On Thursday I had a very lovely afternoon before a roaring fire at my house with Avril
Joy and playwright Rachel Cochrane.
|Recording our extracts with Rachel|
Rachel’s second string is her excellent audio internet site Listenupnorth. Her mission is to get audio versions of writers’ work out there for the world to enjoy. She works with individual writers and writing groups and is about to embark on on a project creating an audio installation inspired by the Nissan Car Factory. She also runs day writing retreats where people can write in peace for a day with no restrictions, domestic or otherwise. A wonderful idea.,
Our own mission on Thursday was to record podcasts for Listenupnorth. Avril read from her excellent Short story collection Millie and Bird (which she launched last Friday) and I read extracts from my new novel Writing at the Maison Bleue (which I will launch on May 1st)
Did you get your invitation to the launch? If not just email me and I will send you one.
It was fun. We embarked on our readings, very much encouraged by Rachel's calm presence, I felt confident in the knowledge that any stumblings and hesitation would be edited out by Rachel’s audio engineering skills into something much smoother. And it was a good rehearsal for reading similar extracts at the launch.
I am even looking forward to hearing my own twenty minute podcast when it’s ready in a week or so's time/ I will put a link here on Lifetwicetasted so you might like to hear it yourself and tell me what you think..
I chose to read three five-minute extracts from the opening chapters of Writing at the Maison Bleu. The first extract (below) introduces Joe, the youngest participator in the writing retreat on the banks of the Canal du Midi which has members of all ages, right up the Francine, who is in her eighties.
But first, here is Joe...
...It was on Giro day when the Award letter came through Joe’s door. He celebrated his award with his girlfriend Lolla at the Black Bull - their usual meeting place on a corner at a decent distance from their respective hostels.
‘A thousand quid? Y..yum! ’ Lolla smacked her pouting lips – not really a pretty sight. ‘We can celebrate on that, Joe.’ For Lolla celebrating meant something serious up her nose or down her throat. At least, thought Joe, she did this in a quiet fashion. She had told him more than once that she hated anything vulgar. There were people around them who were vulgar. And that, she said, was the worst thing in the world.
Joe shook his head. ‘No cash, Loll. Really, like! Says here the Award covers the plane and this place on the river. Sunshine and writing. And talking.’ He frowned. ‘Dunno whether I’ll like that. Talking.’ He grinned, ‘Good job I got a passport.’
His social worker had got him a passport when Jonny Green, a singer who had been in the same care home before his rise to fame, had treated the present generation of kids there to a beach holiday in Spain. In the end Joe had not gone because he’d been in a fight and was seen to have blotted his copybook.
Now Lolla pouted, her eyes gleaming through the long blackened lashes that flapped against her fringe. ‘Not fair, that, Joey. You should see some cash shouldn’t yer? Won the competition didn’t yer?’
Until today he hadn’t talked very much about his writing with Lolla until today The writing was mostly his private thing.
In his heart of hearts Joe agreed with Lolla. He wondered if all the winners of the Room to Write Awards got their prize in vouchers and tickets. Or was it just those who like him lived in temporary hostels? Maybe it was like clothes vouchers for the needy. He knew he was not as needy as some of his other acquaintances. He was lucky. Drugs had turned out to be not his bag. It was a fact that drugs had been pushed onto him in prison when things became hard. And it was true that when he got out he was still using. But he’d been rescued from sliding down that road by a guy called Cragan, whom he met in the Black Bull. Cragan helped him to get off the gear for good. These days even the thought of the gear made him gag. He stuck to bottled beer.
Cragan – a strange, uneasy sort of man - turned out to be some kind of a counsellor or psych. At first Joe thought the older man was hitting on him. After ten minutes in his company it was clear to Joe that he was not. Several conversations with Cragan at the bar of the Black Bull finally convinced Joe that he really didn’t have an addictive personality. He’d just been having a very bad time in his life and was self-medicating.
After a while this made sense to Joe and he just stopped using drugs at all. It took three months but in the end it was like gradually switching on a bright, irritating light and seeing things as they really were. After that Joe felt he could hear, smell and taste like a new-born and life was better.
In those months Joe got himself clean Cragan was a regular here in the Black Bull. A tacit kind of trust grew up between them. In the end Joe began to show Cragan some of his pages, some scribbled in his own hand, some typed on library computers. Then, in the week of their last meeting Cragan had brought him a pile of novels - battered paperbacks, mostly American writers. As he put the pile of books on the stained pub table he told Joe that he was going away to America to take up this job in a psychiatric hospital. Then, out of his bag he pulled a battered laptop computer. ‘Old one, kiddo. Surplus to requirements. Thought you could use it. Save you all those trips to the library.’
Joe was a regular at the library, surfing the Net and transcribing his stories.
After he’d left England Cragan sent Joe the odd email with articles attached but Joe never saw him again. He had settled down, though, read Cragan’s books, line by line; some of them more than once. And as he read them it was as though Cragan were still there, smelling of cigarettes in the Black Bull, and arguing the toss.
Joe felt an affinity with the people in the stories - people getting lost, getting high, grafting on the streets, dreaming their lives away. There were even people like himself, who were fighting to keep their heads above water. All this reading made Joe write like he’d never written before.
‘Joe!’ Lolla was drawing lines in the steam on her cold glass. ‘Can’t see why anybody could get money for a few pages of words,’ she said. ‘Not like me grafting, or you getting coins for playing your guitar at the station, or nothing.’
‘It’s just like grafting with a pencil, Lolla! Lying with intent,’ he said, watching her finger move up and down the glass. Her nails were short and bitten but they gleamed with the residue of blood red polish.
‘Whatever,’ she said, now rubbing her finger up and down the sleeve of her jumper.
‘Whatever! Don’t know that my mate Cragan would see it like that.’
She grinned widely, and her face lit up in that way Joe really liked. ‘Good thing the old boy saw it like he did though, emailing you that competition link all the way from America. An English competition! From America. God bless the Net!’ She lifted her glass, slurped off the last of her lager and looked at him expectantly.
Joe picked up her glass and took it to the bar. He liked Lolla. She was uncomplicated. She liked company and adored chattering away, mostly to or about herself. She didn’t mind the odd sexual roll but was not really needy. She told him frankly when they first met that she could take it or leave it. ‘Mostly I think fucking’s overrated,’ she said firmly. He had the feeling she’d had some bad experiences in that department and left it at that....