Wednesday, 30 April 2008
The flu lasted twelve days before I began to feel like writing. In the meantime, I've had to take a week off work. It cut my monthly income by a quarter. Helpfully, the bank then hit me with one of their illegal charges and I received a demand to pay more tax to Mr. Brown.
Earning a living must be easier than I make it appear. The life of the uber-celebrity is far less glamorous than you'd expect.
Spending a living is so easy that even a fool can do it. However, this fool is still prevaricating about applying for a course in creative writing. I know it’s an indulgence. Where will I get the money? Channel 4 don't fund their stars through Higher Education. I should simply sit down and write a new book.
Today, I sat down and tried to write. I wrote 1000 words but tomorrow I’ll write none. I’ve spent an hour, tonight, standing in the rain. I was waiting for an ambulance to arrive and take a close relative into hospital. These things keep happening to me.
Some people say that life is worth all the struggle, just so long as we're standing near Bill Oddie.
I'm beginning to doubt it.
Monday, 21 April 2008
And here's the desktop in the context of my immaculate desktop.
It's all a bit embarrassing, I think. If I were feeling at all well (and I wasn't preoccupied by Oddie snivelling behind the curtains) I'd change the desktop and tidy up my desk. As it is, I barely had the energy to get down to my den and back. I have Swearing Mother's meme to work on but I'll do that when Oddie's gone and I'm feeling better.
(Oh, I am supposed to tag people with this meme but take this as an open initiation to tag yourself. Did I mention that I've got flu?)
‘How will you forgive me?’ I asked.
‘You've eaten bird,' said Bill, 'I don’t think I can ever forgive you.’ And with that, he took to hiding behind the curtain. As much as I tried to ignore him, his sniffling stopped my falling back to sleep and the occasional damp patch appeared through the drapes whenever he blew his nose.
‘Doesn’t it matter to you that I’ve been so ill that chicken soup was the only thing to cure me?' I eventually asked. 'Aren’t you happy to see your old friend, Dick Madeley, feeling better and nearly fit enough to rejoin the world?’
The truth was that I’ve had one of the oddest cases of flu in my life. After two days up in Manchester, I returned home last week knowing that I’d have seven clear days to make real progress on my next novel. Only, when I got to work on Friday morning, I knew things weren’t quite right. My ankles were painful and I found it hard to concentrate. I went back to bed hoping to at least use the time wisely by reading a book. I slept most of the day away and H.G. Well’s ‘The First Men in the Moon’ remained unopened on my chest. By seven o’clock, the flu was in full control of the Madeley district. A curfew was imposed on all my good nature. I was shivering despite Judy’s habit of keeping the house at a solid 27 degrees and there was no part of my body that wasn’t aching. I was not easy to live with and I think Judy was quite relieved when I retired to the world of the Discovery Channel where I watched ‘Mythbusters’ for hours on end.
The weekend was a blur of hot flushes, spells of shivering, and explosions. A chesty cough developed and kept me awake at night (luckily, they show 'Mythbusters' in the early hours too) and I also suffered terrible earache which had nothing to do with the hours spent with detonating crash test dummies. What was odd about it was that my nose remained clear. In fact, it was better than clear. It was much more breathable than it is on an average day.
My temperature finally broke sometime last night. I woke up this morning feeling fragile but well enough to eat something. Judy had contacted Fry who had recommended a fresh chicken put through a blender. You might say that I’m only typing this because of the power of poultry.
As for Bill, he’s still behind the curtain. As I said, it’s been a very odd dose of flu.
Monday, 14 April 2008
I managed to get through the show with the minimum of trouble. Bill Oddie was sitting backstage with a dart gun filled with mild tranquilizers. His job was to watch a heart-rate monitor and fire a dart into my buttocks whenever it became apparent that I was getting too excited. It worked well until I watched Russell Brand receive his award for best biography. I was suddenly filled me with such rage that the darts didn’t work. Oddie missed with one which lodged itself into Jordan's forehead. The poor girl was struck dumb. It was left to Dame P.D. James to leap up on stage and pin me down during Russell’s acceptance speech.
Now I’ve had time to calm down, I’m left to reflect on what has been a week filled with unique events.
First there was kindness when help came from a totally unexpected quarter. A complete stranger contacted me and helped me with my search to find an agent.
Then there was helpfulness. The agent rang me and talked to me for 25 minutes during which they gave me some very helpful advice.
Then there was frustration. Back up in Manchester, I was mildly scolded by a producer on ‘Eye of the Storm 2’. If I didn’t need the work, ‘Eye of the Storm 2’ would be looking for another presenter.
Finally, there’s vacillation. I’m considering returning to education. The last week's sequence of events has convinced me that I need to have some direction in my life. There has to be something more than 'Eye of the Storm 2'. And writing blogs is fine but they are hardly the stuff of novels. The agent told me as much, advising me that there’s no book to be made from this blog. It means that I have to rub out 190,000 words from my list of publishable material and to write something big and new.
Which leads me to my hesitation... The local University runs a creative writing course. I’m tempted to apply for it. How I’d pay for it, I have no idea. Whether they’d accept me is open to question. And how this would help me, I’m really not sure. But as I told Stephen Fry when he rang me on Sunday morning, since he's been in America, I’ve been missing that spiritual straight edge to run my pen along.
Monday, 7 April 2008
It’s my ‘writing CV’, you see. I don’t have one. Having spent most of my career in front of the cameras, I haven’t enough writing credits to my name. I started to jot down my résumé at one minute past two and finished thirty seven seconds later when I couldn't decide if making a plumb tart with Antony Worrall Thompson live on ITV counted as a ‘professional production’. The fact that I’m now ready to send my competition entry to the BBC’s 'College of Comedy' means nothing if I don’t have a CV.
As you know, the irony of this is that I am Mr. Comedy. I’ve starred in more funny YouTube videos than any other living man except for David Hasselhoff. My impression of Ali G is in the Comedy Hall of Fame. I’ve also studied comedy, theorised comedy and I’ve interviewed many of the greatest comedians, including Lenny Henry, Les Dennis, and John Leslie. I’ve also written 190,000 words on this blog in addition to screenplays, sitcoms, novels, short stories, and poems. And I still maintain the seriousness of my intention to get my ‘Epistle to Jeremy Paxman on the Stat of His Sock Drawer’ included in the next Oxford Book of Comic Verse.
I’m now at the stage where I wonder if I shouldn’t be as creative with my CV as I have been with my script. I was thinking of something along the lines of: ‘at a recent performance of my slapstick routine in Manchester, I was widely applauded, with more people laughing at my antics more than those of the professional mime artist who shared my billing.’ By which you know that I mean to say: I recently fell over in the middle of the street, much to the amusement of Manchester’s shoppers.
Speaking of which, I find myself with a few days before I head back up to that fine city. Having finished proofreading the script to ‘Eye of the Storm 2’ last week, on Thursday I begin work on ‘Eye of the Storm 3’. We will be introducing a whole new range of climatic conditions to the show as we explore gusts and gales. However, before I fall silent, I wanted to say thanks to the people who have written to me lately. I’ve had some very generous responses to my friend’s problems regarding his publisher. Nothing has yet come of it and nothing might ever come of it. However, it’s always reassuring to know that there are people out there willing to help the friend of a multimillionaire television presenter. You all have my thanks and need only ask if there’s anything I can do for you.*
* This does not include: financial assistance, publishing deals, babysitting, lifts, proofreading, help with tax forms, catering, cups of sugar, borrowing my lawn mower, or any other yet-to-be-determined duties.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
In the end, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in my shaving mirror and refused the dubious honour of being sandwiched between Denise Van Outen and some Blue Peter presenter. It would appear that it was the correct decision. It would seem that half of London is as appalled as I am in the way that the Suger Babes have hijacked the Olympic flame and used it for their own purposes. I gave a cold shiver as I watch BBC News 24 as the Sugar Babes’ bus drove past the protesters and the dumb music drowning out the intelligent chants. It put me in the mood to do my own spot of protesting. I spent my morning replying to not one but two requests for help from struggling writers.
It’s only because there have been two of them in the space of a couple of hours that I’ve decided to comment on a regular phenomenon. People see what they only want to see when browsing the web. They see only what applies to themselves, what enhances their own reputations. They want the easiest path to success. I can hardly blame them. Yet neither of the authors had bothered to read my blog. They simply wrote to me, assumed I could (and would) help and then launched into long descriptions of their books and offers to send me a copy.
As any of my regular readers would know, I’m a man always willing help a friend. However, I must draw a line at people who sidle up to me on the great internet pavement and ask for the price of a publishing contract. This is not an attack on these young hopefuls but had they bothered to scroll down the page beyond my email address, they might have read about my own struggles. Rather than help them, I’d happily encourage them to give up. The whole world is engaged in the process of writing books and the more I can do to encourage rivals to abandon their scribbling, the more chance there is that my own highly amusing novels (which are sure to sell millions) will find a home.
Friday, 4 April 2008
Despite having read 'The Lord of the Rings' a number of times, in addition to 'The Silmarillion' and a few of the volumes of 'The Unfinished Tales', I don’t consider myself a huge Tolkien fan. I also thought the films trampled on the books like a runaway Oiliphant through a tavern full of hobbits. Even three huge four hour blockbusters flattened the stories. I’d like to forget the films before returning to the books. It was details on the smaller scale that I always enjoyed about the books, in addition to which they never really did justice to Aragorn.
I always think of Strider as a version of that windswept Madeley we only get to see on walking tours of the moors.
Now that my competition submission if written, I’m going to give it a final polish, add a few more jokes, and then send it off to the BBC. I doubt if they’ll like it. It’s probably far too Channel 4 for their tastes, what with all the midgets and macaroni cheese. Perhaps I should ask you to judge it for me before I waste postage sending it. Only, that would require my publishing it to this blog and I’m not so keen on giving it away for free. Why let the competition know what I’m up to and give them a chance to write something better, with more midgets and cheese?
Liberated from my mental struggles, I’m now in the mood for a walk. I always have my best ideas when I’m walking. I fancy nipping to the local Tesco and spending money on strange forms of bread which I’ll never eat. However, I mustn’t. This is a month for tightening the belt, readjusting the braces and even rearranging my sock drawer. I don’t even intend to buy a single book this month. Well, that’s a lie. I bought James Wood’s ‘How Fiction Works’, which I recommend without reservation if you’re into intelligent writing about books. I think it was buying this book that shook me back into activity. Thank you Mr. James Wood. (And I loved you in Salvador.)
However, I have one bit of bad news. My bad luck is clearly spreading. I can only give you ample warning that if you find that you have inadvertently given yourself a paper cut, you must sever your arm at the elbow to stop the bad luck spreading to the rest of your body. I send this advice out to Elberry, in particular, who I see has failed to get funding for a PhD.
I suggest to him that he write his thesis anyway. Those of us who lack the patronage of a publisher to fund our writing must struggle to do what’s important to us. I see that he makes the point that office work is tiring not because it’s difficult but because it’s easy. I understand this so well. I think it was Joseph Heller who wrote 'Catch 22' in his spare time, at night, after working all day (possibly in a proofreading post in Manchester). I’m trying my best to write after a day working on 'Eye of the Storm 2' but I would say that the majority of we mortals cannot succeed like that. The analogy we’re looking for is that of a car’s gearbox. Any driver will tell you that it’s impossible to move immediately from first to fifth gear. The two extremes are equivalent to the way the mind works when doing office work and doing original writing. You need to build up speed to do the latter. This can take hours, if not days or weeks. The other can be done as soon as your arse hits your office seat at 8 o’clock in the morning.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
I’m only passing on this news in order to assure you that, as of 15:46, my luck has still not changed.
A sign of getting old is how you handle a fall. There was a time when I’d bounce along the road and regain my feet after a couple of neatly executed somersaults. Pedestrians would cheer, applaud my exploits and a few would hold up cards displaying figures no lower than a perfect ‘10’. Yesterday was different. I had all the elasticity and bounce as a sack of King Edwards.
This morning I’m aching all over. I’m grazed on knees and elbows and my right eye is black. I’m also reflecting on how it’s all the fault of a mime and how this pernicious evil needs to be eradicated from our society.
Mimes are tricky sods. One minute you’re walking across Manchester’s Deansgate after enjoying your lunch break in Waterstones browsing through the books of Henry Miller. The next you’re walking past the Arndale Centre when you find yourself distracted by a mime. He was standing on a box and playing with a glass ball which seemed to float as his talented hands move above and beneath it. It was a display of that grace, poise and balance which was sorely lacking when I missed my footing and went sprawling out across the concrete to the gasps of my fellow pedestrians.
A moment later, a man was at my elbow. His thick Scouse accent was so alien in Manchester.
‘You alright mate?’ he asked as he took my elbow. I just readjusted the beret on my head and felt thankful that my disguise had not come off, despite my face cracking against the pavement.
‘I’m okay,’ I said, feeling embarrassment more than the pain in my knees and cheek. ‘It was that damn mime,’ I explained.
‘Evil silent bastard,’ he muttered in agreement before he disappeared back into the crowd.
I cast a final look towards the mime who had not even reacted to the drama being played out before him. I would have thought that he, more than anybody, would have enjoyed my pratfall, but he just continued to move in his silent world where all glass globes float on white cotton gloves.
I tuned my back on him and ducked into the nearest side street to escape the scene of my humiliation. Only then did I cast an eye towards the heavens and demand of the higher powers what they want of me. Why are they teasing me like this? What have I done to upset their cosmic sensibilities? Has there been some mix-up in the great balancing act? Is it because one of my middle names is ‘Mugabe’? Was this mime sent down to punish another man by that name?
Today I’m staying indoors and while Judy enjoys a day digging in the garden, I intend to write some more about mimes. I want to understand more fully the threat they and their cousins the clowns pose to the world.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
Tonight I've had cause to reflect that some of us are simply too nice. A horrid little word this 'nice'. I hate being nice. Let me be arrogant, deceitful, ambitious and only in business for the quick profit. I despise my own affability, my easy going nature, my reluctance to do harm. Let me make money and damn the consequences. I normally try to see only the best in others. From now on, I want to see lies. I believe everything that people tell me. Let me begin to doubt them. I also believe in the old myths about hard work being rewarded in the long run. I see that it's all folly.
It's not easy to write this evening. The tenses all feel wrong. The first person is far too remote.
You see, this all begins with my friend, another generally affable sort who also writes a blog, putting the finishing touches to a novel. A publisher asks to see his manuscript. Compliments are exchanged. An offer to publish the book is made. A contract arrives. It's far from a generous contract. People who know about these things advise him to send his manuscript elsewhere. I advise him to look for a better publisher. I tell him that the contract is not right right for him. But the writer is an affable sort. He wouldn't do that to the only people who have shown any faith in him. He's loyal, you see. He lives by certain old fashioned principals. I keep telling him are going to ruin him. Yet he's never been adept at putting a price on his own skills. He accepts whatever terms other people offer him. He often works for nothing. So he signs this contract despite the fact that he won't see any money for at least a year. Even then it might not be very much.
All this happens some months ago.
My affable friend finishes writing the book and spends weeks working on the final proofs which he duly sends to the publisher. All this time, he's struggling on very little money, falling deeper into debt. Then it all goes quiet. He hears the occasional bit of news about the book. He learns that an illustrator has been paid to produce a picture for the front cover. The artist earns money from the book. My friend, the writer, doesn't. But he's affable so he doesn't complain.
It all goes quiet again but this affable guy notices that his book is listed on Amazon and that makes him very happy. He rings me. 'It's going to happen,' he tells me. 'Soon.'
Today, my affable friend had a long and not particularly enjoyable day at work. He explained to me that the job is tough because it's mundane. It's slowly destroying the guy's spirit. I share his pain. I know what it's like. As you know, I am in a similar position. Yet he also tells me that he wants so desperately to escape the trap of debt. He's only working to keep up the repayments on the debts he's amassed after a long time studying and writing, neither of which have made him rich. Quite the reverse. He should just take a job, five days a week, and earn £20,000 a year. He's a bright guy. He has good qualifications. Probably better than 99% of the people in the country. But he just wants to write. He wants to make people smile because he truly believes that it is a moral way of living.
But it's still a struggle. He's only getting through the days because he knows that he's got a book coming out. He's not in the 8 to 5 rut because he thinks that he is really a writer. He believes in his own talent. He refuses to become the suit they force him to wear.
Only, tonight, he arrived home to be informed that his book is now not being published. 'It's complicated,' he tells me.
I reply that I should hope that it bloody-well is complicated.
But now he's angry. He's also in tears. Yet he's still affable. He says that he can't hold any of this against the publisher. He argues they were in a difficult position. I agree. I tell him that their business didn't have a sensible business model. I say that I didn't believe in the books they published. He admits that he too had doubts: that if they could publish 'those' books, was his own any better? That's as much conversation as he can take. I come off the phone having shared his agony and having felt his pain. I too shed a few tears before I sit down to write.
Now I am left wondering what he really feels. Disappointment. Anger. Frustration. Despair. Perhaps even relief? I suspect that he is beginning to think what he's always feared: that his book wasn't that good, that he's not that talented a writer, and that he's fooled himself for so many years. I should imagine that he feels embarrassed given that he has told people that he was having a book published.
If I were him, I'd try to stay calm and to use his anger to spur him on. He should write to the publisher and explain how he feels like he's been used. He should tell them that they took his dreams and did the worst thing possible: they made them 'almost' come true.
Tonight I've only managed to write because my friend has fallen silent. How I wish it were so very different.