“The Next Life” Project. Blog 1. A moan. Writing is hard!

Well … what astoundingly good news. Recently I have been awarded an Arts Council Grant to finish and get editorial help for my memoir, The Next Life (formally After The Fall), finish the my “clinical depression concept album” album, Good Friday (which is connected and will accompany to the book), workshop and make work with service users in partnership with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust which will be the curtain opener for my “scored readings” (readings from the book accompanied by music) at Embrace Arts And lincoln Drill Hall. Phew! that’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? 

So … all very exciting but I would like to start this series of blogs (where I will document the process) by having a big old moan!

Picture the scene: a miserable Tuesday morning. I had finished the first draft of the book about a week earlier and was lying in bed feeling miserable. Finishing the first draft of the book had been an emotional roller coaster. On finishing I was granted four days of joy. Wow – it was, more or less, there! What a thing, to (sort of) finish the bloody big enterprise that had engulfed my life over the last four years. I couldn’t quite believe it.

Then the ennui set in. Well, that was it then. It was done. What in God’s name am I going to do with myself now? I grumpily decided that I was going to spend the day in bed watching I player and moaning quietly to myself. Maybe cut my toenails…

Then KERCHUNK! Something big and heavy came through the door. I rushed downstairs and it was what I thought it was, it was from the Arts Council. Now, the kerchunk boded well. If it was a rejection it was only going to be a letter, the kerchunk meant it came with a pack telling me what to do and how to go about my successful application.

I had kind of forgotten about the application. I had decided earlier that year that I was not going to count on anything. Having been on the dole (jobseekers allowance) for a while I knew that getting your hopes up was a dangerous thing. Various jobs (that I was perfect for!!) I apparently wasn’t perfect for. I’d had a lot of ‘thank you but no thank you’s. I wasn’t going to get my hopes up on a funding application that was, at best, 50/50. I opened the envelope with trembling fingers.

And suddenly I was happy. My life had direction again.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves … this is going to be a moan. It’s going to be a moan about writing and how bloody hard it is.

Having messed about in all sorts of art I can give you (in my opinion) the top three artistic professions that are the hardest, for me at least. Bearing in mind I’ve never been a visual artist. Who know? Maybe oil painting is an absolute ball-ache.

Coming in at number three is directing a film. I only directed one (whilst I was in metro-boulot-dodo) and the really hard thing about it is managing time. You have all these shots to get and only so many daylight hours. And you are the boss! Everyone looks to you for firm guidance. Making a film is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. During the filming process people started referring to me as Little Hitler. I, of course, had those people shot.

Second is stand-up comedy. You stand in front of a room full of strangers and declare “I AM FUNNY”. When it goes well it is thrilling, but when it goes badly it is devastating. It is the crack cocaine of the arts. To do stand-up you have to have stones of, well, stone. I had a terrible gig once and I stood up to go to the toilet. The comedian who was on asked me where I was going. I, distraught about terrible performance, said “I’m going to kill myself”. The guy replied, quick as a flash, “Well, it won’t be the first time you’ve died tonight.” The audience roared. Alone in the toilet I wished that I had a gun so I could kill myself. I’d kill the other comic first, mind.

And coming in at number one is writing a book. It takes such a long time and is very, very lonely. It is easily the hardest artistic thing I have ever done. For me it started as something fun. I very much wrote the book chronologically and the start is a right giggle. I woke up in hospital with many broken bones but also “suffering” from euphoria due to my brain bruise. I found it all hilarious: the grumpy old stroke victims, having my catheter removed, the pretty bottom wiping nurses. The book actually started as little Facebook posts I wrote to keep my mates up to date with how I was doing but also make them laugh. Then, for me, it got a bit harder when I realised this could be a book and if I was going to tell the whole story I was going to dredge up some pretty painful memories. And then towards the end, it becomes a huge, complicated head fuck. Suddenly something that had just flowed became an exercise in craft. It needed form, loose ends needed tying up … and all this needed to be effortless and flowing. I put up a plan of coloured post-it no notes on my wall and spent a lot of time frowning at it.

And the other thing is it is such a crap shoot, such a chance. You are spending hours, days, months, years on something that, at the end of it all, could end up (in 2045) in your niece’s loft, gathering dust and being referred to as that strange thing that Uncle Dave wrote. It takes a lot of nerve, self believe and sheer bloodymindedness to carry on. At the end of the day it becomes something very hard. It becomes an act of will.

To top that off is the fact that none of your friends get this. They think of you in your pyjamas, starting work at 11, happily typing away, sipping your coffee with BBC 2 in the background. OK … maybe that’s a bit true but they don’t grasp the graft or loneliness either. Oh … and being a first time author no-one has given you an advance. You do all this with no money. As someone who spent fifteen years (in metro-boulot-dodo) getting paid to make art is is all rather bleak and impoverished. It is rubbish.

And … breath. There we go. I feel a bit better now.

I am, of course, moaning (well, I did warn you). Writing, when it is going well, can be magical. When everything is flowing it is something very special indeed. Like writing your name in the air with a sparkler. Except your name stays there … and hopefully never gets pulped.

Anyway – let’s look to the immediate future and all its promise. The book, the album, the performances … it has all become very exciting. And I’m going to share that fun with you. I’m going to blog about the process every weekend and every Wednesday. Beneath is a little taster of the book. After that long rant I have chosen to post something short and fun. Enjoy!

On Being Overtaken by a Pensioner

I am getting more mobile. I am still on the bloody Zimmer but it won’t be long now, in a few days I will be going crutches. I have been putting the Zimmer through its paces though. Like deliberately walking the length of the ward every day, I have given myself a new challenge. I have been walking into town daily, visiting my friend Danny’s music shop, and hobbling home. It would take a fit, healthy person ten minutes to get into East Grinstead town centre from my parents’ house. A nice, brisk, ten minute stroll.

It takes me about an hour.

Today, on the way back, I was overtaken by a pensioner. And this wasn’t a young, healthy pensioner; this was some old dear, slowly tottering away behind one of those fancy shopping carts with wheels on. I wish I could pull off a tartan cart with wheels, but alas, I am stuck with the Zimmer. She’s got the speed and the style. I angrily glanced sideways, pulled on all my inner reserves, knuckled down and tried to give this decrepit old waxwork a run for her money. I grunted and scowled as she very, very, very, very slowly overtook me.

She was oblivious of course, intent on her day. She doddered past, all shaky and half-blind, chewing on her dentures.

But man, that hurt.

She may as well have flipped me the finger as she left me in her wake. I angrily shook my fist at her as she disappeared into the, very near, middle distance.


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