• Jon Ronson's Head

    On the 23rd May 2013, I went to see Jon Ronson at Book Slam, London’s first, best and only literary nightclub. I wrote a blog around that time that I descried as a write up of that evening, book reviews and an open love letter to the brilliant man. When writing that blog, I’d read Psychopath Test and Them, and was half way through Lost at Sea. Now, I’ve finished Lost at Sea and read all 80 pages of Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie. I’m a little ashamed of myself for having only read one and a half books in those ten months, especially as I do own all of them. Jon has now moved to New York but in the month of March, he showed his face in a couple of places in UK. If you follow him on Twitter, you would have seen for yourself his social calendar was rather full. I was lucky enough to see him at two events; LOCO’s A Night of Public Shaming and Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, or as the cool kids are calling it: RHLSTP. PHLSTP!

    Jon Ronson chases people and writes about them, psychopaths and extremists, people you shouldn’t chase. But for his next book, he’s chasing a different group of people, those that have been publicly shamed. Not necessarily murderers or child abusers, people who said the wrong thing on Twitter. For lack of a better word, public shaming is easy. The internet is the fastest way to share information, and nothing travels faster than bad news!

    LOCO stands for London Comedy, a not-for-profit foundation whose mission is to discover, develop and screen the world’s most distinctive comedy film-makers. Comedy is a genre that should be taken seriously, it’s a beautifully and brilliantly made as any other film, why should they not win awards and get recognition? As well as writing books, Jon has turned his hand to writing screenplays. LOCO hosted the world premiere of Jon’s almost silent comedy The Dog Thrower. This short film is a glimpse into Jon’s head and the work he has been conducting since The Psychopath Test came out. A seemingly harmless act is filmed, spreads like wild fire and is condemned by the public.

    But the evening also highlights how it was done before the internet. Jon shows footage of his travels with David Icke many, many years ago. David travelled to Canada and a whole town came together to stop David talking on the radio and television, but fighting against him only peaked the town’s interest. Even an attempted pie in the face didn’t dampen his spirits; the only thing that suffered was the children’s books in the book shop. It’s amazing how easy it is to join in with public shaming, and yet it was seen as an abomination in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

    At both evenings he spoke about his second screenplay project: Frank. Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he's bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank. The plot of the film is based on Jon’s relationship with Frank Sidebottom. Jon notes that musical bio-pics are awful, so they decided to fictionalise the pair’s experiences in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. The man behind the head was Christopher Mark Sievey; a sensitive, shy man that was not appreciated in his own time. In the film, Frank never removes his head. But Jon assures us it is Michael Fassbender under the head. We may know the secret inside Frank’s head but we’ll never know what’s inside Jon’s. I’m certain there are more stories to be told and what he’s going to do next.

    By the way, Jon if you’re reading this, I typed this up while watching Louis Theroux.
    He ain’t that special.
    He made me cry.
    I don’t like him.

    Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
    This is collection of adventures from here, there and everywhere. But it is not enough. The stories are too short and leave you wanting more. Ronson is a mystical, magical story teller who finds truth that is stranger than any fiction. From hilarity to thought provoking in a beat, each new story is a glimpse into unknown worlds. I’m thankful Ronson goes so we don’t have it. Besides, it’s the way he tells ‘em.

    Frank by Jon Ronson
    Frank Sidebottom is a curious creation. And who better to tell his story than curious comedy writer Jon Ronson. Like many great artists, Frank was not appreciated in his own time. This little book is a perfect introduction into a crazy world of paper-mache heads and three cord songs, especially for someone that missed that period in time or isn’t from Timperley. This book is the truth which will go hand in hand with the fictionalised movie.

  • Books on Sunday: Egghead

    Egghead by Bo Burnham
    Makes you laugh then makes you think. Bo has a great knack for comedy, he just gets it in a way many others can’t. His songs and stand up have many layers to them and so much depth that they require second and even third sittings. His poetry is no exception. Poetry might be the wrong word, there’s some traditional rhyming stuff, short bursts of brilliant ideas, casual musings and wild stories. Each is accompanied by illustrations by Chance Bone that are equally crazy and complimentary. Laugh and question: why?

  • Why Write a Feminist Play?

    Once again with the big questions, The Royal Court asks the big questions. This evening’s topic for discussion is: Why Write a Feminist Play? Chaired by The Mistress Contract director Vicky Featherstone, we are also joined by playwrights Abi Morgan and Nick Payne. One can argue that both have written feminist plays. Nick Payne’s Blurred Lines had a very successful run at the National Theatre; the all-female cast address what it means to be a woman and whether feminism is alive and kicking today. Abi Morgan is part of the writing force behind The Mistress Contract; the play is based on a true account of a couple in America. She’s also written for screen The Invisible Woman, The Iron Lady, Shame, and Sex Traffic. All of which have feminist and equality themes running through them. So you could say, we are in the presence of some decent authorities on the subject. And by we, I do mean mainly ladies, I did have a quick scan of the theatre before we started and I could only spy 4 gentlemen. Not off to a great start, but let’s begin and interrogate a playwright’s role in the feminist movement.

    First, we shall establish why our writers do what they do before we find out how they do it so well. For Nick, it’s the urgency of the thing, it provokes change and sometimes that’s immediate. For Abi, it is a little bit about ego. People listen to theatre, they know it’s an engaging media and not passive like television. So why write a feminist play? After reading the book The Mistress Contract, Abi had a need to write the play adaptation. She wanted nothing more to bring this feminist, She, to the stage. However, it takes more than a feminist on the stage to make a feminist play. Thought it is set in the 1980s, it’s still relevant today; we’re still having the same discussions such as the role of power in sex. As for Nick, he was told off by a critic for using ‘retrograde gender stereotypes’ in one of his earlier plays. Not entirely certain what that meant, Nick threw himself into feminist writings and that’s how he came to write Blurred Lines, he wanted to graduate from a place of ignorance and naivety.

    No one quite knows what to call this period in time, but I think I’m safe in calling it the teenies. So the next question is where did feminism go? It was strong in the 80s and became main stream in the 90s with the Spice Girls storming the planet with Girl Power. And then what? Things went quiet in the naughties and the teenies. I think it may have just got away from us, we became naïve to what was happening and now there are songs like Blurred Lines with lyrics like: “I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” and “I know you want it, You're a good girl … I hate these blurred lines”. Abi Morgan now has a young daughter and she can’t turn her back on what’s happening. She’s concerned because in writing her new film Suffragette, she can see how little has changed, not just in law, but in attitude. Nick argues that it is still alive and well, but it has changed with the times. Like most things, it can be found on the internet! But it needs to make a comeback in the public eye. I think we need a new Spice Girls. We need more Lily Allen’s calling male artists out for suggesting we’re only good for one thing. Our society has become more materialistic, and women have become objects again so it’s time to fight again.

    Playwrights should be conscious of several things before embarking on a feminist crusade. They must strive towards the ideals of feminism, acknowledging, engaging in and striving towards equality. Or, highlight this bad stuff so we’re all aware of how fucked up society can be. A play’s aim should be equality for all, not only between men and women, do not censor any voice in your play. As well as feminism, theatre is about tackling all topics such as ageism, creating roles for people of all ages. For example, don’t pair that handsome rich man with a young attractive woman. A playwright can state what they want, make it central and make it important, and then the casting can’t go awry. If you doubt your work, use the Bechdel Test. If you’ve never heard of it before, here are the requirements to pass the test; your script must:

    1. Have at least two [named] women in it
    2. Who talk to each other,
    3. About something besides a man

    For your script to be truly equal and politically correct, you can see if it passes the Russo Test, intended to analyse the representation of LGBT characters in films.

    At the end of the day, who doesn’t want equality, but we shouldn’t let it get to this state again. There’s no one to point the finger of blame to. We have let people get away with whatever the fuck they like, we need to hold them accountable for their attitude. Men and women have both played their part for feminism to lose its thrust and drive. Men have dominated the creative sphere but women also play up to stereotypes. But it works both ways, there are more and more plays coming out the wood work that question masculinity.

    The biggest problem will always be getting people to see feminist work. An awful generalisation on my part, but in theatre, you are preaching to the converted. Theatre goers are open minded and liberal. If your writing has a universal truth or a dog whistle as Abi likes to call it, your play will speak to everyone and demand to be seen. It’s important to educate the next generation so they can carry on the fight. It’s not theatre’s primary concern to tackle this issue alone but it’s certainly an arsenal in the effort towards equality. So we must write feminist plays because they are still needed.

  • Books on Sunday: Slaughterhouse 5

    Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
    I didn’t actually know much about Slaughterhouse 5 before I started reading it, I just knew it was on my list of books to read before I die and it was about or after World War II. My mind was blown at the yarn that was spun in front of me. Vonnegut is able to convey the struggles and fear of WWII in a funny and engaging way through parallels and time travel. Honesty and insanity all in one iconic novel.

  • Should We Contract Our Sex Lives? A Discussion at the Royal Court

    I suppose the first question you may ask is: what do we mean by contract? Without turning to a dictionary, one would assume that a contract is an agreement between two consenting parties. This can be both written and verbal, but a written one does hold up better in a court of law. Using that general definition, we can begin to understand that whenever we engage in sex, we are drawing up a contract, we are agreeing to participate in these activates. This is a real mood killer so I don’t suggest you bring this up pre-coitus. What Abi Morgan’s new play, ‘The Mistress Contract’, explores and what we are here to discuss is the notion of a long term contract. It is based on a real couple and their thirty year contract, the idea of giving yourself entirely to one person, to be at their every sexual need in exchange for things and money.

    The evening was chaired by broadcaster, journalist and theatre critic Libby Purves, her main duty was to keep academic and activist Lynne Segal’s answers short and ensuring the other panellists have their voices heard. The rest of the panel was made up of playwright Alecky Blythe, anthropologist Professor Sophie Day and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The first time I had seen a token male on a panel! We begin with Alecky Blythe discussing her verbatim play ‘The Girlfriend Experience’, the drama is set in a brothel by the sea where mature women specialise in a caring and sympathetic service. This play bridges the gap between the girls brought into this country and sold into sex work and the gorgeous high end call girls. Sex work and sex contracts come in all shapes and sizes, just as women and men do. However, there is one universal truth; you cannot have a sex contract and love.

    Well, you can. Then again, it feels like lazy comedy to say when you enter a marriage contract the sex ends. Ha. Ha. Ha. Sophie Day argues that a contract of any form is there to protect us; the contract and the law support the victim when that contract is broken. Where marriage and sex contracts differ is that love is limitless but sex contracts have their limits and this is what protects both or either parties involved. Both contracts transform us from savages to a civilised way of life; it is a social contract recognised by all and stops people being dragged into caves by their hair and doing things against their will.

    Lynne Segal has had major publications in the area of feminist theory and politics, shifting understandings of femininity, masculinity and sexuality, alongside more recent work on attachments, belongings, the work of memory, social conflict and, most recently, the psychic paradoxes of ageing. So you can imagine what a riot she was. Before I continue, I would like to state that I did not like Lynne. She kept firing off clichés with startling precision, relying on stereotypes to make her point. She spoke about how every sexual relationship is unequal because the men’s needs come first and woman’s body is only used to achieve a male orgasm. This may be true in some cases but not all. She was the panel’s token feminist, a caricature of herself. If I asked you to draw a feminist, bingo, you’d draw her.

    The token male, on the other hand, I liked. Peter Tatchell is a prominent campaigner and activist for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice. He spoke of the dated concept of a marriage contract, if we started again from scratch, we would not see marriage as it is now. This one size fits all agreement does not suit all couples, we should be able to pick and choice our rights and responsibilities. Aside from sex trafficking, both parties have equal say in the majority of sex contract and enter into one for different reasons. There are individuals that feel they have no other choice or means of making money, but this is for unique reasons such as child care and education, not always drug addictions as we see in the media. Or, as is seen in ‘The Mistress Contract’, you want to detach yourself emotional and are owed financially.

    The problem with these contracts, as Sophie points out, they are difficult to enforce. Prostitution and sex worker’s contracts are constructed verbally and in a short amount of time. If this contract does not fully support a party or it is broken, who is there to enforce it? You can’t run to the police. If it were decriminalised, then these people are able to turn to a wealth of supporting bodies when that contract is broken. In the brothel seen in ‘The Girlfriend Experience’, the girls had each other for support. They made smart choices such as working together under one roof and never being alone, making it their own business rather than working through a pimp or a madam.

    Lynne notes that in a sex contract, one party gets sexual pleasure and the other party gets cash. We shouldn’t be putting a monetary value on our sexual being but, of course, there’s more to it than that. Alecky found that that was the girl’s in her brothel could do as older women and the younger girls couldn’t was to also offer companionship, they listened, they cuddled and they served pots of tea. At the end of the day, we are all human, and the majority of us associate sex with emotions. We do crave tenderness in sex which is why we still see a romantic plot in porn or at least a sense of compassion towards one another. It’s obviously acting but even in porn, it is sex and love together. This is the fly in the ointment for both ‘The Mistress Contract’ and ‘The Girlfriend Experience’.

    I wish I could wrap this up in a nice easy conclusion but the fact is we are all unique. We all like different things and have different association with love and sex. A contract serves to protect, and if you feel you must protect yourself from your partner in your sex life, you may have bigger problems. And those that draw up sex contracts for money are not protected, again, if you feel you must enter into sex work to make these contracts for financial gain, then you have bigger problems. We shouldn’t be asking ‘Should we contract our sex lives?’ but be questioning why.

  • The Mistress Contract

    “She and He are the pseudonyms of a real-life couple who live in separate houses in the same city on the west coast of America. She is 88. He is 93.” In case of any confusion, they are now 88 and 93. The contract that became known as the Mistress Contract has been ongoing for over 30 years. He gave She almost complete independence, everything she could ever need is paid for. In exchange, She gives He “All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.”

    He and She recorded various conversations and talked openly about what they were doing to each other, they talked about life, politics, feminism and, of course, sex. This resulted in a book called ‘The Mistress Contract’. Like most delightful happenstances, the book caught the attention of its eventual director Vicky Featherstone who gave it to playwright Abi Morgan. The play both adapts and as well as questions the book and the contract drawn on that day in 1981.

    Even though she must perform all sexual acts as requested, the play is not about the sex but about the time She and He spend together. It’s clear they are intellectual equals. She, played by Saskia Reeves, is a teacher and well-read in feminist literature and He, played by Danny Webb, is a wealthy self-made business man. There are many definitions and requirements behind the word ‘mistress’ such as secretive, being ‘kept’ and one party is married. He and She do not meet all the requirements but that’s not their relationship is primarily about. They are each other’s companion, friend and equal.

    They share a relationship based on their differences, leading to fiery exchanges much like Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick. Brilliantly acted, the characters discussions are tinted with love and admiration for one another but they never quite show it. Even near the end, it’s quite clear the contract was giving them what they thought they wanted but not what they needed. They both want a challenging partner, someone that can challenge His authority and someone that can challenge Her opinions.

    Abi Morgan is able to articulate all sides of the arguments and challenges presented when constructing a contract of this nature as well as our relationship to sex. Nothing is deemed inappropriate as She talks frankly about giving blow jobs, just as He notes that She doesn’t know what she likes because she won’t experiment and find out what she likes on her own. It reminded me of ‘Oleanna’, a unique situation where there’s no winner and you don’t find yourself on one person’s ‘side’. It is simply an exploration into gender equality and the audience must do the grunt work in figuring out the message or dog whistle of the play. It refreshing and inspiring to see a play that gets so much right, it makes you think and laugh. It is superbly acted written and directed in a beautiful set.

  • Books on Sunday: The Shadow of the Wind

    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

    This is a book for anyone who loves books. That may seem like a redundant sentence but The Shadow of the Wind is all the things all at once. It’s about books, love, murder and mystery. Set in 1950s Barcelona, a bookseller’s son begins the deadly search for an author and the enigma and heartbreak that surround him. The novel is full of witty prose and is so eloquently told , you’ll think you’re there. I cannot recommend this highly enough, a book that will stand the test of time, a book you’ll want to tell your friends about.

  • 29 Ways to Stay Creative ... Apparently

    I found a thing on Tumblr. It goes a little like this: 29 Ways to Stay Creative! I like being creative. So I read it. It was a mixture of things; some weren’t necessarily ways to stay creative. Some were more like ‘Ways to Stay Human’, for example, 8. Drink Coffee. Coffee doesn’t make me creative; it makes me awake and a delight rather than the monster that crawls out of my bed. Some were more like ‘Ways to Stay Optimistic’, for example 18. Count Your Blessings. I’m grateful to be in country where I have freedom of speech and free education up until a certain point but writing is viewed as a hobby rather than a likely and accessible career path. I’m grateful to be in a society where creative is encouraged but rarely funded. Yes, I can count my blessings but that doesn’t help me to be more creative.

    There were some helpful hints; it’s not all new age cheerfulness such as 5. Quit Beating Yourself Up. A favourite of mine was 9. Listen to New Music. I would extend this to Take in New Art Forms. I hear writers talk about what writers inspire them but inspiration can be found in unlikely places. Got writer’s block? Take a wonder around an art gallery; a picture may inspire, a sculpture may make you think differently. There have been exhibits that have blown my tiny uncultured mind, for example, a collection of simple pencil sketches of children’s faces. These faces just happen to belong to some of the most ‘evil’ men and women in history. We forgot that they themselves have been scared, confused, innocent children. Music works too, I’ve been forcibly and consistently told to listen to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It’s weird but brilliant, it’s not songs but more poetry sung to music. It has a story to tell and the music is just a vehicle.

    It’s got the usual tips such as 12. Get Feedback, 13. Collaborate, and 21. Break the Rules. However, there was one that caught my eye, 23. Read A Page of the Dictionary. Now, crazy as it sounds, I’ve been thinking about reading the dictionary for a while. I’m glad you asked there are several reasons: firstly, my vocabulary is appalling. I use the same words and ‘very’ in situations where a synonym would be a much better idea. Secondly, I don’t know how to say a lot of words. I see them in the books I read; don’t quite understand but try using them to disastrous and embarrassing ends. For example, I tried using the word ‘coup’ in explaining the situation in Ukraine. I’m not entirely sure what the word means and apparently, this was news to me, you don’t pronounce the ‘p’. Thirdly, I just like learning. I like that I know aback is one word and abaft is an adverb for the back of or behind a ship. So I’ve started reading a page a day of the dictionary before I go to sleep with my normal book. I’m still on the As and only time will tell if I’ll take in all that information. But one day I hope to know that a coup is a sudden violent seizing of power from a government and it’s pronounced ‘koo’.

  • Ten Pages

    “Dear Charlie

    Thank you for submitting Shed to Scriptroom 4.

    We received nearly 2900 scripts, and our team of readers have been working intensively to sift through all submissions.

    Our readers were asked to consider what the opening of each script demonstrated about the writer’s voice and originality, their understanding of medium, form, genre and tone, and the strength of the world, story, characters and dialogue.

    Unfortunately, your script did not progress beyond the first 10-page sift which was the case with 85% of all submissions we received. This means that your script will therefore not be considered further and will not receive any other feedback.

    We hope you will not be too disappointed or discouraged – “

    TOO LATE! Sigh. 10 pages? Is that all I get? Is that all we get to make a first impression? That doesn’t seem right. I bet if I read the first 10 pages of some iconic pages, I wouldn’t rate them. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. I found three plays that I own and have never actually read or seen, and this is what I thought of their first ten pages.

    Let’s start with ‘Look Back in Anger’ by John Osborne, a story about a love triangle involving an intelligent and educated but disaffected young man of working class origin. First of all, the first two pages were stage directions so it read more like a novel. It certainly puts the reader in the right place at the right time, but hardly captures one’s imagination. After reading the first ten pages, I couldn’t tell where the play was going. There was little plot development or any sign of a ‘herald’, Christopher Vogler states that the herald provides the information that triggers the hero into original action. Unless there was subtle foreshadowing that I missed, this play lacked a drive and I felt no need to read on.

    Second, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler, a collection of monologues
    that each deals with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the various common names for the vagina, or simply as a physical aspect of the body. I can’t tell if I enjoyed the first ten pages because parts felt more like introductions, bridges in between monologues for the actors and director rather than for the benefit of the audience. I think I felt more inclined to read on as I also have a vagina and can relate to the parts I read which were about names and hair. It promises to be thought provoking and funny, this appeals to my taste, the subtle blend of crudeness and jokes.

    The final play was ‘Comedians’ by Trevor Griffiths, set in a Manchester night-school, where a group of budding comics gather for a final briefing before performing to an agent from London. Like ‘Look Back in Anger’ it starts with a lot of stage directions. Maybe the 50s and 70s were a different time in theatre, you could ask and get rather than think of how much is this all going to cost you before you settle on an ambiguous, pretentious description rather than how you want it to be. It wasn’t the easiest one to read as there were so many characters but I liked ‘Comedians’, it certainly was blooming before my eyes and I felt the urge to read on.

    I made some guesses of plots and twists, how the story would progress. I guess there’s only one way to find out! Now to read past the ten pages and see if the first pages are a hint of what’s to come or whether it’s just getting fluff and details out of the way before the real action can kick in on page eleven.

  • Murder Your Darlings

    It has been said by many people many times before. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch probably said it first: "Murder your darlings." William Faulkner said: "In writing, you must kill all your darlings." Stephen King felt it had to be said thrice: "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” At the beginning of every year, I like to have a little sort out. Sometimes its clothes, sometimes its books, but it's always my ideas. January comes around and I go on a rampage.

    I write down all my ideas. They live in various places such as note pads, scraps of paper, newspaper articles I have found particularly enraging. If I'm truly passionate, they get their own notebook and more research. Some are still one sentence on the back of a receipt. But when January comes, they all get the same treatment. I look at them and consider them; do they still have something to say today? During the time it has festered in my ideas box, has someone else written it before I can? Am I still enraged? Do I give a shit? If I am no longer passionate about the idea, it is discarded. Harsh but just.

    I have a lot of ideas and I need to prioritise, as you can see from previous blogs, I'm not the fastest writer; I'm also prone to extreme procrastination. Even before actually writing this blog I was watching Zero Punctuation; a games review with a fast talking host and hilarious metaphors. I haven’t heard of any of these games or even play games but I love Yahtzee. I went to check if I’d spelt his name correctly, I watched another! I’m awful! So if I had 1001 ideas there's no way I could write all of them, let alone have them worth the paper they are printed on.

    I'm also a believer in the timeless. Like the Greek greats and Shakespeare, they are performed today because they are relevant today. Despite advances, we still have dickheads in position of power, and plays that challenge that will always have something to say. As will tales of love, betrayal and revenge. I’m not saying any of my plays will be at this standard. When I’m dead and gone, I doubt I’ll be the subject of loathing because school children have to study my writing. Although, that is the dream. “What did the playwright mean when she said this?” I dunno, I was high on coffee! There is no deeper meaning, good luck you little shits. I don’t know if this has been encouraging, what I’m basically saying is: not everyone will love your darling as much as you do.

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