Truth can be much stranger than fiction and I heard a superb example tonight. I’d driven up to a pub in a village called Stewkley, which is almost in Milton Keynes (though people there would not like to be associated with MK too much).
I was chatting to someone who’s a regular at the pub and he and his wife told an amazing story about a transvestite roofer (with huge hands) who used to come all the way to their village pub from Banbury (probably a good hour’s drive) to hang out in his provocative and skimpy clothing. (The logic he used was that he wouldn’t be safe, in various senses of the word, nearer his home — he apparently had a wife and three children who were in the dark about his alter ego.)
I ended up having a first hand account told to me by the landlady of an incident that ended the chap barred from the pub — and it wasn’t a case of prejudice and bigotry as he’d obviously been made to feel welcome in the pub for quite some time before the inciting incident, as novelists say. I may re-use this story for ‘The Angel’ in some form. It shows there’s nothing quite like getting out into the field to do your research.
It’s Masterchef final day and I watched it after Manchester United’s referee-induced ten man capitulation to Bayern Munich — which might bring a smile to Kim’s face but not mine (btw she supports Chelsea).
I watch the programme occasionally with a morbid fascination — partly due to the stilted formulaic presentation where Greg Wallace and John Torode always have to shout at each other about one finalist. The other reason is to why these mad people actually want to be chefs. One of the finalists is a paediatrician who, no doubt, earns a six figure salary from working about three and a half hours per week, twenty weeks a year for the NHS while running a private practice at Â£1,000 an hour. However, it’s good that there are crazy people like for whom food is a passion as that’s what James is going to have a go doing at The Angel so they’ll make his decision — to invest his redundancy in a pub — quite credible. (In fact, he’ll tell Kim that he’s been a failed contestant on a programme like Masterchef — and he won’t be lying.)
Yet all these people maintain they have a passion for doing a job that is inherently financially unstable, involves very anti-social hours and requires high levels of skill for little guaranteed financial reward. I’ve always thought these people must be barking mad.
Compare them with those who would-be novelists — the people who expend huge amounts of effort sitting in front of a computer screen on their own, investing time, most of which involves anti-social working, in something that may never be seen by more than a handful of people — even if it defies the odds and is published.
Makes you wonder who’s really the most crazy doesn’t it?
I’m working to some quite tough deadlines at the moment. I’ve just had to submit a 4,000 or so word assignment for my Software Development MSc. which outlines my plans for the dissertation. I’ve also got a huge amount of work to submit for the Novel Writing course. For tomorrow there are four 500 word pieces for Emily, covering the themes of this term’s classes. I’m reasonably happy with three of them but I need to polish one up quite considerably. Then I need to submit my opening (up to) 4,000 words of the novel to Alison by Saturday and I also have a tutorial on Saturday with Alison for which I need to provide the text by Thursday. I could theoretically use the same material for both of Alison’s submissions but it seems a wasted opportunity — so I have a deficit of about 4,000 words that I need to plug by Thursday.
It’s also bi-monthly deadline time for a magazine that I write for locally. Over the last few years I’ve produced a few April fool articles of a bit of a surreal or satirical nature and I’ve come up with one for this year which celebrates, if that’s the right word, the sort of British pub culture that I’m going to try and work into ‘The Angel’. It’s written in the style of a woman’s magazine, particularly the opening, and tries to suggest a way of subverting the government’s increasingly over-prescriptive messages on alcohol. The big irony is that I’m currently abstaining from alcohol myself, loosely for the Lent period, and I’ve written this when I’ve not had a drink myself for over a month, incredible though it may seem.
Watching the Pints
Both Alison and Emily have said they think it’s a great idea for me to start ‘The Angel’ with James and Kim going out on a massive bender together (or at least have the sequence quite near the start). I’m certainly of the belief that there’s no bonding experience like a session getting completely plastered in the company of similarly afflicted others — something to do with the lowering of inhibition and probably why it’s an ingrained part of UK working culture.
In the discussion I had last Wednesday on plot with Guy, Nicole and Sue we discussed, amongst other things, how this might happen and how it might end. I think we all thought it might be good if the two characters ended up in a posh hotel suite but were too tired and emotional to consummate any latent attraction. I’ve thought about this a bit further and have some ideas about how they might wake up the next morning.
I’m now giving some consideration to how the bender might unfold. I’d ideally like this to be the opening chapter that I submit to Alison before Easter. I want to make it fast moving and, towards the end, quite blurry and increasingly surreal (as much as I can get away with within my genre).
I have to admit to recycling this idea from two Open University assignments — one short fiction and the other a longer screenplay — Â from 2008-9 where two characters, also called, by chance, James and Kim, went on a bender in similar circumstances. They went from Mayfair to Canary Wharf — where Kim pulled James out of dock.
I’ve settled on having both work around Shoreditch/Bishopsgate so this version will go in the opposite direction. It will be quite picaresque in construction and I want to move up a spectrum of the vast number of options in London and the diversity of drinking/eating places. So I’m minded to start in somewhere really shabby and edgy (in the truest sense) and then move via better pubs up to posy bars and to a top class restaurant and thence to some top hotel — I think something very boutique and designer with massive rooms. I feel a visit to a bookshop and a flick through a Time Out guide to London might be coming up. Actually I’d quite like to base the hotel on the Hotel Rival in Stockholm, which is part owned by Benny Andersson from Abba, and is incredibly Swedish-trendy. I’ve stayed in it twice and drunk in the bar for the beautiful people of Stockholm — with beer at Â£7 a bottle. The rooms aren’t huge but very stylish and have Playstations and DVD players — with, of course, ABBA CDs to choose from. I’m sure there’s some similar places in London but I may make one up. I may also make up the restaurant as I’m quite keen to reproduce a scene in that from my previous screenplay which was rather satirical about celebrity chefs.
As luck would have it, there was a broken water main on Euston Road last night, causing traffic jams all the way down City Road. I was driving to City so I decided to take an alternative route back to the A40 Westway which is similar to the route that my characters are likely to take. I turned down Goswell Road, then down Clerkenwell High Street and carried on the road (whatever it’s then called) to end up at Holborn. I could have gone round the back roads of Fitzrovia and Marylebone but I stayed on the routes I knew so ended up going down Shaftesbury Avenue, skirting Piccadilly Circus, down through St. James’ and along Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner and then up Park Lane to Edgware Road. I think James and Kim might, for the sake of the readers’ interest in setting, hit the river at some point. I’ll maybe have them go to the Anchor on Bankside and then maybe into the Royal Festival Hall — maybe they could go up the Eye. Now that would afford me a lot of opportunity for the sort of descriptive setting that Emily was recommending to us last night.