Sunday, December 18, 2011

Making of The End

Note to self: Always write down wandering thoughts that seem vaguely poetic and always save your scraps. My poem The End sat in my scraps folder (that is, the folder on my laptop) for a year just as 2 separate images that I would whittle for a moment whenever I was working on a poem. Until, with the perspective that comes from memory loss, I realised the 2 images could relate to each other as end-of-life scenarios. They became verses 1 and 2 and I made up the 3rd verse to complete the idea. Then I whittled some more, now that the idea was clear in my head and it emerged a publishable poem.

I mention this because sometimes I hear writer friends saying you have to be disciplined and not stray off the path of your goal. But I only have one writing rule: If the juices are flowing, write it down. You never know what it will become.

If I may get a bit carried away, I love this saying: "You never know when something begins". I don't know who said it first but I'm quoting John Berger, incidentally, from a talk on his recent book Bento's Sketchbook, which I'm really enjoying. Anyway, not just a saying to be applied to writing, obviously but a really nice one for life, I think.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pop-up Tokyo

Konichiwa is the Japanese for good morning and good afternoon but not good evening. Kampai is how you say cheers. It's good for any time of day except when you're with your client CEO because it actually means bottoms-up. But I'll get to that later.

I started writing a poem in my head called Pop-up Tokyo when I stepped off the plane in Japan. I was hit by the aesthetics of the city, its geometrical landscape, multi-coloured bicycles and glaring shopping blocks with vertical letters that I wanted to climb. But over a few days I began to see that the poem was missing something. Just like the occasional crescent-moon roof-top lying low next to designer stores, an older world persists in Tokyo, in the form of the Japanese culture. I was discovering that all social interaction has a rich set of rules. For example, people bow to each other, in the same way that westerners nod, wink or wave. The bow is slow and taken with care as a sign of respect. This respect is also demonstrated in the exchange of an object. Always presented and accepted with both hands. There's something quaint about a guy in grunge jeans tipping his head when he offers you his card. Then there are the aspirational rituals that have to be deserved. Like topping up your hosts drink over dinner. Well, we all have that one, in a way, when you think about it. But I learned this was not something you do casually. And it was by accident that I was included for dinner with our client CEO on the evening of our project launch. A matter of the right place at the right time when the interpreter invited my manager. ‘Bring five people,’ she instructed, leaving him to select quickly. My team were also making plans to go out and part of me wanted to go with them. Our working days were long and we were constantly on call. But every night, despite the jetlag we had to let off steam. There was the restaurant with the revolving tables and a little of everything served, but no pictures to tell you what you ordered. And later that night a strange basement bar with an American pool hustler and no business calling itself The Oasis. Then there was the noodle bar, tucked away off a side-street that, despite the smoky air, had the best noodle soup we'd ever tasted! - a haven, as we left work so late we thought we'd have to survive on a liquid dinner. Bars are a strong feature of Japanese eateries. Tucked away cubbyholes in shopping centres or tucked away on side-streets. It was in a narrow, disco-lit darts bar where I somehow became a darts hustler. There were a lot of high-fives with the locals that night. However, I had never actually had sushi before and we were being taken to a famous Sushi restaurant.

This is where I tried the Kampai ice-breaker. Her first time in Japan, was the explanation for my charm. Never even had Sushi. At this I was forgiven. 'You, eat' the CEO demanded with delight pointing at the little rectangles of fish. 'You know, he told the waitress to bring the weird stuff out for you' my Tokyo team-lead helpfully interpreted as small dishes were placed around me. I felt like the future relationship of our companies depended on my keeping seaweed down. It's not that I didn't like it. I found the tastes so strange in my mouth I couldn't really tell if I liked it. After a few speed swallows, afraid to think about what I was eating, my stomach was definitely unsettled. It probably won't be considered polite if I vomit on the table, I told myself with surreptitious deep breaths. This is when my team-leader suggested the magical ginger and sachi combo to settle the stomach. He had my back. But I still doubted him when he said, 'His glass is empty. If you top it up, it's a sign of respect.' He was apparently not a man to miss an opportunity. 'Are you sure?' I asked, lifting the fat jug of Sachi. 'You're not setting me up?' (I mean, we had only met a few days earlier and he seemed to have a pretty developed sense of humor). But I had already sailed my arm over the sushi tray so there was no going back. 'Go for it.' he encouraged as the table paused and heads turned, seeing what I was doing. The CEO had to scramble for his glass, in surprise at my forwardness. I managed not to spill. 'He says thank you for fulfilling his need when no one else saw his need,' the interpreter said, making everyone laugh with relief. 'Respect,' one of my managers nodded and I realised the weight given the gesture meant the kudos wasn't limited to the Japanese! Wonder if it will count towards a pay rise?

Outside the restaurant we said our goodbyes and cards were exchanged with the promise of future business opportunities. I asked the interpreter to convey to our host that I would always remember my first sushi experience. She replied he hoped I would not remember him because young Japanese men were very good and he would like me to come back to find one. Well, as it happens there may be opportunities in the Tokyo office and the trip has given me something to think about. I might be back, I bowed and we shook hands, western style.

The poem needs a little work...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Performance Poetry Night

So, Saturday night I fancied checking out some performance poetry. I was thinking of an open mic venue staging beginners alongside professionals. It’s a skill I admire and love to watch but I don't think I'd ever have the nerve. Performance is just not my forte. Then again, if I found a venue with an easy atmosphere and I went along regularly, who knows, maybe one day I would have the courage to stand behind the mic... Well, I never made the open mic. Here’s what happened instead:

Googling ‘Performance Poetry London’ took me to TimeOut. TimeOut took me to WriteOutLoud. WriteOutLoud took me to Remi Kanazi & Guests: An Evening of Political Performance Poetry. Remi Kanazi is a poet, writer and activist for the Middle East. Great, I thought. I’m fascinated by the poetry of different cultures.

I got to The Tabernacle, w11 just before the gig started. So, with a glass of wine in hand, I headed straight upstairs. The room was small and intimate and as I weaved my way through the tables to find a seat I began to feel self-conscious about being on my own. Is that weird – that I went out by myself on a Saturday night? I just don’t know anyone who’d be interested in performance poetry and I didn’t want to drag someone along just to accompany me. I found a table at the back on a higher tier. I’ll just blend in here, I thought, setting up camp. But as soon as I settled in some people arrived, friends of the table next to me. I can move over, I offered, as they tried to cram chairs around the one table. Thanks so much, that’s very kind of you. No problem. I shifted to the far side of my table, feeling better now really as I was sharing, I wouldn’t stick out. Then more of the party arrived. Is it just the two of you? Would you mind moving over? It’s just the one of me. No, I don’t mind. It was like one of those movies when the insecurity gets exposed. What were the chances I’d pre-emptively crash a large group? Then more of them arrived. This time I folded my leaflet slowly before looking up. Ugh. I hate it when people tilt their head and smile no matter what they’re saying. I didn’t really mind moving again though. What difference would it make to me? Well, my forth seat was next to the camera and there was a wire hanging down from a balcony above, obscuring my view. After a few minutes of internal tutting about the whole thing I spotted individual seats along the side. There was still space in the front row. Once settled with a perfect view, a low bar in front of me for my drink and plenty of foot room, I willed the performance to start, cause people were chatting around me and I was reading the hell out of this leaflet.

And then it began. For two hours I sat in awe watching great poets race through their material to get as much of it in to their timeslot as possible. Every word straight from the belly. So intense and in-your-face that by the end I felt high, as if I had been on stage too. There was music intermingled with the poems. A little rap. A little reggae. A little audience participation. Every performance was so polished and smart and entertaining and shocking, it blew me away.

Remi Kanazi delivers anger and a desire for clear thinking with standup humour. And as a Palestinian-American he does a great impression of the Liberal attempt to intellectualise the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. He darts about the stage ad-libing in between poems and it’s all raw and funny and poignant at the same time.

Earlier we had Zita Holbourne, a poet, artist and activist from East London. With an easy yet uncompromising delivery, to me, she's an inspiring woman who demonstrates the power of poetry. Here’s a video of her performing Multiculturalism - a response to David Cameron.

Towards the start of the evening we had Poetic Pilgrimage. I LOVE when women break stereotypes. It gives us all more air to breath.

We were rushed for time at the end, running over 10:30. It’s a shame. I would have loved to have heard more. Filtering out slowly, on the way to the bar and merchandise, the artists mingled with the audience. People swarmed around them with questions and a bit about themselves. As I stood in the queue to have Poetic Injustice signed by Remi, I heard the woman ahead of me say, ‘That was the best night out I've had in a long time.’ Inspired, humbled and exhilarated, I had to agree.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Orla's Code Behind Me

So now that Orla’s Code has been submitted, I feel strangely light, like when you finish exams and don’t know what to do with yourself. Funny that when I look at the book from this newly distant perspective I think, how come it took you so long? The finished result seems obvious now. Thank you proof readers! - For your feedback and your patience with my questions. I owe you one. Starting down the pub.

So, what am I going to do with myself while I’m waiting by the phone? Well, tonight I’m going to a poetry performance and I’m going to concentrate on finishing a few poems for a while. I’m also looking forward to gratuitous socialising on week nights and Saturday lie-ins. But, before that I have a work trip to Tokyo. I’m extremely excited about visiting such a different culture for the first time. I might even blog about it...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Synopses: The Broad Strokes

Writing a synopsis has more rules than cricket. And the broad strokes go like this: Tell the story without telling how you tell the story. Provide a taste of the story with some colour, but don’t add anything that isn’t essential! Capitalise your characters names when first introduced. Write in present tense. Don’t forget POV. And, as you’re obviously demonstrating your writing skill, you’ll need to fit the plotline into succinct paragraphs with deftly smooth segues. Here’s a website that tries to help by assassinating query letters:

After all that, I’m fairly happy with my synopses now (3 sizes) and have sent them to my friends, who I like to refer to as proof readers. So, the next step is a week off work soon to finalise research, the query letter and fit in a few final once-overs of Orla’s Code. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Large Yellow Book

Take one large yellow book. Remove all the publishers that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. Then take out all the publishers who say they’re only looking for ‘full length’ novels. Finally, have a search through their book lists and remove the ones that are clearly looking for another type of work (my story is not about vampires nor is it a family dynasty). That leaves me with about 4 publishers who may not throw Orla’s Code straight to the slush pile! There are e-publishers in that group as well. I think the short novel/novella style lends itself to the medium. Interesting to see if e-publishing will change our taste in books...
Now it’s on to the synopsis; they all be wanting different lengths. Everything from a strictly brief overview to a 3 page plot and character description. Proof readers standby...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Draft 16

They always say the last mile is the hardest so that offers some comfort to the fact that I’m moving at snails pace trying to tie up the lose ends of Orla's Code. This is coming up to draft 16, the nearly finished, nearly finished draft that looks like it just needs a few more once-overs before my focus shifts back to publishing research the all important query letter. If only I wasn’t constantly interrupted by my addiction to website tweaking...