A break from the pedantry and solitude of editing Cold Light for a trip into Macclesfield to see Jo Bell. More snow, two pies and a day long discussion and practice session for our new show. We’ve been planning this for a while, but snow, extended school holidays, festive madness and packed schedules meant that yesterday was the first time we’ve been able to get together to talk staging, running order, performance and props.
All very new to me – but very welcome. I’m not scared when I get up on the stage or in front of the mic any more – not when I’m reading my own work, anyway – the thrill of testing the words out loud and watching to see if the audience responds the way I want them to appeals to the attention-seeker in me and drowns out the nerves. But for a year, more or less, I’ve been reading the same four or five extracts from A Kind of Intimacy, and answering people’s questions about it. Soon, I’ll probably be doing the same for Cold Light.
This, though, is different. This isn’t reading in order to sell something, to promote a novel, to shift some copies. I’ve written some new material and had ideas for more after hearing Jo read her work. I’m relishing the chance to concentrate on the short work I do (some of it has been published on-line and there are links in the sidebar of this blog…) and to do something out of the house with other people. This isn’t reading either – no muttering something off a sheet of A4 still warm from my printer – this is performing – a difference I’ve had to learn, and a learning curve that is made much easier by working with Jo, who is an experienced producer of live-lit and spoken word, and of course a poet.
Working with a poet is a new thing too. I write short stories (is that what I should be calling them? Most of them are too long to be flash – and too autobiographical to be stories. Jo suggested Fascinators, after the feathery fluff Some Girls clip into their hair, and I sort of liked that) and as I waited for the train to get there (passing by the tantalising Stockport Hat Museum) I caught myself wondering if a real, live poet would be a different species. But it isn’t like that at all. We are writers. We choose words and spend a long time putting them in order. Poets make things up, and sometimes Story Writers tell the truth.
Anyway, how could I possibly pass up the chance to work with someone who is currently writing a play called Aching For Dick…
It was interesting – sitting in Jo’s new pink office, (‘no, no dear, you’re allowed to walk on the carpet‘) watching the snow come down outside, scoffing her cake and listening to her read – to reflect on how similar her work is to mine, and how different. The change in tone and pace and style between the two of us is marked – and is one of the things that’s going to make our show so good, I think. But the images – jars of flowers, empty crisp packets, bin-bags and coffins, key-holes, Marmite jars, telephones, clocks and frozen peas – echo across both our work – along with our over-arching, many-splendoured theme, which is love.
Love. If you know my writing, you’ll know I’ve gone to town with this, and only one of the pieces is even slightly heart-warming. I’ve got a stalker (obviously), a crap boyfriend, a competitive wanker, a bitter sex-therapist, a kebab, seepage from a family grave, a dead goldfish and a whole bunch of origami flowers. Jo’s got a dead man, a man who thinks the clitoris is a light-switch, and a neighbour who breaks in when she’s asleep. It’s going to be Top Banana.
We were shooting for dates in February and wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day in creepy, comic style. The work’s gone so well we’ve decided to develop the show a little and book dates across the North West (with a little toe dipped into the Midlands and North East) during April and May. Watch this space. I’m really excited, so I’ll probably be rattling on about this a lot.