The day job

LL003The postman came. He delivered an envelope addressed to While that is something to do with me I didn’t know what it could be, other than a domain name renewal scam. I opened it.

It was my first ever royalty cheque for sales of radius rat my one ebook on Amazon. The grand total of £8.34, which represents six people buying it (I probably know four of them, but to the other two: thank you). That brings my royalties in this year from creative writing (as opposed to the technical writing) to over ten pounds.

I conclude three things from that: first, I’m going to be needing the day job for a while,secondly, I’m really bad at marketing and thirdly, the ebook revolution maybe hasn’t reached children’s books yet. How many children out there with credit cards and kindles? Probably not that many. How does the average e-reader screen cope with full colour illustrations?  Getting better on new models, but not so good on older ones.

I am now left with a problem: there is no bank account matching the payee name on the cheque. I’m going to have to go and talk to my bank. I worry I may not be able to get my money after all.



E C Bentley. That’s who. Or more fully, and explicably, Edmund Clerihew Bentley. It’s the middle name I’m thinking about now, and not so much the man as the whimsical, four-line biographical poem named for its inventor. As you can find in Wikipedia the clerihew has an AABB rhyme scheme and an irregular metre. A clerihew is also about a person, usually a historical personage, and tends towards the absurd:

Edward the Confessor
Slept under the dresser.
When that began to pall
He slept in the hall.

I write clerihews occasionally, as a sort of poetic liberation, in much the same way as professional footballers (at least, so I imagine) go and have a kickabout in the park (jumpers for goalposts, etc) on their days off (not that I am a professional poet or anywhere close). There are two things I enjoy about the clerihew form.

First there is the rhyme. I regard rhyme in poetry with suspicion. Not because it is bad or wrong in itself, but because people starting out at poetry get hooked on rhyme and let everything else, from rhythm to sense, go to pot. But a clerihew demands rhyming. As Bentley himself observed, rhyming awkward names is the skillful part.

Second, there is the minor challenge of setting up the scansion of the third and fourth lines. They are irregular, but, echoing. There has to be enough similarity in their metre to make them seem to be from the same family.

So. There I was taking a stroll. I ended up thinking of Nigel Farage (an interesting politician, for readers beyond the UK), in part because he has an interesting name. Now, Farage rhymes with large, but that isn’t very interesting. There was also the possibility of forcing a mispronounciation by rhyming with garage (the British english ‘garage’ pronunciation), but I left that one. I found I had:

Nigel Farage
doesn’t like marge

What next? Well, he puts himself across as a hail-fellow-well-met, down-to-earth chap. I pursued the spreading theme:

Nigel Farage
doesn’t like marge
but a pound of fresh butter
sets his heart all a flutter.

That’ll do.

Then take away the line you first thought of …

ImageThe creative process is – on some levels – a weird one. Yesterday I was writing the last (but not final) scene of Hero in a Coma, the current project for Tuesday’s Childe. The scene itself is based on Odysseus’ encounter in the cyclops’ cave (if not quite Odysseus, our version of him). The underlying themes we had were to do with observation. So, I decided to surround Odysseus with observers, thinking of CCTV cameras with little red lights on their heads. They would note everything he did and report it back to some central control. It was all very modern, very much post-Snowden. I had a lovely couplet, based on the standard call centre message:

Please note that we may monitor your life

for quality and training purposes.

I was very happy with that. There was a bit of chatter between the observers – I named them monitors – and base. When Odysseus says ‘Caroline?” they went:

Request cross-match for Caroline.


It was great.

But as I came towards the end of the scene I became uneasy with that aspect of them. I have found that however modern I want to make our Odysseus he is still a pre-modern figure with ancient motives and actions. And Calypso, who was the one watching  him (see the play to find out how that works), is far too much an elemental to be using CCTV and computers. Why does she need that when she has power over the air and water, fire and earth?

It turned out that she didn’t. All of those lovely bits and pieces, the lines I had first thought of, had to go. They just didn’t fit. The scene is much better without them.

My other dilema was to work out how Odysseus was going to extinguish the watcher’s lights so he could escape. Our original thoughts from workshopping the scene was to have some kind of violent, physical destruction. But what? I wrote around it, leaving in the pathetic phrases:

OD does something to the eye. Disrupts it. Calypso gets up and starts groping towards OD.

It was only when the scene was nearly done that I realised this was not going to be a violent act, but a trick, a subtrefuge by Odysseus the trickster. He didn’t need to break up the lights, but persuade Calypso to turn them off. That was much more satisfying for him, for her, and for me.

That is the script done – for now – and later this morning we have a full reading of it. I am slightly nervous.

Death comes for the Little Bear

Death comes for the little bear

OK, so he isn’t actually death, and he didn’t come for the Little Bear. But he could have.

Yup, I’m just back from another fascinating puppetry workshop by Rene Baker at Northern Stage. Over the course of two days we looked at how to explore an object or puppet to discover its innate characteristics, (using among other things the twin mechanisms of epistemic and ludic play), and how to bring it to life with its actions and – almost more important – reactions.

There was a moment on the first day as I was manhandling a curious puppet of brushes (one of Rene’s wonderful creations) that I thought ‘why am I a grown man with a job doing this?’ But, I parked that thought from the grumpy part of my mind and got on with playing. Because it is the playing which brings knowledge of the puppet or object, and without that knowledge our animation is shallow and/or unconvincing.

Over the two days we came to know the puppets moved and behaved, whether large floppy dog, unsavoury wood-man (surely an original ent), a flight of plastic ducks or a little bear. It turns out even pens want to behave in certain ways, and bunches of keys can be strangely attracted to ducks.

I am going to have to spend some time with my notes and my ducks to really grasp how this can all impact my practice and projects.

Overall, a exhausting, brain-mashing, wonderful two days. And if death had come for the Little Bear I think we would all have cried our eyes out.

Uncommon verse

Having run a session on poetry for songwriters at Catalyst Festival 2014 (about which more later) I have been keeping an eye out for interesting metre. I was glancing at a children’s book when I noticed something unusual about the metre. At first I thought it was slightly incompetent iambic verse, but, on a closer reading (fingers tapping out feet) I realised it was something much more unusual:

In the darkest of depths of the Galilee Sea,

There I lived with a secret as deep as could be.

Known as Felipe Fish, I looked brave at first sight.

No one knew that this fish was afraid of the light.

Yes, anapaestic tetrameter. The same metre as Byron’s The Destruction of Sennacherib. A far from easy form to use in English. I don’t know why Dandi Daley Mackall chose the metre, but I had a foolish thrill of recognition.

Looking more closely, there are problems with the piece, the strange name Galilee Sea which seals the third anapaest and forms the fourth one; the additional there at the start of the first line, which only serves to give the first syllable of the first anapaest. I also suspect the character’s name was also chosen for its convenience for anapaests.

Overall, more of a curiosity than anything else.