Imagine my excitement to discover that my original illustrations are still around – on BBC, YouTube! In my sentimental journeys into the past, enjoy the discovery of analog becoming digital, from TV to internet streaming. In those days, the drawings were prepared and then they were printed and couriered to BBC in White City in a hard envelope. There was no such thing as PDF! There was email but it was rare. You couldn’t email a thing to anyone because no one would even know they got an email. It was 18 years ago and I was young. However, I am still uber-, molto-, uber- technical. Although technology has changed so much, the precise nature of graphics hasn’t.
CAUTION: has graphic content that may be disturbing to some. This explains why I did not watch it in the first place when it was aired.
My sweet little monkey, just look at your face. I often thought of you all these years. I did not know you are still around, and will be forever.
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.
So I had two rejections today, both for short stories. Another for my novel pitch, four days ago.
For those of you who are young (you know who you are), they used to be called rejection slips in the good old days. The postman brought them to your door. They are in thick, creamy, textured, satisfyingly luxurious cards if they are standard rejections with no signature, and A4 thick creamy textured luxurious ribbed Conqueror paper if they have been typed by someone, hence with signature. Wanna see them? I have them in my museum. Nowadays rejections come by email with the heading “thank you for your…”. I don’t need to read the rest. If they liked it and want it, they won’t say “thank you”. Of course not. Why would they say “thank you”? They will start with “we are pleased to…”. There is no “slip”, no textured card to caress, no thick creamy paper to crush or to hang onto with your sweaty fist, no reality, no meaning, nothing but your iPhone screen to look at.
I woke up with this morning told me things were not going well. After a couple of paracetamols, it didn’t go away and after a couple of hours I had to wolf a meal down and pop two ibuprofens. It felt like a hangover and yet I wasn’t having a hangover.
I have been surveying
an office block in Surrey today and had to come home to sad news so not a great day. Tonight I applied to that London Book Fair Agent One to One event. I fully expect to hear nothing. That’s writing life for you. 99.999999999999999999999% rejection. This is for those who have dared to show their stuff and send it out. For those who write and leave it on their hard disk, it’s all OK. The hard disk is the soft pillow. Put your heavy head on it and don’t worry.
As a writer, am I too cool to say this: that I am very disappointed and irritated at myself for putting my stuff out, yet I feel that during the 0.000000000000000000001%* times that I had been successful, I had been truly successful, such as when I won the literary prize. Had I never ever been affirmed as a writer, I would have given up long ago. Underneath the aged grime, dirt and tarnish, the glint.
One has to look on the shiny side
The headache is gone. After the survey in Surrey, I actually found a pound on the ground. The gold disc was glinting. I couldn’t believe it. That’s, like, five ringgit! I had to ask myself, a pound or someone accepting my writing? I am not sure what is the value of my writing. Or dare I say, the worth.
* hope I got the number of decimal points right. If not, shoot me.
no sweets for me
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7236774@N05/3518111460″>Pound rolling</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/71380981@N06/16439868149″>Everyone Deserves a Little Portland Oregon</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Finally the day had come. The planning took about four weeks, six if you include thinking time, and I always include thinking time because without it, the rest won’t follow anyway.
Possibly the best photo ever taken of me at a book launch, thanks Ben
Please can I not have to do a selfie again.
Ladies who launch! L-R Nina, me, Siew Fong, Josephine, Mary
Josephine and Mary
Piano parts, Piano Man and Piano Girl – Me and Ben and piano parts sculpture
Geoff, Gerry and Siew Fong
Me and Tina
Me and Siew Fong
Nick and Nina
View towards back of gallery
View towards front of gallery
Gerry, me and Siew Fong
The four Js – Geoff, John, Jo and Josephine
The three Js – Geoff, John and Jo
Credit goes to:
Ben Chan for the photographs and the videos. Penny for emceeing. Not only do we share the same Chinese sign and the same birthday, we have shared twenty years of friendship. Geoff (Notes Story Board) for dealing with the 5H1T that day and of preceding days, providing minicab service, helping with things too technical for my vintage brain such as setting up blog and putting my book on Amazon UK:
and looking after my friends and my stuff on the night. Lastly thanks to Sunita for your kindness and your friendship from beginning to end. I could not have done it without you guys. You have made my New Year very special and full of FIRE!
HUNGRY – PART II – How I did it
What is a book launch?
I scribbled down what I thought this should be since I have never done one myself – a reading, drinks, snacks, interview and most importantly, attendees. Without attendees you might as well just read at home in pajamas. Readers, writers, heed – nowadays you have to do everything yourself. Publishers like to know you can work from dawn to dusk until your eyes pop out and know how to save them money by being a know-it-all and do-it-all so that you can make them even more money. I see them as employers. Why should they invest in you if you don’t invest in them? Because you write?
Arrival of the Southfields contingent at around 7 pm bearing cold drinks and I don’t mean teh ais.
Siew Fong and Sunita having a chat before others arrive
is probably the most important thing. I considered doing the launch at home but it is not feasible with being surrounded by toys, clutter, washing up, receipts, remotes, drying tea towels, and of course, children. Also home was not central and therefore not very professional. However, if I had fewer than 6 attendees I may have had to do it at home so the aim had always been to acquire more than 6 attendees.
MC penny and I at the start
I looked up about twenty to thirty pubs in central London with FREE hire of a function room:
possible venues free or nearly free for 25-40 pax
After I found these I shortlisted them to six with NO MINIMUM SPEND. That means I don’t have to buy fifty pounds worth of alcohol in order to sell five pounds worth of books. No. No. No. That is what people who waste money do. I don’t and can’t waste money. Why? Because I am a writer. Because I’m Asian.
So how did you find this delightful venue?
By chance at Sunita’s and Rufus’ Christmas party on 18 December 2015, I mentioned the list of these six pubs to Sunita and has she heard of them. They both said, that’s ridiculous, why don’t you have it at the gallery. By this they mean their gallery, Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton London. I was ecstatic. Thereafter, a blog was born, invitations sent out and a guest list made.
Food and drinks:
It was thoroughly enjoyable shopping for the oven snacks at Wing Yip in Croydon and jostle with the New Year shoppers (it was two days before Year of the Fire Monkey started). Before that I also popped into Tesco in Sutton drinks aisle and chose the prettiest looking labels for sparkling wine and sparkling water. I always favoured sparkling over flat white. But let’s be honest, I am not fussy. The label just has to be pretty.
Steampunk 1950s oven heating up the sesame prawn toast
But what happened to the jumbo catering pack of prawn wontons?
I actually bought 96 frozen prawn wontons to take with me. Sadly they did not make it to the gallery. Upon unpacking at home just before going to the venue, they were all rock hard and stuck together. I got very stressed because I could not separate them. Food really stresses me. These supposed shui gow became shrapnel at my lightest touch. I fried 8 just to test if they separated after being fried, and they did not. Therein I stuck the sacrificial 8 in the oven to check if after baking, they separated and they did not. We are talking about it being 3:10pm already. By 4pm I have to do my hair and makeup. There was no time to go back and get another jumbo catering size of anything. M&S Food Hall only had 4 spring rolls and I hate spring rolls. Was nearly in tears. Did you not know that being a writer one also has to have basic culinary skills which I clearly lacked? I rushed to the nearest Tesco Express to buy a bag of Thai Sweet Chilli crisps as that will have to do. Reader. I would appreciate if someone can tell me why the frozen wontons are stuck together and how to unstick them. Tina, Fiona, Siew Fong, Wing Yip, anybody?
Chatting to my guests
is the trickiest part of partying. I was sure I did not want any strangers or press because this is my first time. I may screw up. I only invited friends, family and friends of friends. This is using all my contacts in my email, my phone, FB, because not everyone is on FB and not everyone’s email is in my address book. As I have no PR or PA experience, the complications were the seven categories of RSVPs and the stocktake to match up with the categories, which are as follows: 1/ not sure, 2/ actually came, 3/ want the book but can’t come 4/ said yes initially 5/ said definitely definitely coming on actual day 5/ not coming 6/ not coming and did not say if want the book and 7/ came but did not buy. For these I now have a legend of symbols and colour coordination in order to not get mixed up and lose count of the book-to-people ratio.
Now life is simple because I can re-use the legend for any kind of party organisation.
A checklist is essential for the day of the launch in case of chaos. Anybody with mild OCD will know what I am talking about. Over many days I prepared a list of to do and to bring, which would help me get ready blow-by-blow, the list changed all the time, especially with the food going wrong.
Only to be ticked off just before you leave otherwise what is the point
Things to do night before:
Print out story, select bits to read
Rehearse and use stopwatch
Write inspiration and themes
Clear camera memory card
Charge battery and spare battery
Things to bring with me at 6pm by public transport:
Frozen sesame toast to heat up
Bag of crisps
4 copies of book for display
1 sacrificial copy (the one that I have scribbled in and will be reading from)
Golden lucky fountain pen for signing
DIY wire book stand
Small bottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce and one bottle of Kampong Koh garlic chilli sauce (wherever there are Malaysians, you have got to bring chilli sauce and I am not joking)
Spare shoes (wear flat first, change heels later)
hairspray and hairbrush (in case I get blown to bits before I get to Brixton)
Camera, battery and spare battery
Things to come with the Southfields contingent at 7 pm, by car:
The rest of the books
The drinks cooler and drinks (take out from fridge)
No launch is complete without a proper display. Without retail experience or someone from Waterstones to come and tell me what to do, I felt my instinct take over. I needed a stand so I made one that afternoon itself out of a wire coat hanger so my poor jacket has to lie down on the chair now. If a book is standing up, it can be seen through the shop window by passersby on Atlantic Road.
Do you like my DIY wire stand?
If anyone wants me to help do event management and plan your book launch, for a very REASONABLE rate, I have all the resources now. I can set up all the technical stuff. Can even do piano playing. Just, please, no catering.
Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is set in the tiny village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire where he lived for 36 years. He was also buried in the village. I took a train from Marylebone with the family on a bright October day in 2015. We enjoyed a surreal vision of a horse on the ceiling:
Pink horse alert: on Marylebone station ceiling
Upon closer inspection, it is a mythical white horse.
It was so poetic and befitting an intro to our outing, since we were going to the village of one of the most treasured children’s authors of all time.
The village of Great Missenden
After 45 minutes we arrived and walked through the pleasant and pretty village surrounded by hills.
We saw some interesting old buildings and antique shops. Some of these old shops were actually in his stories, such as the Red Pump Garage on Great Missenden High Street, which appeared in Danny, The Champion of the World (1975), the Post Office Great Missenden… and… Sukhothai Thai fine dining restaurant? Just kidding.
Mock Tudor building
Red pump garage
Sukhothai Fine Dining
Impressive mosaic at butcher’s
Great Missenden High St
Great Missenden PO
was very inspiring for readers and writers.
WW’s Chocolate Factory gates
Wall that looks and smells like real chocolate
Willy Wonka’s top hat
There was so much information on how to generate plots and create characters.
Sticky Note Plots
More importantly, I actually visualised Roald Dahl in his shed working away.
RD’s chair in his shed
Although he was a successful bestseller author and probably minted, he was so frugal and humble. His shed has no decoration or anything pretty to look at. He wanted no distractions. He made all these makeshift fittings himself out of scraps and what he had. His old armchair was threadbare, he made a suitcase filled with logs for his footrest, he rolled up corrugated cardboard for his wrist rest. Nothing was designery, trendy, handmade or even shop bought. When you see his carefully and meticulously reconstructed shed, you will realise that nothing matters but the writing itself.
The most luxurious place is in the mind, I think Mark Twain once said.