Reality can be beaten with enough imagination

Don’t think so, Mark Twain. Sadly, I have to agree with Philip Dick, despite his name, that “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

Distorted reality by Vladimir Kush

(A famous Caroline aside: “Why is it that I Google for images of reality and get this sort of thing?”)

So, the time has come for a reality check about the state of my creative writing.

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Top and bottom, I haven’t been doing any. Not for a while now. I daren’t even speculate how long ago it was that I added a single word to the new novel, Falling Awake. 

I HAVE been a) unwell and b) very busy earning a living copywriting, so much so that my brain has been feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth at the end of the day…

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and not at all inspired to produce additional words, as if by magic, from some deep dark recesses of somewhere.

HOWEVER…

A lot has been happening with work that I’ve written in recent times, so if I’m not inspired to continue now, I never will be.

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On Saturday, May 16th, I was proud to go to London to see Libby Wattis perform the solo show about dementia that she asked me to write for her. Amazing! I’m lost for words, which is a great place to be for a writer.

AND, a monologue that I wrote as homework for my writing class was chosen by Debra Baker to go on her BBC Radio Drama showreel, so will now be heard by People Of Importance and suchlike. My work. BBC Radio 4. Dream come true. The piece, by the way, is called, My God and there’s a blackness and is about self-harm.

AND, I’ve been short-listed for a script-writing job for an immersive education company. Cross everything.

AND, a San Francisco film director called David Turner, whose work looks terrific, has requested some of my short screenplays. Cross everything again.

so

May I officially declare that, in reality, things are happening for me as a writer, and I’m allowing myself to be a teeny-weeny bit proud?

But you still haven’t written anything for ages, says Mr. Reality, which humankind cannot bear very much of, eh, T.S.Eliot? (And I bet he wouldn’t ever have ended a sentence with a stranded preposition. This is the sort of English up with which he would not put.)

 

A mind with dementia is a theatre set…

…in which there are but few practicable entrances.

Victor Hugo wrote the original quotation in Les Misérables,  not about dementia but about life. “Life is a theatre set in which there are but few practicable entrances.”

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But it seemed to work in my head, thinking about dementia and ravaged minds – yes, few practicable entrances for someone outside to get a grasp of what’s going on inside.

A while back, wonderful actor friend, Libby Wattis did me the great honour of asking me to write a one-woman show for her – a theatre piece about the onset and eventual stranglehold of dementia.

I’ve known Libby ever since she played a fabulous corpse in my short film Go Grimly, produced in 2009. (No jokes required about the ease of learning the lines!) Here’s the trailer, but don’t be distracted.

So – dementia. Theatre. One-woman show. 45 minutes. Me. Write it.

Not much experience in theatre. However, the experience I had was terrific, thanks largely to another great actor, Debra Baker, who, much to my vicarious pride, has just won the Norman Beaton Fellowship and a 5-month contract with BBC Radio Drama. She played a brilliant Irene, school cook, in another one-woman piece, called Throwing Darts at Jamie Oliver, which got to the finals of the Daffodil Theatre Awards in, I think, 2010.

Theatre. One-woman show. Me. Write it. Yes.

The first practicable entrance to the theatre set of dementia was via my heart. My lovely father was stricken with Alzheimer’s in the latter couple of years of his life, so I could take a lot from his experiences as I witnessed them. An intelligent man, a doctor, who knew exactly, excruciatingly, the inexorable fate that would befall him and how oh so much happier he was, and we were to watch him, when he descended far enough into a different world to make his future unintelligible to him.

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The second practicable entrance was to be presented with Libby’s research and to talk to her, at length, about how she wanted to portray dementia.

The title – I chose, with thanks to American writer Jarod Kintz – who said, ““Alzheimer’s is the cleverest thief, because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need, to remember what’s been stolen.”

‘The Cleverest Thief’ is now complete. It has a director attached – Paul Ratcliffe – Director of Theatre, Arts@Trinity. An extract has been previewed at a scratch night in Barnsley with great feedback, I gather.

Here’s what Libby has said about the experience so far:

“Caroline has listened – really listened. She listened to what I wanted the show to be, and then she listened some more, so that she heard my voice and the voice of Florence, the protagonist. Like any character played by an actor, Florence is both me and not me. She has her own distinctive voice, which is different from mine. 

The play, so far anyway, is easy to learn, because it flows, and because it is all written in Florence’s voice. An actor can tell good writing because it is easy to learn, and as you get more familiar with the text, you develop the sense that the words could not ever have been different. The Cleverest Thief  is like that; the words, phrases and scenes just belong together.

I said from the start that I wanted the play to be pitched right on the border between laughter and tears – and at the first scratch night showing of an extract from the show, one of the audience gave the feedback ‘I felt between laughter and tears the whole time’.”

We have performance dates now, in Leeds, in York, tbc in London.

I’m excited! Mainly, I’m honoured that I might in some way make a difference to the way people regard dementia, a debilitating condition, and its effect on everyone around it, this clever and despicable thief of the mind.

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch

Image courtesy of Graham Crouch

 

Finishing – the new beginning

What is it about finishing a writing project that’s so charged with emotion? There are lots of wise words, not so wise words and downright stupid psycho-babble written about fear of finishing.

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(And that image reminds me of one of the best jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe this year: “My name’s Fin. Which means it’s very hard for me to end emails without sounding pretentious.”)

FEAR of finishing? FEAR?

I tell you what my main emotion is upon finishing a substantial piece…

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HUGE RELIEF

Almost immediately followed by EVEN HUGER

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There are a few other downsides to finishing a project, which I freely admit.

Here’s a quote from another writer called Daniel Swenson. (Maybe a comma would help that sentence?) Another writer, called Daniel Swenson.

“Finishing closes a door. It makes a commitment. It says “okay, that’s the best I can do” — whereas shoving an unfinished piece of writing in a drawer says “well, maybe I can do better later.” And that’s perfectly valid, assuming later ever comes.

But an unfinished work can take on its own sort of romance, if we let it. A mediocre book is just a mediocre book, but an unfinished, unwritten work of unalloyed genius, well, that’s a joy forever, isn’t it? But if you’re serious about being a writer, I suspect you don’t want your body of work to consist entirely of imaginary books.”

Yes, finishing a novel, a screenplay or a theatre piece means that, unless you shove it into a drawer, virtual or otherwise, there are CONSEQUENCES…

1) You open yourself up to being evaluated – which could mean rejection and criticism. (Why do I always assume it WON’T mean praise and acclaim?)

2) You have to embark on the often soul-destroying task of getting the work out there which, to me, is far more difficult than actually writing the thing in the first place.

3) You’re now in a position to start something else when you’re probably feeling a bit like this:

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I often turn to Neil Gaiman.  I don’t think he noticed yet.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” 

So here’s to glorious failures.

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And to finishing stuff.

And to starting new stuff so you can go through it all again.

 

Writing: An act of courage?

And the full quote: “If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as  an act of courage.” Cynthia Ozick

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But wait a minute. That’s not courage, is it?

Courage
  1. the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.

I just feel embarrassed about the idea that to write you need courage. You need courage in Syria, in Ukraine, if you’re fighting a destructive illness, if you’re being tortured or persecuted. But to write?

I’m ashamed.

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But you should have seen me yesterday, before I started working on the theatre piece I’d neglected for so long.

There was fear. First of all, fear that I’d lost the document file when I’d changed over computers. (I hadn’t!) Fear that what I’d already written was no good. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to think what to write next. Fear of letting people down. Fear of looking like a complete idiot.

Fear…my writing companion.

Here’s what Steven Pressfield asserts in his book  The War of Art – (Break through your blocks and win your inner creative battles).”Resistance is fear. But resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.”

Good old shame!

If I had to say what writing is, I would have to define it essentially as  an act of shame.

And maybe a little bit of courage too?

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By the way, once I’d battled with my demons, I liked what I’d written, I could see where to go next, I was inspired.

When will I ever learn? When will I evvvverrrr learn? (Preferably sung by Pete Seeger).

Dementia – a name befitting a goddess

“Dementia. Ruth puzzled over the diagnosis: How could such a beautiful-sounding word apply to such a destructive disease? It was a name befitting a goddess: Dementia, who caused her sister Demeter to forget to turn winter into spring.” ― Amy TanThe Bonesetter’s Daughter

Human Dementia Problems

It’s true, isn’t it? Dementia is a beautiful-sounding word. Lyrical. Musical.

It’s hard to find the beauty in dementia. There’s humour, sometimes, in the context of – “If you didn’t laugh you might cry.” Not unkind laughter. Laughter which allows a carer, a partner, a son or daughter a few moments of blessed respite.

A cousin welcomed mother-in-law into the family home to take care of her in her latter years, when she was in the grip of dementia. One day, M-in-L phoned the police. When the young constable arrived, hot foot,  at the house, M-in-L stated, very clearly, ‘I wish to report a theft.’ Then, she pointed accusingly at my cousin and said, ‘That woman stole my son!”

Daddy (my father), in the years before he died, sometimes thought he was a Spitfire pilot.

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At the time, I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to humour him. Certainly, telling him he was imagining things didn’t help. In his dementia world, he WAS a Spitfire pilot. To try to persuade him otherwise simply confused him. (Ironic, that) My policy was to listen to him for a while, then try to divert his mind on to a different (more realistic?) tack.

Me: Do you need anything, Daddy? When I leave here I’m going shopping.

Daddy: (musing) I wonder if I’ll be able to see you from the cockpit.

Fond memories of a memory that had dissolved. Fond memories because Daddy was happy in that Spitfire. Other places were dark and distressing for him. Then I’d scrabble about grasping at anything I could remember for happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk…in words, not in South Pacific song –  because that was the only thing I could think of to do. I don’t know if it helped.

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It might have helped me, to fill the huge yawning hole that used to be my father’s mind.

The reason for writing this today? Because I’m restarting a theatre piece for a dear actress friend, long neglected (the piece, not the friend!) about dementia.

When I remember those lost memories, I know why I want to write it.

 

 

Starting to write – one huge step for Caroline Coxon?

“You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief, and you can sit there searching for the point at which the story becomes a toboggan and starts to slide,” says author, Marie de Nervaud.

I love that analogy.

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Currently, I’m working on a theatre project with a dear friend and actor, Libby Wattis. (She played the part of a corpse in my film Go Grimly – and what a lifelike performance it was too!)

As with all projects – starting to write, actually starting to write, is a big hurdle. For me.

I’ve spent ages in thought, reading for research purposes, developing ideas, jotting down notes and little scenes. That doesn’t count as starting to write, as far as I’m concerned, even though pencil has been put to paper.

Then, with all the accumulated material and thoughts splashing around in my brain, I go into a sort of primordial soup mode.

Primordial Soup

Jean Anne Fausser, jfiberart.com

That can be quite uncomfortable. And panic-inducing. There’s so much sloshing about that I don’t believe anything can possibly emerge.

The next stage? Starting to write! No way… I put it off. I find that suddenly, the ironing has become terribly important, or replacing the toilet freshener blocks…

And then…

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By Gyaban – deviantart

And then…

I construct the title page and I start to write.

How can one teeny-weeny step for Caroline Coxon seem so HUGE?

And what’s more, starting to write…is only the beginning!

But it’s a start! I’m on the toboggan.