Friday, 25 May 2007

Down and Out in London and the Blogosphere

The great prophetic writer George Orwell once published an essay entitled Why I Write. I have often pondered this notion myself with regard to producing a similar definitive work. Unfortunately, however, I always find myself reaching the same conclusion that a more accurate title in my case would be Why I Fail or, more specifically, Why I Even Bother.

Indeed, the notion that anyone on the planet, let alone myself, would ever want to write has given me hundreds of sleepless nights over the ensuing years. The first script I ever wrote was about homeless people. It wasn’t very good. The second script I ever wrote was about homeless people being victimised by East End villains. That wasn’t very good either. The third script I ever wrote wasn’t about anything much at all and the resulting short film was a complete disaster, largely to do with the writing (which wasn’t very good).

My current speculative writing project — a screenplay for an epic four-hour adaptation of Charles Maturin’s masterpiece of gothic literature, Melmoth the Wanderer — is still in a state of ‘development’. I use the term loosely as those of you in the media business will know that ‘development’ is a word which has many uses when applied to a variety of situations, the most convenient of these being the method by which a writer tricks people into believing that their project has been ‘green lit’ and ‘the wheels of production’ have begun to turn. In my case, the word essentially means that the first page is still in my printer, sitting on top of a vast quantity of alternative first pages all radically different from the previous version.

I remember back to my days as a BBC Script Reader and how I always seemed to give out good advice about the best ways to avoid ‘the first page pitfall’ and, more importantly, deal with writer’s block. It usually involved me saying something vaguely intelligent about how the best writers always have more than one project on the go and, therefore, always have something to work on should they become stuck on something else. I have six writing projects on the go at the moment and, unfortunately, have writer’s block with all of them. So much for my ‘good’ advice.

Pink, my significant other (or ‘suffering other’ as she insists on describing herself to anyone we meet), suggested to me a few days ago that I should start one of these ‘blog’ things in an attempt at solving the problem of my seemingly endless blockage. She also said it would be a good ‘platform’ for me to vent my everyday frustrations and disillusionment with society and that the rest of the world could put up with my moaning for a change. I noticed that she whispered something along the lines of ‘God help them’ immediately afterwards, but when Pink has her legs crossed on the sofa and is armed with a Sudoku book it is best not to query such comments.

I have never been good at titles, and coming up with one for this blog has been no easier. I initially thought of Writer’s Blog as a clever pun on my current predicament but Pink pointed out that aspiring writers might get the wrong impression and think it was ‘something useful’. I asked her if she could do any better as it had been her idea in the first place. She said that expanding myself out into the worldwide web essentially made me an ‘electric writer’ so I should use that as inspiration. I pondered on this for about half an hour while she did her latest Sudoku puzzle before the phrase eventually grew on me. In hindsight, I think I misheard her say ‘eclectic writer’ but I’ve always felt the phrase describes someone who is inconsistent with their work; so Electric Writer it shall be. But it’s a timely reminder that I’m due to have my ears syringed again.

I happen to be writing this first entry in a London pub called The Silver Cross. It is situated along Whitehall just before you reach Trafalgar Square and stands mere feet within the boundary of the Tourist Exclusion Zone, beyond which you encounter hordes of foreign visitors all trying to take the same photograph of Nelson and his column.

I am here because I am sampling the pub’s traditional fish and chips for my latest contribution to a website called Traditional Food Review (under construction). Pink will tell you — and usually tells everyone we meet with a curiously critical tone in her voice — that I am very partial to fish and chips, and am sensitive to the generally abused use of the word ‘traditional’ within this context. I usually find that a plate of really good genuine fish and chips can solve many of my problems and can contribute towards the dissolution of a long period of blockage.

On entering The Silver Cross I was glad to see that there were very few customers. This is always a good sign as it suggests a relaxing ambience which is critical for those like myself who are of a creative disposition, and also enhances the enjoyment of one’s ‘traditional’ dish. I walked through to the non-smoking area at the far end (Pink not being with me on this occasion) and found myself a large oak table in front of one of those long wooden seats attached to the wall. I pulled the table closer so I could have a more comfortable eating position (very important!) and after fifteen minutes noticed a large sign on the wall in front of me which said: ‘Please order your food and drink at the bar’.

It was at this point that I found myself in one of those embarrassing predicaments that one always tries to avoid when one is in public. Having pulled the heavy table close to me, I had therefore closed the gap allowing me to leave my seat. But on trying to push the table away from me again, I found it impossible to move — as though it was stuck fast to the floor.

Due to my position at the farthest corner of the pub, it was a good few minutes before a member of the bar team, a young chap with an Australian accent, appeared. I raised my hand to him and he wasted no time in instructing me to order my food and drink at the bar, pointing to the sign in front of me.

I will not describe the look on his face when I explained to him the actual reason I was requesting his assistance. It was not before he had called over two of his colleagues for the sole reason of having a good laugh at my expense that I was released, with their somewhat ‘limited’ help. And, after all that, I still had to order my fish and chips at the bar. I decided not to complain about the mushy peas which were cold.

It is exactly this kind of thing that prevents one from producing the inevitable masterpiece and I guarantee that George Orwell never experienced such ridicule. In an attempt to boost my morale, I had another read of Why I Write and noticed that, in his conclusions, Orwell says that ‘Good prose is like a window pane.’ What the hell is that supposed to mean?