Tag Archives: Stephen King

Playwriting and intellectual snobbery

A couple of articles turned up in my social media streams this week that related to writing plays. The first was this one,  a letter from a playwright to the actors that perform his plays. The article had been reposted with a series of victorious comments underneath, of the order of “Yeah! That’s the way! You tell ‘em!” and so on.

I read the article and felt a little discomfited. From a certain point of view (as Mrs Dim helped me see) the author isn’t saying anything outrageous. He’s saying that, in writing the play, he believes he has included all the information the actor needs to perform the piece as intended, that there’s no need for interpreting or improvising, and certainly no need to add or remove lines. The actor should enjoy the process of discovering the character through the clues in the text.

I get that.

But the comments below the piece were a little more….virulent. One in particular lambasted actors for taking liberties with his work, and announced that this was the reason he simply HAD to direct every first production of a new piece.

A year or two ago, I went to a reading of one of my plays. It was new, it was untried, and I wanted to hear it read aloud. The actors were people who had performed my stuff before, and they were NICE. It was a cold read, but it went well. At one point, the dialogue prompted some giggling , until one actor pointed out it read a lot like a Harlequin romance (Mills and Boon, for the UK readers). I smiled but felt a little sick. That wasn’t supposed to be over-the-top dialogue, it was supposed to be deep and affecting.

A Little Bit of Holiday Magic

(I didn’t write this one..)

My point is that there’s only so much that you can put into your script as the playwright. The episode above showed that my dialogue might have needed a modifier (“Read this as though it’s serious!”) but more likely it just needed re-writing. You can take the Pinter route and put in every pause and beat the actor must take, you can underline the parts that need emphasis and you can dictate the colour and size of the props. But what does that leave for the actors and directors? Are they simply a vehicle for your words? I don’t think so.

I get ideas for stories, and some of them are plays. I write a script that is my best attempt to communicate the story that I see in my head. It’s never going to be exact, because, as the professor who lives down the road never ceases saying, we’re using language developed so monkeys can tell each other where the best fruit grows. I put my ideas, my visions, on to the page, and the director and actors bring to life THEIR version of that vision. There’s going to be a huge amount of overlap, but the two will never be exactly the same.

Two different productions of "A Time for Farewells". Different, but similar...

Two different productions of “A Time for Farewells”. Different, but similar…

I’ve directed my own plays before. It was a lot of fun, and very scary, and I discovered that I couldn’t get things to be exactly as I imagined them even when I took the actor’s place and declaimed the line for them, so they could hear the intonation.

In “On Writing” Stephen King likens writing to telepathy. He asks the reader to imagine a table with a red tablecloth, on which is positioned a small cage. He points out that, despite him writing the book possibly years previously and thousands of miles from where the reader sits, they are thinking of  the same image as he is, although there will be small differences. The shade of red, the size of the cage, the design of the table…all small differences, but fundamentally the same image.

This is how I view my plays. I sit at my keyboard and imagine a scene. Years and miles later, that scene is brought to life with minor differences, remaining fundamentally the same.

Screenwriters like to complain about the recent fad for crediting the Director with the whole film, pointing out that it hasn’t always been this way, and why should it be a “An Alan Smithee Film” if all he did was tell the actors where to stand when they recited their lines? Well, I think it’s just as unfair for the playwright to expect to gather all the praise for a production, or wield all the power. The script is vital, yes. It should be as complete as possible in terms of communicating what the playwright sees, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be a binding document. It’s the place where the story begins.

(She’s the one in the middle…)

The other article that came to my attention this week was headed “Now Amanda Peet thinks she’s a playwright”. It was just as juvenile as it sounds, a person sounding off at Amanda Peet for daring to write and perform in a play when everyone knows she’s a screen actress. The comments here were much more balanced, with many people taking the same view I did – if she wrote a play and got it published or produced, then she’s a playwright, what’s the big deal? Others were obsessed with the unfairness of someone with acting and theatre connections shortcutting the “proper” route of misery and rejection to get straight to having her work onstage in a big theatre.

The truth is, if any of us struggling writers had an “in” to our favoured arena, we’d take it. Uncle in the film business? Here’s my screenplay. Dad works in publishing? Here’s my novel. Cousin runs a theatre? Here’s my latest play. Brother-in-Law was on reality TV show? Here’s my sympathy.

It’s not wrong to use connections. It may not seem fair, in that it’s not something everyone can do. But JK Rowling didn’t have any connections, just a good idea. EL James didn’t have any connections, just the right idea at the right time. Yes, this means that some people have more success than others who have more talent or ability. That’s sad, but it doesn’t always follow that someone who uses their connections to reach the audience has nothing worth saying. I’d like to see Amanda Peet’s play. I know the ones I read and review tend to be better when the author has had some experience onstage themselves, so I’m sure hers would be interesting. I’d love the chance to talk to her about it. And, you know, while we were talking about stage plays, perhaps she wouldn’t mind looking over this new script I’m working on…?

In fact, the latest script I’m working on turns out to be a sequel to the moderately successful “The Kitchen Skirmishes“. All being well, this new play (as yet untitled) will be published in the new year. Unless Amanda Peet can fit me in somewhere earlier, of course…

One-off Book review: “IT” by Stephen King

Although this would normally come up under “June Reading” in a few weeks time, I wanted to give this book its own review. Many of the books I review each month come from the library, and they are fleeting visitors. They’re read, enjoyed (for the most part) and returned.

But there’s  another class of book we all know about. The books you read and can’t let go. The ones you see in a second-hand bookshop, perhaps years after the initial reading and you just HAVE to buy. Books that you revisit like old friends, finding comfort in the familiarity, still loving the twists of the plot even though you can’t possibly be surprised by it.

After so many house moves, the books we keep on our bookshelves are all old friends. We’ve whittled down our collection again and again, and now only keep the ones we can’t imagine being without. “It” is one of those books.

(I need to point out that Mrs Dim is not a big fan of this book.)

For those who don’t know, “It” is the story of a group of childhood friends. As children, they banded together to fight an evil monster living beneath their town. They believed it was destroyed, but made a pact to return and fight again if the creature came back. Thirty years on, they are called to make good on their oath, and must go up against the creature again. But now they are adults, do they have the power they had as children?

There are many reasons why I like this book, and probably as many reasons why some people will NEVER like this book. The childhood sections are set in 1957/8, in Maine. That’s nearly twenty years before I was born, and a few thousand miles from where I spent my childhood, but the kids in the story feel familiar. They love the music of the time (secretly dancing and singing along to Rock ‘n Roll, despite the disapproval of their parents) and they play imaginative games in a wasteland area of the town called “The Barrens”. It’s not quite the life I lead in rural Hampshire in the early 80’s, but there are echoes.

The other big attraction of the book is the way it’s written. Rather than write the whole thing chronologically, beginning with the children in 1957/8, following their adventures along, and then moving ahead to the 1980’s, King chooses to mix in the two timelines. He does this because the older characters don’t remember their childhood years – not until they get the phone call from the one member of the gang who stayed in the town. All the others left and became successful in some way, but one – Mike Hanlon – stayed on and became the town Librarian. Mike remembers almost everything that happened while they were children, but the others only begin to remember when they arrive in Derry. As they remember, King shows us their memories of the events, so that the climax of both battles against It take place simultaneously – the children in 1958, and the adults thirty years later.

I’m sure the name of Stephen King means people are waiting for the horror. Well, yes, there’s plenty of that. It is a kind of ancient Boggart, to steal briefly from JK Rowling – It reaches into your mind and takes what you most fear, then becomes that thing…with a few twists of Its own. If you don’t like blood and gore, and the odd scare along the way, you won’t get along with this book, but I think that’s a pity, because Stephen King evokes a very real sense of what it’s like to be a child. There are some wonderful sections when the kids are together – even in the middle of a titanic struggle to fight this evil thing that adults can’t see, don’t believe in, they still play. They’re still children.

I’m sure there are many rebuttals that could be offered to balance up this review. Is the story ultimately satisfying? Does it feel believable (for a given value of “believable”, seeing as there’s monsters etc etc)? Is it a “good” book? Those questions are probably valid, but in this instance I’m playing my Joker and saying “I don’t care”. My love for this book may be irrational, may not be universally shared, and it may even be possible to prove it’s misplaced, but I’ll love it regardless. In a world where people get tattoos of text from Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, I think it’s entirely permissable to love a book beyond reason.

The April Bookshelf

Trotting off on a road trip to San Diego for the first half of April put quite a dent in my reading. Since we were packing all five of us and our gear into the one car, it seemed unwise to take up too much space with reading material.

Lucky for me I have a kindle.

The Steampunk Megapack

I’ve been reading this collection of stories on and off for a while now. Not because I couldn’t get into it, but because there’s SO MUCH in it. The first few tales are short stories, but before long the content is padded with entire novels – I really enjoyed re-reading Conan-Doyle’s “The Lost World” and experiencing “John Carter and the Princess of Mars” for the first time.

As with most of the collections I’ve read, not all of the stories were to my taste, which isn’t surprising. What was surprising and a bit annoying was that very few of the stories were genuine Steampunk. Though the term itself is only a loose classification, I really feel there does need to be an “alternate universe” feel to the setting. The basic idea of Steampunk is that modern technology, like electrical devices and gasoline-powered vehicles were not developed along the same lines, and that Steam Power achieved most of the same results. In addition, there’s usually more than a touch of Victoriana about the mannerism and the dress code, if not the time zone.

The majority of these stories were based in the right era and thus had the language, but hit none of the other checkpoints. Value for money, but not the product it’s claiming to be.

Behemoth and Goliath – Scott Westerfeld

I mentioned the first of Westerfeld’s “Animalistic Steampunk” trilogy last month, and this month I tracked down the next two in the series. I really enjoyed these books – partially for the plucky female lead, and partially for the excellently real, yet fantastic world they’re set in. I also give Scott credit for stopping World War One in his world. Good job, that man.

The Girl of Nightmares - Kendare Blake

Picked entirely because of the beautiful artwork on the cover, I found this was at least the second or third in a series. The story goes that a mystic group imbued a knife with the power to release the unquiet dead – to “kill” ghosts. Now, in the modern day, the wielder of the knife lives in America, and only “kills” the “bad” ghosts, plus he’s fallen in love with a dead girl, and wants to know if the knife can be used to rescue her from hell. Now, aside from the other practical issues here, what kind of mystic group goes to all that trouble then leaves their mystic warriors to their own devices for TWO GENERATIONS? Were they twiddling their mystic thumbs all this time?

I rushed back to the library to hurriedly NOT book out the other books in the series.

Shada - Gareth Roberts

When Eldest Weasel bought herself this book for her birthday, I was intrigued to note that it had Douglas Adams’ name on the cover. DA wrote three Doctor Who episodes for the Tom Baker era Doctor, but the third one was not one of his favourites, and was never completed due to strike action at the BBC. Now the scripts from that story, his notes and the knowledge of the books Douglas wrote later have been brought together to create this novel. It was very good, even though I spent a lot of time tutting and saying “Hitch hiker….Dirk Gently…Dirk Gently…Huh…” as I recognised bits and pieces here and there. Well worth the read if you are a fan of Adams, Doctor Who, Dirk Gently or all three.

Star Wars Omnibus “Menace revealed”

I couldn’t resist adding such a thick collection of Star Wars comics to my library list when I found out they were gathered together in one volume. This bunch includes a couple of tales about Jango Fett and Zam Wesell which changes my view of their working relationship as portrayed in “Episode 2″ and a couple more  about Aurra Sing, the mysterious Jedi Hunter. The final few were simply advertisements for toys, being reprints of the short comics that came free with the vehicles and figures on sale, but I enjoyed the first stories enough to make the loan worthwhile.

4th Doctor Who anniversary story: The Roots of Evil – Phillip Reeve

There are some cracking authors in this anniversary series. I’ve been a fan of Phillip Reeve since picking up “Mortal Engines” on a whim and reading the whole series thereafter. Now THAT’s a series begging to be a movie AND  a computer game. I would pay good money to fly the Jenny Hanniver from Traction City to the Air Market… But that ‘s NOT what this book’s about. This is an adventure of the fourth Doctor, traveling with the wonderfully savage Leela and discovering an entire floating world made from a single, enormous tree.

Plain Kate – Erin Bow

When I began reading “Plain Kate” I really felt like I had stumbled across a good old fashioned children’s story. The world was recognisable, but old, the characters were simple, but believable and there was a touch of magic. Things got dark quickly, however, and I raced on through the book, waiting for the tide to turn and Kate’s life to improve.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll say it’s definitely worth the read. It’ll strain the heartstrings of even the toughest reader, and I would hesitate before offering it to any of the Weasels, since they all have such soft hearts. Mrs Dim is working through it now, and “enjoying” it.

Michael Vey: The prisoner of cell 25 – Richard Paul Evans

I’ve seen a brilliant map that someone has created, showing many of the lands from fiction as if they shared the same world: Middle Earth, Westeros, Narnia, Panem… I was thinking there should be a similar thing to show the many bunches of renegade kids with super-powers running about the place.

This book doesn’t have much new to say on the subject of being a kid with superpowers, but it was an engaging read and I found myself flying through the book to see if the villains get their comeuppance at the end. Rather than answer that question, I’ll just say there’s a second book in the series….

The Bughouse Affair – Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

I have to be honest, I picked this one up, assuming it to be another steampunk detective piece, but it’s not – it’s a period detective piece. If you’re a fan of San Francisco, or the 1890’s, or of books that feature cameos by Sherlock Holmes, then this may well be a book for you. Or maybe you just like central characters that say “Bah!” a lot. Sadly, I don’t fit into any of those catagories, and I also have a peculiar need for the title of a book to bear some relation to the content of the book. This book is entitled “The Bughouse Affair” and deals with burglaries, pickpocketing and Sherlock Holmes. NOT elementary.

From a Buick 8 – Stephen King

I’ve been a King fan for years, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read this particular book. It’s an interesting story, particularly if you’ve worked your way through the rest of the King canon, because what the book is about is a piece of a much larger story, yet you don’t NEED to know that other story to appreciate this one.

Troop D are keeping an old Buick in a shed, and it has a dangerous and strange history. When the son of a trooper who was killed in a roadside accident begins to ask questions about the shed, it’s time to tell the strange story and lay the ghosts to rest.

Apologies for linking all these books to Amazon.com, and not having the techno-savvy to allow the link from the picture to show the inside of the books.

I know some of my reviews are harsh, both here and last month, but these are the books that I stuck with to the end. They may not, in some cases, have made my favourite list, but they were engaging enough to hold my attention. There are books not mentioned here because I didn’t finish them.

And, of course, the other book I’ve been reading a lot in the last month is my own : The Great Canadian Adventure .  I’ve been putting this account of our first year in Canada together for the last couple of years, but a concerted effort this month has produced the kindle edition, complete with colour photographs and hyperlinks. I certainly haven’t seen another kindle book like it. Let me know what you think of it.

I DO have all the links for this one:

Amazon.Com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CKZQUX4
Amazon.co.uk : http://amzn.to/12WTomY
Amazon.ca : http://amzn.to/ZWv5XD

Meeting your heroes

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met - Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

One of my literary heroes that I HAVE met – Terry Pratchett, at a book signing in Winchester, 2006

When I first began to really read, I devoured the books of two authors in particular – Douglas Adams and Harry Harrison. I loved their books, read them until the paperbacks fell to pieces and could’ve won trivia contests on obscure plot points.

I didn’t know a thing about the authors themselves. Much later, I got to read articles about, and interviews with, Douglas Adams. I have a copy of “The Salmon of Doubt”, a book put together after his tragically early death, with interviews, articles and unfinished stories. That fills out a little more of the man that I didn’t know.

But this is the 21st Century. This week, I have had the works of John Scalzi almost exclusively playing on my audio books playlist – he’s releasing his new book “The Human Division” chapter by chapter, and I’m buying the audio versions through Audible.com. I stumbled across his blog/website “Whatever” when googling something else, and as a result of becoming a reader of his posts, I bought one of his books. Then several more. This is proof that blogging can lead to book sales. But as well as learning I liked his work, I learned a lot about Mr Scalzi too (though, having not met him, it seems rude to call him “John”). I know the names of his immediate family and have seen pictures of them (that he released in specific circumstances, not because I’ve broken into his house with a flashlight and a stocking mask…) I know about his lawn-mowing habits and ukulele playing desires. I’ve even seen him fall on his ass while singing the theme tune to one of his novels.

The point of all this is that authors have now really got the option of stepping out of the shadow of their books. One of the things I have always loved about Stephen King’s short story collections is his habit of explaining a little something of them either before or afterwards. He talks about the genesis of the idea, or how the story was changed, or where a character came from. Now he has a website, there’s the chance that a direct query might be answered in person, that those things you might otherwise have wondered about til your dying day could be sorted out in an email.

Much as I liked the image of a Salinger-like hermit, locked away from the world, dropping pearls of books to adoring but distant readers, this idea of accessible authors is much more exciting. I’m sure they’re occasionally ticked off with the number of wannabes who press them for the secret of their success, or where they get their ideas from, but they also get the positive feedback, the letters and emails that say how much their work is admired. Today, anyone can write a book and get it published. You can have your own work available for sale through Amazon, the most popular method of book purchasing in the modern world. This being the case, publishing your work isn’t the prize it once was. What’s more important to a lot of writers (and I know this is true of myself) is hearing that other people have been affected by the stories, that they have been touched by the tale in the same way the author was. That they’re glad it was written down and sent out into the world.

Writers write because they have to, because the stories demand to be told. But we publish because we want to share those stories.*

So take advantage of this amazing new world we live in. Reach out and meet the authors you admire. And not in a “Here’s my underwear, please sign it and send me some of yours” kind of way. Read their blogs, add your review of their books to Amazon and Goodreads and other review sites. Link to their blogs from yours so other people can find them too.

I know, from what other people have said, that meeting Douglas Adams could be a joyous thing, and I’m sorry I never had the chance. But I have had reply tweets and emails from Neil Gaiman, from James Moran, and John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig. People whose words have moved me, have changed the way I see the world. People who, ten years ago, would have been as distant to me as the stars they write about.

Which authors have you contacted and heard back from? Which blogs do you recommend? Which author (living or dead) would you most like to converse with? Bearing in mind the dead ones won’t be much for conversation…..

 

 

* receiving a large sum of money in return is often looked upon as a bonus, however.

10 reasons why being a writer ROCKS!

Forget the Hemingway image of the writer, bearded, drunk and slumped over a typewriter filled with cigarette butts. Being a writer need not equate to misery, alcohol abuse and blinding headaches. Being a writer ROCKS, and here’s why:

  1. You can do it all the time. Don’t tell me that the happiest Chartered Accountant or Quantity Surveyor can do their job when they’re not at work. That accountant needs his spreadsheets and accounts, and that Quantity Surveyor needs…er…quantities of stuff to survey. But writers are writing ALL THE TIME. We walk around and our characters tell their stories in our heads. Walking the dog, we are striding the worlds we create. The part of the job that is done at the keyboard is only the culmination of the process. How cool is that?
  2. Your job, your rules. Yes, there are guidelines about plot, and character development, and first person viewpoints and on and on. But the truth is, those rules only apply until they don’t. You can use them to tell your story, but if they aren’t getting the job done, you can cast them aside and try something different. That doesn’t go so well, for example, in a Pharmacy…”Ah, Mrs Williams? Still getting those headaches? Try this, I just sort of bunged a load of stuff together in a pot….”
  3. Reading. You don’t HAVE to love reading to be a writer, but let’s face it, you probably do. To write, you have to love words, and reading is a ready source. But look, it’s not like you have to fill your mental fuel tank with a fresh supply of words in order to create your own sparkling prose…Really, you don’t. But reading stretches your imagination, reading good books gives you hints and tips subconsciously that you will use later. It’s not plagiarism, it’s style.
  4. It’s the best time to do it. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, being a writer is not the solitary depressing experience it once was. There are hundreds of online communities out there. Through social networks like G+ you can meet and talk with other writers of all levels. You may not get face time with JK Rowling or Tom Clancy, but with patience, manners and sensible commenting, you can get in touch with published authors (like John Scalzi, or Chuck Wendig).
  5. The gates are open. Now, this may be a good thing or a bad thing, but the fact is, right now you can be published only minutes after finishing your draft. The new ebook publishing programs mean that you don’t need an agent or a lucky meeting to guarantee your book is published, but beware: Just because you can publish instantly doesn’t mean you should. Check your draft, get it read, give it a break and read it again yourself. Get a good artist to design your cover. Unless you’re just in it for the cachet of dropping “I published my book the other day” into conversations…..
  6. You are part of an immense heritage. Storytelling may not be the Oldest Profession, but it goes back millennia. Watch how young children crave stories, how adults rush to buy the latest recommendations. Stories speak to all of us, fill a need that everyone feels from time to time. YOU can fill that need, and be one with Plato, Homer (not the cartoon, get a grip) Shakespeare, Faulkner, Dickens. And yes, Tom Clancy, ok.
  7.  (Via Jenn Thorson, after an appeal for help) “I love how transporting it can be when the writing is going well and everything around me disappears; the story and I are alone as the scene unfolds. It’s what Stephen King, I believe, has called “falling through the page.” It feels like the perfect balance of work and amusement, and time loses meaning. It’s a great feeling to be that at-one with creativity.”
  8. (Via Amy Knepper) “Writing rocks because I can play with my imaginary friends, and kill them if they make me angry.”
  9. (Via Laurie Laliberte) “Chicks dig writers
  10. The big one. Because everyone, at some time in their life, wants to be a writer. Everyone dreams of holding a book in their hands and saying “This is mine, these words are mine. I wrote this.” People may dream of it for the success that comes to writers like JK Rowling, or the fame that clings to Salinger despite comparatively little output, or just to see something they made in a shop window. But everyone has dreamed of being a writer, and if you write, then you ARE a writer. And that rocks.

Behind the curtain in Oz….

Some of my favourite books about writing

Firstly, apologies to fans of the Emerald City. This is not going to be about Frank L Baum’s fantasy world, nor about God’s Country Down Under. Today is about lifting the curtain that hides the machinery of the Wizard. The books about writing books. More specifically, it’s about “On Writing” by Stephen King. The wizard metaphor came to mind because the books we see on the shelves are the finished article. They glow, from their pristine covers to their polished prose, each word within (hopefully) considered and read many times before publication. These mighty tomes are the wizard, set forth to dazzle us with their brilliance, while behind the curtain, feverishly working to maintain this illusion, is the author.

Authors are real people. They have hopes, dreams, and only twenty four hours in the day. That’s why, for the would-be best selling author, the biggest secret we want to learn is “HOW DO YOU WRITE YOUR BOOKS?” We don’t want to know where ideas come from. We know that, we have so many ideas pounding around our mental jogging track that we can scarcely remember the shopping list. No, we want to know the physical news. When do you write? Do you get up early and work until the day begins? Do you write late at night? Do you have a separate office, or work on a laptop in a cafe?

What we’re asking is “Is there a secret to it? What do you do that I can do to get my book out of my head and onto the page?”

Stephen King may not write your brand of fiction, but I would recommend you take a look at his short story collections (Skeleton Crew, Four Past Midnight, Everything’s Eventual, Full Dark No Stars, Danse Macabre) because he lifts the curtain. Almost more than I loved the stories (he does write MY brand of fiction…) I loved him talking about why he wrote them, how they came to mind. Sometimes it’s the birth story, sometimes it’s the why that story is the way it is, but each explanation tells you about the crafting involved. So when he wrote “On Writing” his book about how he writes and what he thinks about the craft of writing, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

Again, I urge you to ignore the voice saying “But I don’t like Stephen King books.” This book is not a gore-fest, it’s about writing, and it’s written by a man who is a phenominally successful author. The first half talks about his life, and that’s important, because a lot of the detail in his books (a lot of the truth, I like to think) comes from his memory. He talks about songs on the radio, he talks very compellingly about being a child in the fifties. So compellingly that I love those portions of “It”, though I grew up twenty years later on a different continent. When you get to the second half of the book  he talks about writing, but he’s talking about REAL writing. He’s not talking about writing the Great American novel, something so literary and metaphysical that the critics cry and schoolchildren will hate you for having to study it. He’s talking about writing books that people buy, love and recommend to their friends.

My secret confession today is that, all too often, I am like Writer Bob : I grab a “How to” book from the library, and sit down, determined to follow the instructions to the letter, ending up with a complete novel/screenplay/knitted model of St Paul’s Cathedral. But the truth is, unless you invest the time and effort, reading the book won’t get it done.

Which are YOUR favourite writing books? When you write your guide to new authors, what’s going to be the biggest tip?

Fuelling the writing

Almost as important as my keyboard...

In his book “On WritingStephen King does an excellent job of dispelling the myth that great writers need something like whisky or drugs to function better. Hemingway didn’t drink because he was a great writer, he drank because he was a drunk and he happened to be a great writer too. So, drinking beer doesn’t help me get my writing done, and I would never claim taking any kind of narcotics helps you do anything except get poorer and die young. But coffee… Ah, coffee is a different thing altogether.

In the UK, I drank a lot of coffee. Working from home in Bournemouth I worked in the breakfast room, just off the kitchen (Look, it was a weird house, ok? Breakfast room AND dining room…) mainly because it was warm in the winter (because the boiler was in there too) but also because that kept me close to the kettle. I would drink instant coffee in much the same way as other people chain smoke…as soon as the cup was empty, I would hop up to refil it.

Once we arrived in Canada I realised this lifestyle could not continue. Not only because we no longer had a breakfast room, but because the instant coffee here is bad. Really bad. I don’t have a very discerning palette, for anything. I can distinguish between Coke and Pepsi, and red and white wine if I’m allowed to look, but distinguishing between Gold Blend and Full Roast? Pass. Not a chance. Over here, people can tell the difference between different brands of coffee beans just by the aroma BEFORE they’re made into a drink. People can tell the difference between a Starbucks coffee and a Tim Hortons (a couple of bucks, usually) But the instant coffee is so bad, even I couldn’t drink it.

We’d brought over our caffetiere, relic of dinner parties we’d never had, and it got a bit of a thrashing in the first few weeks as we used it every morning. Eventually the inevitable happened, and we smashed the glass bit. That’s when we bought the beauteous machine in the photo. A coffee maker! Load it up and it makes coffee for you! No plunging! You can even program it so that it comes on while you’re doing the school run and you come home to fresh, piping hot coffee! Miracle!

Sadly, all things must end. Yesterday I put on the coffee maker and hopped into the shower. I came out, dressed, and poured myself a cuppa. It was empty. The coffee was not made. I looked out the window, in case the Apocalypse had come to pass. But it was worse than that – the coffee machine was broken.

I’ve had twenty four hours without coffee, as the new machine had to wait until the shops were open. I’ve been that long without coffee before, of course, but that was by choice. This time I didn’t have coffee because I couldn’t and that was harsh, dear reader, harsh. Anyway, normality is restored with the arrival of the shiny new machine and a steady stream of liquid revitaliser, to which I give the credit for the completion of my first full-length play. Less than a year in the making, but at eight cups a day for ten months, that’s….a lot of coffee.