Weeknote, Sunday 11th December 2022

This week has been almost my last time at work this year. I’m off to the middle of nowhere for a five day writing retreat tomorrow, returning on Saturday, then back at work for two days before I break for the year. Amazingly I have managed to get through the year and use up all my leave, which is a pretty rare event (I get nagged about this by my managers every time).

Despite being a journalist for 28 years (gulp) I have never really done much creative writing until this year. One of my goals for 2022 was to go on a creative writing residential trip and I’m quite surprised at myself for having actually arranged it. Like most people my years tend to start with a bunch of promises and commitments which I only realise I haven’t done in December. This year appears to be different, but now that leaves me with the dreadful job of following on in 2023 with something else.

The last couple of days have been marred by me getting a particularly nasty cold, which kept me off work on Thursday and consigned me instead to either bed or the sofa underneath a blanket, gently whimpering. There’s definitely been a theme this year of getting minor colds whenever I spent any time out – and the start of this week involved a day-long workshop with work, plus of course Stereolab was last weekend. This the post-lockdown phase of an overall lack of immunity, quickly bred in by not being constantly around people. Or it could just be that there’s a lot of bugs going round. Maybe the experts know.

Things I’ve been writing

Quite often the answer to “what shall I write” is “start writing something about the last thing you read/watched/ate/saw”. That, though, can be a bit tricky — particularly if “the last thing you saw” is the movie version of On The Buses, one of the most low-rent but incredibly popular sitcoms of the 1970s. It was on ITV3. Don’t judge me.

But there is always an interesting tangent, if you spend a little time looking. In this case it was the story of Bob Grant, one of the main actors in the series. Despite having a really good track record in serious theatre – he was directed by Joan Littlewood in a few things, and Joan didn’t suffer bad acting gladly – Grant become horribly stuck in typecasting hell, and apart from a few one-offs and panto barely worked again.

He ended up making three suicide attempts over the years as the debts and hopelessness mounted with the third one being successful. It’s an incredibly sad story.

Just after reading this I watched a 1987 Arena “day in the life” piece about Jeffrey Bernard, the legendary boozer and occasional journalist who bestrode Soho in what might have been its more creative period. Bernard too had something of a sad end. Thanks to the drinking, he descended through diabetes to having a leg removed, which made him virtually housebound in a small shabby Soho flat. Unable to do his habitual routes from Coach and Horses to bookies to Colony Club, he withered away.

So I started writing something which I wanted to get into Bernard’s voice and after a few paragraphs it morphed into the story of an actor, like Grant, who struggled to get parts after national success. Three thousand words later, I have the kernel of a decent story, called “Bill and Trudy”, about an encounter between our Bob/Jeffrey amalgam (called Bill) and a homeless girl called Trudy during the height of the first wave of poverty caused by Thatcher in the late 1980s. I want it to be fun and upbeat and not too serious, but the end (which I’ve written already) is potentially a bit downbeat. It will be fun to see where it goes.

Things I’ve been reading and watching

Having cantered through Harry Turtledove’s Three miles down I’ve continued in the SF vein by diving into Ken MacLeod’s Beyond the Hallowed Sky. It’s an interesting romp through robots and faster than light travel which makes it sound horribly cliched, but it’s actually fun so far. It is, weirdly, the first book of MacLeod’s that I’ve read, which feels very remiss of me.

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