Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Stray Rounds

There is a persistent bit of received wisdom that you will repeatedly hear from writers - a mantra that states you must write every day. Here's an example:

“To be a successful writer, write every single day whether you feel like it or not.” -- Alex Haley

It's a perfectly sound bit of advice. But, as with all tidy little homilies, it doesn't quite tell the whole story. Sometimes you need to take a step back. Sometimes you need to stop staring into the heart of the sun or you're just going to go blind. I'd been banging away at a few things for the last couple of weeks, and no matter how hard I hammered away at the square pegs, the motherfuckers were never going to fit into the round holes. And then I had one of those Eureka moments where I realised that the problem wasn't how I was writing. The problem was what I was writing. It was never going to work to my satisfaction, largely because I'm not a "content provider", I'm a writer. I'm not very good at hacking out anodyne text-based wallpaper for websites, because I just can't get excited about it. Sure, I can do it, but I'd rather not. Fortunately, I don't depend on writing gigs to pay the bills, so I can just bow out of those jobs and leave it to those better suited to that particular brand of soul-destroying drudge work. But the process left me antsy and irritable, and I needed to step away from the keyboard for a couple of weeks to sluice out my polluted brainpan.

And one of the things you don't hear so often when writers are banging on with all their "I'm a writer. I write every day. Yes I do. Write write write." is that sometimes you just need to turn off the output and ramp up the input instead. Writing isn't purely about putting one word in front of another endlessly, regardless of quality or reflection or passion. Sometimes you need to go outside and get on with the gloriously messy business of life to remember why you write in the first place. Which is a convoluted way of saying that I've been stoking the furnace for a few weeks to get myself fired up again. And it worked. Here's a random sampling of the pop-cultural delights that have tweaked my amygdala during my brief self-imposed sabbatical:

Ode to Kirihito

Groundbreaking mangaka Osamu Tezuka is still best known in the west for the family-friendly adventures of his robot Pinocchio Astro Boy, but this hefty 832-page graphic novel from the early 70s shows off his flair for formal experimentation in a sprawling picaresque tale of body horror that is impossible to reduce to a synopsis, defying easy genre classification as it bounces around from medical and political thriller to freakshow weirdness. (I'm particularly fond of the Human Tempura. Don't ask - just buy.)

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Andy Serkis plays Ian Dury. Really, you don't need much more of a pitch than that to get me hooked. One of London's finest ever lyricists and a genuine one-off, with the light touch of Ogden Nash seasoned with a generous splash of bloody-minded piss and vinegar. And Serkis just nails it. I seriously doubt I'll see a performance that good for the rest of the year. Plus, those songs performed with the actual Blockheads. I loved every minute of it and reeled out of the cinema grinning like an idiot. Je t'adore, ich liebe dich, hit me, hit me, hit me...

Me Cheeta

I picked this up on a whim and I didn't regret it. Part satire on the glut of bloated self-serving celebrity memoirs choking the shelves of a dwindling number of bookshops, part marvellously filthy tome full of salacious gossip (after all, no animal has ever been successfully sued for libel), part serious reflection on the mistreatment of animals in the service of entertainment and, best of all, a beautiful valentine to the mighty Johnny Weissmuller, the greatest Tarzan of all time. I wasn't sure what to make of it until a couple of pages in and then I hit this line, sat back and enjoyed the ride:

"Rex Harrison was an absolutely irredeemable cunt who tried to murder me — but still, you have to try to forgive people, no matter what. Otherwise we’d be back in the jungle."


The fantastic con-of-the-week show about a crew of specialists pulling a Robin Hood and ripping off the Man to help out the little people. Or, as neatly encapsulated by master thief Parker's off-the-cuff line: “Sometimes bad guys are the only good guys you get.” Leverage really sings not only because of its exuberant sense of fun and the superlative swiss-watch machinations of the plot, but it manages to succeed with something that so many other shows get wrong - it marries five perfectly-cast actors with five brilliantly-written roles. These aren't the bland cookie-cutter cyphers of the CSI franchise. And the fun train never stops.

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