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THE DIARIES OF PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL EXTRACTS (KIP FENN RELATED) - 2002
I have not edited and prepared my 2001 diaries, but I have collated a series of extracts connected to the writing of the novel Kip Fenn - Reflections. Although most of the extracts have a direct or indirect link to Kip Fenn, a few do not. In deciding whether to include any non-Kip Fenn related paragraphs I have stuck rigorously to a strict system by which I only included any such paragraphs written on the same date as a Kip Fenn entry. There are three files, one for each of the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 which are available as text files here, or as pdf files on the Kip Fenn web pages (see also extra notes about these diary entries there). Each one is considerably less than 10% of the journal word count for that year.
Kip has returned from Brazil. I've brought him back safe and sound, and must now write a couple more sections before a first draft of chapter two is complete. I spent parts of the weekend writing the Brazil section (which I could do because all the ideas and material were fresh in my head from the week gone by), trying to bump up my average for three days last week to 2,000 a day, which I did, but I've dropped back again today. The chapter looks like being nearly as long as the first, that's to say over 20,000 words. I get stuck quite often, but it's usually because I haven't stopped to think and imagine things through.
Well, I've achieved my aim for this two week period, which was to complete chapter two of Kip Fenn. I've written about 12,000 words to add to the 11,000 I'd already done, making the chapter, slightly longer than the first. The two together are now already as long as half BLR! I should really be able to do more than 12,000 words in a two week session - I allowed myself two whole days in which to do nothing but psyche myself up but, once I'd got going, I should have done more. At this rate, I'll only write one chapter a quarter. And, the writing is going to get more difficult.
But, am I pleased with it so far? I don't know. I really don't know. I don't get the same kind of frisson of pleasure as I do when I read bits of BLR or Love Uncovered, but whether that's because it's not as good, or simply that I don't know it so well yet, I can't tell. On the whole, I'm pleased that I've managed to take Kip's story the places I wanted it to go. I'm less pleased to find that it's impossible for me to weave more general themes and grander ideas into the overall arch of the story. I had a vague idea, for example, that over and above the story, I could focus each chapter on a topic, say memory, or change, or love. But, the narrative is too strong, and varied, and constrained, as it is, largely by chronology. Also I worry a lot about telling the reader, rather than showing him/her (which is quite difficult in the pseudo-biographical style I've chosen).
Perhaps I'll give some thought to chapter three over the weekend to give myself a head start for my next free week in the middle of February.
Robert Worcester was the castaway on Desert Island Discs this morning. He must have been chuffed to have been chosen, not only because he's a bit of a music buff (sings in a choir), but because, as an American, he's always sought recognition in British Society. In fact he talked to Sue Lawley about his obsession with living in London, which dated from a very early age, and his pride at achieving said aim. He sounded exactly the same as when I worked for him 25 years ago. He also spoke with pride about the concept of corporate image surveys which he more or less introduced into the UK when he started MORI. I recall it as the most boring work. I spent a moment or two wondering what my life might have been like if I'd stuck it out at MORI, and reflected that I would not have been happy helping Worcester become a millionaire, or multi-millionaire as Lawley dubbed him.
I've tried to do a little thinking about the next chapter for Kip Fenn, and make some notes. But I fear I may need to go way beyond my competence when I get stuck into internet regulation and technology.
I've finally finished Stephen Jay Gould's The Lying Stones of Marrakech. I enjoyed the final few essays, which, as usual, I found a bit wordy. There was one about how the media, without bad intentions necessarily, corrupts science results for the sake of a story and a headline. It concerned several studies which had attempted to show evolution operating in the short timeframe of current research. Gould explained how the media uses such studies to provide headlines such as 'Evolution Proved', even though there is absolutely no debate about the existence of evolution. One might just as well see a piece of research highlighted in the press stating 'Earth Does Go Round Sun'. He also analysed the limitations of such research on short-term evolution effects which, although valuable, cannot shed much light on the general discussions of evolution. Evolution, he says, even in its punctuated equilibrium mode (as propounded by Gould) operates over much longer periods than the few years of the studies quoted (leg lengthening, and body size decreases because of competition pressures). I agree. To my mind, this is probably the kind of evolution that goes back and forth all the time - in other words there is nothing linear about it. Genetic variation there may be, but certain genes could be going up and down like a yo-yo every decade, century, millennium without making any move towards a new species or speciation. If you measured say leg length on five different occasions over five centuries you might find them 5, 8, 10, 7, 10 - but if you measured them over two you might just get 5 and 10, and the estimate of evolution rate or change would be out by a factor of at least two. I think genetic change takes place in all sorts of different ways, and at all sorts of different paces, and it is no good trying to box it up into one kind - which seems to drive so much of evolution writing. Why would nature limit itself to allopatric speciation or sympatric speciation when it can use both?
I read an interesting article in the Economist about Lomborg's book The Skeptical Environmentalist. I bought this book last year after reading and hearing a lot about it in the press. I also thought it might be useful from a Kip Fenn point of view. I find a lot of his argumentation persuasive, although sometimes I think he goes too far with his global statistical kind of analysis. As I haven't looked at it for a couple of weeks, nothing comes to mind, as I sit here writing on Eurostar. (To my right is a good-looking young woman, wearing a tight white woollen top which hugs her ample bosom rather attractively. I keep sneaking glances at her. She spends a lot of time looking at herself in the window and reading make-up brochures! She must want to be looked at - that's what I reason any way.) However, I do recall thinking, when first reading the book, that those environmental organisations which Lomborg was slicing in half with a machete could not be taking his slashing quietly. Now, thanks to the Economist, I know what has been happening - and it is not pretty. Lomborg is being shot at by green groups everywhere in every way; environmentalists are even refusing to share conference platforms with him. Scientific American ran a sequence of articles all snatching the machete out of Lomborg's hands and chopping him up into small pieces (in fact, I have an email on my computer from some green group advising me to check it out - which I haven't yet done). But the Economist, which originally allowed Lomborg a signed essay and reviewed his book positively, has now written an editorial lambasting Lomborg's critics for the lack of substance in their rebuttals, while, at the same time, giving the book a slightly more critical - but still positive - analysis in another article.
Saturday morning. It is grey and wet, as usual. I'm waiting for the rolls to rise - which will take about 45 minutes - and then I'll put them in the oven for 20 minutes. After breakfast, I shall do some transport stories for my newsletters. I seem to be in reasonable shape for next week's deadlines - which is just as well if Maja is coming to visit.
While I was in Brussels, I had one or two creative ideas (they don't usually happen to me there) and I promised myself I would try and write them down. I'm not sure I can remember them now. One concerned the need for hope. There is very little hope in my make-up. I do not allow myself to hope for things that I know are unrealistic. But it occurs to me that hope is, of course, the mainspring of most religions. In other words, for most of us, life in its present form is not good enough, and we need hope for something better (if not for ourselves, then for our family, society, country, planet). Here, I must add something that occurred to me while reading the section on christianity in Normal Davies' History of Europe. The christian religion took hold when the Roman empire was rich and extravagant and becoming decadent (I think) and was only one of many religions being touted at the time. In other words, it won a kind of evolutionary battle, with natural selection killing most of the others off. And so, finally to my creative thought. I think - for Kip Fenn - the world needs a new unifying religion, based perhaps not so much on hope for an eternal life for oneself, but of hope for the lives of one's children and one's children's children.
Joshua Redman squeezes his saxophone up to the highest registers as I write this in the lounge. Maybe I'll watch Eastenders later, although I'm bored with it at present, and there is almost nothing else worth watching on TV these days - I long for the return of West Wing.
Andrew Marr tells me (on Radio 4) there will be a slight shift towards free markets at the Barcelona summit. He also tells me the French will give a bit on energy liberalisation - ha! Not on domestic consumers they won't - watch the wording carefully! I'm still interested to see whether Galileo [a long-term project to develop a European equivalent to GPS] will make it into the summit conclusions. My bet is that it will. Now that the Blair et al know for sure the project is going ahead they will want to be associated with it, although they may try and extract a commitment on economic viability. Let's see.
I don't think I'm going to work on Kip Fenn this free week, which will make it two months in a row that I've passed him by (last month I was in Spain). There's a back log of indexing and filing I must do for my business which will take a couple of days, and I need to start planning how exactly I'm going to close it down. I might take a day to do some shopping, and another day for culture in London, and then there'll be nothing left of the week. Also, there's an unusually long list of personal chores waiting for me: some photos need framing; an old diary, now typed, needs printing; I must start planning for my 50 party; and it's time to make a move on garden stuff.
It didn't take long to realise I haven't a hope in hell of getting anywhere on Kip Fenn in the next few days - there is simply too much to reread, too much to rethink myself into. As more and more of the novel gets written, I realise, this gets increasingly difficult.
Despite my damaged knee [ruptured ligament] and preparations for my party, I am going to make a determined effort to write some Kip Fenn over the next two weeks - this will be my last chance to work on it until the summer. I've spent today reading over the material written so far, the first two chapters. I think it's good, but then I thought BLR, Love Uncovered and TomSpin were all good too. I still do. Although I always thought Kip Fenn was too ambitious a project and I would never manage it, I'm surprised that I have made such good headway with the first two chapters, but I'm beginning to worry just a bit that it may yet become too difficult. But I don't think so, I just need the time and mental space to focus on it.
I was close to tears a couple of times in the hospital. I was waiting for my consultant to check his diary to see when he could fit me in for an arthroscopy. On the one hand, I felt relieved that I would be having an arthroscopy very shortly, but, on the other, I felt stressed out and depressed from the earlier encounter with two doctors. Then, half an hour later, having hobbled a long way to the Day Surgery Unit, I was sitting in the empty waiting room when a woman entered pushing a teenage girl in a wheelchair. She talked to the girl as though she were a baby, and when a nurse came out, the woman told her the girl wouldn't speak (even though she seemed to be murmuring to a doll), and so they spoke about her together as though she were a one year old or a favourite pet. My thoughts switched from self-interest to the realisation that so many, many people are far worse off than I am. And then I got to thinking about how horrible old age will be for me. I hate pain, I hate discomfort, I hate people doing things for me, I hate not being independent. It's not death I fear - how can anyone fear death, once you're dead, you'd dead - it's old age, illness, disease, physical unwellness, incapability that I fear . . . and they are just around the corner.
Only three weeks of my summer holiday left. I had to finish chapter three of Kip Fenn this week, but, although I did work quite hard, it has been slow going. If I can finish by Tuesday, I could still make a decent stab at getting a part of chapter four done before I get back to newsletter business.
This morning's post nearly gave me a heart attack. There was a letter from an agent to which I'd sent three chapters of BLR several months ago [I'd already been trying to interest agents/publishers in BLR for at least two years]. I think I sent three letters at the time, and two replied fairly swiftly, but I never heard from the third. In the back of my mind, therefore, I knew there was still one agent which hadn't replied. The letter that arrived this morning did not use my stamp-addressed envelope nor were the three chapters enclosed. It states: 'Apologies for not replying sooner but it does take time unfortunately to read through scripts! Well, we have received the material relating to your book and I am writing to confirm that we shall be pleased to act for you and to enroll you onto our client list. I enjoyed very much reading your work and I would like to receive the whole ms if you do decide to join the agency. With regard to the possibility of obtaining publication for you as an author, we would point out the following: in accepting you as one of our clients, we act on your behalf in promoting your work with various publishers. The subject of your book is interesting and, once we have your confirmation in writing that you wish us to act for you, we shall be instituting preliminary research to find suitable publishers to whom we can submit your work. Please see attached terms of interest.'
I don't know for how many seconds this fooled me, but it wasn't many. Certainly, as soon as I looked at the second page, the 'terms of interest', and saw the 'administration fee' of £70 charged for each manuscript, I realised this must be a down-at-heels agency reduced to petty deceptions to raise funds. I do not believe for a moment that this agency will spend more than half an hour on my manuscript, just enough to reproduce a standard letter thanking me for sending it, and to spend a few minutes every now and then listening to my messages asking for information on its answering machine. I would put money on the agency's telephone number being permanently plumbed into an answering machine. Other warning signs are the fact that there is no fax number on the letter headed paper, and the email address in the Writer's Handbook, from whence I got the address, shows the agency's email address as a Freeserve one - how cheap can you get. I suppose the surprise is that I've not had a letter like this before now.
So, no heart attack after all.
It is Adam's birthday tomorrow - his 15th. I have written a futuristic story for him - it's called Beyond. I hope he likes it. Although initially it was tough to get my head around what I could write about the year 3002 (he had asked for a story based a 1,000 years hence), I quite enjoyed composing it once I'd got going.
The proms this summer are full of lovely Spanish music. As I write, I'm taping a Falla Zarzuela - La Vide Breve - onto a minidisk. It already has Falla's El Amor Brujo which I taped on Tuesday. On a separate minidisk I've taped some John Harle, a composition called The Little Death Machine, along with Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez arranged by Davis and Evans and played by Harle.
Having failed to finish chapter three of Kip Fenn by last weekend, I pressed myself to finish it by mid-week. By Tuesday night I had brought the chapter to a close, although without an annex, or even a fully-formed idea for the annex. At 20,000 words it is about the same length as the first two chapters. When I came to read it over and fill out my note sheets I became a bit disheartened. It didn't seem as interesting or as good as the first two chapters. However, I coped with this by realising that it would be normal for Kip's life to lose colour and excitement when he settles down with a job and a family. Also I noticed from my original plan (which peters out at chapter eight and which has been much elaborated or ignored), that Kip and Harriet's break-up should come in chapter four. In any case, I decided to clip the end of chapter three, and keep it for chapter four, and add some new bits to the end. I needed, for example, to say something more about Caxton's People's Party which had been referred to several times but without any detail; and I felt the need to mention a few trips that Kip and/or Harriet had taken, and to make a passing reference to Alfred, who hasn't been mentioned once in the chapter. So I'm rewriting the end, and I'll have to invent an annex somehow linked to Caxton or Harriet who are the two main characters in the chapter. All of which means, the chapter will have taken me a week longer than I planned (in my most recent plan) - three weeks of the summer; plus I don't know how many weeks in the last six months. In my head, I've sort of told myself that I'll spend the first six months of 2003 completing the novel [i.e. after my business is closed down in December 2002]. Now, I'm not sure. I may not even be able to finish it. I've started worrying about the idea in my plan of having a major episode that kills millions and millions of people, because I can't envisage Kip being able to write reflections on the minutiae of his life with such a catastrophe filling up his more recent history.
I spent the morning revising, again, chapter three; and I'm a bit happier with it now. (Oddly, I woke in the night with a tense feeling which seemed to come, somehow, from the writing of Kip Fenn, but all I could synthesise from the dream in consciousness was a feeling about the word 'ultra', as though something in chapter three needed the use of the word 'ultra'!)
I am trying to plough through a few back issues of the Economist, which have been piling up over the summer weeks (I usually save them to read on the train to Brussels). One article gives me background on Muslims in Europe. I must start preparing for a Muslim-Christian conflict in the next chapter of Kip Fenn.
Friday night, another week over, and not much done. I've started work on chapter four of Kip Fenn. I spent three or more days reading and trying to plan mostly, and on Thursday I started writing. I was going to write today too, but Adam put me off my stride in the morning, and I managed to divert myself from working for the rest of the day.
Adam and I went to London on Tuesday. I had hoped to find some summer events on the South Bank, but there was nothing during the day. We walked along the river a little, and then to Covent Garden, where we watched the buskers for a while. In a bookshop, Adam bought a book by Bill Bryson, and thereafter he kept recounting anecdotes from it. Then we moved on to Foyles where I sat for nearly an hour looking through the books on international politics - I bought one on the United Nations and another on planetary politics, both of which I thought would be useful for Kip Fenn. Then we went to see an Argentinian film called Nine Queens, which I thought was beautifully written and composed. The ending, in the very last frames of the film, was a real coup de theatre; and all the better for allowing one to reflect back over the film's story and make more perfect sense of it than was possible without the key revealed in the last few frames. Apart from being a cracking story about con-men, it was also a commentary on the state of Argentina today.
Solidly into chapter four now. I've spent the whole day writing about Kip's trip to Dracula Park with his two children. I thought up the idea of a Dracula theme park some while ago. At the time, though, I didn't conceive any direct link with Kip's story, I just thought it would be a good idea for something imagined about the future. But then, while doing some research on the internet for a possible site, I found the Romanian government already had such a project and had been studying various sites for years (and that the chosen one was being opposed by environmentalists).
Without really planning it out, I found myself writing that Kip had a busy autumn in 2032, involving three trips, and somehow Dracula Park became one of those. But then, I realised, there would be no point in just including a trip to Dracula Park for the sake of it (simply because it's something imagined about the future). To make it work, I'd have to give the trip some meaning. The two other trips Kip takes that autumn - to Malta and Manchester - are there so he can embellish on his relationships with Tom and Alfred respectively. After some careful thought, I decided to stick with the Dracula Park trip and use it to say a bit more about Crystal.
I'm half way through this chapter, but Kip has still not moved to the Netherlands.
The second series of West Wing finished on Sunday - and I am in mourning. It was a grand finale. Bartlett, having announced that he had been suffering from MS for years, had to make the decision whether to seek a second term. He was also coping with the sudden death of his secretary, who, it transpired, he'd known since his schooldays. His coming to terms with the death of the secretary and the decision on whether to stand or not were neatly dovetailed by the writer - Aaron Sorkin I think (it's a scandal that the Radio Times doesn't list the writer's name). I said to Adam it was the kind of idea that I like to think I would/could use/invent. In Kip Fenn, for example, I have just imagined and written about a verbal motif (as opposed to a visual one in the West Wing) between Kip and his father.
Mahler's third symphony at the Proms has just finished; the other night I listened/watched a marvellous broadcast of Shostakovitch's fourth symphony; and a Saturday or two ago I watched a live Glyndebourne relay of Carmen.
I've made progress with chapter four (and by working a few hours every afternoon, I'm trying to keep my mind on it until the chapter is finished). I don't think it has the momentum or interweavedness of chapter three, but then I am now trying to drag the novel into a serious place.
Adam has been pestering me to read the manuscript, but I keep telling him no. Finally, he managed to steal it (the first three chapters) from my desk without me knowing and read it all. But when he gave it back, he made no comment at all. Later though, he said, he thought Kip was a bit seedy. Well, it's true he is at his seediest in chapters two and three.
I seem to be sufficiently on track with my journalism this week so I made a conscious decision to break off and see if I couldn't round off my work on chapter four. It's already the longest chapter, but I still haven't quite drawn it to a close. I promised myself I would definitely finish it before putting Kip Fenn aside until January. The four chapters together are now already longer than BLR. Sometimes I get very excited thinking about Kip Fenn, thinking it really is the best thing I've written and should stand a really good chance of publication. But then I stop my dreaming and remind myself of who I really am - and how impoverished my writing abilities really are. Even when I read books which I consider dreadful, I still know I couldn't write them. And what evidence do I have that Kip Fenn is anything but a load of old rubbish?
The funniest thing happened to me on Thursday. When I left the Spectrum swimming pool and was walking back to my car, I noticed a car was blocking the aisle between the two rows of parked cars. Immediately, I thought to myself what a stupid bugger, and then, as I got a few paces closer, I realised there wasn't anyone in the car at all, nor was there anyone standing near it, which there might have been had there been an accident. I continued to think some driver was a bloody fool. Then, a few paces nearer still, I realised with some horror that it was MY car. I must have left the handbrake off (which normally wouldn't matter, because I always leave the car in gear - or thought I did) and it had rolled forward. Fortunately, it had stopped just a few inches before hitting the car opposite. The oddest thing, though, was that no-one had apparently noticed - it was though the universe had remained unaffected by this event. I had been in the pool for the best part of an hour, surely some driver or other must have seen my car. Did they not think to report it to the Spectrum office? Did no-one do a tannoy call for a car that was blocking the car park? Weird. I just got in and drove away.
The media coverage of the Currie revelations has been extraordinary. Personally, I have no doubts at all that Currie has done the right thing - the right thing not to reveal this before now, and the right thing to do so now. To hear 'important' people up and down the land focus on Currie's act of revelation as though this was the sin, the indiscretion, and to sidetrack from making any comment about Major's behaviour makes me sick. Why isn't anyone willing to call a spade a spade, to stand up and be counted, to call an adulterer an adulterer. Currie went on to be sacked and to leave the government, Major went on to be Prime Minister. Why is everyone focusing on the publication of the diaries, and not on the affair itself. Why? Because all these high and mighty commentators have been caught short, they have had their understanding uprooted, their analysis of past times shot through with a twist of spice. Anthony Howard, he of whom it is said that Radio Four gets withdrawal symptoms if his voice isn't heard once a day in some programme or other (I just made that up), was on Any Questions this week. I really dislike Howard on current affairs - he's useful on history, but not on anything else. He started by saying he had amended his opinion a bit since the beginning of the week, having realised that other diarists, such as Alan Clark, have not been universally criticised for naming names. But he made this admission really grudgingly, and you couldn't help imagining his opinion between the lines: something like that Clark was a formidable politician and a man and therefore his diaries matter, while Currie was a nobody and a woman. But this is sour grapes. Currie is much more of a decent human being than Alan Clark ever was, and Currie had an affair with a man who became Prime Minister. That makes her, her diaries and her revelations important. No self-respecting historian should be able to deny that. I heard a man who'd written a biography of Major discussing this last week, he was denying its relevance, and being really nasty about Currie. What an idiot. But, back to Any Questions for a moment: none of the panelists put up a good word for Currie. Now she's left politics, she's got no political friends, so no-one has any interest in supporting her. The media should be turning to other writers, and to independent historians and academics for trustworthy opinions.
On politics still. Polly Toynbee wrote an article in the Guardian this week saying that this government is the best Britain has had (I think she meant since the Second World War). This followed the Labour Party Conference at which not only Blair and Clinton gave tremendous speeches, widely praised, but other ministers across the government, according to Toynbee, also demonstrated five star abilities. I've been toying with talking, in Kip Fenn, about Blair as the greatest PM of modern times, but it seems too crass to say, even if I believe history will come to judge him as such. Similarly, I think history will judge Clinton as a great president, his sexual peccadillos (how do you spell that?) should fade with time - is Gladstone's political reputation sullied by his private weaknesses?
I had this great idea for a new business: Birthdays to Remember. Surely it exists already, after all there are enough rich people who would surely pay for the privilege. Of? Of having their own private Desert Island Discs programme recorded and published on CD for distribution to friends and family (this version would be for cheapskates) or their own This is Your Life programme recorded and published on DVD (you need to be a bit richer for this version).
This concept fits in with another idea I had for Kip Fenn - that when people reach landmark ages, they would have Autobiographical Parties at which guests would be able to view exhibitions of some kind or another celebrating the person's life. So, for example in my case (and I'm sure the idea was seeded after my own 50 fiesta), guests would have been encouraged to look at all the photos displayed around the house in exhibition, my books and diaries might have been available to read in one room, a lifetime of family snaps in another room, and, in another, there might have been a kind of display timeline of my life, of where I'd lived and what jobs I'd done etc. Guests might also be encouraged to poke around, and look in cupboards and drawers.
I'm sure our culture/society is ready for these kinds of individual demonstrations,
one-off shows, one-off showings off!
Paul K. Lyons
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