Everything But The Bar Sink…

…but I did get the dishwasher in!

Bearing in mind Judith Murray’s comment that ‘in some sense all novels are historical’, I decided to load my last reading with as many contemporary cultural references as I could think of. ‘Decided’ isn’t actually a good definition — throwing in various things that pop into my head is how I tend to write anyway although maybe I’d decide to delete most of them if a book got published.

I’m rather dreading reaction to the scene I’ve just written because it could go either of two ways. It’s a climactic scene after months of simmering, smouldering sexual tension between James and Kim and this comes to the boil (good cooking metaphors there, albeit cliched). To counter the tension as it rises I start off with the most banal sort of conversations. In one point (a cop out I’m sure I’ll be picked up on) I have the narrator say ‘she didn’t care who was talking’ and then throw in three or four unattributed pieces of dialogue.

The cultural references are quite a bizarre bunch. Remember these are all in a 2,600 word piece which is meant to pivotal to the plot: Amazon, Katie Melua, Charlie Brooker, the Guardian, the Wombles, Mike Batt, William Orbit, Orbit’s ‘Adagio for Strings’, All Saints’ ‘Pure Shores’, Katie Melua’s ‘The Flood’ (which goes on to supply metaphors for the later scene), Virgin TV’s ‘Naked Office’ (see below), Jamie Oliver, a Sky+ box, the Carry On films, ‘The Full Monty’, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (and various of its contestants), Amanda Holden, Simon Cowell, Ant and Dec, ‘Sex and the City’, Heston Blumenthal, ‘The Fat Duck Cookbook’ and Heston Blumenthal’s notorious snail porridge. That’s well over 20 references that only someone living in this country in 2010 would really understand. Apart from the BGT references most of these aren’t gratuitously contemporary as they illustrate character and move the plot in some cases. The music is interesting as (it will be interesting to see if anyone picks this up) as Emma has bought the Katie Melua CD as it’s produced by William Orbit, whose works ten years previously (see above) were the soundtrack to a holiday she and James had in Ibiza when they first began their relationship. He’s meant to see the romantic significance in this — but doesn’t and needles her about Katie Melua’s previous association with Mike Batt (of the Wombles). So, a little vignette of their relationship.

I had to rush writing this piece and sent it out late to everyone. I’m still unhappy with the end and may revise it even further before I read it. I was totally knackered once I’d written it. Partly this was because I was determined to write something new and that pushed the boundaries a bit for me in terms of how comfortable I’d be with reading it. It’s also partly because I’m pushing myself to write new material for each reading and tutorial rather than polish up previously reviewed material. I also went to France very early on Tuesday morning partly to buy wine for our course reading. This produced probably a course first — for the first reading ever to be written, partially, on a cross-channel ferry. On the way out I annotated a printed draft then coming back I had the netbook out by the window looking out into the channel. Wonder if any of the nautical flavour comes through?

The piece was also very emotionally draining, which I found quite surprising. As it’s the consummation of a relationship I was trying to imagine and hold in my mind the feelings and emotions of the characters. When this involves scenes of a disintegrating marriage, seriously unrequited love and then some sudden switch into passion between two people who had (on the surface) treated each other as friends then this takes a lot of mental effort. I did this for three or four days and thought about it so much I was more than semi-detached from reality. I don’t know if it will be good for the writing that it felt like I was so intensely involved in their predicaments — your characters can’t do anything much more real than have sex with each other — or whether I might have got too close?

The writing was also difficult as I thought I had to do a sex scene for a reading as this is what the plot of the novel calls for and I wanted to get feedback on it — good and bad. I’m sure this is very difficult to get right and constructive feedback (though not sniggering) in this area would be a lot more useful than on a scene with people walking around London, for example. In the first drafts I had some graphic descriptions and used some very earthy Anglo-Saxon words. In some ways I’d rather these had stayed in as from a reading perspective because I’d like to have made myself read these out, to overcome the embarrassment. However, the word limit chopped any real physical description of the sex — there’s only really the build up but that’s the most interesting bit for the characters.  Even so, I’ve probably laid myself open to bonkbuster piss-taking.

My Reading Problem Solved

We had a run through of our readings in Wednesday evening’s class. I’m currently second on the bill so was one of the first to get up and read. I chose what I think will be the eventual opening of the book — the firing scene. This is a lively scene but difficult to read as it has three characters and some narration — to do it proper justice I need to read in four slightly different registers. I have a cunning plan to try and help me with this BUT I got some extra inspiration from one of the contestants on last night’s Britain’s Got Talent.

He’s Mark James from Barnoldswick and performed a duet from ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in the auditions — where he had a costume split down the middle — one female side and one male. He stood facing different directions when singing the appropriate part! Complete rubbish — and even worse when last night he did Elton John and Kiki Dee which was a much more interchangeable duet so he was forever spinning round. (I was a bit gutted the extraordinarily talented pole dancer went out tonight.)

But — maybe that’s my solution — perhaps I dress in some sort of split female (for Kate the HR woman) costume on one side and a male costume for James and his boss Will (Will is balding so maybe when I’m James I can put a wig on or something)? Then perhaps for the narration I take the mic and hide behind the lectern — very omniscient.

I’m sure all the literary agents would remember that sort of performance?

Emily was ill, which was bad luck for me as I had a tutorial scheduled with her to discuss chapter 5 and other stuff. However, Emma Sweeney was a very capable replacement — she teaches at various places like Cambridge University and New York University (London campus) — a bit more exotic a version of our curiously named Bedford University Buckinghamshire campus that does nursing teaching, presumably for Stoke Mandeville (see below). To digress even further when I Googled her name, I found a syllabus for a course that someone called Emma Sweeney teaches, or has taught, (could be a different person but it’s not so important as the following goes on to say I found a good idea) at a U.S. university that  includes a module on ‘sex and the body’ — a potentially awkward subject that I’d guess causes writers more anxiety than anything else and I’m really wondering whether I should make myself write something similar for my last workshop reading. It might be difficult but it would be a good learning experience.

Mind you I say that as someone’s whose writing always seems to veer towards the smutty — to the extent that other students like to insist I mention that one of my male characters is ‘sex mad’.