems, weaving seamlessly between their clientelle and coming to a head after closing time. Duncan and Bertie did an amazing job of bringing all the characters to life, and Duncan's crazy 'dad' dancing will go down in the annals of the theatre. Oh how I wish I'd had a video camera.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Haunted houses and men in dresses

Well, it's unofficially official, Jak and I will be directing our first play next year, so now, no longer risking the temptation of fate, I can announce that the play we have chosen is...

da da da daaaahhhh...

The Mystery of Irma Vep - a penny dreadful by Charles Ludlam

Hands up all those who've heard of it... Yup, thought not.

So, here's a little background. It's a spoof of Gothic melodrama, a quick-change farce, loosely based on Rebecca. It requires two male actors to play eleven roles, which include the lord and lady of Mandacrest Manor, a Mrs Danvers-esque housekeeper, a servant with a wooden leg, a werewolf, a vampire and a topless Egyptian princess.

Jak and I have already started designing the set. Pictured is our in-progress, scaled-down and much-simplified Blue Peter effort to help demonstrate our ideas to the set builders. Clearly there is a long way to go! But seeing as neither of us has ever designed a set before or built a mini version, we are rather pleased with our amateur efforts. Anyone caught smirking will be summarily executed - you have been warned.

The quick changes within the play (and I'm sure Jak, who is the 'details queen' of this particular operation, will correct me if I'm wrong) number in the high thirties, the majority of which need to be of around 10 seconds, less if possible. When this play was originally staged in Greenwich Village, New York, in the early 1980s, starring Charles Ludlum and his partner Everett Quinton, people would pay extra to have a seat backstage so they could watch the quick-changes, rather than sit out front and watch the play itself. That's how spectacular they were, and how amazing we hope we can make them. No pressure.

The set involves secret entrances and exits, as well as a bleeding painting, the mechanics of which we have yet to figure out. We have to bring in an Egypt set in the second act that needs to be removed without dropping the curtain and with the audience in situ, which could prove tricky. However, we have a cunning plan up our joint sleeve for that one.

So there will be challenges aplenty, but I have no doubt that we will not panic at all and will remain calm and in complete control throughout the entire project. I'm absolutely sure that will be the case. Okay, 85% sure. Well, high 70s anyway. But then again... Hmmmmmm...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Self-publishing - friend or foe?

The sun is glorious, there's not a cloud in the sky, the sea is like a mill pond, and I am sitting at my desk, working and missing it all. Such is the life of a freelancer. This has made me bitter, so I'm going to have a rant. Please forgive me in advance.

I'm currently proofing a manuscript that makes my heart cry. I'm always torn when I receive work that I don't rate. I'm full to the brim with admiration for the author, who has devoted their time and soul and managed to set their ideas down on paper and complete a book. I'm only too aware this is no mean feat - I've been writing and rewriting the first three chapters of my humble offering for about 6 months now. I'm struggling to get off the starting blocks, finding that my need to edit and proof as I go (an occupational hazard) is slowing me down and drowning my creativity. This is something I'm working on.

But the flip side to this admiration is when the work I read (in my opinion, obviously) is not good. The majority of manuscripts I proof are self-published, which doesn't surprise me as I fear no agent or editor would touch them with a barge pole. Plots are as leaky as the Titanic, if there is a plot at all. I have found Ann Summers shops, AK47's and drug addict-riddled high-rise flats lurking in Victorian England settings - honestly, don't even get me started on that one. Grammar and spelling are hurled by the wayside - what happened to polishing your work before you send it out?

A common problem I find, particularly with children's novels and sci-fi, is a complete inconsistency in the spelling of invented names and places. Seriously, how hard is it to make up a name and write it down on a piece of paper, so that you ensure you spell it the same way throughout the book? I have found myself, on more than one occasion, creating glossaries for the author so that if there is a sequel, they have a point of reference for their own creations.

I can't begin to explain how much it frustrates me. Mainly because it's such a colossal waste of my time and I don't get paid nearly enough for the amount of basic work I have to do to make the manuscripts make any kind of sense (which is surely the job of the author?). But there's a small part of me that is frustrated because I know, if only I could get past my bad habit of editing myself, I could do better! That's not a boast, I would put money on the majority of people out there who call themselves writers being able to do better also.

So my thought for the day is this - is self-publishing a good way to go? Personally, I would rather write something and take the agent route. If I'm told that my work is no good and unpublishable then I will feel sorry for myself for a while then move on. I would rather that than think my work is amazing when it isn't, publish it myself because I'm so convinced the world will want to read my words, then sell five copies to close family and friends who tell me it's great because they feel they have to, not because it really is. It's like the people who audition on X Factor because their mum and dad have told them they're the next Whitney Houston. Simon Cowell tells them, actually, you're distinctly average, and mum and dad (or gran) come barging in, affronted, and pick a fight, telling the expert he's wrong.

My feeling is, listen to the experts - if your writing is good, they will tell you that and they will help you. If they reject you, there's a reason for that. Take a step back, look at your work objectively and honestly, and fix it. Then try again.

And my tip for the day is this - if spelling and grammar are not your strong points, that's okay - but buy a book on punctuation and learn it. Some people find it easy, others don't, but if you're writing a book, you need to know when to use a full stop or a comma or a colon; you need to know when to put your punctuation within quotes or without; you need to know when and how to use an apostrophe. Spare a thought for the person who's going to be proofing your work while the sun is shining outside. It's also the kind of thing that will help an agent decide whether you're worth representing. They get so many manuscripts that a missed apostrophe in the first line could send your book into the bin.

Okay, I'm clambering down from my enormous horse now. I shall return my attention to this overly complicated book, with Regent's Park spelled Reagents Park (come on!). Fortunately, my friends are arriving in an hour or so to rescue me, and we're going for a picnic on the beach, so all is not lost!