When the thing is virtual, digital, electronic, unreal:
Through the years I must have received more than a hundred rejections or several hundred (if you count the electronic ones). Yet I seemed to have somehow ignored, shrugged off, be cheered by, be angered by, rejuvenated by, devastated by, thwarted by, enriched by, encouraged by, empowered by or simply unaffected by them.
Many times I wanted to drag the document into the trashcan icon on my computer. No one stopped me and at any point I could have done this especially when I was drunk, pig-headed, feeling strong or all three, and I am often all three.
Writing is sadomasochistic because…
…nobody cares. Many times I said I should just GIVE UP. Even though Winston Churchill said never ever to do such a thing. Did I mention I am a true artist? I will probably cut off my ear soon. You don’t write because of self-belief. You can’t. No fiction writer truly believes fiction unless they are only five. I don’t believe anything. I have to write because otherwise drops of blood would appear on my desk. That’s why it is sadomasochistic.
Nobody likes it, nobody even reads this sh1t. Yet stuff I wrote did not end up in the trashcan icon. How easily one’s life’s work is dumped by computer. Friends have told me to keep this sh1t no matter what.
When printed out, real, physical:
Now I am terrified. This is the first novel I wrote. I have a second one. They are both unpublished. But I have printed out just the first one. This is because I had to send it off for a competition.
This thing that I wrote for so many years exists. It can even sit on a table or a floor and look at me. I really did spend sh1tload5 of time, years and years, forming words, forming sentences, making it, carving, whittling, planning, thinking, typing, reading, re-writing, cutting, adding, cutting, adding, and breathing it to life. This thing! This monster. It is real. It is 281 pages, can cause paper cuts, and has serious weight. It is 3D, it has thwack factor. (That means you can thwack someone with it and they will end up in A&E). It may even move me. That is what has changed today.
Apart from being laughed at in the print shop and having to carry out a conversation involving an elevator pitch to ‘so what’s it about? what’s it about?’ I had my three-word reply because I have rehearsed this so many times during my hundred or so rejections. Followed by: Sheep-faced, I even managed to read out the first page to a room full of printer guys. My first audience and interview. This is the audience feedback: ‘Hey you wrote a book. Man! She wrote a book guys! Hey guys! Everybody. She wrote a book. She. Wrote. A. Book’.
It was “dance, experimental, arty” and that I must come, said Nina the friend who was organising the girl’s night out evening for her birthday do. We were a party of eight. I have never been to experimental theatre before, let alone experimental dance, never been to Sadler Wells or Lilian Baylis Studio. How often does one get treated to theatre tickets in one’s lifetime? I think you can count the number of times in a hand. I could not say no to her. (Aside: no recording was allowed therefore I have no photos or audio clips to show of the night, much as I was itching to do a 15 second trailer. Being a neanderthal, I only just learnt to do this on my iPhone and I can’t stop making mini Instafilms now.)
I had deliberately not read the blurb or synopsis prior to watching “For Now, I am…”. I wanted to experience surprise, freshness and my own interpretation. I found Marc Brew‘s performance not only fresh and surprising, but revealing and poignant. It was his own personal story of becoming disabled and recovering. Marc was a professional dancer from NSW Australia and became paralysed after a car accident 19 years ago. This is his story about being reborn.
was composed by Glaswegian Claire McCue and began with the tentative sequence of open minor 7th piano chords. I knew there was something tender and heart wrenching going on. (All musicians know this, not just me). This is what they do in arthouse European cinema. It is very evocative, timeless and effective. Enters the cello, and so the most baritone-voiced string element. When the music builds towards the finale with diminished 7th alternating and repetitive arpeggios, so does the tension. The melodic theme is so strong you could actually sing it. It would work ‘live’, if the piano player cum composer McCue and the cellist Andrew Huggan turned up and played it would not have looked or sounded wrong. I wish I could hear it again. It is indeed a beautiful piece of music.
Structure and storytelling
is traditional (not experimental!) in approach, and therefore had a beginning, middle and a twist.
SPOILER ALERT (avert eyes from now on to the end if you do not want to know)
When the story begins he faces away from the audience, calm, seemingly asleep, lying down. The view from the audience was that of his bald head. (My friend Tina joked to me that that must be what I view everyday since my own hubby’s head was as bald and shiny as Marc’s). The whole show is floor-based except in the final scene.
The second movement was most difficult to take because the music was jarring, abrasive and plinky plonky (sorry I don’t know how to technically define it) Marc is in a cave with dripping water sounds echoing throughout. He appears to be convulsing, swatting or slapping insects and in a state of irritation and agitation. At this point I still did not know he was disabled because I did not read the blurb beforehand.
I was totally taken by astonishment and amazement when he unveiled his legs towards the final scene, making them walk with his own hands, as we would to a doll. This well-built, young dancer had legs with no muscular definition, that he was indeed a disabled person, vulnerable yet brave because he has told the story so well. He brought us on his personal journey and brought us into his world. Now I understood the first and second movement. It all made sense.
In the denouement, my own view was that it was the visual opposite of the crucifixion. Marc was upside down and being strung up like a hunk of meat by his own paralysed legs. At the same time, the eyeline of the character had been raised for the first time, like a curtain being raised, and raised to well above the eyeline of the audience. He was seeing the world upside down now. At the same time, his expression was that of resignation.
Was low-tech, simple and minimalist, an elasticated waistband around a Jesus-type loincloth pants, and chunky foot bandages.
Again simple and minimalist, almost clinical and religious in what it represented. A very enormous sheet of white Kabuki silk. A theatrical hook and guylines at the end.
Video projection and lighting
The opening scene begins with video projection of window panes onto the sheet of white silk and a light that strikes the window pane and moves down in a strobing effect, as we see when we are in a car at night, or when search lights cover a harbour. The sheet then becomes a calm sea, the sea that is brought to life later and becomes stormy when Marc apparently wakes up from his state of unrest or coma. The third scene has snow-like projections but instead of coming down, they are going up, thereby in keeping with the fact that he is in fact upside down.
was chaired by Alistair Spalding (Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler Wells). They talked about Marc’s CV to date, what he is working on and what he would be working on. Marc discussed the themes that inspired him, such as that of water. Marc did swear on stage at one point, when talking about having performed this solo before and the audience went silent, he said he was thinking “Oh 5h1t they don’t like this”. I think that’s the nice thing about Aussies, they don’t mince words, they say it like it is and they are straight-talking. I thought he seemed like a nice guy, just a regular person. I was educated, and lived in and worked in Sydney, Australia for 8 years so I should know. I just love the country, the wine, the people and of course the climate.
Question and Answer Session
I asked Marc what he missed about Sydney and Melbourne and how often he went back home. I was first to ask a question. Alistair liked my question very much :-D. Marc said he missed the sunshine and family. He has just been back to Australia and he aims to go back home once a year as he has been in Glasgow for more than ten years.
Someone asked what I thought was a dumbed down question. She asked if Marc “worked out” as he looked “fit”. Oi, this is a dancer, Mrs. They all work out and look fit. It is actually a bit insulting because what she is really saying is: ‘you are disabled but you look fit’. You gotta look at it for real: this is a dancer, don’t even think of the disability. He is a total professional.
Someone said he found the performance “uncomfortable” and that he felt “grumpy” and this is “not a criticism”. The man has missed the point. Which is:
“The purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
Marc has done just that. He is not baring his soul and his body in order to entertain and thrill, this is not the Lion King, this is a story of one man’s journey into discovering the unknown and to find himself again. And just one man’s story consisted of 14 names on the credit list to make this story happen and bring it to the masses.
Someone else said she found the performance vulnerable and she could empathise how lonely it must have been for Marc. I can totally agree with that.
I wanted to ask Marc what he likes to do and where does he like to go when in London, but there wasn’t time.
“For Now, I am…” is a most thoughtful, moving performance by Marc and I didn’t think it was uncomfortable at all. I thought it was very positive and heartwarming and of course, a thing of beauty. A lovely memorable evening out with the girls which I will cherish always. Thanks, Nina for your kindness and generosity, without which I would not have found myself in Sadlers Wells, Islington, last night. The three dots after “I am” is actually a clue as to the denouement of the show, one that provokes a central wisdom. He is what he is, and he plainly reveals it. I dance too but I am bloody useless. I can’t even control the limbs I have let alone the limbs I don’t have. Enough said. I would never complain about going en pointe with chilblains in the middle of February again. Or walking an entire block in heels in the rain. Marc is gifted, proud, a natural leader and achiever and has gained much, much more in the last twenty years than us able-bodied in a lifetime.
How can a novel written by The Times journalist-celebrity-critic flop?
This is the question. And it is answered very well in this TV programme on Sky Arts, Mon 29 February 2016: Giles Coren: My Failed Novel. Every writer, published, unpublished, successful, unsuccessful, commercial, literary – should watch it. It has all the answers. It is packed to the eyeballs with information and advice. And they are all shown, not told.
had his dream come true too easily. Then it became a nightmare. He was taunted by bad reviews and poor sales. Every writer dreams of writing a novel, a first novel at that, and being published. What happens when the crit comes ten years too late?
Giles comes across very well – honest, modest and humble. I have always loved his restaurant reviews, especially those of Chinese food as I enjoy discovering what he knows and does not know. In My Failed Novel, he bares his soul, shared and gave away vital statistics, the facts and figures that plague all writers and readers – can you make money writing? There are interviews with the top editors of top publishing houses, bestselling authors both literary and commercial fiction such as Jeffrey Archer, Rachel Johnson (despite being the mayor’s sister, cannot afford to buy hamburgers at her own book launch which costs £3,000 in drinks), Rose Tremain, Hanif Kureishi, David Mitchell, William Nicholson.
Giles also had his first 5,000 words crit by the students at UEA. He even assumed he could simply just do the course to improve his writing until a student pointed out – you have to get on it first! Through much difficulty and competition, I got through to the interview stage in 2004/05 for the Creative Writing MA, but I did not get offered a place. Therefore I have always remembered I have no right to anything. Writing is disappointment in every way possible. I am like any normal person, girl next door, man on the street. Nothing falls into or onto my lap of existence. Nothing in the arts can be taken for granted. There is no given, no polemic, no history. I only know hard work.
The facts and figures
were clear. His failed novel is called Winkler and has been described by the critic Stephen Bayley as “ocean-going, lavatorial awfulness”. How about that for a three-word pitch?
Sold: 771 in hardback, 1400 in paperback. (To be successful you have to sell at least four figures in HB says Howard Jacobson. Or 27 million says Jeffrey Archer for PB copies.)
Agent: Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown
Book launch: none (From £30,000 advance surely there was spare change for a book launch? Couldn’t someone from his restaurant connections do him a two hundred pound deal? This bit was not expounded upon, so I don’t know what the answer is)
The publishers let him down
The agents and publishers took a gamble and took him for granted (see above, first para, nothing in the arts can be taken for granted). Yet this is not some anonymous aircon mechanic from Leicester. This is Giles Coren. This is someone who had top private education all his life, “everything served up on a plate” in his own words, someone who went to Oxford to read English. This is not just anybody. He is very well-connected. I have no connections yesterday, today or tomorrow. Even if I was cleaning the Queen’s loo I would still have ZERO connections. But the publishers did something wrong. They allowed the book to come out with only two drafts. They did not invest enough into Giles. They did not make him work hard for another two years writing and re-writing, which is basically the life of writing. They thought that the name already was the investment.
Lifestyle of Jeffrey Archer
In his gilt mansion, Jeffrey Archer explains that it’s routine, routine, routine. He works from 6 to 8am, 10-12, 2-4pm, 6-8pm. (Presumably he has servants to get his dinner ready, fix the leaky radiator, boiler, gutter and whatever else is leaky, clean the whole mansion daily and to wash and iron his clothes so he is fully able to write during those times undisturbed.) He does 14 drafts before it is ready for his editor’s eyes.
The interview with Rose Tremain
To be a writer, you need three things, discipline and imagination being two of them, I cannot remember the third. But she says that you can be taught to write better. By being an editor to her students at University of East Anglia, she is actually their editor.
The interview with William Nicholson
I found most poignant and moving. There is something visceral about writing, he said. You can only do this with maturity. He published his first book when he was in his fifties. He is now 67 and only now he is getting there, getting to the peak of his writing. I think this applies to literary fiction. Therefore there is still plenty of time for Giles. He can still aim to write a bestseller when he is 55. There is something trite and untrue when writers write with pomp and conviction when they have not experienced life, not life in bars and clubs, but the life of profound emotions (to use the eternal cliche, the human condition). Young writers can only imagine true, deep emotions and the reality of existence. They simply cannot practise what they preach. This is why many young writers write fan fiction of the paranormal, fantasy and horror ilk. I also have read somewhere that writing is an old person’s profession.
All the writers said the same thing. Discipline, hard work, acceptance of failure, just write a damned good book, books sell by word-of-mouth, win a prize. Ben Okri said that winning a prize increases a book’s sales from 1,000 to 50,000 overnight. If you don’t like failure, you should give up and try something else, said William Nicholson.
What happened in the last ten years
A lot, said Coren. Firstly, although it wasn’t mentioned, it was shown – children. Secondly, social media. In fairness, out of the two things that happened, children take up far more time than social media. If we didn’t have social media we would be better parents. If we didn’t have children we would not even need social media. It takes care of social life for those who do not have social life anymore. Giles has 183,000 Twitter followers. If conversion rate is 1%, he could be selling 1830 copies. So 23% more sales in PB if he had written the book now. But this is just if, if, if.
Bad Sex Award
The camera shows him playing with his children in his perfectly manicured garden in North London, very near the broken stone foot covered in moss that he received for his Bad Sex Award – it even had sandals on, like some part of a Greek god. ( I did not know there was such a thing as Bad Sex Award, I thought it was a joke, an Eng Lit myth. If there was indeed such an award, wouldn’t EL James’ garden be totally littered with these trip hazards of stone amputated feet complete with gladiator sandals? Therefore there can’t be such a thing.)
Winkler was written in 2005 and there was no social media, even more so that the book has to sell itself. Nowadays I see that you can sell any rubbish, not just books, if you tweeted like a robot and have followers in the millions. Even if it is only for a short time. As long as you can follow up with a box set. So if this is his dream, then he must not give up. Giles needs to follow up the TV programme with a novel! That’s a novel idea, The 183,000 followers won’t be disappointed.
was positive. Be mature. Write a great book. Readers will know if it’s great, they will love it and they will come. Since you will not know if they will love it and they will come, you need to write for yourself, for love, without pity, without shame, but with humility, sheer determination, hard work and the constant quest for perfection.