Tag Archives: coffee

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.

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Almost an anniversary

The Tiny Weasels on Arrival Day

The Tiny Weasels Pose, reluctantly, in Vancouver airport

There are still four more days until we reach the one year point, but I’m aware that time is flying at the moment and we’ve already booked a restaurant for that evening – the first place we ate in, as it happens, a lovely place called Milestones on English Bay. It’s part of a chain of eateries, but each one is quite distinct, and this one was our favourite.

I’ve been thinking, on and off, about what I feel about living in Canada. There are still moments of amazement, when the fact that we live so far from family come home to us. There are still days when I worry about driving on the wrong side of the road. Come to think of it, there are still days when I get in the car and wonder where the steering wheel is…

Were there any things I thought I would never get used to? Seeing mountains. When I arrive for work, if the day is clear, I can see mountains on almost every part of the horizon. The reason I can’t see mountains behind me where I park is because the skytrain track loops around the store there, and that’s an amazing view in it’s own right. When I was a kid I used to read “2000ad” and the futuristic city of Mega City One had raised roads that curled and swooped through the cityscape. That’s what I think of when I see the Skytrain.

I still convert currency in my head. Most of the times it’s to reassure myself. I look at new books on sale and think “$30! My God!” and then think, “No, wait, that’s about eighteen quid…Fair enough.” I was surprised when I converted the price of our new house though. Surprised, then ashamed. I will not speak of it.

Some things still strike me as odd though. In the UK I made lasagne, using mince, pasta sheets and two sauces. The red sauce I made from scratch, the white I got out of a jar. Over here they don’t seem to have those jars. I can get pretty much any type of pasta sauce I want, except that white sauce. Last week I made the white sauce from scratch too, and it was brilliant, but it does mean more washing up.

Laundry is great here. In the UK, we didn’t have a tumble drier. Well, we had one once,but we were too eco-conscious to use it much. And it broke down. Over here there was already a huge washer and drier lurking down in the laundry area of the basement. No guilt attached, they’re already here, use ’em! Did you know that when you wash socks and dry them in a tumble drier, they come out soft? Actually soft! My socks used to retain the shape of the radiator….

Hmm. That’s something I haven’t got the hang of. There are vents in the floor of this house that should produce heat when it’s cold. They’re supposed to be controlled by the tiny LCD screen on the wall over there *Dim points*. Mostly I don’t touch it, because I don’t understand it, but on occasion I stare at it in frustration. It can get quite cold here. Then I have another cup of coffee, because I CAN work the coffee machine, which is something else I love about here. The instant coffee is dreadful, but I’ve got the hang of setting the machine before I walk the weasels to school and when I get home, there’s a jug of fresh coffee waiting for me. And it stays hot for two hours! Coffee is a big deal over here. I used to see people carrying take out coffee cups on their way to school and wonder where they had picked them up. Later I realised they might have gone out for coffee and come back to do the school run. I still get surprised to see people walking into the store where I work carrying Starbucks cups. Mind you, I only learned the other day that pets are allowed. Who takes their dog to go shopping for home improvement materials? Well, quite a few people, as it turns out.

I’ve nearly got used to hearing Eldest Weasel’s Canadian accent when she talks to her friends, because it upsets her if we wince. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing Tiniest Weasel gliding around on ice skates. She’s only just turned six! All three weasels have proved themselves adept at the winter sports, taking to ice skating, skiing and sledging like they were born to it.

It’s funny, reaching March and starting to recognise some of the things we saw fresh when we arrived. There’s a regular promotion in Tim Horton’s (a coffee shop chain), where you roll up the rim of your coffee cup to see if you’ve won a prize. That’s just come round again. It’s tax time here too, with many reminders going out for folks to get advice, download free software and so on. I’m in negotiation with the Inland Revenue, since in the midst of the excitement of moving I missed my last self-assessment. Yes, I owe the Inland Revenue a fine (if I’ve made a profit on writing in 08/09) but it’s now in the hands of the accountant we’ve finally sorted. He has a lot to cope with, what with royalties going into the UK bank account, Mrs Dim’s Military Pension, and both sets of Canadian wages being paid over here….

But one whole year. That’s pretty immense, any way you slice it. We arrived here in the middle of the night, relieved to get through Immigration – and it seems stupid now, but we had no “plan B”. If Immigration had turned us around (as they could have) we had no idea what we would have done next. No house, no jobs, no school for the weasels… When I think about it like that, it all seems much more of a gamble than we ever thought. I don’t know how Mrs Dim was looking at it, but I was focussing on one thing at a time. If you asked me five hours before we left for the flght what my biggest worry was, and I would have told you it was packing everything we needed into the nine suitcases we had. At the airport it was whether we’d catch the flight, and then whether the weasels would behave on the flight. Then it was getting through Immigration, finding a taxi, getting into the accommodation we had booked. Even when we were all in The Rosellen Suites and had our cases, I was worried about what we would eat for breakfast.

And now? Well, the house was really the last thing on our list. We came to Canada to improve our lives, to give the weasels more opportunities. We came to find some space, somewhere with some wilderness left. We have jobs, the weasels have a school, we have a dog, we have a house that we couldn’t have afforded in the UK. We are, I would say, settled. Now we’re looking forward to the holiday, to the move, to the visitors that will begin to arrive days fter we move into the New Wonkey House and will continue to stream in all through the long (hopefully hot) summer. Though the first year is coming to a close , I’ll continue to blog because the adventure isn’t over.

 The adventure doesn’t end.

A watched phone never boils…..

I really wanted to wait until I’d heard something from someone about employment, because I always think a blog without something positive is a whinge. But, there’s also the feeling I’ve  mentioned before, about an idea not being properly developed until it’s been expressed. Makes me wonder about “Think before you speak”.

So here I am, at Friday, a whole week into February and still with only the usual suspects of work. I spent yesterday in a fever of creativity, reviewing a play and writing two and half sketches. TLC have been asked to write a sketch evening on a specific theme and I decided it was time I tackled the sketches I’d volunteered for. If you asked me, I’d have said I don’t like working that way, that I prefer to wait until I get a great idea and then work that one out. I would have said I can’t write to order, or if I do it comes out as merely workmanlike. Modesty prevents me saying the two sketches I completed yesterday were good, but the better of the two made me laugh while I was writing it, and the second one made me laugh when David re-wrote the ending to make it funny. The third will have to wait to be written up, since I wrote it longhand while watching Eldest and Middle Weasel doing their Ice Skating lesson.

I don’t know what people think it’s like, writing for a living. I can tell you what it’s like for me.

I have the computer I work at set up in the Living Room. It’s not the ideal place during the evening, but with the Weasels out getting educated it makes as much sense as anywhere else. I have a coffee-making machine ten steps away, so I have to get up at least every five minutes. I have nowhere near enough food, which is a good thing. I don’t have reference books to hand, or manuals on writing. I read those at night (seriously – at the moment it’s  “How to Build a Great Screenplay”). There is clutter on the computer desk – story cds, game boxes (The kids leave them out and I never bother to put them away unless it’s time for the big clearout.) There’s a Dictaphone there today too, thanks to a rummage in the deep storage the other day. I found it and thought I might need it for something. I didn’t, but I’ve been using it as I walked the dog the last couple of days. I keep thinking it’ll be brilliant for capturing the bright thoughts I have when I’m out and about, but it’s rubbish. I should have remembered, because I once spent several months dictating a novel into that same machine, then typing up the copy. On a tiny machine like that, my voice is whiny and nasal, plus I huff and puff like an old man riding a Space Hopper down a cobble street. I finished the novel, a children’s book, and it was rubbish. (I liked some of it – the page numbers mostly. I may use them later in another book.) There’s usually a pad or blank paper for scribbling things on, but they tend to be lists of stuff I should be doing, or things that people have phoned up to tell me. I also have a hard copy of the e-book so far, because I was doing revisions on it the other day. I’m still clinging to the idea it’ll be finished by the middle of this month, but that may be just the copy written. I suspect the actual production ( there are diagrams to include, which I haven’t drawn, and the cover needs to be re-done by David) will take a bit longer. It’s still easier than trying to produce a real-world book, since the typesetting and design are completely under my control (in that I say “David, how do think the design and typesetting should go?” David’s a print and design professional you know. I can trust him on this stuff. Plus he makes my sketches funnier. AND he won the Dame Academy Panto Dame competition in Milton Keynes. Not someone to be messed with.)

I listen to music while I write. I’d rather listen to stories, but the words get in the way. Strange, because the lyrics are my favourite part of most songs, but the singing slides straight past my ears and into my brain, so I don’t have to worry about it turning up on the page. I don’t pick specific music for different types of writing – I have a big file of my favourite tracks – seven hour’s worth, give or take a minute, and they wander out of the speakers on random play. Doesn’t make much difference to me, as I only HEAR it when I stop writing. I hate writing in silence, but I’ll do it if I have to. The best days, the days I dream of, are when whatever I’m writing is so interesting, so much fun that nothing else matters. The coffee goes cold and the music fades away, there’s nothing but the pictures in my head flowing down through the keyboard and onto the screen. When everything is going well, my hands can’t keep up and I can’t stop smiling. I think that’s something else people don’t get: Writing can be miserably hard work, it can make your head ache and slice your confidence to ribbons, but at the best moments it’s like flying. I am at my happiest when I’ve written something I’m pleased with. Doesn’t matter what. If I’ve got the idea down complete, I’m irrepressibly cheerful

So this week I’ve applied for a few more jobs and had some in depth discussions with some potential employers. I swapped quite a few e-mails with a Vancouver blog who wanted freelancers to interview Vancouver-based directors. They were willing to pay, so I volunteered my services. We talked about it, and then all of a sudden they said they were “going with other applicants.” I tried not to feel crushed, and concentrated on the online audio-book company that wanted a story re-written as a script. They also wanted some kind of adaptation done, which sounded like they wanted an additional narrative frame around the story to “put it in context”. I asked a couple of reasonable questions* and then sent them in my idea. Since they were also asking for voice actors, I pointed out that I had a fine English accent and would make a brilliant villain in one of their productions. They seemed to reply to both the e-mails out of sequence, but to be honest, neither reply made a lot of sense. The second e-mail said simply :” I concerned that people would get bored with the sequential nature of it.” I concerned. I concerned? I can forgive a typo (except when I’m proofreading) but the rest of the sentence was just as baffling. He’s worried about people getting bored with the sequential nature of the story, and he’s running a business selling audio books to people CHAPTER BY CHAPTER? Heavens, let’s avoid giving people anything of a sequential nature! We’ll keep ’em interested by starting with chapter five and then skipping ahead to seven, then three…. I may be just a little bitter.

My friend and neighbour across the way, Sue, is waiting for employment news too, but she’s been waiting six months. Actually, that’s not a fair thing to say. She’s been working very, very hard to find work for six months, and has been through more interviews than I’ve had coffees. I really wouldn’t mind if today’s her day instead of mine, because I haven’t tried nearly as hard as she has.

Following up on yesterday’s creative storm, I’ve finished my latest bunch of play reviews and now I’m going to pile into the domestic tasks. If there’s time later, I may go back to some other projects that have been a little neglected, but I also have to do the rounds of the job sites. If you’re curious about the writing process, e-mail me. If you have a script you think needs assessing, you could try the Lazy Bee appraisal service (Lazy Bee are my publishers, and they employ an experienced Script Reader to assess submissions for them. Ok, it’s me, but I’ve been a published playwright for over a decade, reading scripts and reporting for over three years, and I took a course on Script Reading with the Script Factory in London.)

*Including “What the hell are you talking about?”