Talkin’ about words and alcohol

Whisky and Words_0938_edited-1I came late to alcohol. Domestic circumstances, of which I won’t bore you to drink with, meant I was 25 before I was hit with the pile driver of my first hangover.

I was the lyricist in a two-man song writing partnership who had generated interest from a couple of London publishers and a young band from the Sunderland area. The publishers, eager to hear our songs in front of a live audience decided to travel to the north-east to the bands local sell-out gig.

So there I was, a deep-thinking, sensitive lad who’s previous drinking indulgence had been two pints in the local that had left me unreservedly giggly, suddenly being pumped with pints of Guinness simply for being ‘with the band’. This was followed by a long winding road trip to the after show party in a packed car that included two pot smoking publishers and me with a liver trying desperately to process vast amounts of alcohol it was ill-equipped to deal with.

Long story short, my after show party was spent face down on the lawn vomiting for Olympic Gold while praying for the blessed release of death. Thankfully, God wasn’t listening.

Since then I’ve had an uncomfortable relationship with drink. We’re a little like cousins who see each other at family funerals and christenings and like to stay friendly but know essentially they have nothing in common.

But I’m a writer. Booze and the tortured soul of the writer go hand in hand, surely? Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dylan, the list goes on, blah blah..

However slow alcoholic saturation does not, most free drinking writers agree, make for great work. Even that great literary lush Ernest Hemingway declared of alcohol ‘the only time it isn’t good for you is when you are to write or fight’. Does it however, oil the wheels that lead to commission heaven?

A good writer friend of mine from TV and radio conceded she had got at least one job through “getting bladdered with the right people”. Indeed, when attending a meeting for finalists in the Red Planet Prize I recall Tony Jordan declaring that he only wanted to work with writers he could get pissed with.

Maybe drinking stamina is subconsciously linked to a greater understanding of the excesses and vices of the human psyche, suggesting an ability to write flawed and ultimately more interesting characters. Conversely it could be argued that astute observation can benefit from social distance, a sense of looking in from the outside.

So what about someone like myself, who is to drinking excess what Katie Price is to matrimonial bliss? Should I feel left out? Should those of us with a proud lightweight  drinking status ever fear that it hampers our chance of a commission?

Well only if you’re looking for an excuse. Because ultimately all matters is what we put on the page. Of course it does.

But then the cold, hard sober truth is always that some extreme networking doesn’t do you any harm. Beat ’em or join ’em, one way or another.

Right, there’s a shandy over there with my name on it. Time to mingle.

Second Blog, Album or Script. The results can be fatal.

Doubt concept.

Second Blog Syndrome is a recognised medical condition and can kill. Fact.

Well, a fact in the loose Wikipedia entry sense of the word. A blog can’t rupture any major organs or gently nudge you into the path of an incoming train, even the very, very poor blogs.

For the uninitiated, Second Blog Syndrome (SBS) is brought on by the inability to think of a subject to write about in your second ever blog, of which this post could be considered an example.

It has been compared to Second Album Syndrome (SAS), where a band or songwriter releases their first album to significant commercial success with all the great and hungry songs they wrote when they were being ignored or pooped upon by everyone in the record industry. But then they’re expected to write more. Quickly. And they’d better be good, because now there’s expectation. And that’s not good. At the very least it’s scary. After all, no-one wants to be a one-hit wonder, the next Tommy Tutone (Google him, that’s what it’s there for).

Personally however I don’t think SAS is a good comparison to a second blog. No matter how good your first post may have been it’s not going to catapult you in front of adoring fans packing stadiums as you perform your blog through dry ice backed by screaming guitars and a pounding bass line. As far as I’m aware, Glastonbury doesn’t have a Blogging Tent tucked away somewhere near the main stage.

No, a blog generally shuffles into cyberspace like the shyest guy at a party for people with social phobias. With a little luck someone somewhere may like what you have to say and decide to listen next time you have the courage to think they may just remember you.

And in that, I think SBS is more like Second Script Syndrome (SSS). You’ve slaved, sweated and emotionally bled yourself dry to write a spec script that gets someone interested enough to tell you that they’d really like to read your next one. Of course you want your first spec script to be the one that gets you that so far elusive first commission, or at least for them to see enough potential in your work to suggest maybe meeting up for a coffee and chat about your glorious future.

But more often than not if your spec script has shown enough promise, enough sparkle and shine amongst the dark masses of dross to get them to say ‘I’d like to see more’ then believe me, you should be happy. You have done your job.

Of course this means your next script has to be at least as good. And that is where the pressure comes in. The temptation may be to give them something similar to what they read the first time. No, no. Now they are looking for diversity, a writer with a strong bedrock of originality, but with the same recognisable ‘voice’ as before. So the same, but very different. So good luck with that, but hey, don’t worry. It’s only your career that’s at stake.

Well what do you know, I appear to have stomped all over Second Blog Syndrome without even realising it. Now if I can only stop the annoying and completely unnecessary habit of Giving Things Initials (GTI), someone may even read it.

The Mop Head reflects on better times.

The Mop Head reflects on better times.

Let me ask you something. How much have you seriously considered the range and diversity of the mop-head? Not as often as you’d like? I get that. I was the same. Until last week when I filled in an online survey on replacement mop-heads I had complete ignorance on the subject. You won’t, for instance, find my name on any online discussion group debating what I imagine is an age old battle of mop-head against soaky-up foam squeezy alternative. The only reason I completed the survey was because it would push me to the ¬£10 threshold that would release funds from the online survey site. In the purest of terms, this was a means to an end. And boy, how the survey sadists made me work for it. In the course of the TWENTY MINUTE survey they asked me where I bought my replacement mop-head from, if I was swayed by price or quality, whether I make mop-head purchases based on need or emotion, and if the mop-head I chose was a European country would it represent one of the cooler, more detached nations like Holland, or somewhere more demonstrative and temperamental like Italy. As I’ve never seen my mop either smoke a joint or take out a hit I opted for ‘Prefer Not To Say’.

These are the absurdities that life is filled with when you choose to live for the pursuit of your supposed creative bent. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the victory, the sense of ownership at the end of a writing day that you want to look back on as filled with more than simply staring out of the window or feeling really proud that all your laundry is now clean, dry, and soft against your skin that never sees more than a few minutes ultra violet. That survey belonged to me, and I shall triumphantly convert it into a four pack of Stella and a large pack of Hot Chili Doritos for sitting in watching endless reruns of The Big Bang Theory (hey I’m a writer, I’m not supposed to have a social life, it’s the rule).

And when days are long and sometimes ideas short this is kind of what happens. A lot. It’s what they don’t mention on the adverts for the glossy writing retreats, Screenwriting Masters Degrees (or the one I did anyway), or any master classes. On these there are never any psychological strategies for when your Holy Grail temporarily changes from the six-part authored series on prime-time BBC to filling in surveys on mop-heads.

But don’t fret, that’s what this blog is for. Occasionally. Now if you’ll excuse me, someone wants to know my opinion on the laminated paper clip. As soon as I discover what my opinion on the laminated paper clip is, there’s a ¬£5 voucher in it for me. Kerching – the dream lives on…


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