Writer About Town

Some time ago, I posted a picture of my writing desk at home. I’ve included an up-to-date one in this entry.

Although I type up pieces here, they normally begin life as pencil on paper and usually far away from the room. This includes not only fiction and poetry, but often blog posts and routine correspondence.

When I was stuck with a piece, I used to head to a café called The Empire State, with a view of the city centre from each of its three levels. The ambient sound was Motown and classic hits, and I found these helped me to break through writing blocks.

I haven’t been there lately, but mainly because I’ve found somewhere else that’s slightly more convenient.

My nearest BrewDog bar opens at midday and is usually quiet enough for writing undisturbed until mid-afternoon. What’s more, there are power sockets for laptops, plus my shareholder card gives me a discount. The only downside is that the music repeats on a 60-minute loop.

I have one more place I like to write, and it’s the most bizarre of all. It’s in a retail park on the edge of the city, surrounded by a DIY retailer, a supermarket and other warehouse-style outlets. It’s a McDonald’s restaurant.

At some point over the last five years, I’ve discovered that it’s most conducive to writing. I know I can turn up there with a notepad and by the time I finish my coffee, I’ll have something on the page, and not just crumbs.

Great as it is for creative work, though, it’s not so good for my weight loss attempts.

 

 

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Taking the Rap.

It must have been about fifteen or so years ago that I was listening to a portable radio – perhaps tuned to Radio 2 – and the DJ played an incredible track. It was simply a wall of words shouted by an incredulous, angry voice. I caught the name of the artist: one Gil Scott-Heron with his poem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

I use the word poem very deliberately, as that’s how he wrote it. It contains many of the elements of performance poetry, being light on metaphor but heavy on wordplay. Today, it would probably be classed as rap because it also embodies many of the hallmarks of a modern rap track, with repetitive backing music and rapid spoken words.

Even if you don’t remember the racial tensions of the 1970s, he conveys the spirit of the time in just over three minutes. I also have the rest of the eponymous album on vinyl. If you seek it out, do listen for Whitey On The Moon as well.

I was just as surprised listening to Radio 1 in 2002 as some ska-like sounds started to play. The trumpets of Let’s Push Things Forward made me a fan of The Streets for their first two albums.  I recommend avoiding the last two, as Mike Skinner appeared to have run out of ideas by then.

His first CD Original Pirate Material (OPM) was hailed as ‘Shakespeare for clubbers’ as he spoke about urban life in the UK, painting an uneasy sense of civil unrest bubbling under the surface. For this, the BBC also made the comparison to Never Mind the Bollocks, an unfair comparison because Skinner is far more intelligent than that.

For a start, each track on OPM quotes a lyric from another track, while his second album A Grand Don’t Come For Free is a proper concept album, each track adding a little more to the story arc. Between the machine-gunning internal rhymes, Skinner also surprises with the beautiful ballads It’s Too Late and Dry Your Eyes.

More recently, Rizzle Kicks burst onto the scene with Stereo Typical. I can’t get enough of their second album Roaring 20s. It’s the hooks that draw you in, but the lyrics keep you there.

Even when you move past the radio-friendly Skip to The Good Bit and Put Your Two’s Up there isn’t a duff track among them. I Love You More Than You Think is about unrequited love, while Me Around You explores the awkwardness of acting normally around an ex-girlfriend. It’s hard for lads to talk about things like that, yet they acknowledge this difficulty while expressing themselves in such a fluent way.

The point I’m trying to make is that not all rap should be dismissed as rubbish spouted by overpaid bigheads. If you know where to look, there is some good quality writing out there that we can all learn from. At the very least, it can help bring on the right mood or give just a small suggestion to expand upon. I openly admit that poetry is my weak point, so I mainly listen in awe of how these artists construct their words and phrasing.

Of course, inspiration can come from the strangest of sources. I have a short story that came from watching an RSPB advert, and a poem that was helped along by Corona’s dance track Try Me Out.

And that’s a wrap.

The End of Days.

I know you can’t see me, but I’m blowing a whistle as we speak, indicating the final dying minutes of National Novel Writing Month. I breached the 50,000-word target by only 29 words; that’s 13 less than my very first novel in 2010.

Last year’s total was 60,000 and I’d barely scratched the surface, but this time around, I don’t have the material to go much higher, so I’m happy with my haul. Many congratulations if you’ve also hit the benchmark.

My aim is for this to be the last time I bore you with this subject for the next eleven months.

I’ve been to a number of literary events this week, including a fiction writing and a life writing class, and I’m pleased to say I’m enrolled in the continuation class for the latter.

On Thursday, I attended a literary salon where I heard current English students read out their best pieces. Then on Friday, a poetry and cabaret event. A number of pieces were in the Dundee dialect, which must have confused the last act, a songwriter from New Orleans.

I’ve lived in the city most of my life and understand most of the vernacular, yet I’ve never naturally spoken it. It inspired me to write a poem exploring the theme, and I completed it before the event ended. I’m not known as a poet, and I’m not at the stage where I would describe myself as one, but I have been dabbling in the form.

I’ve also been working on another piece, but I need to give you a bit of background. If you didn’t know, I’ve only been a writer since October 2010. To put that in context, I was 27 when I wrote a fictional story for the first time since high school. The piece was that first NaNo novel.

However, when I was at school, I fancied myself as a singer-songwriter, not to mention an actor. I’d tried to write song lyrics, and I recently rediscovered a four-line fragment with two internal rhymes. Moreover, I can still remember the tune, and the words still resonate as much now as they did then.

At the time, I tried to expand it by writing extra verses, but nothing seemed to work until I turned to Google+ earlier this week. With the help of a community, I preserved the rhyme scheme but expanded the number of syllables, and I’ve now squeezed nearly four verses out of it. If I keep making progress, I finally hope to perform it on December 9th after all these years.

After a conversation with my former NaNo Municipal Liaison a couple of weeks ago, I raked out my school qualifications. I’d correctly remembered I’d earned only a C for English, although I have criticisms about the way it was taught. Perhaps that’s why I never pursued it, or perhaps I was too fixated on music to realise my strength was in words, not instruments.

I’ve got to make up for the time I wasted setting up blogs writing factual events without realising that I was able to write fiction. I kick myself every day about my late start, although I take some comfort from the careers of Barbara Taylor Bradford and Richard Adams. Their first books weren’t published until they were over 40 and over 50 respectively.

But I need to work fast if I want to reach a state of parity. I want to reach the point where I’ve produced as much work as if I’d started as a teenager. I have around 200 pieces in total, but that could have been 1,000 if I’d begun at age 15.

I won’t rest until I’m satisfied I’ve made up for every minute of wasted time.