PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 2004 - APRIL
3 April 2004
A Saturday morning in spring. Yesterday was the first time this year, I think, that I didn’t use any heating in the house during the day. Today, I’m working in the lounge, typing on my ibook at the table by the window to the garden (the mahonia blooms next to me sway gently in the breeze). Sunlight falls across the keyboard. A Mozart serenade plays on the stereo. I intend to spend much of the morning writing up this journal - I seem to have got a little behind - and then, this afternoon, I might sow a few of the seeds I bought yesterday.
I’ve spent the past week preparing a LondonCross marketing pack for publishers. I decided that this time, I’d approach all the publishers in one go, rather than in a drib-drab way as with all my past books. I inputted 19 names and addresses into a database file, and used it to print 19 letter and envelope labels (previously I’ve hand-addressed envelopes and typed separate letters in Quark). But that was the only the beginning. I had to make a final decision on how to divide up the text. I had split it into about 20 sections, with witty or alliterative headings, but this still left long stretches of text (up to 6-7 pages when double-spaced). In the end, I threw out those headings and started again, writing new ones for virtually every page - there are now 84 of them. Some are quite fun and witty, others are deliberately obscure, and yet others rely on alliteration or word association. They may turn out to the best thing about the book! Having fixed the headings, I then had to choose which ones to send out. This wasn’t easy, and I’m not sure I picked the best bait. I decided on 5-6 pages from the suburbs (Webb Estate to Croydon Airport) and 5-6 pages from central London (the Tate to Tufton Street). I also decided I should include maps with both sections, so this meant I had to photocopy the relevant pages from the A-Z and then mark it out in red (for the 300 easting) and yellow and green for the route walked (where yellow indicated that part of the route described in the enclosed text). On top of that I had to design a front page and the contents. Normally, I’d just put the title on the front page, but in this case I’d already designed a logo which I wanted to employ. This logo, though, did not lend itself to looking good on a title page - so I ended up messing around for ages with it, before finally fixing in on a three-block design (which I’m sure is heavy on printing ink costs). Then I had to collate the letter, the title and contents, along with the two sections and their maps, and paperclip them together with a stamped return enveloped. And the whole lot had to be put in another stamped envelope. Marketing costs for 20 packages (I know I’ve only posted 19, but 20 is an easier number to deal with) is around £40: 40 stamps (47p) = £18:80; 40 photocopies (10p) = £4:00 (I could have saved half this if I’d waited to do the copies at uni); 40 times 15 sheets of paper (1p) and printing (1p) = £1; 40 envelopes (10p roughly) = £4; Total = £38:80
I haven’t yet decided how much more work I’ll do on the book in the coming weeks. There’s a whole set of queries that must be checked and corrected before I’d let anyone see it; and then there’s another level of checking and additions that I would do if I knew the book were to be published. So I may do the former any way, or I may wait to see if there’s any interest first. And as for the second part, the east-west walk, I’m not sure I’d have the volition to walk or write it if I knew there was nothing to be done with it afterwards.
I’ve probably said this to myself before, but I can’t help being impressed with the way I’ve written this book in less than three months. During the autumn, I became anxious that I was losing the ability to work hard, that I was becoming mentally lazy and undisciplined; but since I started on LondonCross, I’ve worked at least fairly solidly for six and sometimes seven days a week. When I began, I thought it would only take four days a week, and I planned to continue on other projects at the same time. But, after about three weeks, this pattern deteriorated, and I was working on LondonCross full time. It’s been great fun (although, at the start, I thought I might meet and chat to more to people encountered on the route than I did), and if it were now to be taken up by a publisher the rest of the work would certainly be less enjoyable - but at least I’d be able to look forward to Part Two.
So what are the chances of LondonCross being taken on by a publishers. It’s got a great name; a great set of contents; it’s competently written. Publishers may, though, worry about who would read it, who would buy it - a minor consideration. It would be ironic if someone does want it, considering how little I love it (compared to ‘TomSpin’, ‘Love Uncovered’, ‘BLR’ and ‘Kip Fenn’). But, with my track record, I can’t see any point in making predictions. A long time ago, I always felt that as soon as I was able to write something good enough to publish, I would manage to find a publisher. I was wrong, very wrong about that. And, with each of my books, I’ve felt there was a chance, however slight, of someone wanting it. And, I’m sure if I were to look back I’d find that when I asked myself the same question about Kip Fenn, I told myself it had a better chance than all my previous works.
Look at it this way, I tell myself. When I marketed EC Inform-Energy, I’d count myself lucky if I got one subscriber for every 100 mailings. Buying a subscription is far less of a commitment and a much smaller decision than taking on an unknown writer and publishing his book. And yet, and yet, I’m only mailing 19 publishers. I might as well have put my £38:80 on a horse due to run in the Grand National this afternoon but withdrawn before starter’s orders!
And there is nothing much to say about Kip Fenn. Having exhausted the list of agents, I’m nearly at the end of the list of publishers, and still not a nice or friendly word from any one of them. Fiona in Brussels has finally finished the book. Her few words about it are almost as bad as my brother’s no words about it. She says she likes it, and that it’s well written. And she says she really likes the end, even though she doesn’t normally like endings. Her one criticism is that the timelines are a bit confusing early on. That’s it. But it’s a book that’s meant to fire up opinions, make people think, make them angry or delighted. How can I be coping with someone who says they like it, full stop! That’s just shorthand for saying I don’t want to say any more about it.
Arsenal have just lost the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. I have ‘Mireille’ playing on the stereo now. The sun has gone in, the wind has got up. I’m not sure if I’ll find myself in the garden this afternoon.
A week ago, on Friday 26 March (Julian’s birthday as it happens) it was Les’s funeral. Les was given a send off at the Guildford crematorium. A dozen people were there, apart from B, Alistair and Adam, there was myself and my mother, three friends of Les’s from Catford, Barbara’s two cousins (plus one husband) and a couple of people from the nursing home. It was a short service. The reverend did a just-adequate join-up-the-dots valediction with the dots that B had given him, Adam gave a short reading (he looked reasonably smart for once in his life) and then we trooped out the side. Afterwards, we went back to B’s house, where Alastair and B served up drinks and snacks. B had thoughtfully put out a box of old photographs which kept the cousins busy; and the three old dears from Catford were happy enough (B had arranged a car for the day to ferry them to and from Catford). Adam helped serve, but disappeared up to his room when he could. Mum and I stayed about an hour and then left.
I did get into the garden for an hour or so. I’ve planted a row of spinach and a row of lettuce in plot 2. Yesterday, I planted potatoes in plot 3. (I’ve never given the plots numbers before, but I should have done because every spring I forget what I used the plots for the previous year.) I planted the seed potatoes as soon as I bought them. They only cost 50p for a bag, because they were in such poor condition. I can’t remember what time of year I usually buy or plant them; but I must have been late this year for they were sprouting three four inches through the plastic netting of the bag. Some of them were damaged, and I’m not at all convinced they’ll grow well. Any how I decided to plant them immediately, partly because they are so sprouted, partly because the weather and soil were warm, and partly because there’s no water-logging this spring. Tomorrow I’ll sow pepper, cucumber and sweet corn seeds in pots. I’m going to skip tomatoes this year - it was so disappointing last year to get such good crops and then have all the fruits go bad on me.
A week ago, I went to Painshill on a field trip with my Plants and People course. Our teacher, Lalage Grundy (what a name!) led the trip, essentially a walk around the grounds, explaining the genius of the place as we went. Although not by one of the great landscape names, Painshill, created by William Hamilton, is considered a classic example of an 18th century Landscape Movement garden. There’s a serpentine lake, a mausoleum, a ruin, a grotto, a Turkish tent and a tower and so on, all carefully placed to provide surprises as you walk around the garden. I particularly liked the circular evergreen garden. It’s a niceish bunch of people on the Plants and People course, and I got to talk to a few of them a bit more than usual, so the day was quite enjoyable. I’ll probably write my course essay on the Landscape Movement, so I’ve been collecting books on garden history; and, with B’s help, I’ve tracked down a specialist article on hermitages. There’s not much space in a 1,500 word essay to be creative or go off at tangents, but I shall have a go.
I’ve been chomping up mid-20th century crimmies in recent weeks. These are from the collection of green Penguin crime novels that I acquired from Andrew’s house clearance. About half of them are Agatha Christie but there’s a good selection of other authors too. I’ve discovered, for example, Freeman Wills Croft. I’d never heard of him before, but his books are rather readable, and intriguing. His detective, Mr French, is exceedingly thorough, and determined, and, more often than not, he’s on the track of an ingenious criminal who’s very nearly covered all his tracks. I’ve read three of his: ‘Golden Ashes’, ‘The Sea Mystery’, and ‘Inspector French’s Greatest Case’. Croft has a dry line with chapter headings: ‘The relinquishment of a theory’, ‘The beginning of the end’, and ‘The emergence of the truth’ being typical examples. Now I’m on to Cyril Hare, another unknown. While Croft is a very serious detective fiction writer, I can’t help feeling that Hare is having fun. One book, ‘An English Murder’, courts a traditional Agatha Christie murder mystery situation (half a dozen people trapped in a country mansion by snow over Christmas) and marries it superbly. I wasn’t so keen on ‘With a Bare Bodkin’, but this again played with the genre by having one of the suspects a writer who’s writing a murder mystery. I’m now reading ‘Tenant for Death’. I’ve started two novels by authors I know, Allingham and Ellery Queen, but they haven’t pulled me in the way Croft and Hare have.
Sunday 4 April
There was a storm in the night, I heard it blowing one hell of a wind as I drifted off to sleep. This morning, though, it’s bright again. A couple of blackbirds are hopping around the lawn, they keep pecking at the path as though they think the yellow sand I swept along it yesterday might be breadcrumbs. On the stereo Martin Simpson is playing. I saw Judy and Rob last night, and they gave me a CD copy of Simpson’s ‘Grinning in Your Face’, which I’ve long been searching for. Judy and I first heard some of the tracks during a Ballet Rambert performance in Woking. I so liked the music that I searched everywhere for it, without success. But Judy found it, and has finally given me a copy. I much prefer his New Orleans style, as in this record, to his English folk music style which I have on another CD.
With Judy and Rob, I saw another Shared Experience play at the Yvonne Arnaud, adapted by Helen Edmundson. But this is the second play in a row that has disappointed me. I think Edmundson has become too prolific, her success has gone to her head, and she’s rolling out adaptation after adaptation without anything new to say. ‘Mill on the Floss’ was brilliant, and the ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ adaptation was also very good. But this one I saw last night, ‘Gone to Earth’, was weakly written and very averagely directed. ‘Gone to Earth’ was about a wild girl brought up in the forest, and the struggle of two men - one a vicar and the other a rough lord of the manor - to tame her. It was supposed to be taken from a mid-20th century novel, but it was 19th century to its core, Hardy or Elliot. The play was far too linear focussing entirely on the girl, and her development; but, in her story, it was so derivative - I felt it had all been done before. I knew more or less what was going to happen all the way through. And, when the girl died at the end racing through the forest, and the spotlight lit up the father who said ‘Gone to earth’ I was not surprised. Psychologically, the play was tosh; it imposed actions and motivations on the two men and on the girl that were convenient rather than true reflections of character. And, as for the direction, I’ll but point out two weaknesses: the director had surrounded the stage on three sides by bars (as if a cage), and the characters slipped between the bars whenever they wanted to enter or leave a room. But they didn’t do this consistently, so sometimes a character moved from one room to another, without using the bars. For some of the time, the characters not performing sat at the back along behind the bars, but sometimes they didn’t. And, secondly, the director used a stamping motif - the actors often stamped out a rhythm or dance (very loudly). This was used sometimes to signify a horse trotting or galloping, but more often than not it reminded me of Spanish flamenco, which led me to thinking about Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’, and how that play deals with a similar rural community, but does it oh so much more truthfully.
Politically, immigration is the biggest topic on the domestic agenda at the moment. Beverley Hughes, the immigration minister, resigned last week after being hounded in the press for inconsistencies in information about the processing of applications from Romania and Bulgaria (two countries that are not about to join the EU). Apparently, there were irregularities which allowed more immigration from those two countries than the rules should have allowed. Hughes claimed not to know there had been a problem, but then the conservatives revealed a letter that had been sent to her a year ago advising of the very same problems. David Blunkett had been backing Hughes to the hilt, and insisted there would be no resignations one day, and the next day she was gone. It’s an explosive issue. Blunkett and others have been doing their best to explain why we should allow immigrants (and consequently why the UK has imposed less immigration restrictions on new EU members than most other Member States) but conservatives know that there is still a large constituency in Britain deeply unhappy about foreigners coming into the country and taking jobs and homes.
But, to my mind, this is another area - like Europe and Northern Ireland - in which the Conservative Party continues to do this country a grave dis-service, by stoking up the opinions of ordinary people for its own political ends. Public opinion on these issues is not a fixed parameter, immutable whatever politicians say. It is stokeable - i.e. the degree to which the public get het up about the issue is not completely, but to a very large degree, dependant on the views they hear and read in the media on a daily basis. The Tories and the ‘Daily Mail’ between them, surely, create a good 50% of the aggression in this country against immigrants.
11 April 2003, Easter Sunday
The tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. I did a word search in my diary store, and found one single mention of Rwanda in 1996 - so little did that terrible period disturb me in the Western world, so little did we do to prevent it. I read an article last week which put a fair amount of blame on France, a country far more involved with that part of Africa than the Anglo world. It wouldn’t surprise me that the French turned a blind eye, the same French that wished to carry on turning a blind eye to Saddam Hussein, and to stop anyone else doing something good and right. I must confess that my own lack of interest stems from never having been there (I’d never even been to Africa at the time), and from knowing nothing about the country or its people. And bizarre as it may be, I can’t help thinking that it was difficult to take the news of the mass killings seriously when the very names of the murderers and the victims seemed to come from a book of maths puzzles - Hutus and Tutus! I can understand, I can ‘see’ the conflicts between black and white, Japanese and American, Catholics and Protestants, but Hutus and Tutus mean nothing to me.
12 April 2004
Occasionally, I still take a look at the L&F website to see if there are any potentially interesting correspondents. I’ve archived the dialogues with Louise, Anna and Sue alongside my archived diaries, but I miss having an ongoing correspondent. I think I made one attempt around Christmas to attract someone new via the site, here are my bait-messages.
Isabela: ‘You don’t say that much about yourself - where you live; what you lecture in (philosophy? phew that AND four languages!); why you like all things continental, yet seem to live on this side of the Channel (although maybe there’s a clue in your liking steakandchips, lifeofBrian and pubs!). I’m keen on talking ideas too, so thought I’d see if I could get a conversation going, I mean is philosophy a relevant discipline in today’s world, isn’t celebrity watching more important?’
JDo: ‘I like that ‘British with continental twist’ - applies to me too. I just thought I’d say hello, mostly because it was refreshing to find a profile that didn’t dismiss politics as ‘irrelevant’ or some such. You sound successful and busy, but I can’t equal you there since, whereas once I might have sought an every man tag, I’ve arrived at a rather still point in my life. Amazing to have it, but not so easy to deal with. Any how, if you fancy talking about twists of any kind.’
Sallysox: ‘I’m not much of a phone person, but thought I’d say hello any way. I liked your photo and the enthusiasm that bubbled out of the profile (especially the Spanish and/or S. America connection - have you ever read any books by the Brazilian Jorge Amado?). And I wonder what you do in the media. But mostly I’m writing because I’m puzzled by ‘rather be happy than right’. Personally, I find some joy in understanding (which is sort of about getting things right in one’s head).’
Jowonder: ‘Avant Garde - that’s almost an old-fashioned idea these days. Don’t you find everything’s going topsy turvy. I read this recently: ‘When the world was a simpler place, the rich were fat, the poor were thin, and right-thinking people worried about how to feed the hungry. Now, in much of the world, the rich are thin, the poor are fat, and right-thinking people are worrying about obesity.’ There you go. I liked your shopfront, as it were, so thought I’d say hello.’
Jixy: ‘Serendipity! Can one look for it? I think I’m writing mostly because you’re a kiwi. I spent a most wonderful year in Dunedin, thanks to your friend (serendipity). It was a long time ago (in the mid-70s - I’m 51 now, not 46 or whatever it says, but the photo is current, so that’s enough to put you off). But any how, I like chatting by email (I’m a writer, and very amateur photo-taker) and liked your profile and your picture so thought I’d say hello.’
All of them were tailor-made for the respondents. I got ONE reply only - from Isabela, which led to us exchanging half-a-dozen emails (in which she managed to say almost nothing) before she simply didn’t reply to my last message. So rude! If anyone at all sends me a tailor-made message (very rarely these days), I always reply to thank them at the very least. But I don’t think I’ve had anybody message me, with anything like the kinds of messages I send out. Why am I so different in this way from everyone else on the site? I only mention this because, as I was rifling (can you rifle on a computer screen, or does the word imply a physical ruffling of papers?) through the profiles I was stunned by one in a way that I don’t remember ever being stunned by before. Firstly, the opening header was from Eliot; secondly, Nate (for that’s what she calls herself) rides a bicycle round the city; and, thirdly, she confesses to liking ‘Eastenders’. What an irresistible combination for me. I wrote a message to her immediately. ‘Nate: Love your opening - Eliot, bicycles AND Eastenders (although I’m a bit disenchanted with the latter of late!) that’s already more random compatibility than I’d imagined one might find here with L&F . . . and your profile’s intriguing too. I’m wondering what you research and what you write, and whether you ever stand on the highest pavement of the stair and weave the sunlight in your hair.’ I bet she doesn’t reply.
Moving on to more important matters. ‘LondonCross’: In one week, I’ve received three replies already (I only posted 19 submissions). One (Methuen) says it is not considering unsolicited submissions at all at the moment, and another (Foulsham) says LondonCross does not fit with its current publishing programme. Virgin’s editorial director, very sweetly, explains why she doesn’t want it: she feels the writing covers too many areas of interest and so doesn’t appeal to any specific market. How fantastic is that - to get a publisher actually acknowledge that it has read and considered my manuscript! I say this because I have not had this feeling from one single agent or publisher with regard to ‘Kip Fenn’. This is such a contrast, it makes me believe even more strongly in the theory that the publishers/agents have no idea how to consider ‘Kip Fenn’, how to evaluate it, how to even begin to consider how to publish/market it; and that, therefore, they simply return it without comment. No one agent or publisher has been prepared to even admit the book is ‘interesting’ or ‘different’ or ‘ambitious’ - all adjectives I’ve no doubt do apply to it. This makes me very suspicious. Although it may seem arrogant and over-confident to accuse the whole publishing industry of a communal myopia or blinkeredness, this is what I am beginning to believe. Of course each agent/publisher alone is absolutely entitled to maintain a myopic view of their business, but when it transpires that the whole industry acts in such a myopic way (I don’t mean by not publishing my book, of course, but I do mean by not considering it properly, reading the full work and replying with some brief explanation as to why such a book is not worth publishing) then I begin to suspect something is rotten in the state of British fiction publishing.
For the first half of last week, I concentrated on writing one of my course essays. For each course (I need to complete six for each of three years to get my BSc), there is one essay (1,500-2,000 words) and one exam (a choice of two 45 minute essays, the titles of which are given a week before the exams). For Plants and People, I’ve written a good essay about the English Landscape Garden. It’s about twice as long as it should be (but I don’t care if I lose marks for that) but I really enjoyed the research and the writing. As happens surprisingly often with my writing, I find there’s more cleverness (I don’t know what else to call it, I doubt anyone else would call it clever) there than I consciously planned. For example; in the opening paragraph of the essay, I write about how the story of the Landscape Garden can ‘gladden our hearts’ referring to us English people. I tried for a long time to rewrite the passage, so that I wouldn’t have to refer to ‘we’ or ‘our’, but for various reasons I couldn’t find any better way to say what I wanted to say, so I left it in. Also near the beginning of the essay, I quote a satirical passage by Alexander Pope on the fashion for topiary. This is a well known passage, and I could have taken any number of quotes from it, some of which are more famous, but I decided to take the one referring to St George, not because it was St George, but because that particular quote also refers to the plant, Box, which is Lalage’s specialty. Having concluded the essay, I gave it a quick edit and then decided to leave it, to proof read another day. However, as often happens, my brain likes to re-examine, reviews what I’ve written. And somewhere along the way, the idea popped into my head to add one further line to the ending. Under normal circumstances, I would predict that trying to add any single sentence at the very end of a carefully-written essay and conclusion would be very difficult, and yet the sentence that popped into my head (and I definitely was not thinking about changing or adding to the conclusion in any way) was this: ‘Having escaped his boxed confinement, our patron saint, St George, is surely smiling!’ What’s so clever about this is that it a) justifies my using the St George quote in the first place, rather than another more famous quote from the passage; and b) it justifies St George further, by relating it to the patriotic reference in the first paragraph; and c) it ties up, and justifies, my use of ‘our’ in the first paragraph! That single sentence, which I had never planned or thought about, lifts the whole essay from one that is good but ordinary, to one that is good, original and clever. Well, that’s what I think, a million others would go ‘durr what the fuck’s he on about?’.
Since finishing ‘The ha ha and the hermitage’, I’ve spent almost all my spare time working on my diaries. For a while, I’ve been preparing to cancel my ecinform account and to take on a new email/website account. I’ve been planning to use pikle.co.uk (I bought the domain some time ago) and funnel it through pikle.demon.co.uk (i.e. instead of ecinform.demon.co.uk). I also decided some time ago that I should use a personal website to put my writing on the internet - not to do so would demonstrate an appalling lack of confidence in my own work. So I devised a design for such a site, and it’s been sitting around on the computer waiting to be developed. The truth is, though, that I wasn’t happy with it - but because I’d invested a fair bit of time on it, I was reluctant to let it go.
Well, that’s what I’ve done these last few days, I’ve let it go and designed a much simpler cleaner design and site. And I’m now reasonably happy with it, which means I can move forward on the content. In a first phase (I expect the site to go live around May), I plan to e-publish a selection of diary entries, and a selection of stories. I also plan to update the site every couple of weeks, with new diary entries and/or new stories. This requires, obviously, my making ready the entries to e-publish. I’ve been re-editing my 1974 travel journal, for example, and this is taking a surprisingly long time. Once I gave myself the liberty to change tenses, to move sentences around if necessary for better sense, and to alter the odd word or two of the original, then suddenly it becomes quite time consuming to edit month-length sections.
Also, I’ve found that by trying to construct a working site I’m going to need to add certain explanations here and there about the entries. It doesn’t seem sufficient to me, to present my diary entries; I feel - having tried to prepare a site - that I would need a little bit of explanation. And this has led me to think that there should be a minimum sentence or two for every page. The advantage of this would be to give me something to put on the front page, linked to every new entry. So, if I plan to have a regular schedule - something new on the site every two weeks say - then I could change one element of the home page, which would always indicate the last thing to have been published. But, in order to make this as simple as possible, I need to design the site well from the beginning.
14 April 2004
As I’ve been spending time on my travel diaries, I suppose it was inevitable I’d end up on a nostalgia trip. But I didn’t plan for Joni Mitchell to be singing now, as I write, ‘I’m porous with travel fever; But you know I’m so glad to be on my own; Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger; Can set up trembling in my bones.’ I didn’t know Colin was going to come for the day yesterday, or that I would spend much of it reminiscing about Broxbourne Grammar School days, or that I would get out my five year diary.
Colin rang on Monday afternoon. I don’t think I’ve heard from him since before my 50th party. He’s over here with Hilde and Elizabeth for a week. I invited him down on the following day, Tuesday, i.e. yesterday. He arrived around 11. I took him for a walk around the short circuit in the morning. For lunch I cooked chicken pie, ratatouille and chips (Adam had arrived from Guildford by this time). In the afternoon, I took Colin to Waverley Abbey and a walk nearby. In the evening, we ate high tea together, and he went about 9:30.
Adam hung around for much of the time Colin and I were chatting. Ads was particularly keen to discover that Colin had been a squatter and into drugs. Colin told us about the time his jaw got smashed. He was living with some near-criminal types at a squat in Euston. He was about to leave and take his heater with him when one of the crimmy types just gave him an upper cut in the jaw. Later, Adam thought it cool that Colin had been a squatter. Adam was also making rather too many enquiries about our drug habits back then. Somehow we got to talking about the marijuana plants I grew on the window sill at the Iverson Road flat. I had to stress that I took dope less than almost everyone I knew. But, as a consequence of these talks with Colin about those days, Adam told me today that he has some marijuana seeds (given him by a friend) and he wanted to know if I’d mind if he grew them! He also told me that this friend grows lots of it at home; that another friend grows it, although she only eats it (but won’t smoke it); and that he’s smoked and eaten it a number of times. I said I’d talk to Barbara about whether I’d mind if he grows it here or not.
Also with Colin, I talked a lot about old Broxbourne people. We went on the Friends Reunited site together and looked at a few of the boys and girls there. Colin remembers them all so much better than me. He’s considering joining the site so he can contact two people, Chris Newnham and Phlops, aka Graham Phillips. He said he’d also send a message to Barbara Wingate because he remembers her fondly for asking him to dance once!. Colin also told me a story I hadn’t heard before (or at least remembered hearing). In the fourth year, he said, someone sent nasty anonymous letters. One of the teachers tried to play amateur detective and narrowed the culprits down to six: David Storey, Greg Daniels, Colin, myself, and two others. But nothing further was ever done about it. Apparently, Colin and I also did amateur detective work and concluded that the perpetrator must have been Greg. But then, a similar thing happened in the sixth form. Someone, anonymously, put a series of sex manuals in Colin’s locker at school. Thinking back, he’s sure that it was the same person; and, in his own mind, he now thinks it was David Storey.
I got out the letters sent to me in hospital by my classmates. Colin hasn’t read them recently, so the information in them (about class likes and dislikes) surprised him a bit. I also get out my five year diary to see if I could find anything of interest from the Broxbourne School years. There’s very little there. One odd thing, though, is that I don’t seem to have started at the school until April 64 - I’d always thought I started with the autumn term in 63, along with everyone else that year. Today, looking at the diary again, I’m intrigued to find that, not only do I refer to two other diaries (which no longer exist in reality or my memory - one called ‘UWIST Diary’ and another about my trip to the continent with Phil), but that I actually kept a diary fairly regularly from the middle of 1971 - i.e. three years before I started my travel diary. I had always assumed that my five year diary contained a selection of entries written at various times between 1963 and 1974, but, in reality, there are a few from 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967, and the majority of entries are from 1971 to 1974, with gaps, but, nevertheless fairly consistent. On one 12 July I say this: ‘Summary of past three years. Good friends in Rob, Chris, Colin. Went out with Ann for four months. Failed French O-level three times; passed English on the third try. I have eight all together. I got two Ds for my A-levels . Got into university through clearing down in Cardiff. In digs for first terms with Mrs Edwards; then in a flat with Roger, Bryan, Andrew. Curate left. Ed took over. Howard good friend. Now going out with Clare.’ !!!
Another interesting discovery was that there are diary entries around the time of my degree exams, and while I’m waiting for the results. They indicate that I didn’t think I had done very well; that I had no great ambitions whatsoever (nowhere do I see something like ‘I’m really hoping for a first’ or ‘I think I did well in that exam’); and that there was very little in the way of congratulations, either from myself to myself, or from other people. I don’t write about surprise at the result, or about any feelings connected with getting a first, or with other people’s response to my getting a first.
Another ‘Kip Fenn’ rejection letter arrives. I am despondent when I realise that there is only publisher that hasn’t replied, and that I’ve only got one or two more publishers to write to. Very soon - too soon - I’m going to have seriously consider self-publishing - I dread it!
15 April 2004
I am having one of those lazy unproductive weeks. Adam is here - it’s the second week of the Easter holidays - and I can’t quite get down to any concrete. Also, I suppose, I’m kind of in limbo waiting to see if there’ll be any positive response to my ‘London’ Cross mailing. It’s been less than two weeks, but already I’ve had nearly half of the 19 submissions back. I got three more this morning, two of which said the idea was ‘interesting’, but none of them think it’s suitable for them. I expect by next week, I’ll get my timetable a bit more organised.
But I do have to start thinking seriously about what my next project will be. What are my options. London Cross. I don’t think there is any point in editing and polishing the text, research it any further, or embarking on the east-west walk. Much as I enjoyed doing the south-north walk, I can’t continue the project if there’s no purpose to it. As I write this, I don’t have doubts about this. I’ve mailed every publisher which might be remotely interested in the book, and there’s nothing fundamentally different about the second walk that would give me reason to write to them again. So, quite seriously, I’ll just have to stop here, archive what I’ve done and move on.
My diaries. I keep getting so confused with my diaries, and what I’m doing with them. For the last two weeks, I’ve been re-editing my 1974 travel diary, trying to make it ready for PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG. But these are diary entries that are supposed to have been edited already (I mean I’ve tidied them up, printed and bound them); yet it’s taking me a while to re-edit them. Meanwhile, I’ve stalled on the editing and typing up of my diaries from the early 1980s, and early 1990s, because I’m not sure now what I’m going to do about binding them. I seem to be in constant confusion about how many editions of my diaries I’m supposed to be working on. There’s the originals, as I find them in the hand-written books, which I’m typing up verbatim. But then, as I’m proof-reading, I’m trying to consider what bits I might edit out for personal reasons (not wanting to hurt anybody’s feelings). So that’s two versions. And now I seem to be working on yet another version for PiKLe. I could easily (well not so easily psychologically) spend a year taking a professional approach to sorting out what to do with my diaries. But I won’t. I know I won’t, for the same reasons that I’ve arrived at before when discussing this with myself. Unless I become interesting for some reason, my diaries will be of no interest to anyone and therefore there’s no point in wasting much time on them now. There’s still time to come when I could deal with them if necessary.
‘Kip Fenn’. This is where my problems really lie. How much faith do I have in this novel? How much faith should I have? How much faith could I have? Julian, Fiona, Brooks, they’ve all let me down. It would be madness to self-publish without somebody somewhere saying the book has merit. But if it does have merit, who would tell me it does? This is my catch-22 problem. In the next few days, I’m going to prepare a final set of submissions to publishers (and agents if I can find any more); and, thereafter, I am going to have consider spending a week or two re-reading re-editing it. I could also try and compile a list of authors and personalities to write to requesting they consider the book, but for every issue that might appeal to one person there’s probably another issue in the book which won’t appeal to them. I could also start trying to find out how much it would cost to self-publish and to conduct a mini-marketing campaign.
22 April 2004
Eight days since my last entry, which is probably too long, I should do two a week on average, or else things just get forgotten. I’m back at uni this week. I had one lecture on Tuesday (medieval life up to the War of the Roses) about which I remember nothing, except that I continued to get irritated with the teacher for her obnoxious way of reading endless notes; and another on the plant called Box, given by Lalage Grundy, for no better reason I suppose than that it is her speciality. She lives on Box Hill and has written a pamphlet on the plant. I was undecided whether to hand in my essay ‘The ha ha and the hermitage’ because we still have another three weeks before the deadline, and I didn’t want to appear too much of a swot. But then she forced my hand: during the lecture she read out a quote about Box which, by coincidence, I’d used in my essay - and I was too vain to let her think that I had used it as a result of this lecture rather than my own researches! I have two exams next week, one on Tuesday morning, and one on Wednesday evening; and I have to write two 45 minute essays in each. I’ve been given the essay titles, and thus I should be beavering away in preparation for them, but I’m not - I’m writing my diary.
And this afternoon I’ve been a with a woman called Barbara, a German social scientist. We’ve been emailing since the weekend. I changed my L&F profile at the w/e and almost immediately, I received a letter from her. She said she was a newcomer and that I was her first contact. I liked her open-ness and her sense of values, and her photo showed her looking quite young and smiley. She always wrote back quickly, and in lengthy emails which were full of enthusiasm - so I did likewise. Given this enthusiasm, it seemed sensible to meet fairly quickly, and arranging to meet proved very simple and straightforward (unlike various other L&F contact in the past).
I cannot deny that I was quite excited; but the woman I found was not the woman I had been writing too - this is always the case, but every time the difference between the emailer and the real person is itself different. In this case, Barbara’s personality was certainly duller than that I’d read on the page. No, that’s not true. What I mean is that the personality that came across in this first meeting was duller. She has a heavy German accent, and she speaks in quite a monotone way; she also talked to me probably like she talks to everyone, but everyone for her includes a very different universe from everyone to me. So, whereas I can talk in quite an attentive, interested personal way, Barbara was much blander in our one-to-one - we could have been in a business meeting I suppose. Sometimes, I would say something or talk about something, and she had no verbal or facial response, giving no indication that anything I’d said had been heard. Also, she was not as pretty as her photo (which, I guess, might have been taken 10 years ago)
So I wasn’t falling head over heels in love. And yet, there were so many positive things about her (vis-a-vis thinking about a relationship) and so many shared points of interest and values, that I couldn’t just dismiss the meeting. And, on the way home, I thought about her a good deal - and what I was left with was a picture of her wide open blue eyes, the clarity of her thoughts and thinking (which came through by email, and therefore surely indicate what is inside), and the many points of shared interests (I mean she runs three times a week, she cycles to work, she swims, she owns a motorbike, she’s careful and efficient with money, working as a social scientist on flood projects in Bangladesh she could be a character from Kip Fenn, she is German, obviously I’m half German, and she writes well.) Although not so attractive, she is at least thin, and, how can I put it, lightly pretty.
Analysis over. So I waited a while to see if she would write to me after the meeting, but she didn’t. So I wrote about mid-evening.
Saturday 24 April 2004
Hooray, I ran round the short circuit again, anti-clockwise, for only the second time without stopping. The air is much milder than it was in winter, and so I’m sure it’s easier for my respiratory system to get the oxygen into my lungs. In fact, the last couple of days have been very warm and sunny.
Barbara replied to my email but not until much later on, and a couple more cooling emails ensued. Since then, though, I’ve been contacted by two more ladies: Vicky-Inca and Barbarella. My new profile intro has only been there for a week, and already I’ve had about six contacts already - in six months, I only ever had one with the old intro. I think I should put the intro into my diary here, since it took quite a long time to write and it was an attempt to be much more open about my position and self than I had been hitherto.
‘I’m a free man, unfettered and alive. That’s how I feel - even though I have a son (heading for uni soon) and I work hard (for myself, mostly writing) and the normal collection of possessions (house/garden, bicycle, books etc). Often I can be incredibly happy walking down by the river, or eating bread rolls I’ve just baked (with blackcurrant jam) for breakfast or swimming in the sea from an empty beach. Sometimes I am deeply sad, often in a nostalgic way when listening to music, perhaps remembering a more social me in my 20s. Mostly, though, I feel strangely content, but I wonder why. I suspect my freedom and contentment may have been bought at the price of a kind of loneliness (partly assuaged by being a father, and by friends) - a habit of aloneness perhaps.
But I’m still a traveller. That’s what I am. I didn’t realise this until recently, probably because I’d stopped moving around, in a geographical sense. There’s a restless soul inside me wanting out, wanting to feel and touch emotional involvement again - intimacy. I do dream of dreaming of making the greatest journey of all again - parenthood - but to even begin that dream (which involves trust and caring and liking and many other things), I would need first to fall in love. And for that to happen, I’d need to meet someone simple, youthful and beautiful, someone intelligent about life and living, someone curious and creative, someone honest with themselves and straightforward with the world, and someone who could fall in love with me; in short, someone extraordinary!’
Today, I’ve been working on the traditional role of plants in medicine and religion. I’ll come back to this, and to the other exam question I plan to do (on uses of plants) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tomorrow, I’m going to have pull together some kind of plan for my Dark Ages essays on Tuesday morning.
My mother is heading for Scotland on Monday to see her old friend Peggy. Julian is in the Far East for three weeks.
I’ve had yet more positive negative responses on London Cross. The contrast with the replies on ‘Kip Fenn’ is becoming even starker. Here is what Piers Burnett at Aurum Press said in a letter I received today: ‘I thought this was an extremely original idea, and read the sample material which you enclosed with interest and enjoyment’. But but but, of course. But nevertheless, it’s so nice to receive a personal reply with something nice to say.
I see I haven’t mentioned Luke’s party. This was last Sunday. It was to celebrate his 50th birthday I think, and the publication of his Methuen book on actor’s workshop classes (of which I have a copy because I bought it from Amazon). It was an afternoon party, at Luke’s Soho pad. It was a bit cramped at times, especially because most people preferred to stay in the kitchen area. The lounge was often full of small kids fighting, which was quite fun - some of them practicing martial arts. Who did I talk to? Siobhan, Luke’s young girlfriend. She’s transferred from local television news to the World Service and religious programmes but is missing the buzz of reporting. She seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of Luke’s theatre world friends, in their many shapes and sizes and ages. Who else? A silver-haired ex-hippy, about my age, with one young child and a very pregnant partner. He has one grown up son, recently married, currently living with him. His partner was an actress, I think. Who else? A successful photographer called Chris Frazer, with a dancer wife, and a very young child. I talked longest to Chris, and he gave me his card, but I can’t see much chance of us keeping in contact. And then there was Ros, who arrived very late, just about the time I was preparing to leave. I knew Luke was still in touch with her, and when I’d suggested a year or two ago we get together, he didn’t follow it through. I think the implication was that Ros didn’t want to see me particularly. She entered the room, saw me and couldn’t really avoid me. So we got talking for a minute or two, but then a work friend of hers butted in and talked and talked and talked, and then when he moved away she went with him. After all these years, she clearly still bears a grudge against me.
Paul K Lyons
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