Tag Archives: france

Writing as passion

The nicest thing that my grandma ever told me was when I was seven years old, 23 years ago. She said that a poem I had written in her upstairs guest room was ‘actually quite good’. It was about cowboys, I think, and it was written in verse and in pencil in a spiral book. It marks the beginning of my writing ambitions.

The most unpleasant thing that has been said about my writing was just this week, when a friend said that the first chapter (and only one they have read) was clichéd, that I just didn’t have what it takes and seemed to suggest that I give up. This, however, does not mark the end of my writing ambitions.

As I became a teenager, I started writing poems – they flowed out of me. But I also wrote what I might call prose poems, because they told a story with a poetic message to them. I also, as any youngster with literary ambitions, started drafting a fantasy novel inspired by the Elder Scrolls computer game. The poetry continued and cumulated when I was 17 with a poetic anthology of maybe 100 poems. I say maybe because, when I moved to France in 2012, I burnt the original manuscripts and there are two printed copies circulating somewhere in the world – I just don’t know where!

While at school, I learnt the beginnings of essay writing, which then was honed at university, when I must have written close to 200,000 words on Golden and Silver Age Latin literature, Roman history, Ancient Greek and Classical French tragedy, 19th century literature, with a specialisation on Stendhal and Mallarmé, and edging up to the middle of the last century. This form then found a home in a first blog called ‘Paris Theatre’, inspired by my own theatre critiques for the university newspaper, and it continues to this day in this very blog you are reading. 

I have written short stories, inspired by Maupassant and Baudelaire. And I have kept a written diary on and off throughout my whole life. I have taught a class on literature, examining the works of Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood. And now I am writing a novel, for which I wake up at 6am and write no more than 300 words at a time, crafting each paragraph with care. It is the second draft of this novel and is the fruit of many years of reflection. It is a labour of love, but also an exploration of a stylistic philosophy, inspired notably by my readings of Wayne C. Booth and Erich Auerbach. 

I could go on, but you probably get the point now. I admit that other people’s writing lists may be longer than mine. But what I see when I look back at this reflection is development: from poetry to essays, passing by short stories and blog posts, there remains the novel form to tackle. 

So this is a message to my friend, or indeed anyone who might want to take a pop at my work:

My writing is here to stay. And this is just the beginning. 

Opportunism knocks

Edward, you can’t always rely on your charm.

I have started a Masters course in France, twelve years after beginning my Bachelors in the UK. I am currently in the middle of the first semester and the projects, both academic and personal, are piling on: essays, job searches, magazine layout, reviews for terribly written books and the almost literal unicorn called ‘Pantomime’. And while I am not unused to having a lot on my plate, this time it feels like I’ve made a greedy miscalculation at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I was walking through a shady woodland yesterday and considering my professional future. It suddenly struck me that it has been difficult for me to opt for what my grandma calls ‘a career’, namely because that requires me to commit. And commitment requires work. What can we replace work with? Charm. But it won’t last forever, as my Latin professor told me.

A friend informed me that Boris Johnson does not work, contrary to the tried and tested method of actually successful Prime Ministers who spend 18 hours a day working. When I confided in a colleague about the giant to-do list, she said “Well, you’re just going to have to work like a doctor”. So, that means I’m going to have work as if I have a real job? 

I suppose, going back to school was all about stepping out of my comfort zone after all. What’s terrifying is that I am used to physical endurance, but not mental. I can build caravan decks all day, all week, but I can think for at best half an hour before I need a break. And that 30 minutes of writing has just finished.

Hic labor, hic opus – here is the work, here the toil.

Writing Pantomime: A Magical THANG

Some of you may know what Pantomime is. It’s not the silent version, where an actor pretends to be stuck in a chimney, or a very small lift. Pantomime bla bla bla is a comic British tradition bal bla bla that has it roots in Commedia dell’Arte bla bla bla and has been a big money maker for theatres in the UK for decades. In fact, most small theatres make their revenue over the Christmas period with Pantomime. This allows them to survive for the next eleven months: the Pareto principle applied to theatrics. However, let’s not talk about the impact of the pandemic on local theatre here…

Well, because I am a kind of bastard off-shoot of the British theatrical tradition, I also do pantomime. But I don’t do it in a proper theatre, I do it at a university just outside of Paris. I can’t follow the traditions ad litteram, because I have new students every year. And my endeavours to put on a performance have been threatened by social unrest, major logistical changes, and even a global pandemic.

But I have come out of it bruised, but smiling and ready, able and willing to go forth with our fifth spectacle. For this year, I am looking for two things: first, to introduce elements from the last for plays and second to reconnect with a more classic pantomime plot, namely a love story thwarted eventually overs evil. It seems logical then to set the play in a context of elections, considering that France will see who the next president will be in May, 2022.

The gist then is this: in our fairytale kingdom (name suggestions most welcome in comments), the Prince has decided to throw elections, because he lost at a game of tiddlywinks. But there is a clause in the constitution stating that “a single voter” will cast the winning ballot. Everyone, however, in this dull kindgom is either married or engaged. Except for our young hero. However, his family is trapped by money issues and, though his goal too is to fall in love, he is tricked into a deal to stay single forever. Only with the help of Peter Pan, the Three Little Pigs and a great big Fairy Godmother will our hero lead the coalition agains the Prince and become victorious in the elections!

Now I have the plot. I just have to write the bloody thing now. 

Pleasure and Bond

Ninja Thyberg’s feature length film was selected for the Cannes film festival.

I heard this morning on the radio that a film called ‘Pleasure’ is being released in the USA. According to the news bulletin, it’s a shocking exploration of the seedy ins and outs of the pornography industry. I naively thought it might be a documentary, but it is in fact a feature-length film about one woman’s attempt to become an elite pornstar. It is supposed to be a revealing of the sexual coercion that up-and-coming pornstars have to go through in order both to keep their jobs and to advance in their careers. While I haven’t seen the film, the trailer offers a glamorised version of this rapacious industry, with beautiful models, expensive houses and papparazzi parties.

It’s ironic then that critics have been getting their knickers in a twist about whether James Bon can have sex or not. And it would appear that he cannot. While the antiquated hero has visibly aged in this modern world, all the young ones are on the East Coast doing what it takes to make it.

Is this because the American Cary Joji Fukunaga has to tread a tightrope of media storms and public relations about a fictional character whose chequered past sounds off in today’s world, while Sweden’s Ninja Thyberg has carte blanche? Is it a cultural check from across the Pond, a reminder that the English are stuffy and the Americans emancipated? Or is it because we are afraid of sexualised older people in the mainstream and want to carry on this cult of youth in order to escape the crushing reality that, one day, everything will sag?

For the Potato

I told my parents you won’t be having

any potatoes

when you come over, you say 

as I swallow peanuts one half at a time over

the phone.

You say things like that sometimes 

not knowing

how I banged my head when I

tipped the scale last summer and lied about

it after.

You’re 29 and this is your first time

counting calories;

you love the numbers, the novelty of them

even as they go up, you laugh in a way I haven’t laughed

about anything.

I have binned five thousand yellow-green

paper towels

dipped in oil, it takes five minutes 

for sun-dried tomatoes and olives to strip

and dry.

The appetite really does come en mangeant— 

rushed in

A bout of gratification and pallid starvation,

A hideous hand-me-down culinary tradition,

given by

my mum, measuring out her carbs with

coffee cups

(often replacing them altogether)

and when night fell on those cheese-platter evenings

I slept

with my earphones on, my thighs apart under

the covers.

Changed the sooted glass of an ever burning

scented candle in the bathroom every morning as

she slept.

Never vanilla or other edibles, only ever

pine-wood

rose-water, lilies – or some other “mindfulness” 

scent as she liked to call them, laughing a

minty laugh.

Your mother’s food isn’t mindful at all,

it’s motherly —

(how many times have I groaned in bed from

a lactose-induced stomach ache?)

she tries

and prepares me separate meals, this is with

your milk

she says as though my milk brought allergies of

its own, lest they should skip the whole-cream milk for

one meal. 

And then there is the potato – how it haunts the 

English cuisine;

like a speech impediment never corrected.

The most hated of all the golden earth-births:

potatoes.

This starchy shapeshifter of a legume is ever present—

Mash, gratin, chips, crisps, golden, sweet, lemony, roasted,

fried, double cooked, boiled, browned, crispy, mushy in all and 

with all.

Your mother makes a mother’s sort of meal,

repetition based—

potatoes and meat potatoes and meat potatoes and meat

so that you might always think of her in your

Proustian moments. 

Your mother’s shepherd’s pie which isn’t shepherd’s pie

at all,

but cottage pie tastes like being nurtured

in a way I’ve never been nurtured before;

not like this anyway

not like this.

It makes me feel naughty the way only

children do,

when the pink smell of the pink marshmallow 

Sauce ripples over the sticky toffee pudding

with a thud.

She remembers what I like and buys it in abundance and

stomach aches

Are normal and not anything dangerous at all

In your home, and I don’t mind the potatoes for that sme

of hers

when the pie comes out just right, and I don’t mind the 

cold fish

on those “Meat-Free Mondays” for your father’s large

hand laying out the cutlery; remembering how I like to eat with a 

small spoon.

I could eat potatoes every day, I want to say 

when you

say things like that sometimes, not knowing how 

I never had a mum and dad even when I did have a mum and dad;

not like this anyway

not like this.