PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2003 - DECEMBER
DIARY 77: December 2003 - April 2004
10 December 2003
I am in a spacious dining room with lots of other people. There is some kind of expectancy that entertainment will be provided and when it runs dry, a character who is Uri Geller, or very like him, reluctantly agrees to bring forward his entertainment. He disappears and then a group of horses appear galloping. They gallop to the far side of the room, very near where I am dining, successfully able to gallop around the dining tables without disturbance. They reach the wall near me, then revolve round to gallop back - all very entertaining; but then something goes wrong, and half way back the horses gallop right through a dining table causing carnage and mayhem. There are dead and wounded everywhere. I seem to be the only one left in the far corner of the room and as I walk through it, I recover two pieces of a horse’s leg. My mind can’t make sense of this. The pieces were as if made of straw or papier-mâché, and this indicated to me in the dream that the horses were not completely ready (hadn’t been defrosted enough is a metaphor that comes to mind) to perform their stunt, and that therefore these pieces were damning evidence against Uri Geller (or whoever). I picked them up, held them aloft in my hands and waited for the police to arrive. Tears were pouring down my face in response to the terrible wrong that had been done.
Back from Madeira to cold wet foggy England, back to my cold wet foggy life here. In ‘The Guardian’ on Monday, coming back from Gatwick, I read two interesting stories about the EU. One was by an MEP - Nick Clegg - trying to explain the relevance of the European Parliament, and claiming that half of all UK legislation originates in Brussels (which leads me back to the same old question, why doesn’t the BBC do more to inform the British public about what’s going on in Brussels). The other concerned the ongoing wrangle between the EU and the US over the Galileo project. It reported that the EU has already given way quite a lot to the US arguments, and that it might yet give even more. I recall that originally Galileo was going to give far more accuracy to civilians than the GPS, but now it seems it won’t. The article informed me that GPS is only accurate to four miles (which explains why a Swede in Madeira couldn’t match up his GPS position with the position I calculated from the map). I don’t fully trust ‘The Guardian’s’ report, but, if it’s true, that the EU’s been strong-armed into diluting the Galileo project it will be a real shame. (I bet the wretched and stupid war on terrorism has something to do with it - the US’s whinges being largely connected to security matters).
Cold damp dark in England. Horrible. It’s Friday. I’ve spent the week doing very little. Tidying up my desk, doing a bit of domestic admin. I finished off the first rough draft of the third telly story ‘The Angel of Truth’, and thought a little bit about the next one. (It’s damned hard to start a new one off - much harder than I thought it would be. Are my creative powers waning?).
And today I’ve got round to have another think about the future. I haven’t had one for a few weeks, so I was hoping that with the reality of months of doing nothing beginning to take its toll on my psyche, I might be ready to ease myself towards an uncomfortable truth or two. I had another go at my priority matrix, my self-created equation for assessing future options. Have I mentioned this before. Perhaps it’s worth recording. In essence, I’ve decided there are four main objectives to aim for in my life. They can be synthesised by the following categories: fulfilment, society, financial security, practical comfort. In previous efforts, earlier this year, at doing the same thing, I used exactly the same categories (although on occasion I created two fulfilment categories, one based on creativity and another on the ‘importance’ of my work). Next I give each objective a weight according to it’s relevance/importance to my life. For each possible future pathway, I then give a score to each objective. Finally, I multiply the scores by the weights and add them up for each pathway.
There are three main pathways I’ve chosen on each occasion: a) going back to editing, and trying to find some kind of job in the energy/environment field. Basically carrying on where I left off, but probably at a lower level, and for less money; b) continuing as a complete loner, trying to be a kind of fiction or creative writer; and c) going to university and doing a new degree with a view to continuing in the academic world. Choices b) and c) have always come out ahead of a), and, in the past, b) has come out slightly ahead of c). But this time, b) and c) were absolutely level. And when I checked why, I saw that it was because I’d reduced the relative weighting of fulfilment compared to society, and I’d reduced the score for society in the writing pathway. This helps me realise that perhaps I’ve been exaggerating the possible benefits of a life as a lonely writer - indeed, during an earlier attempt, I tried to create two pathways, one where I made some success of my writing, and the other where I didn’t. But that was still when I was hoping (however unconsciously - having restrained my conscious hopes) Kip Fenn might do something. But this is a very subjective process, and the scores I give for each pathway depend largely on my own speculation.
And then, I thought today, if I took another degree, perhaps I’d be able to carry on writing in a way that I couldn’t when I was working with EC Inform. One of the problems of this life as a kind of free-floating writer, without any anchors anywhere, or any frameworks to hold onto, is that I’m very short of input and stimulation. Going back to college might plug me back in a bit.
What I find so hard to think about or organise in my mind is how I could ever be reasonably content doing anything again. I can’t summon up any motivation to do anything at all, nor can I see myself with such motivation in the future. It’s not that my life seems bleak - because it isn’t. I’m blessed with reasonable health, with sufficient funds for the time being, a nice place to live, and no awkward social problems. Most of the time, I don’t even feel depressed, or particularly lonely, or empty - like I used to. It’s more a question of simply not wanting to do anything, or finding problems with the things that I might want to do, but also of not believing I’m capable enough of doing something well enough for it to be worth doing.
I know I’m rambling, but I’m rambling in the hope that writing these thoughts down might help me clarify what my head is actually doing. Also I’m a little caught in my thinking between the short term, getting on with something now, feeling I should be being more constructive (I don’t think I’ve ever been this inactive in the whole of my life - and it feels like I’ll never be active again), and yet not wanting to do anything which might be the wrong thing.
Let me try and analyse some of these things - whether short term or long term - to see why I’m doing them. (Surely, if I were to pay for very expensive psychotherapy to examine my problems of commitment to work or relationships, like ‘Judge John Deed’ - I can’t help enjoying that BBC series with Martin Shaw - I’d only be pressed to answer these questions for myself any way.)
Starting with voluntary work. I’ve been toying with taking up voluntary work for months and months. I’ve twice gone to the bureau in Guildford but not registered. I’ve looked through all the opportunities on the website, and I’ve even tried to filter them out and think about each of them carefully. I’ve looked at jobs with youngsters and oldies, with the disabled and the mentally handicapped, and I can’t decide what I should do, or what I could do, or what would actually be worth doing. When I think about volunteering for some kind of social work, then I think about how so much of social work is dealing with the kind of people who are social pariahs, who soak up attention without any progress. I couldn’t stand that. I feel slightly drawn towards mentoring, but one needs to be trained for this, and I have no experience of dealing with difficult people. A similar problem emerged when I thought about volunteering to be a lay magistrate. I went to the courts, and watched some cases; and then I realised that I had no experience - zilch - of the law, so why was I thinking about immersing myself in a brand new world. Surely, it was only because it was new and different. And then I think, well perhaps I could do some environmental work, but then I realise that I’m not really very keen on a lot of local environmental stuff (digging out ditches or whatever, it always seems so pointless to me). And then there’s the arts. I could do what my mother does, volunteer at a local museum (or B’s library) and be part of an horrendous pack of middle class pretentiousness. (Remembering fondly my experience at the Tricycle, I did make a couple of calls to volunteer for stewarding at the Farnham Maltings, but that’ll probably only be one evening or something like that, and won’t be until next year.) And, in any case, I still see a conflict between whether I’m volunteering to please me or do something useful, and that, unless I’m doing something useful, I’m not going to be able to please myself. Thus volunteering for arty-farty stuff doesn’t seem at all useful, and this brings me back to social work-type volunteering, which would bring me into a wholly new world, where I’d surely not be able to find anything suitable or interesting enough. I just go round in circles thinking about it, which is why I’ve still not really made any serious attempts to volunteer.
Then, I could look at Kip Fenn. I’ve spent a year of my life on it. Why shouldn’t I therefore be keen to publicise it. Why aren’t I enthusiastic about the idea of self-publishing it. I can afford to. It’s surely why I’ve saved money, so I’ve got it if I need it for such a project. But I’m afraid. That’s probably the truth of it. Firstly, I’m afraid because I’ve had no feedback whatsoever, I’ve got no idea how readable, how interesting, how provoking it might be. I’ve really no idea if anyone else would ever want to read it. And I don’t know how I could find this out. So, even if I could make the decision in principle that I’d be prepared to turn Kip Fenn into a business, I’m not sure how I’d get to the point of being able to make the practical decision. But there are other psychological problems. I’d be afraid of failing. I’d be afraid of failing to do all the pushy stuff that’s necessary, going to bookshops, chasing up reviewers; and of doing all the nitty gritty marketing and admin stuff. I’m afraid that what would happen is that I’d print say a 1,000 copies at the cost of £10,000 or more, and that I’d fail to get any significant publicity or marketing; and that only 20-30 ever sold. I’d be sitting around in my house, day after day, waiting for internet or postal orders, knowing that my only satisfaction would be an order, because I could never hope to recoup the money. The only point of self-publishing from my point of view would be if there was a chance that it could take-off, become a word-of-mouth hit. But, I’d have no real way of distributing through bookshops (distribution deals are very expensive), and if, for example, I was lucky enough to get one good review in one national paper say, then it would be wasted because the book wouldn’t be available in anyone’s local bookstore or W.H. Smith; and the publicity would soon die.
I’m simply not interested in self-publishing to sell a few books to local bookstores. And yet, why is that? It’s because I’m arrogant. I prefer nothing to mediocrity; I can’t consider myself as just another ordinary writer who’s desperate to see their book in print, and then spends six months touting it all around as though it were the best thing since sliced bread. I can’t take the competition. I won’t be a small fish in a large pond; I’d rather be a water snail and sit in the murky depths feeling impotent and sorry for myself. The reason for this (I imagine the psychotherapist putting me on the spot) is because of how I personally judge other people who commit themselves to little things. I suppose I imagine everyone thinking the same way, and ready to judge me as small and stupid and pathetically believing in something not worth believing in. And this probably goes back to Frederic deserting me when I was three, and then to Christianity letting me down when I was a young adult.
What about gardening or photography or chess - why don’t I take them up in a more committed and social way. I’m afraid of the people that I’ll be thrown in contact with. I’m afraid of despising them and running away. I kind of know what kind of people are in the local Elstead gardening club for example; and photography, well that’s just about equipment isn’t it, and technology. I’ve never been interested in equipment, just in what it can do. And as for chess, I’ve been thinking about going to the Guildford chess club, but I know that it will be made up of hard core members, all of whom I should think are good enough to know chess openings. And I’m not. I don’t really want to belong to a chess club, I simply would like a friend or two who I could play chess with regularly, down the pub. Why don’t I have such friends?
What about a yoga class? I’m afraid of feeling self-conscious, or being in a class with middle-aged women; and of being bored. I do yoga for my health, I do it at home. Why do I need to go to a class. If I go, it would only be to meet women. And, once I’ve acknowledged that, I can’t face the reality of the fact that I could probably go to 10 different yoga classes and not meet anyone. Just like I’ve never met anyone in the swimming pool, even though I’ve gone regularly every week for years.
Rambling around with words and scrambling around in my head hasn’t got me anywhere - except to the end of the afternoon.
17 December 2003
Here is something I wrote 23 years ago while in Corsica: ‘HAPPINESS: What is it? Can I define it, give it shape, and then talk about it as an abstract quality of life? Where should I begin? By saying I have absolutely no idea what it is. Perhaps I should start from the end. That is now, am I happy now? I am peaceful, thoughtful, a little tired, not content because my writing is not good as I hoped it might be. I am definitely not angry or jealous at this moment. But I couldn’t say if I was happy or not. OK yesterday was I happy then? Yes, when the sun was shining and I was climbing around the rocks; and along the beaches some weeks ago, I think I was happy then. But I prefer to measure my existence in terms of satisfaction and ecstasy. They are more vulnerable to my pride, happiness like religion is for the masses. Happiness signals to me a state of non-change, of evenness and surely it implies a non-awareness of the concept in the same way as humility. A happy man cannot stop and say he is happy otherwise we take his contented state as a show rather than the real thing. On the other hand it is possible in retrospect to say yes I was happy in that period of my life. But that period may have involved upheavals, uncertain moments, deep depressions, the fact that the general impression is happiness is only a concept. Let them talk of happiness in the same breath as god. I for one would not wish happiness. I strive for the constant battle of self-satisfaction, never won because each end is a beginning and along the way I snatch every moment of ecstasy as ecstasy. So do not ask me if I’m happy for I cannot answer. Do not ask me if I had a happy life for I will not be able to please you and say yes, and if I say no you will wash me with religious sympathy. I’d rather say that it has been good to live. I’d rather say I did or did not achieve my aims - from that you may find a true reflection of what you call happy. If I am born into a life where restlessness is the only oasis do not ask me questions that belong to the well-fed temperate climates. Happiness is for those who ask if you are happy.’
I’m typing up the Corsica diary (number 13) at present. I’m finding it quite interesting, not least because this is the period in which I start to descend towards what I think of as my breakdown in 1980, when I’m realising how hopeless I am as a writer, and when I’m beginning to understand how hopeless my life situation is, without a job or a career. And I can’t help drawing parallels with my current life. I’m older, wiser, more stable; but I’m standing in a very similar spot.
At the weekend I made another effort on the L&F website, writing short notes to five women. I took my time over each one, tailoring my comments to what I knew about them from their profile. I’ve only received one reply! Which is a poor return on my time investment. In fact, Isabel - I think she’s called that - is the first person to contact me at all since I put a different photo on the website ages ago. Before reviving my profile and sending the five messages, I reassessed the old photo and the new photo AGAIN, and again I decided that I look younger and better looking in the new photo. But, with the old photo I did get a slow but steady stream of women writing to me first. It doesn’t happen with the new photo. I wonder if it’s because I look more vulnerable in the old photo, or, at least, easier to read.
Cold. It’s turned very cold. I had to scrape a lot of ice off the car windows yesterday morning. The central heating in this house struggles to cope when the temperature drops below freezing. But the sky has been clear. Early yesterday morning the sky was criss-crossed with pink brush strokes, where aircraft had left their trails and the sun had coloured them in. And this evening, I was driving home from Guildford listening to Westbrook’s ‘Blake’ and as Mike was singing the bit about fire and azure wings, the car rounded the bend coming out of the 50mph section to face head on a gold disc in the sky just dropping below the horizon.
It’s been a different week so far. I’ve been helping Andy to sort out the mess in a house once owned by Aviva Simon, who died earlier this year. Aviva, a spinster, was the daughter of Sir Leon Simon and Lady Ellen Simon. Sir Simon was Postmaster General for 20 years, he was also a well-known zionist leader and he translated the works of the Zionist leader Ahad Haam. He also wrote a biography of the man. Lady Ellen Simon’s maiden name was Umanski. Her brother, Arthur Umanski, changed his name to Underwood. He was a chemical engineer and something of an academic in the subject too. As far as I can work out, Aviva inherited 154 Hanover Road (near Willesden Green) from her mother, who must have inherited it from her brother. The house, which is an unbelievable tip, contains personal effects belonging not only to Aviva, but also to Leon Simon, Ellen Simon and Underwood. But there is no order to any of the things in the house, and most of everything is hidden inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags, inside plastic bags.
Andrew has been employed by David Landman, the father of Offra (who lives in Spain and who I know), who is an executor of Aviva’s estate. Landman is related to Aviva somehow, but I’m not clear on that either. Andrew is being paid £120 a day to clear out the house, plus he’ll get 10% of the income he raises from selling the effects. The idea is to try and raise some cash from the belongings, rather than just getting in a house clearance service. So, Andrew is determined to pick through every last plastic bag, every last matchbox, every last tin (there’s a lot of old tins), every last drawer in search of treasures. When he told me about the job, and the 1,000s of books, I volunteered to help (he’s in financial straights at present).
I went up on Monday. Since he’d arranged for a book dealer friend to come in during the afternoon, our first priority was to try and expose all the books. There was one large room, which Andrew hadn’t yet touched, and so I set to on that one. Although the room, like the rest of the house, was a complete tip (imagine a rubbish dump with 200 plastic bags piled up around old furniture), there were no rats or live insects; and generally everything was clean rather than dirty - although very dusty. So, it was not such a trial to work through everything. Andrew kept hoping to find a holy grail, something worth a lot of money, but I only found things worth a modest amount - a few nice pieces of material, gold fillings, a few old coins. For me, the interest was in the books and the papers. There were so many papers, so many letters and correspondence; every suitcase, every handbag, every drawer, every sturdy file, was crammed with papers of one description or another, from bills to share certificates, to invitations to Simon’s 70th birthday, to discussions about what should be done with Simon’s books. Andrew has little interest in books, or in the papers, he likes the trinkets, the crockery and the paintings.
Andrew’s friend Piers came and stayed a couple of hours. A day later he phoned through with an offer of £3,000, which was a lot more than I was expecting. Andy said he’d found three valuable books - but we don’t know whether that means they’re worth £500 a piece or triple that; nor do we know which books they are. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Piers had invented the three books of value, I mean it might be two or four, and by telling us three he’s guarding against Andy or I informing any other bookdealer to look for three gems (for if they’re are only two, another dealer might search to midnight and not find the third, or if they’re are four, he might stop looking at number three) - seems a bit paranoid of me though. I suggested we should get another quote, and I volunteered to organise that. But it was only once I got on the phone that I realised I didn’t have enough information about the collection, and so I wasn’t able to sell it sufficiently to prospective viewers. I have though, in the end, got two people coming. But now I feel I need to get the books into a better order than they are, which means I’ll have to spend the rest of the week there.
Part of the interest for me has been uncovering the family histories and connections, through the letters. It took a while, but I finally worked out that a library in Oxford had already received most of Leon Simon’s books, once in 1993, when his wife died, and more recently when Aviva’s sister, who had a separate lot of her father’s books, donated 600 volumes. I also discovered that Underwood lectured at University College and had an equation named after him!
Thursday 18 December
Christmas is nearly upon us. As I was telling my barber this morning, I really don’t like Christmas. It’s not that I don’t like traditions and customs, it’s the rank commercialisation I don’t like, the fact that what now drives the customary celebration is commerce, rampant commerce. Businesses have usurped every kind of tradition and custom, whether it’s Christmas or Valentine’s Day, and try their very hardest to exploit people’s natural desire to have highlights in their otherwise humdrum lives. It’s all about money now, spending money, and making money; and I find it all quite disagreeable.
Ian Huntley has been condemned to two life sentences for killing the two Soham schoolchildren. As often in these cases, which have attracted so much media attention, the jury’s verdict and the judge’s judgement are the triggers for an avalanche of information which the press has been unable to distribute to date (because of the restrictions surrounding any legal case). It transpires that Ian Huntley is not the unassuming, slightly charming school caretaker that has appeared on our TV screens. In fact, previously, he has been implicated in half a dozen rape charges and assaults on minors. Now, with all the background information available, it seems as obvious as daylight that he was responsible, and hard to understand how the police could have taken so long to arrest him. Astonishingly, there appear to have been two major cock-ups. Firstly, the school would never have employed him as a caretaker in the first place if the checks on the man had been carried out properly. And it seems that, because Huntley was never prosecuted, the details of the charges against him, one at a time, were dropped.
Christmas Eve eve morning. A long tortuous discussion with Adam about happiness. There is no doubt that he has his mother’s ability to be fairly content in just about any situation. I try and explain that being happy now does not guarantee happiness in the future, and that people need a certain amount of drive to achieve things which will bring more lasting kinds of happinesses in the future. But like the word ‘love’, the word ‘happy’ has many constituents, and it’s all too easy to mix them up and get confused in a conversation. As it happens, I’ve bought him a selection of philosophy books for Christmas. I think I looked for jazzy books on politics, but didn’t find any, whereas I did find easily some on philosophy. There’s a modern edition of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ (well Adam did ask for Zen enlightenment as one of his Christmas presents), and a discussion of ‘The Matrix’ (a film) and philosophy. I read the short bit on happiness from my Corsica diary to Adam. He thought it was pretentious!!
I spent more time at the Simon house, on Friday and Saturday. I had arranged for two book dealers to come and offer for the books; but neither of them were interested in making a real effort. One offered £400, and the other didn’t even bother offering once I’d told him we’d had an offer in the thousands (he even assumed it was only £1,000). I realised that the dealers who advertise regularly in yellow pages and the Ham and High (my mother, who works at the Ham & High, knew both dealers by name because of their advertising) are those who are looking for a quick buck, to make a killing, not real dealers prepared to put the time and effort into handling a large quantity of moderately-priced books. I’ve also done some research on the internet, mostly on a site called Biblion, where dealers can advertise their antiquarian books. I found, for example, examples of Picturesque Palestine (four volumes) sells for around £700 in good condition (Piers had signalled that this was one of the valuable books in the collection); and that a couple of books I brought home with me (first editions of a P. G. Wodehouse novel and one of a Bertrand Russel book) might be worth £30-50. In fact, there’s probably 100 or more first editions which could be worth £20 apiece - not to a dealer, but sale price. And I’m sure there’s a dozen or more books that are worth more, plus several hundred more books which might be a worth a fiver each. Following my failure to get any higher offers, I expect the books will be sold to Piers. But we still have the problem of what to do with the Judaica (a 1,000 or so books on Jewish history, Palestine, Zionism etc). I’ve contacted a couple of dealers, at least one of whom believes he may have seen the collection some years ago; and I’m also trying to persuade Andrew we should consider auctioning them, but it would cost money to get an auctioneer out to evaluate them. Andrew’s gone out to Spain for Christmas, so the clearance is on hold for a while; I may get back involved to follow through with trying to dispose of the Judaica.
While using the Biblion website, I checked out a few of my own books - something I’ve never done before. I have one book that may be worth around £500. It’s one of the Victorian era travel books that I bought along with a collection of photograph books. I think I bought them in a sale at Phillips or Christies but I can’t remember when. I’m not even sure why I’ve kept hold of them - perhaps I should put them into a Hamptons sale.
I received a letter from Gail today. I’d been worrying about her, since I hadn’t heard anything for a long while. She explains that she had computer problems, and lost my email address. She sent me two of Dolly Goldsmith’s paintings that she found in her basement (having kept two herself), for which I’m very grateful. I wonder if I’ve ever told her that I treasure Dolly’s paintings! She also sent me a newspaper memoriam (in ‘Variety’) which Fred had organised to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of Igee’s death. It also mentioned his film ‘The Stars Look Down’. Gail said Fred had it in a frame, but that she hadn’t sent the frame. I hardly think it’s worth a frame; a poster of the original film would be worth a frame, or an original gushing review, but surely not a paid for advertisement.
29 December 2003
The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Gabarek are in the background providing a suitably sombre mood for my deliberations.
I’ve written pages and pages of notes, in different coloured pens, trying to cut through my own mental world in different ways, and work out what path it would be best for me to follow in the future; and I’m not getting very far. Of course, if there was a clear route I wanted to take, that I should take, that was right for me, it would have been obvious long before now, and I would be pursuing it. But there isn’t. Nor are there any easy paths which lead anywhere worthwhile, or else I’d have probably taken one of those already. I’ve been trying to think outside the box, as they say, beyond the obvious, but without much success. I think I’ll try and summarise where I’ve got to, maybe that will help.
I see five broad choices: writing another novel, trying my hand at non-fiction book, going back to university, getting a job, or starting a new company. It’s clear to me now that my objective is not to find what might suit me best this year or next, but that I must - I absolutely must - take a decision on the basis of which route will give me a most reasonable chance for a life worth living through into retirement. Any ordinary kind of retirement would be a living hell for me, I must have - and will need to have - occupation. So I’m looking to persuade myself to work now towards some way of life, some occupation that will keep me busy at least for the next 20-25 years. This is a long time; and yet, in terms of training, for example, anybody putting up money for training would only consider me employable for the next 10-12 years, so they’d be quite reluctant about it.
Other possibilities from 1 January: House - get the front drive done (£2,000); put up some kind of barrier at the back; repaint bathroom/toilet; external paintwork in spring when dry; patch up ceiling in garage; Photos - catalogue them; buy new better camera (£1,000); Diaries - continue editing/typing. Buy a binding machine (£500); Holidays - Sri Lanka? (£1,300) camping/B&B Adam in Scotland (£300); Health - dentist (£100), opticians (£100), continue running/yoga (yoga/tai chi class?); Clubs - occasional volleyball?; Voluntary work - Farnham Maltings (?); go into volunteer bureau for ?; Personal study - ? - tied in with new book, or separate, only if not doing any courses; Social - carry on with L&F; ?
30 December 2003
I’ve been thinking about writing a book about walking across London. Well, I say I’ve been thinking about it - the idea occurred to me a day or two past, and I’ve mulled it over a bit. The idea would be to pick one point on the M25, draw a straight line across London, from East to West or North to South, and walk a route as close to the line as possible. The book would be a mixture of photos, mini-essays, interviews with people met, lists, descriptions - a kaleidoscope. First of all, I’d need to buy the best A-Z maps I could, and to devise a route. I’d need a much better camera and be able to use it - to take book-quality photographs. I’d need to sort out how far to walk each day, and how I was going to get to and from the beginnings and ends of the walks. In the suburbs, I thought I could drive to the beginning and walk the route there and back, giving more opportunity for photos or encounters. For central London, I’d simply take a bus or tube to and from the nearest places to the beginning and endings. I’d use all the libraries near the route to find local history books, and I’d try the device of introducing myself to local people, and of getting them to give me something interesting to write (anecdotes, histories, gossip). I thought I might be able to create a website charting my progress. Is this a really stupid idea - probably. And it’s probably been done before. But it appeals to me because it would only be good as a quirky project, and thus depend on my own personal judgements/quirkiness in both writing (not unlike my diary style) and in photo taking. After about a quarter or a third of the journey, I’d probably have enough to approach publishers with the idea. Then I could do it for Edinburgh, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires, Shanghai!!!!!
I did a quick search on Amazon, and immediately found that there is an author who has written books about walks through London. He’s written on a walk around the M25, and others on more specially-chosen walks. This in itself is of no great concern (were I at all seriously capable of even considering such a project - which, let’s face it, I’m not), but of deep concern is the fact that his books have been written in much the same character as my concept, i.e. miscellanies, full of quirky information, facts and stories. Only in his case (I forget his name), he’s added in plenty of celebrity spice too - being already established, he was able to interview and incorporate information about, well-known people. Also - and here’s another crucial factor - he’s an enthusiast about London and knows a lot about the city. Thus, like my idea about a book on TV drama, the idea was valid but old, and already done by someone a million times more suited to the job.
31 December 2003
The last day of the year. I had planned to try and sort out a way forward, however tentative, for myself by the end of today. But on my run/walk just now I got to thinking I can’t sort out my future so quickly, and that I should really give myself another six months or a year to ruminate properly. I tried to tell myself I was just copping out (and in a sense I may be - I mean in the sense that if I can’t conclude anything today I can’t conclude anything, it’s as simple as that), but I did also explain to myself that this crisis in my life has been coming for a long time, and I will not resolve it over night.
I had the idea of revisiting ‘TomSpin’, revising it, trying again to find a publisher, and then, if I fail, to self-publish. I thought maybe ‘TomSpin’ would be easier to self-publish - it’s funkier, smaller, less controversial.
I also thought that at the end of the day when I’m done analysing, self-analysing, trying to impose logic on my own behaviour and the rest, it will come down to the simple fact that all I can really do is write another book. So, if I accept that conclusion, the question is what kind of book. Moreover, writing a new book would not preclude other options, doing a part-time MSc, working towards a second book, or self-publishing something I’ve already done. Therefore, the conclusion would be that I need to give very careful consideration to my next book(s) and then plan other things (such as courses, voluntary work) around it.
Paul K Lyons
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