PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - SEPTEMBER
I have made a list of about 20 authors’ agents who I shall write to with Kip Fenn. I’ve given them a kind of rating out of five for their possibility-ness (!) - a gauge of how likely I think they are to like Kip Fenn. This crude rating comes from assessing the information (especially the agent’s existing clients) given in the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’. Only one agent gets a rating of 4, and only four others get a rating of 3/4, and five get a rating of 3. I wrote to three agents about two and half weeks ago: the 4, one of the 3/4s and one of the 3s. The 4 - A. M. Heath - sent me a promising (oh yes we like to build up our hopes on the thinnest of premises) letter confirming that they had received my material. It was promising because it was signed on behalf of one of the directors. It seemed to me that the submissions desk had vetted it, and deemed it worthy of passing on to one of the directors. Unfortunately, within less than seven days, I’d received the material back from Heath along with another letter - a photocopied unsigned letter from the submissions department (i.e. not from the director). Even BLR got a signed letter of rejection from a director! It feels - I explained this to Adam - as though the submissions desk thought the manuscript had promise but that the director took one look at it and thought it such rubbish she couldn’t even bring herself to send me a polite personal rejection. I even imagine the submissions clerk having been given a right telling off for passing on such rubbish.
A three day trip to the Peak District. I haven’t been there since 1990, when I went with Adam on our first trip away together. Adam remembers that we had a picnic in the rain but not much else - he was not yet three. But I find in my diary that I taught him to tell Barbara that we had a picnic in the rain.
I’ve been wanting to go walking in the Peak District for ages, but I’d somehow never got round to it. This week seemed ideal, since there would be no more summer holiday tourists (schools went back this week), and since I wanted to re-establish good relations with Adam after giving him such a hard time in the summer. We left Elstead about 6:45 on Wednesday morning, and just managed to miss heavy traffic on the M25. By 9:30 we were in Matlock looking for a place to have breakfast. Surprisingly, there was hardly anywhere open yet for tea, and we almost had to drive on; but then we found a greasy spoon, full of early morning smokers, where we ate egg-on-toast. I had pre-planned that we might do a walk along Lathkill Dale first and install ourselves at a campsite, indicated on the Ordnance Survey, near Monyash. The campsite proved easy to find, suitably rural and unpopulated, and cheap (£5 a night), so we decided to stay there for the two nights. But we didn’t set up the tent, instead we set off for our first walk (taken from a Pathfinder Guide to Peak District Walks) - 10 miles up and down Lathkill Dale. Unfortunately, the river was dry for most of its length, and the riverbed overgrown with nettles and other perennials which took away a good deal of the dale’s prettiness. But it was an easy walk, and Adam and I were engaged in conversation most of the time, talking about his A level choices, and about whether he should go and live at B’s house. Below Over Haddon, the river becomes a little more interesting with water ponds and weirs, but still suffers from too little water. As we passed an inn in Over Haddon, called the Lathkil Arms, I noticed that the pub sign hanging from above the main door said Lathkill Arms, and that the word Lathkill wasn’t quite centred. I speculated (to Adam) that this was because the owners had thought maybe the name LathKILL, although the correct name for the dale, might subconsciously put off passing trade, and deftly removed or painted over the second L. Other smaller signs showed the proper name to be the Lathkill Arms.
The walk back took us over fields and along a route called The Limestone Way. We ate a picnic lunch sitting on rocks under the shade of a tree, and then tramped on to Monyash, where we sat on the green by a 14th century cross. The final stretch of the walk, again back along the dale to the campsite, should have taken us along more fields, but we stuck close to the dale’s ravine edge, which was more interesting, and then when the ravine’s side looked scalable we scrambled down (having to negotiate high thistles and nettles for our troubles). Not the greatest of walks.
After setting up the tent and organising our sleeping bags, we drove into Buxton. Once upon a time, when B and I had visited the Peak District (when we fell in love with Wirksworth and I was thinking of buying a cottage there, before Aldeburgh won out in my mind), we went to see a Handel opera at the Buxton Opera House during the Buxton Opera Festival. I remember it was very hot, and I was very bored. I didn’t remember the place or the Opera House at all, other than that it was impressive. We took refreshment in a bar called the Vault, and later ate fish and chips which were too greasy. Then we went to the theatre. We’d walked round the town earlier and found a reasonable play was showing at the Opera House, and that the timing was good (i. e. starting within an hour or so), and so we agreed to give it a try. ‘My Cousin Rachel’ based on a Daphne du Maurier story, and with several mainstream actors (one of them an ex-Eastenders actor). I found the play quite watchable. Adam, though, found it old-fashioned and disliked the melodrama acting. Still, we talked about the plot a fair bit afterwards (the ending was badly forced to provide a twist), and it was definitely worth the pleasure of experiencing the Opera House (which is kept in good condition).
Because I’d brought a duvet and because we were really tired, I thought I’d not have any difficulty sleeping this time (previous times I’ve been very uncomfortable in the sleeping bag). But I didn’t sleep well, we both kept wriggling a lot, and this made a lot of noise (I realise how noisy those very light sleeping bags are, and the tent ground sheet makes crinkly noises as well). Also there was a man snoring in a tent half a field away, but I could hear it loud and clear.
After some discussion, we agreed on a walk across Kinder Scout for day two. We didn’t actually emerge from the tent until after nine, and then it took us a while to get on the road and to drive north through to the High Peak area (passing Warnow - which, thanks to a notice in the Buxton tourist office window, I knew was the only village in the area with a well dressing that week. But it was a very modest well dressing, one which Adam found disappointing after I’d explained the concept to him.) We parked in Upper Booth, and walked the very last two miles of the Pennine Way to Edale, where we breakfasted at a little before 12. Our route took us up Grinds Brook, a long uphill grind to Kinder Scout. But about half way up, we spotted a decent pool in the river and cut down across the heather (all the moor areas are dominated by heather - all in flower - beautiful) to the water. It proved to be a fabulous spot, with mosses and ferns and heathers growing on the surrounding rocks, a little waterfall, an overhanging tree, and a great little deep pool with a rocky paddling ledge. There was no one in sight so I stripped off and got myself accustomed to the cold water. I asked Ads to keep a look out, but he failed to spot a large group coming up the path, so I had to sit in the water until they’d passed. Later we overtook them on the route a couple of times, and I felt I was being looked at with suspicious eyes.
The last part of the walk up Grinds Brook is very steep and is more of a scramble up rocks; but once on top of Kinder Scout, the views are fantastic, both across the valley and inwards, so to speak, towards the Kinder Scout moorland. Along the ridge route, there were many limestone outcrops which we (but Adam especially) couldn’t resist climbing for that top-of-the-world feeling. We stopped behind one large outcrop in order to escape the sun and other people on the route (I would say we passed a score or so of other walkers, including dog-walkers) so as to have our picnic lunch in peace. But, for some reason a group of four people followed us round and decided to stop on a rock above us, so that I could see and hear them as I ate - very nice of them.
We tramped on following the contour of the ridge until it descends to the path known as Jacob’s Ladder which is now part of the Pennine Way, but used to be a major packhorse route across the moors. Near the bottom we stopped for more river fun. Adam likes to build dams, and I like to get myself wet. I walked upstream until I found a great little waterfall, with mossy ridges, that I could climb on. And, it had a little shallow pool (well hidden from the path) so that I could get in a second complete immersion experience. I also read the newspaper (which I’d bought in Edale) for a while waiting for Ads to finish his dam.
Back at Upper Booth we both agreed it had been a splendid walk. We went to Castleton for tea, but I didn’t much like it there, and we thought about spending a tenner on Speedwell Caverns, but decided against it. Instead we drove on to Tideswell, where we spent a good half an hour in the beautiful church (the Cathedral of the Peaks - 14th century Decorated style), looking at the wood carvings and brass rubbings. I think we had an icecream here.
With plenty of daylight hours left, I decided we should have a look at Miller’s Dale on our way back to the campsite. There was a seven mile walk in the book, but that was too much, so I created a much-shortened version, whereby we parked not far from Litton Mill, walked along the dale to Water-cum-Jolly and Cressbrook, and then climbed up a long hill (part of which Adam ran!) to walk back to Litton Mill. The views across the dale to the limestone cliffs were worth the climb. Both Litton Mill and Cressbrook - part of the industrial heritage of this area - have been rebuilt and modernised, and, to my mind, sterilised. The dale was pretty enough with its steep sides, but mostly Ads and I were deep in conversation about something, I forget what. Near Litton Mill on the return, we found a circular stone construction, like a chimney, but it had no entrance or windows. I had no idea what it was, but, round the corner, we found a young woman sitting on a park bench with a boy, so we asked her. She said it was to do with an old (lead?) mine. As we walked on, Adam heard her complain to the boy about tourists. And yet, we hadn’t seen a single other tourist on our walk, nor were we on any particular published route.
Next up, Bakewell, with supper on the agenda. After exploring the busy town, we opted to buy a pizza each at a funny little new and very clean take-away pizza place run by an oldish man and his wife. They had a fussy way about them, discussing every little aspect of our order, and swapping their jobs (one deciding to do the till, and suggesting the other make a start on the pizzas). The food was edible. We sat by the river, watching people come and go, and the light slide away.
The second night in the tent was no better than the first. After some restless hours, I decided to go outside to sleep. I took the duvet with me, although I knew it would make it wet, and cross the field to get a little further away from the snorer. I lay still under the stars, very comfy, very warm, watching Mars (which is the brightest thing in the night sky right now other than the moon), but still I couldn’t sleep. Although I must have slept in fits and starts, I remember being awake a lot; and then before dawn, I think I must have been getting cold (I’m falling out of love with those light sleeping bags) so I went back to the tent, with my damp bag and duvet. In fact, I realised a bit later, after dawn, when I got up, just how cold it was. While waiting for Adam to get up, I walked to the Lathkill ravine a couple of times and my hands got so cold, without me realising it, they went red, and I had to warm them up in my armpits.
We got away much earlier on Friday morning than we had on the Thursday (as the tent was wet, we just threw it in the boot to pack up later). Adam chose the walk this day (on the Roaches and to Lud’s Church, again from the Pathfinder book ) and navigated us all day. First, though, we drove to Leek for breakfast (although if there had been somewhere open on the way at 8:30 - in interesting arty-crafty Longnor for example - I’d have preferred to do Leek after the walk). A five piece hot breakfast for £1.50: a fried egg, fried bread, beans, tomatoes and a sausage. I loved Leek, and I’m glad I’ve used it in Kip Fenn. (Did I mention this was one of the reasons I wanted to go there, to check on where Rhoda and Lizette lived: it turned out Leek, being rather industrial, it was not appropriate to talk of a stone cottage in Leek, so I considered other options, such as moving the cottage to Cheddleton Heath, or putting my characters not in a cottage but in a New York style loft in one of the great old textile factory buildings that now stand empty. But, I opted simply to change ‘in Leek’ to ‘near Leek’ because it was simplest. Shame on me.)
Apart from the huge derelict textile factories (Leek was famous for its silk weaving), there is plenty of evidence of a rich industrial heritage. The central square, although much ruined by ground floor shop fronts, is rather attractive with many different style buildings. There is an Arts and Crafts church with huge Romanesque-type windows and a strong William Morris connection, and a glorious building with a large tower, which is visible from all round the town. It houses the library, but was once a famed institute. Unfortunately, despite scouring the local history books in the library itself, I couldn’t discover what the building had actually been used for in 1882 when it was built. No attempt has been made to preserve any aspect of the insides of the buildings, although the interesting and grand architecture is still visible through the modern function screens and add-ons.
To start our final walk we parked on a layby near Upper Hulme. The path climbs steeply through crags, and past atmospheric grassy copses, and on to what are called the Roaches (which probably comes from the French word ‘roche’ for rock) which is basically a craggy ridge, with plenty of outcrops for Adam to climb on. We soon came across Doxey Pool, a small tarn with very black water. I did think about an immersion experience, but there was a lot of dead organic matter floating in the water (you couldn’t even see more than 2-3 centimetres through it). I did, though, bathe my feet.
There were other walkers on the Roaches, but not on the second half of our route which took us along less used paths, still keeping to the hill ridge. Then we dropped down below the heather level, first to where more bracken grew, then into a more wooded area. The main objective of the back end of this walk was Lud’s Church. It was a fabulous place. A mini-gorge with vertical rock sides (at least 20-30 metres high) completely covered in ferns and mosses and grasses with trees over hanging. It’s a very dark and dank place, but exquisitely green and atmospheric. There wasn’t much of interest during the last third of the walk, and my feet were quite tired. We had one rest, by the Black Brook, where Adam again built a dam, and I bathed my tootsies and ate lunch. An ice-cream van was waiting for us in the lay-by by our car!
As I did not want to drive the motorways during Friday rush hour, I schemed to delay our return. We drove round the south of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent to a hamlet called Chapel Chorlton (again because this is a place I’ve used in Kip Fenn, and I wanted to check it was suitable), and then we drove into Stafford to have a look at ‘The High House’ of 1595. It’s a grand enough building but it’s stuck in the middle of a shopping high street with McDonalds and Boots etc stretching down the street in both directions from it. Quite grotesque really. Our main purpose for stopping in Stafford, though, was to check out the cinema. I’d have liked to see the new pirates movie, but the timing was hopeless. The alternatives were ‘American Pie - The Wedding’, or a new British film ‘Blackball’. Otherwise, we could have skipped the cinema, and driven through Birmingham (although at 6ish, I was afraid it might still be very busy with traffic). Ads seemed very keen on ‘American Pie’ and very unkeen on ‘Blackball’. I was very unkeen on ‘American Pie’, but neutral about ‘Blackball’. I let Adam persuade me to see ‘American Pie’ - which was awful. It was a sequence of crude jokes about sex and shit, with a fairy tale ending that made me want to puke. And one of the actors, who couldn’t make up his mind if he wanted to be Jim Carey or Joey from Friends really got up my nose. From Stafford we drove straight home with one toilet stop, arriving deadbeat at around 11pm.
Here’s such a good description of the complexities of explaining consciousness that I can’t resist quoting it for myself: ‘One overall concern is that throughout the book there is a lack of conceptual distinction established between the key notions of self-awareness, mirror self-recognition (MSR), and Theory-of-Mind (TOM). Let me first clearly define self-awareness to adequately contrast it with MSR and TOM. The general consensus in the literature is that self-awareness represents a complex, multifaceted neuro-socio-cognitive process (Morin, 2003). It is the capacity to become the object of one’s own attention (Duval and Wicklund, 1972) and to actively identify, process, and store information about the self. It consists in an awareness of one’s own private self-aspects such as mental states (e.g. perceptions, sensations, attitudes, intentions, emotions) and public self-characteristics (e.g. one’s body, behaviours, general physical appearance). Self-awareness also includes knowing that we are the same person across time, that we are the author of our thoughts and actions, and that we are distinct from the environment (Kircher and David, 2003). Thus self-awareness leads to the realisation that one exists as an independent and unique entity in the world, and that this existence will eventually cease. Numerous self-referential processes are involved in self-awareness; some are integral parts of the global activity of being self-aware (e.g. autobiographical memory [remembering one’s past], self-description, self-evaluation, self-regulation, self-talk), while others correspond to consequences, or by-products, of self-reflection (MSR and TOM of course, but also self-esteem, sense of identity, self-actualisation, self-disclosure, etc.) (See Leary and Tangney, 2002, for an extended list of self-processes.)’ This is from a review of ‘The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness’ by Julian Paul Keenan with Gordon C. Gallup Jr. and Dean Falk, by Alain Morin, Behavioural Sciences, Mount Royal College, Calgary, Canada
10 September 2003
I have finally begun thinking and contemplating on my future. I finished Kip Fenn ten days ago, last week I went walking, and over the weekend I was tidying up and re-sorting all my personal archives (I have storage folders for past job applications and FT admin stuff, for material relating to my houses in Aldershot Road and Aldeburgh, old ‘New Scientist’ cuttings, silk-screen prints, doodles and Escher bits and pieces, photocopies of books I was once interested in). I’ve now dedicated blue folders to writing archives (Crowley, Rats, Odds and sods, pre-1987 shorts, pre-1987 plays, Cruel garden and the Gardeners, Just So and Sparky, poems, BLR etc). My letters are in reasonable order (sorted a few years ago), with envelopes for particular correspondents in the 70s, and then other envelopes for all letters in 2-3 year periods. But, in sorting through the folders and boxes, I found postcards that hadn’t been sorted with the letters. I was surprised to see how far back they go: there’s one I wrote when on the Pennine Way (which is a coincidence, because I was back on the Pennine Way for the first time in 33 years just a few days ago), some from university friends, and some from people I don’t even remember.
Mum called this afternoon. She had another fall while I was away last week, and damaged her hand, and suffered a black eye. She’s much better by now. We talked about Fred a bit (because, in my sorting, I revisited the material Gail had sent me more than a decade ago). She told me this story, which I did not remember hearing before: The flat at 21 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, where I lived until I was 11, was originally found by Igee, my grandfather. A friend of his was emigrating, and the flat was offered to Fred for £500 key money. But he had none. So he went around trying to borrow from everyone. My mother Barbara wrote to her father, who lent £50; Igee himself lent the most money. And Bondi (who I always knew as Uncle Bondi) lent £50. But this money was lent on the condition that Bondi (who was always chasing my mother, she says) could rent a room. And once Fred had amassed the £500 and taken the flat, he had no money for rent, so they had to take in lodgers all the time.
If I’m honest, I have to admit I would have hoped to have received a reply from an agent by now asking to see the full Kip Fenn manuscript. But I haven’t. Nothing comes in the post. No one rings. I’ve decided that, for the next couple of months at least, I will stick to having three packages out - so whenever I get one back, I send out another one immediately. I’ll re-assess this later in the autumn, and then perhaps start writing to publishers as well as agents.
I haven’t written anything yet about Adam’s A-level choices. He made the decision two Mondays ago, when he went in for enrolment. He chose maths, English language, politics and philosophy. I tried really hard through the summer to influence Adam towards geography (by trying hard, I don’t mean pushing him hard, or being demanding, I mean I used my best parent-son diplomacy skills). I also tried hard to direct him away from taking two unknown subjects, But all to no avail. I wonder, in retrospect, whether there was anything I could have done to have persuaded Adam to take a more sensible selection. I mean if I had shouted and screamed at Barbara (as per the substance of a letter I’ve now sent her) during the summer, she may well have come round to supporting me. She has always said that when I lose my temper it never influences her - but it does. And perhaps I should have been more insistent.
I’m reading two science books. Steve Jones’ ‘Y: The Descent of Man’ and David Sloan Wilson’s ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’. Jones’ book, like his previous one which attempted to follow a similar pattern to Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, is a big dipper ride through a world of facts. He’s not arguing a case, he’s simply passing on information. He’s a gannet, who specialises in genetics but is prepared to collect tidbits from many different walks of life to illustrate his theme. He explains well, but moves on quickly, leaving the reader breathless and not necessarily wiser. I have learned a bit about the Y chromosome, and why genetic reproduction goes wrong sometimes, and about the causes of impotence, and the remedies, about the causes of baldness, and about how baby daughters are still being murdered in huge numbers in India and elsewhere. But the facts are almost too numerous to take in and hold on to.
I’ve only just begun ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’, but I can already tell it is more my kind of book, not written for popular consumption, but to argue a case to professionals and the public alike. The author also appears to hold close to common sense rather than allowing the hunt for scientific innovation to direct his thinking. The book promises to provide an evolution-grounded assessment of religion. Interestingly, the author launches straight into a discussion of group selection. His aim: to clarify that it does exist. I’ll just quote a paragraph from chapter one: ‘The rejection of group selection was hailed by evolutionary biologists as a major event. Alexander (1987) even called it the greatest intellectual revolution of the twentieth century. It is true that the early group selection literature was an easy target for criticism. When a biologist explained a given behaviour as for the good of the group or the species, it was usually a naive expression of group-level functionalism rather than a principled argument. However, the wholesale rejection of group selection was itself a wrong turn from which the field is only starting to recover.’
1987 is only 16 years ago. When I was at college in 1989-90 studying biological anthropology, I was indoctrinated against group selection. I thought it was wrong then. I’ve never liked Dawkins’ selfish gene theory, and always thought it was flawed (as, I hope, my diaries show). It’s always seemed to me that the idea of natural selection is too powerful to be confined to one biological level, and that it must surely work at lots of different levels (from gene to culture) at the same time, to varying degrees of success. And I think, David Sloan Wilson is on my side.
16 September 2003
HEALTH: I’m in good nick. I was a bit a stiff after the walking in the Peak District (and the volleyball on Sunday evening, when I overdid it a bit), but I’m still keeping up my daily run, and my yoga. Today, I’ll go swimming. My knee is fine. Although it doesn’t swell up with my normal run/yoga routine any more, it did swell up at the back after the walking/volleyball; but it didn’t slow me down at all, or interfere with my activity. When I do yoga, there is still the clicking feeling at the back of the knee when I straighten it after a stretch - it’s less than it used to be, but it’s still there. The knee joint, though, feels perfectly strong and stable.
This week, I’ve decided to focus on rereading all my MSc material. I’ve a large box of papers and notes, and it’s over a decade since I took the degree, and I’ve lost much of the information. Yesterday, I went through the papers I used for my thesis, and I re-read the thesis. I was surprised at how readable it was; and how scientific; and how good. It still reads like a damn good thesis. It’s hard to believe I was capable of doing such a project. Last night, I looked on the internet to see if I could find any more up-to-date work on the subject of paternal care in primates, but there was nothing very obvious. I feel there should be a virtual place where such work can be published. I also had a look at Robin Dunbar’s site. He’s a professor at Liverpool University now, and has a plethora of publications to his name. He’s done well. Today I might tackle human evolution and nutrition, a course ran - if I remember right - by Kathy Holmwood.
A long conversation with Julian who’s back from China. He spent three weeks there trying to sort out the replacement hairdryers for Avon. It’s still a huge mess, he says, and it’s far from clear the giant American company won’t force him into liquidation. Julian has agreed to replace all the hairdryers (and will pay almost the full cost - this is because the Chinese manufacturer - which admitted fault - has no resources and cannot afford to remake the dryers for no return), and he won’t know what further compensation Avon will demand until the replacement dryers have been made, delivered, accepted and distributed successfully. It’s a nightmare for Julian.
We also talk about the past. He had been to a school reunion a couple of nights earlier, and found it quite a nostalgic time. He bonded well with others boys at his boarding school, many of whom have gone on to be quite successful (after all an expensive boarding school is an elite institution). I, however, have not even opted to put my name down on the Broxbourne Grammar School ‘Friends Reunited’ site. Although I recognise many of the names (much more so than my friends/colleagues at UWIST where there’s only about four or five I remember), I’ve no interest in making contact with them. One of my closest buddies, Chris West, works for BP in Alaska and he’s now there on the site, but I couldn’t even summon up a reason to make contact with him. What does this say about me?
Play was about to start. We were nine wickets down, and I was still in batting. The captain (Vaughn) thought there would be no advantage in our side continuing to bat - he seemed to be following some mechanical rule about this. But I argued that if I could score a few runs, or at least hold out for a few overs then some of the shine would be taken off the ball, making it easier for our side’s openers. Later, I realised that I was very scared of having to face the South African fast bowlers Pollock and Ntini. But also, there was a feeling of being very proud that I was part of the England team.
Kathy Holmwood, Robin Dunbar, Leslie Alleio, John Landers, Fred Brett. These were the academics who taught my MSc course in biological anthropology. I’ll be throwing out most of the papers I collected at the time, but it was worth storing them, precisely for this exercise that I’m engaging in now. I can’t say I’m any more interested in the mechanics of genetics (or that that I understand it any more) now than I was then, but I am enjoying the papers on demography and population studies (the causes of mortality in pre-industrial societies). I haven’t got onto the paleoanthropology course yet, but I suspect this, more than any other area I studied, will have been outdated by DNA work. Some 15 years ago, DNA phylogenetic studies were already being used to support or challenge a century of studies on fossils (in support of the Out of Africa theory for example), and I feel sure that, in time, our confidence in reconstructing our evolutionary history from DNA etc, will be much greater than that established through an extremely limited supply of isolated fossils. Also, although Leslie Alleio made the subject exciting, it does not hold any relevance for today - unlike, say, Dunbar’s course of primate behaviour (which feeds into the study of modern man and his evolutionary psychology), or Landers’ course on population studies which provides intriguing insights into history, and how modern societies might be evolving in ways beyond an individual’s consciousness.
On Monday I watched a German film (1998) called ‘Run Lola Run’ by Tom Tykwer. (Long, long gone are the days when we longed for the next film by German directors such as Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders. I cannot even name a single modern German director of repute.) ‘Run Lola Run’ was the intriguing story - told in near real time - of a shockingly-red-haired girl who tries to help her gangster-ish boyfriend who’s lost 100,000 marks and needs to hand it over to his boss in 20 minutes. The story starts with a phone call and Lola insisting that her boyfriend wait for her before using his gun to raid a store to get the money. We see Lola run to her father’s office and then to where her boyfriend is waiting. It all goes horribly wrong and Lola gets shot by the police. But then the story is wound back, and we see the same 20 minutes, with a different set of variables - this time the boyfriend dies. And then the story is wound back for a third go, and this time the boyfriend recovers the 100,000 marks, and Lola manages to accumulate 100,000 marks as well, so they live happily ever after. This is so derivative of computer games - there’s even a sequence in which the action turns into cartoon animation - that it must be trying to make some comment on this, but I’ve no idea what. Nor did I gather any kind of moral from the three scenarios, and why one turned out well when the others didn’t (apart from the fact that Lola was slightly more polite to the people she ran past in the third scenario). No, it was just a film-director/writer trying to be clever; he over-used film techniques; and he over-stretched all the coincidences in the last of the scenarios. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to watch a film that was different.
And I watched a made-for-TV drama called ‘Carla’. A psychological thriller, with twists galore at the end, so many in fact that it was hard to work out actually what had happened. Enjoyable. Best of all though was a two-part Channel Four drama called ‘Second Generation’, about young Asians and their relationships among themselves and with their parents. Slightly over-sentimentalised (with a romantic ending in Calcutta!), it was well-crafted and beautifully acted. More like this please - television has become so predictable.
19 September 2003
Recently, I’ve been running the first part of the Short Circuit, and then walking the rest. Each time, I try and run a little further, so that, eventually, I can run around a mile without too much difficulty. I didn’t go on Tuesday because I went swimming, and so it must have been Wednesday that I saw huge clouds of grey smoke rise up over the Common. There was also a helicopter flying around. I supposed it was a building fire, but I learn this morning, from the ‘Surrey Advertiser’, that it was a bracken and peat fire on Royal Common, and that it started on Tuesday morning! and that the A3 was closed because the smoke was so dense.
It feels like I’m wasting away the days. I’m now in the middle of the fourth week since I finished Kip Fenn. This week I’ve focused on my past writings. I’ve reorganised the index, and put my folders in order. So now I can even match up physical and virtual folders (i.e. for Just So/Sparky; short stories; stories for Adam, Love Uncovered stories etc.). I’ve revisited a lot of the earlier stories, and I still like the Borges imitations best. There’s quite a lot of pseudo psychology in the stories, and many of them are well flawed. I think I’ve always known that. None of my early stories are on computer, and so I was considering whether it was worth typing any of them up. I was looking for a pattern I could exploit for a new collection, but I’m sure I’ve looked before and been left wanting.
The Hutton enquiry is reaching a conclusion. ‘The Guardian’ reported on Monday that the BBC’s Director General is thinking of pre-empting its conclusions by wholesale changes in the corporation’s news gathering operation, including a willingness to say sorry more often! This was the second paragraph of the front page lead story. Over the years, I have written very few letters to the ‘Today’ programme or BBC news - I can count them on one hand I think. And I’ve never written a sequence of letters, as I did on the Gilligan affair. The main thrust of those letters was that the BBC should learn to say sorry more often! (And then, if it had of said sorry, David Kelly might not have died.)
Today Hutton is quizzing BBC chairman Gavin Davies on why the BBC supported the original Gilligan story without actually even looking at the details, and why it didn’t apologise. From the news, I hear that Davies has been talking about Alistair Campbell putting the BBC under ‘intolerable pressure’. What a slimy slithery weasel he is. The whole point of this case is that, although the government (and the opposition parties) are always complaining about bias in the BBC, on this occasion, uniquely, Campbell demanded an apology and retraction - and for good reason. It was plain to me, right at the beginning, that this was a complaint of a different order, and that Campbell would never have done this unless he was 101% sure of the ground he stood on.
We had some rain - merciful god. And it’s got a lot cooler. But, the sun’s back. We’ve had two glorious days. I’ve taken to doing my run/walk in the morning, before tea.
I keep hoping for an agent to ask to see more of Kip Fenn, but there’s just silence. I think I’ll post out another letter tomorrow (making four pending).
On Sunday, Adam and I went to Mum’s to cut and kill the ivy that has swamped the silver birch in the back corner of her garden. It was a mammoth job. Adam managed to get all the cuttings into the car, so we drove back with ivy branches scraping over our shoulders. Mum gave us lunch (I didn’t want lunch - I wanted to do the job and then go to the cinema, but it was difficult to refuse.) Oddly, she gave us steak and mushroom pie, charlotte potatoes and pointed cabbage, and this was exactly (down to the vegetable varieties) the meal I’d cooked for Adam the night before (only the steak pie was bought not home-made, and Mum, unlike me, had added caraway seeds to the cabbage).
Friday 26 September 2003
Having spent much of the week going through my past writings (and creating a decent index for the first time ever!) I don’t think there’s much there worth revisiting. I may look again at the Rats folder over the weekend. This was the first novel I ever started, back in 1984. I’ve revisited it several times, and I’ve even paid to have the text transcribed from old defunct computer disk on to one I could ‘read’. (Incidentally, I’m almost certain I also paid to have the text of my Corsica diary - which I’d typed up - transcribed, but that seems to have been lost, along with the typed-up text for my 1978 diary.) It was a hugely ambitious idea. I did quite a lot of research, and I wrote 20,000 words, but then I ran out of direction. I wasn’t working to any structure, and the style was very demanding. I will have a look at this, and consider whether I could now put a structure to it, and rescue it in some way. I know a lot more about evolution and genetics now than I did when I started, and so it might be a vehicle to utilise some of that knowledge. It was always meant to be a story about evolution.
Then there’s the convoluted short stories - like ‘The Shepherd’, ‘The Night Mare’ and ‘Alas Poor Yorick’ - which I really liked writing. They still stand up today, and with time and effort I could write more. There’s no obvious market for them, and I’d need 20 or 30 to make a book. It might be fun to do the research, but I could get bogged down.
I could invest time in setting up a Pikle website, and put ‘Love Uncovered’ and BLR up for public consumption. I could also use it to publish parts of my diary. I’d need to visit loads of writing websites and leave a trail and links wherever I could. It would only cost £150 a year, and it would give me a personal footprint on the internet, rather than the ECInform one. Why do I not do this? Complex muddled reasons. First off, I worry about my material or ideas being copied, plagiarised etc. Considering how much stuff is out there, and how much of it is so much better than anything I can do, this seems a silly preoccupation. And yet I can’t get rid of it. Second off, I know it will be tortuously hard to get anyone to visit my pages; and it will be very dispiriting to know that six people have visited it in six months. Thirdly, if I have a site, then I’ll end up telling my few friends, and I already know I don’t have any friends who like the kind of things I write. Fourthly, I feel that I should have material that is suitable for a website. For instance, I think my Sparky and Just So stories would be perfect website material. But, when I had a closer look at them this week, I found them dated and insufficient. I still like the Sparky concept, but if I were to make it work, I would need the narrator to have a more consistent view of the world, and the stories would have to be more contemporary. That kind of surrealism does not seem to be very fashionable today. Fifthly, although the idea of putting my diaries up for public view seems attractive in theory, in practice it might not be a good idea. They would need a significant amount of editing (which would take time), and I run aground on my thinking as to why I would be putting diaries on view. If there’s a reason, then I would need to use that reason in the way I edit and chose what entries to expose. And that would take even more time.
What about turning my three email dialogues into a book? Problem one: who owns the copyright of the letters I sent and received? Can I disguise them enough to not worry about the copyright? Problem two: are they interesting enough (especially if stripped of too many personal details). Problem three: how can I even begin to work on this idea without contacting the three individuals concerned; Problem four: does the material have any intrinsic value? I doubt it.
A new short story collection? Where would I start? What would be the point? The only vague idea I’ve had is to write a sequence of stories which start and begin with the same sentences (and, possibly, include a few recurring characters).
A brand new novel? Where would I start? What would it be about? How can I start on a new novel, without having an idea? I’ve thought about, for example, Kip Fenn 2. Kip Fenn’s great grandson Kip is born in 2100 and it’s not impossible to devise a scenario whereby he might write his Reflections (maybe half way through the century, and then make up the second half without informing the reader, or the second half could be written by another relative). I spent one of my walks around the Short Circuit thinking about this. The chief problem is having any convincing and original ideas as to what might happen in the 22nd century. I’ve also thought that perhaps I should write a novel of minutia (as a counterbalance to Kip Fenn), focusing perhaps on one day in the life of an individual who wakes up one morning naked on a beach without a memory. Or what about a modern Tristram Shandy based on my own life, with excessive use of my journals? Could I be that witty? The style might suit me? But could I do something that self-indulgent now, after having been so self-indulgent for nearly a year.
So that’s it.
Monday 29 September
I love coincidences, especially those connected with my journal. This weekend I made an apple and blackberry crumble. I picked the blackberries during my walk/run on Friday, and I used the Russet apples from my own tree (a really good crop this year 10-15 lb of good crisp maggot/blemish free apples). I had wanted to make an apple and blackberry pie, simply because I thought that would be the more traditional dish, but when I came to look in all my recipe books, there was no specific recipe for apple and blackberry pie, only for apple and blackberry crumble. This doesn’t sound very relevant because I could easily have used the recipe for apple pie, and, as it was, I didn’t follow the crumble recipe very accurately either. The crumble (organic flower, sugar with the crumble mixture not with the fruit, butter, Russet apples, wild blackberries, and a bit of lemon peel) proved a success (although I probably should have cooked it slightly longer). I do not ever remember making an apple and blackberry pie or crumble with fresh picked blackberries. Why do I mention it? Because this morning I was typing up the very last pages of my eighth journal which was written between May and September 1978. This is the journal with many different coloured pages in it, and when my own life was equally colourful. I finished typing it up this morning. The very last line of the book (apart from a short poem) - and obviously I had not remembered this - reads as follows: ‘I found the most luscious blackberries and they made the most luscious apple and blackberry pie . . .’
My heart sinks when the post comes and there is no reply from my Kip Fenn letters. This is so totally unreasonable of my heart, because I know that good news will come via the telephone (an agent will ring if it wants more of the novel, or a company will ring if it wants me to come for an interview). Only rejections are likely to come in the post.
I take Adam to see a play at the Mill Theatre called ‘The Greater Good’. It’s a political drama, pitting New Labour against Old Labour with a bit of family betrayal thrown in for good measure. For a fringe theatre production (the Mill is the small sister of the Yvonne Arnaud), I thought it was reasonably well written and performed. It was only towards the end, however, that we, the audience, saw how tightly the playwright had dressed himself in the red flag. The Labour minister, while still in power, was shown to have survived in New Labour by sacrificing her principles and her relationships with her daughter and her father! Hmmmmm. It was a good play for Adam to see since he’s only recently started his politics course.
And then, on telly last night, I watched ‘The Deal’, a dramatic interpretation of the relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown which climaxed with the two meeting in an Islington restaurant called Granita which led to Brown agreeing not to stand in the leadership contest after Smith’s death. The supposed deal, about which only two men know the truth, has been much talked about and speculated on. The focus of the speculation has been on the claim that Blair promised to step aside in favour of Brown’s leadership if Labour won a second term. And obviously he hasn’t done this. According to the Stephen Frears (director)/Peter Morgan (writer) version, the conversation between the two was more vague: although Blair only agreed that he would stand down at some point (not wanting to go on as long Thatcher), Brown might have interpreted this to mean that he would stand down during a second term. So, to my mind, the drama, although compelling, shed no light. Both characters were well done, but their parts had only been written two-dimensionally - so although some media commentators have criticised it for making Blair rather shallow and lightweight, I felt that this demeaning of Blair was no more or less than an overbearing focus on Brown’s seriousness and lack of people skills. The drama carefully interweaved real television coverage with the fictional drama, but, to my mind, left the whole rather over-leavened, and more of a simple attempt at documentary rather than provide an insight into politics and characters.
I see Tony Booth (Cheri Blair’s father) is appearing at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre this week in ‘The Humble Boy’, a play I took Adam to see a few years ago (but then it had Russell Beale and Diana Rigg in, now it has Tony Booth and Hayley Mills).
Paul K Lyons
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