Monday, 13 January 2020

Just Duck Breakin'

I fancied 'breaking my duck' for 2020 with a short, banal post, just to ease myself back into the blogging rhythm.

But then I thought better of it. Why not start the new year with a long, banal post?

And we're off!

It's been a decent start to the year to be honest. I wrote a first draft of a children's story (I know, where did that come from? But what can I say? I was walking around a park in Lytham, got that ol' inspired feeling, and acted on it. Any publishers of new writing for children out there - hmu!), have been keeping up to date with my various diaries, am doing a bit of sketch writing with a friend, have submitted a new poem to a local radio culture show... Quite a lot, really. In terms of consumption, too, I'm doing well. I've finished a few books, and seen some films, too. If I continue going like I am, I might find a level of consistent contentedness - could it actually happen? When you consider it, happiness doesn't take all that much - just spending your time in the right way...

I finally got round to reading Eleanor Rees' Blood Child a bit back. After finishing it, the dark character of its (our?) world has stayed with me, and I feel compelled to say a bit about it. I got so deeply slathered in language when reading this, it was wonderful. Like a weatherful walk along a beach, it was full of palpable (and yet also ethereal) experiences; the wind holding you by the shoulders, the rain lashing and prickling your skin, the sensation of sand slipping underfoot, the gulls' cries touching your brain - all rendered in seductively sonic language, and active imagery. Take these few lines from 'A Burial of Sight':

...the flight paths of geese above a city park.
In the night I am with them,
solid wings slapping against air currents,
almost like thoughts...

The cities crouch, and yet loom, as do the shadowy, mythic woods of Grimm-esque tales, where even the still things are alive, and have momentous presence, like in 'Becoming Miniature', where, "...the houses [are] pressed with satellite dishes./ Aerials all point west as if hearing the sea." This is down to keen eyes and ears, and the technical strength and beauty to do life justice. I mean, some of these sentences thrill me with their sonic luxury. How can you not get a kick out of this, from 'Arne's Progress: Cortège', "...he drives over cherry blossoms splattered on tarmac/ while a man at the bus stop scrambles through a sandstorm"? I also enjoyed the thematic tightness of the collection as a whole, the recurrence of natural, earthy lexis, splashes of colour, the way humanity is presented, and the sense of travelling through air and time. Although we have a diversity of poems in terms of length ('A Burial of Sight', 'Blood Child', 'Arne's Progress' - made up of several distinct sections - and 'Blue Black' being the longer works) and form, the collection sits comfortably like a nests in a tree. It's rich poetry, and I thoroughly recommend it.

While reading Blood Child, I also had Robert Sheppard's Micro Event Space on the go (whilst sitting stationary). There was a moment where both texts were talking about gulls, and there was this strange synaptic flash between these two very different books. Sheppard's collection is, I think, more of a menagerie, and there's not a lot (especially not in terms of, say, motifery) to link the collection together, apart from the idea of smallness - but under that banner there is such a range, that everything hardly manages to fit under it. The pieces range in length from twelve lines to ninety-seven, in form from 'Twittersonnets' to Haibun (which is interesting because the only way it fits, for me, into the idea of 'smallness' is in how it uses language, i.e. being small by its conciseness. But, obviously, this could be said of a lot of poetry. In terms of the scene, one could say the poem's about a walk in the park (which is at least partly true), and that's a small thing, but it's actually looked at from so many angles as to make it a Tardis-like 'hugeness contained within a smallness. So, as I say, it's interesting how it strains at the edges of its "small poems about small things" description [in the blurb]), and in content from Roman coins to a car park fire.

I've seen examples of the Twittersonnet before (in 'Twitterodes' from Pages, and in A Translated Man), but they were no less potent here. When reading them, I feel like I'm descending a small diameter helter-skelter (what a belter...). So quick are the line breaks, for me there's a sense of dizzying pace. And it completely works, not just in the pace of reading, but the stresses it provides, y'know, generally the way they say so much, as Sheppard always does, in such a short space. 'higgs boson', as with most of them, I read over and over. I'm a fan of the cheeky "pip," "dip," and "tip" rhyming, and the way 'photons and leptons' are ensmallenised even further as "...the pho[/] and the lep[/] tons..." I know there are constraints at play, and yet the effect they make - just yes! Like with any good fairground ride, I want to go again. I also like the effect he creates in 'Leeds'. The three numbered parts - which themselves reference art - create this pleasing gallery-within-a-gallery feel. Anyway, I could go on about formal inventiveness in Sheppardian work 'til I'm blue in the face, but for me, sometimes you just can't beat a super serving of sibilance, and so I swing your attention 'The Working Week'-wards, to an image that I'd like to think summed up the author as he got to grips with his poetic material, "A sweat-band soaks up/ the effluent of/ his excess labour." But this is just supposed to be a short mulling over, so I'll leave it there. It looks like Micro Event Space is sold out already - hope you got your copy! And if Twittersonnets are your bag, check out these six from Tyneside by Alan Baker - wonderful living nuggets from the north-east.

Fictionly, I'm reading Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got his Gun. I became aware of Trumbo recently when watching the film based on his life, starring Brian Cranston. It was actually pretty good, genuinely compelling, and avoided (too much) of the glossy white-washing that these biopics often lazily pedal. When I read the synopsis, I was fully expecting a 'yeah, America used to be bad, y'know, with the Communist witch-hunts etc, but now that we've venerated one of the victims, we're cool, right? Right?' kind of thing, but it was more rounded than that. Anyway, film aside, I got to researching Trumbo a bit, and the aforementioned book came up in my trawl. It's a powerful book, up there in terms of emotional effect and unswerving craft vision with American Psycho for me (yes, an odd comparison, but it is what it is!). I won't go into it a lot, but I think that the way he unflinchingly explores the life of his deeply disabled protagonist is inspiring, and rekindles in me the desire to follow through with ideas that my internal censor sometimes says 'no, that's too weird for an audience to like'. I mean, really, the ideas are just what we hang our words on. Here, the words and ideas have a singular effect. I feel really close to Joe - the main character - because his mindscape is so well represented, and his motivations and patterns seem genuine. I'm not too much a fan of the lack of punctuation, which makes reading difficult, but this is perhaps a more sympathetic representation of the processes of Joe's mind - not ordered in a standard(ised) way. In this sense, it was the punctuational equivalent of Chuck Palahniuck's Amy Hempel's 'burnt tongues', forcing you to re-read. I'm not sure if that was entirely the intended effect, but it means that you have to be wary of reading too quick, you know, and because you have to slow down, and open your apertures wide, you take the full force of the light within the book. It is almost blinding. If you've got a strong constitution (mentally as well as physically), then I think you should read it, too. Especially if you're of the right, politically. And/or extreme left, I guess. I dunno. Maybe all humanity should read it... People have got to listen at some point, right? RIGHT? Oh, I forgot...

Well, I've prattled long enough, I think. Soon, I'll have a little muse upon some of the films I've been seeing lately, so, if this post hasn't been too much excitement for you, I'll see you then.

Peace, love, and light, amici!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Hoping for a Fringemas Miracle

This is obviously the Fringemas Carol poster... Courtesy of Alt-Space.
Last Friday, I went to see Alt-Space's 'Fringemas Carol', a production made by, and for, the Morecambrian community. What a laugh it was! If you know me at all, you'll know I'm so far up my own arse, that I've can't even laugh at things ironically anymore. So bogged down in pretentious over-analysis am I, that usually I'm unable to appreciate the joke on the end of my face. Not so, however, with this performance, which was delightfully silly, corny, and occasionally crude, given the appropriate gusto by all the actors. It was especially lovely for me to see two close friends - Jim Lupton and Geoffrey North - assume the roles of Benevolent Scrooge and Scrooge, respectively, who clearly enjoyed 'hamming it up', in the very spirit in which Jim and I wrote the first draft.

That draft was a first in another way, too, in the sense that I've never written stuff for others to perform before (not with an actual production in mind, I mean). It was an interesting process, really, from start to finish. There were lots of Morecambrians at the first meeting back in November, and I was anxious about how everyone would get their voices heard. Initially, Jim and me were writing the first scene, but that escalated to the full five scenes. We both found a solid few days together to nail down the plot arcs, dialogue, directions etc. As I've said elsewhere, we collaborated well together on it, both got our own jokes and stuff in, a lot of which remained in the final version. That was another thing quite new to me, the extent to which our draft would be changed - but not in the way a lot of people assumed. Some folks have thought I'd be annoyed/insulted by people "messing" with my words, but a) I'm aware of (not used to, or practised in) the collaborative process of producing (especially scripts. I mean, the logistics of a project can only truly be understood after contact with the event conditions, run-throughs and stuff, and the players have new ideas of their own too, so this medium is almost made to be changed. It's a natural part of the process), and b) my journey through life has ably taught me how egotistical thoughts (i.e. thinking of MY work, and how PERFECT it is) are a way of goading the cosmos into slapping you down into the ground.

Anyway, the changes were genuinely big improvements. One of my memories of the night that will stay with me 'til I get Alzheimer's is how big the smiles and laughter were of the kids in attendance. I know how schmaltzy that sounds, but it was true - those kids really enjoyed being there, and the songs that were added in after our initial draft were a big part of that. But, as I said before, lots stayed in, and it was a new buzz for me to have an audience laugh at things I'd written, and I felt so proud of Jim when people laughed at his jokes, and my other friends, too, because of their vibrant performances. A special mention to Matt Panesh, who put it all together and co-directed with June Metcalfe, all the actors, the costumiers, proppers, and the very public that came out to support us, and added to the ambience with singing and 'oh yes it is-ing'. It was truly a lovely night.

Now, a key change. The very place that has hosted our fair panto is in danger. Because of a lack of funding to cover the basics such as rent, Mr Panesh is being forced to close the whole shebang down. This is a huge shame, as you can see by all the glowing comments in this article. Although life and (mainly) work have prevented me from visiting Alt-Space as much as I would have liked, I still remember my first time there - going to a debating night, where I met friendly new people, and had a fun time irreverently arguing various different cases. Then there was a play reading group, which was another night outside my comfort zone, but it was energising to look at a form I hardly engage with, and actually look at the performance side of things - gives you a fresher outlook on your own writing practice, I reckon.

One of the positives, whatever happens, is that the fantastic Morecambe Fringe Festival can still go ahead (because they can use other venues to host their acts). The problem with that, though, is that the inclusion of local talent and home-grown shows will be much more difficult, because Matt has been using Alt-Space to build up these performers. Watching these local-wrought shows have been amongst my most amazing Morecambe memories over the last couple of years, and being around the buzz of rehearsals, re-writes, and reviewers has been an honour and a pleasure. I hope, therefore, that this is not the end.

Now, another key change - back to near where we were originally BUT NOT QUITE. Next year, if all goes well, I believe there's a proposed rebranding of Alt-Space to the West End Play House, shedding a brighter limelight on local drama talent (though I'm sure that house will still include the wonderful comedy, spoken word etc to which we have become addicted), for which there is a great anticipation. There is a fundraising page up already (clicking on this paragraph will take you there), and their target is £5,000, which should provide a fair bit of breathing space with the landperson well into the new year, and allow Morecambe to continue to have this vital, fertile atmosphere for artists. I think the best thing to do is to give what we can and even if that's nothing monetary, we can raise awareness by sharing the fundraiser link. If the right people see it, and get behind the project, then we should be able to put a significant dent in the rent, as it were.  So please have a look at the fundraiser, please look at the proposals, and please do what you're able - whether that be financially, or spreading the message, or both.

Peace, love, and light, folks :D
Write or wrong, we helped to create the Fringemas panto - Jim on the left, me on the right.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Best Laid Plans

Ages ago, I had big plans to write a grand 'this week in the arts' post, in which I was going to assume the role of one of my obnoxious Blogtastic characters, and promise a thrilling instalment every week - the joke being that it was a shallow one-off. I was going to put a lot of effort into it - jokes ideas, drafting, and such - and hoped to be proud of it. Alas, as we know, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, and I'm months down the line with no Blogtastic posts. So I'm going to sit here and write nakedly (no, I won't apologise for that image). It won't be a highly polished piece, but, damnit, I want to share with you as many of the positives as I can remember since I was last around. It has been too long!

Firstly, there has been at least some writing. I had an idea for a new novel while I was on a little break in gorgeous Ribblehead (where, I must brag, I had embarrassingly good weather for the time of year - so my boots got a good pounding), which is loosely to do with the battle between a natural life and the lure of technological advancements - particularly social media. I don't think it's an earth-shattering existential exposé, but the dark comedy of my idea tickled me, and I'm both sad that the idea has been left to go colder, but also hopeful that I get time to go back to it, and rekindle it (along with my last novel in progress, for that matter. And the one before that... [and so on - Ed.]. I've also been writing some non-fiction bits and bats (I did five essays based on 'the five paths to happiness' that we discussed in a talking group I now go to every week. I'll write out these tenets at the end), have carried on with my dream diary and gratitude journal (or gratitude diary and dream journal?), dabbled with a couple of poems (one of which turned out to be a dead-end of inspiration, whilst one I can actually see getting into a finished state with relative ease). What else... I think that's about it, apart from writing letters to my dad, and one more thing, for which I am going to subtly start a new paragraph.

Ribblehead quarry (makes me a Quarryman)
That thing is film reviews. In the past three months, I have seen more films at the cinema than I had in the past three years (actually, until recently, I've hardly been watching any films on the telly or anything. It can be surprisingly easy to let things that bring you joy slip from your life). One has been brilliant, one has been a decent effort, one has been pants, and the watching of another one has eluded me so far... But my point is that, as well as re-discovering the joy of movie-going - making plans, seeing it at the height of newness, not being interrupted by adverts, the spectacular big screen and surround-sound, that feeling of leaving the building and looking at nightstruck Morecambe with another world lingering in your senses - I've been writing reviews. Again, I had planned to have them up on Blogtastic sharpish - which hasn't happened - but I hope that mentioning it here will act as a promise to you, dear audience, and will help prompt me to overcome my issues [don't go into them. Please - Ed.] and publish them.

I've been to the theatre a couple of times, too. Way back in August (was it?), I saw a night of Eastern European theatre in Lancaster, which was very powerful. There was a one-person performance of Macbeth - in Slovakian - was, in short, defamiliarizing and refamiliarizing, and had amazing physicality and energy, and was memorable and touched me with its emotional resonance. There was also a Polish multimedia piece centring on gulags, which was dourer, and perhaps more thought provoking in a direct way - especially as it was based on more tangibly real history. I am assured by one of the organisers that it will be back bigger and better next year, so keep your eyes peeled on the Storey Institute's various event regurgitation channels. The second thing I saw was a Lancaster-based production of Wind in the Willows. It wouldn't be my first choice usually, but I went because someone I know was in the cast, and he did a great job in about five different roles (I'd struggle with one! Blimey!). It seems Lancaster Grand Theatre's visions get bigger and bolder, and yet they realise them with aplomb - the limits of the stage are stretched to fit in all the characters and props, and all the singing and dancing is tight and well-realised. Fantastic.

Speaking of screen and stage (look back at the last two paragraphs...), I'm still thankful and excited that all of Lewis' hard work over at LBP Productions has resulted in the wonderful The Way to a Man's Heart - a deliciously dark short film based on a short story I wrote of the same name. Check it out, you won't regret it! I don't think so, anyway... I mean, you might, but [okay, okay, that's enough of that... - Ed.] And as for the stage bit, a good friend of mine in Morecambe - Jim Lupton - and myself worked on a script a month or so ago for a local Christmas panto. It's the folks at Alt-Space that're producing the play, with the help of the West End players. It was a fun writing process - we focused on different elements (such as plot and dialogue) that complimented each other, and also worked together on some of the elements (such as jokes), had lots of laughs between us, and reached a first draft quickly. It was the first time I've worked with Jim on anything other than pub banter haha, and we want more. Fingers crossed we get our wish, and make a big difference with our words in the near future.

Pantomime flier, courtesy of Alt-Space. Come and watch it, if you're free!
Next [and hopefully finally... - Ed.] is reading. Did you know, you're doing it right now? I've been doing some, too. I finally got round to reading Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, after many years of wanting to, and a few years of even (sort of) having it in my possession. I'm obviously glad I read it, as to me it's clearly the work of a very sharp mind, and it entertained me. It's not my favourite 'dystopian' novel by quite a way tho (and would remain a way off, I think, even if 'The Book' was taken out of it) - I prefer We (which, I believe, inspired Orwell quite heavily), This Perfect Day (even though that has more of a thriller vibe to it in some ways), and, I dunno, maybe Brave New World too. People had overhyped 1984 for me, and whereas, yes, the things Orwell wrote about were imaginatively prescient, I think Newspeak is the only concrete 'wow' facet for me. All these other works, in my opinion, have more aptly predicted more resonant issues in our society (the way people are tracked in TPD seems more like our mobile phones, and ties in with self-policing in a less obvious way), or put a wilder spin on things, to show us how we are. But anyway, rant over - of course it is a great work, and deserves its accolades as one of the canonical pillars of modern western literature.

Speaking of pillars, deserving of his own paragraph here is Robert Sheppard. His Drayton's Idea sonnet translations - that I have been enjoying immensely on Pages - have come to an end (oh no!), due to Brexit's depressingly slow - and ominous - roll. He has extended the project (oh yay!) using Drayton work from Idea's Mirror, which is a boon to those who lap it up like me. The guy is just unfathomably clever. The concept alone is genius, but to be that erudite, to contain imagery, humour, but also work density into his language as well as he does... It is first of all witty and entertaining, but as valid a political document as you could want also. It amazes and inspires me, and I've not this way about someone's swift, deft, and staminous [are you talking about the quality of having great stamina? Because 'staminous' ain't that... - Ed.] efforts since Tim Allen's 'Not National Poetry Day' project. I would love both of these projects to be published in full. It makes me feel good about life to experience work by people who are so on top of the game - sharp, irreverent, ludic etc - but have all the technical ability you could imagine to back it all up and help it hang together.

I feel like I should give Ian Seed his own paragraph now (it's been a long time coming, to be fair). Sorry, I'm being silly now... Anyway - I read Distances by Ian Seed recently, and enjoyed that a lot. I am not an expert on prose poetry, and couldn't really define it, except that I feel comfortable basking in Seed's living scenes. I think this prose poetry is where action meets an image/scene and produces a sense of being close to a life lesson, or a cosmic message. It's like an aphorism in motion, but when I say that, it falls so short of Seed's wonderfully comic eye (as it were). I mean, he portrays the humour (sort of dark humour, but not dark dark. Maybe shades of grey, like the lack of obvious right and wrong in the world his characters inhabit - there's no clear way, there's just being, and trying, and a sort of resolution in failure) in a situation, in the people's proximity to achieving their intentions, but someone or something falls short. They are like jokes in set-up, too, (like, their framing) so maybe that's where the poetic element comes in, because the way the form and content play is not 'prosaic' - or standardly prosaic, anyway. I have got no idea what I'm saying. Unintentionally. This is not a joke [don't we know it... - Ed.]. Help! Can I just repeat that I really enjoyed Distances? The scenes were very vibrant, and there were many images I can recall even now, but more than this was the breath blown into the players, and I can't rid myself of the 'cosmic cringe' I felt, feeling sorry for these characters and the gaffes they cause/are embroiled in, but knowing that it could not have been elsewise. Oh damnit, I'm rambling again. One of my favourite lines was [bus thing. Loss]. This was from Red Ceilings, and, also from them, I am looking forward to reading my copy of Sheppard's Micro Event Space. He has been, as usual, very generous in publishing related materials on Pages, and in reading them, I have made my appetite keen.

Riiiiiiiiiight.. That's surely more than enough for one post? But, as I said, I'm not going to polish it. This is it. Deal with it. Please.

What are you up to, anyway?

Peace, love, and light :)

Five Paths to Happiness (as they appeared in our group conversation)
  1. Be active
  2. Keep learning
  3. Help others
  4. Take notice
  5. Connect

Friday, 4 October 2019

Interesting Submission Opportunity

Here is a story from the publishing world, involving dark humour [content note: Nazism] and judgement:

I find anything that has caused debate like this interesting, and can generally see it from more than one side. I do think people should be able to make whatever jokes they like, but I'd like them to be as aware of context as possible, to try and avoid hurting others. However, that hope can only bely the potential to be hurt. Which is natural.

This is, after all, life, which, is currently full of humans. They inevitably make mistakes, but are also capable of such positivity. It's all about controlling what we can in our personal lives - whether you're the one who wants to make a joke, or the one that wants to react to that. Both people can be said to be trying to improve (and impress?) a behavioural community, and, in the case of the 'commenters', they are at least partly trying to improve the 'worldview' as it were.

I think the submission opportunity is, from their point of view, a good move (ideologically, and easy to get publicity for), and I have thought about the implications of sending them something... It's one to mull over...

I couldn't say much more without going into a book-length essay (I've already made this longer than I wanted to!) If I receive a suitable advance, maybe I'll get cracking on that. Anyway, what do you think?

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Way to a Film's Launch

The Way to a Man's Heart poster, courtesy of LBP Productions

Brilliant news! From LBP Productions comes a darkly humourous short film - The Way to a Man’s Heart - based on a short story written by yours truly. I am immensely proud of director Lewis, and his team’s, hard work in scripting, filming, acting, and editing this gem, and think it's a lovely interpretation of the original material. You can, and should, check out the film HERE, and keep up with more LBP Productions news HERE.

In honour of the film’s recent release, I thought I’d say a little bit about the source material - my story, also called ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ - and where that came from. Sometime in 2015, I was watching a documentary about Stephen Fry’s travels around central America in a yellow school bus. He was visiting a prison in Honduras - ‘murder capital of the world’ - where he spoke to a woman who’d had something like seven husbands, who she’d killed and had either eaten, sold as meat, or both. It struck Stephen that she seemed really ‘normal’ to speak to, and it struck me that still, today, there are humans who, for whatever reason, are pulled toward modes of behaviour that seem too ‘evil’ to be real - like the whole Sweeney Todd legend, for example, but it does go on.
Around the same time as this, a dear aunt of mine told me about a short fiction competition I might like to enter - the Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing - which has food and/or drink as its theme, the clue being the title... These two things swam around in my head, and soon coalesced as this thing about a strained relationship being, initially, ‘healed’ by a lovingly-made meal. It’s true that good company and nourishment can improve our mood, but I was intrigued by an almost supernatural angle - inspired in part by the Roman idea that you absorb the characteristics of animals you eat - and I think the first draft came pretty easily. Certainly the dinner scene was the focal point of my efforts, and was a kind of fun to write. I had a lot of polishing to do, though. My word count needed reducing to fit the rules of the competition anyway, and I had a lot of self-indulgent motifery to cut, along with the usual concerns of good writing (no clichés, adverbs, or silly grammatical over-complications, make sure speech is natural, etc, etc), but I took the job as seriously as I ever have, I think.
Around this time, I sent the story out to volunteer friends to proof read, and let me know their thoughts (thank you all, again!). Lewis was one who, happily, obliged. We’d studied at Edge Hill together and shared certain lessons in scriptwriting. I particularly remember one time when we were having a conversation about some of the weird things we have to research for our work, including, for those whose stories involve a bit more gore, how long it would normally take a human to bleed to death from various wounds. Writers, eh? Anyway, we had remained writing compadres, keeping up on each other’s news, and passing along bits to read now and again - as it was with this project.
After reading it, and giving me some feedback, I eventually had my final draft, which was duly dispatched to the Mogford Prize in March 2016. I don’t remember the timeline after this, but there was a moment where interest was expressed in making ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ a film (later in the same year?). Being a good friend, and someone whose writing and positivity I admire, I sold Lewis the rights for a knock-down, virtually nominal fee of one million quid - which I have since invested in local public house projects.
We liaised on it from scripting to casting, and he listened to what I had to say with regards to how certain edits panned out, but honestly, all my input could genuinely be summed up in the ‘brilliant work, keep going’ kind of vein, because that’s how it was, nothing else was needed. As for the story of the filming itself, you’d really have to ask Lewis what the craic was - although he has put some lovely set pictures up on his site, so we can look behind the scenes in that respect. Again, all I can say is how high quality the end result is, in all respects, and, simply, I enjoyed watching it. I hope Lewis and his colleagues gain lots of deserved recognition for their work, and that they keep feeling inspired and energetic, thus producing many more fine pieces like this. 
         And just so you know, ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ did not win the Mogford Prize. I know, I know, the judges are absolutely blind, and I was totally the best by a million clear miles. Yes, yes, must’ve been favouritism. A conspiracy, you say? Oh, I don’t know if I’d go that far. But now you mention it… Anyway, now that the boos have died down, I can say that none of that matters, really, because I feel like I’ve won a much more valuable prize in seeing Lewis’ vision come wonderfully to life. It’s a prize you too can view, and that link, again, is thus:
Peace, love, and light, folks!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

A Right Ol' Catch-Up

It's been that long since I posted anything, that a lot of you - especially my enemies at home and abroad - may be thinking/hoping that I've died. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've not. I'm still very much here, and still kicking up stinks.
   I've been very busy with work, family matters, and self-abuse. In-between this trio of fantastic pursuits (especially fantastic for the 18-30 demographic, according to Fantastic Pursuits for People Aged Eighteen to Thirty Weekly), I have been lucky enough to do some illuminating things what I enjoy. The main thing what I've enjoyed is the third Morecambe Fringe Festival, which ran from the 4th July to the 20th, and already seems like it was months ago... I managed to see four shows, and the quality was high, as always.
   The first one I saw was my good pal Jim Lupton, and June Metcalfe, who are part of the 'West End Players'. I'm so happy for Jim, who expanded on his work at the last 'Scratch Festival' in Morecambe - a series of spoken word pieces. He'd put so much effort in to remember lots of material, and one of his newest characters - the Cooler King - involved a lot of dramatic acting, which he really sold. He made us laugh, cogitate, and cry, with his tales and poetry centring on the theme of solitude. I can't wait to see what he gets up to next. June was fantastic, also, performing some of Alan Bennett's 'Talking Heads' monologues with real flair. I was genuinely laughing out loud, and, as a comedy snob, that's an achievement in itself.
   The next one was Dean Tsang, who is a rising star and a half. He's an experimental poet who used a variety of forms and voices to explore the theme of 'awkward questions'. He looked at some genuinely touching personal issues in his work, which I thought was very generous, along with more universal things, and yet there was lots of humorous wit, too, so as an audience member, I felt my emotional muscles were getting a good workout. In the context of the local scene as I know it, it's even more amazing that there's such a bright, innovative, and mature talent. My abiding memory is of one poem where he basically performed multivocally, layering different sentences and sounds over each other (well, that was the effect, at least), a very impressive facet of his performative skill. I was even luckier to get to speak to him afterwards, and chat about his work.
   Then I saw Rowan Padmore, whose show was about "bereavement, loss and loneliness in Morecambe." It was a powerful show, and, honestly, I felt depressed afterwards. Not that it was one-dimensional at all - there were laughs aplenty - but the sense of loss was quite relentless and stuck with me afterwards. My imagination was in overdrive - perhaps aided slightly by being set in my home town - with the rich characters, and the driving through-narrative that tied the performance poetry together, which all speaks to Padmore's talent as a writer.
   Lastly, I saw the last show - Laura Monmoth's 'Trans Vision Scamp'. I don't know if I've ever mentioned the fact that I'm a comedy snob before, but Laura broke through all of my silly hubris, and I was crying with laughter at points. Being sat at the front, I was picked on a couple of times, but it felt warm, which is key - as Mr Rickles will tell you. I'm not sure what else to say! I don't want to ruin any gags - especially not the multimedia ones - in case you go see her (which you should, given half the chance), but just know that it gets five hilarity stars out of five from me.
   I got, and took, the chance to review Dean and Rowan for the Lancashire Evening Post. It was an honour to contribute, alongside a number of other volunteers, and be published with what I'd normally enjoy writing during the Fringe anyway. I think this was part of the reason I didn't review them on Blogtastic before now, as I had used up my reflective impetus somewhat. I'm not sure if I'm able to reproduce the reviews here, but I'm going to assume so, until such time as I am told otherwise :)
   More recently (three days ago, in fact), I was lucky enough to take part in doing a bit of setting up the Make My Day festival that the Exchange Creative Community organises and executes annually. I was working through the festival itself, so couldn't attend, but it was lovely meeting up with the other volunteers, having a laugh, getting stuck in and helping out, y'know. With the way my life's going at the mo, it felt like a holiday, and was most replenishing, even though I was knackered afterwards haha. One lovely memory from the day of the festival itself; from my window at work, I saw a family walking down the prom - a parental couple and two children - and the dad was faithfully clutching a pair of wooden dogs that they had crafted at the festival, and I knew that they'd had a lovely day together, with memories that'll last a long time. Look out for it next year, and make sure to keep up with what's happening through their mailing list, or Facebook, or whatever the hell your preference is.
   I was going to talk about other things, such as what I've been reading lately, how the writing's going, and whether I've finally set a date for the wedding, but my editor's giving me a look, like, "Oh god, he's at it again... If you have to go on another interminable solipsistic ramble, at least break it up and put it in another post. You do this all the time, writing all these long, drawn-out pieces that, y'know, might be excusable if they were only on a decent topic, or, hey, just written in a fresh, exciting way, like, had an engaging tone. But no. It's like trying to eat your way through so much sawdust - bland, nutritionless, hard work. Could you imagine what he's like outside of work? I bet it's 'me me me'. All. The. Flipping. Time. We should fire this guy. Seriously! I know he's been sneaking out with office supplies. I'm not just talking about a pen here, and a pen there... I caught him last week trying to load one of our photocopiers into his mate's van. He tried to shrug it off with a joke, but that was as pathetic as his blogging: unfunny, poorly-structured, and leaving me questioning why I bother. And would it kill him to put even just a penny into our monthly charity nominations box? How can you not want to help puppy amputees? I won't even go into the whole rant he went on when I questioned him about it, 'charity begins at home, we need to stop giving money to foreigners and take back control'... How he ever landed head writer at Blogtastic, I'll never know..." so I suppose, I'll sign off for now.

Peace, love, and light,


From The Lancashire Evening Post.

From The Lancashire Evening Post, also.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Through the Haze

Side one of a locally-distributed Scratch Fest flyer.
There's some pretty cool stuff going on in Morecambe at the mo, at Alt-Space’s 'Scratch-Fest', a festival aiming to air acts and give them feedback before the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe. It's always hard to talk about this kind of thing, because the diversity of a festival of this nature is hard to encapsulate neatly, but hey, here goes.

The first thing I saw - and one of the stand-outs so far - was a stylophone-based musicomedy performance, with self-deprecation and 'off the wall' jumps from image to pun. It’s one the best acts I've seen since Stuart Lee, and you should check out 'Stylophobia With Dan Rubinstein' on Facebook for his upcoming gigs. I found a lot of it was funny because it wasn't all that funny - "corny" is a word Dan used himself, which is a very apt one for me - and the intentional lack of slickness is part of not just the charm, but also the element of surprise, that, for me, made his jokes burn brighter.

On another night, though, we've had a journey through Richard Pulsford's research into his family's military history in 'Conflict of Interest'. I thought, because he was introduced as a comedian, that the presentation he was giving was going to be an elaborate ruse for a whole heap of humour. In the end, it was a 'straight' account of said history and, whereas not my 'usual cup of tea', it was still a pleasure to be able to attend, to see someone's work made reality, and to learn.

There was, of all things, a delightful nun - Sister Christian - who was captivating in her fascination with balls and juggling them, who peppered her performance with double-entendres. It amused me and made me feel very carefree. We had a chap (who I can't find on Facebook - sorry!) perform a scene from his Michael Jackson and Prince show (did you know they were both born in the same year?). They're two artists I'm not overly fond of, but the possibilities of his act - exploring the lives of two such eccentric superstars - are undeniably fascinating (and he's playing both of them, as I understand it). Also, we were treated to some proper magic by local legend Kevin Cunliffe - who I've always found to be a warm guy, generous with his time y'know, just because he's a star, doesn't mean to say he doesn't have time to chat, which is groovy. He kept the audience gasping in surprise, even the sceptics amongst us. We also had a more politically-focused poet, who, despite rhyming, made some good points, and made them in interesting ways. His name escapes me, as he replaced someone else on the roster, but, well, just be on the lookout for any poetry in your area, and maybe he’ll be there? Who knows…

I've talked before about the privilege it is to be able to go to poetry readings - and this festival is very similar. It’s not just being in an environment where works are more ‘in progress’ than you might see in, say, a big arena, but also to get to talk to the artists afterwards is great. I had a good few words with Richard after his show about the process of him putting his presentation together, and he was very generous in chatting to me - especially as I’m just this randomer with a can of lager and healthy disrespect for personal boundaries.

To have time with them away from the stage (i.e. in the pub) is always fascinating, too. I often consider it my duty to buy these heroes of the stage a drink (a personal thank you for their efforts), and often we have a chat about their act. In Dan's case, we spoke comedic aesthetics, and the possibilities of punnery, as well as how lucky we felt to have him, and how lucky he felt to have such a space (outside his usual London) to take his work. In Kev's case, we spoke a bit about his career (punctuated by more 'tricks' of his).

I've also been lucky to spend quite a bit of time with Walter DeForest, creator and embodier of the fantastic and internationally-renowned 'Van Gogh Find Yourself'. Whereas last time I spoke to him more about his act, this time it was thrilling to just ramble about any old anecdotes, share in cheeky puerile humour, and some of the Sportz Banter (TM). Other members of our fair Morecumbrian society were talking about CBD-soaked (literally) times, and, although the oils weren't flowing in reality, the intoxication was caused by these crazy, switched-on, rule-makers and -breakers, the inspirers and questioners of our time and place. It's a massive boon that there are suddenly places now in my home town that cater for us misfits, thanks to Matt Panesh and his team. It's just wonderful to be mixed with all these idea-mongers and talent-spinners, talking across genres and experience levels.

And this festival's only just beginning, y'know. My good friend Jim will be performing later today, and there’s more through the week. I could do with knocking [some... most...] of the drinking I previously alluded to on the head, but, I must admit, alcohol is an easy lubricant that gets some of the big-energy ideas dripping out the holes in our brainsponge. It is through this haze that I've largely been looking lately - and the things I have seen, my friend... Oh, the things I have seen...
Side two, detailing the acts.