Acting is the lifelong sting of not being chosen

I wrote the following passage a few months ago now, and it felt a bit too ripe to publish in the heat of the moment, but the sentiment stands, and is, I imagine, something that recurs for other actor-creators too, and perhaps sharing it now it is at a safe distance can be of some worth.

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It’s been a while since I had something to say. It’s been a while since I had something to say that meant something to me. Since this blog has been less anonymous, I’ve also been less carelessly candid. It’s been a dry spell. But pain and writing have long been intertwined in my life, and right now I’m kinda hurtin’.

An actor dating a director, I’ve developed a nasty habit of typecasting myself. I am constantly hearing actors being ruled out for being too comic, too straight, too camp, too hulky, too silly, too homely, etc., etc. I’m sure this doesn’t make directors bad people, it’s just how they’ve learned to function efficiently. Conversely, in acting training I’ve always believed (was I taught to believe it? I don’t remember) that any great actor can perform any role. THE MAGIC OF THEATRE. If you believe it, they believe it. Etc. But… I’ve started to internalise the typecasting, physical and otherwise. Actors beware; if you’re going to put yourself on that side of the table and keep up the acting too, the perspective will take its toll on your ego.

Instead of being the go-getting ambitious actor I was a few years ago who created her own roles, writing new scripts every week for the fun of it with the tireless belief that each piece might be the next exciting project I got to act in, I’ve written less and less, and mentally cast myself in less and less roles. Why? I’m hearing myself say things like “So-and-so would be really good at that actually.” “I can’t do ____.” “My nose is too round.” “I’m not Hollywood enough. You want her instead. She’ll enjoy that.” Which is very selfless of me, bravo me. But no fucker else is going to be doing that for you, and they shouldn’t be either.

Now, I’ve long been in the habit of pretending I care less than I do, because it’s not cool to care. Not in interviews, not in auditions, not in relationships. “Oh, you care how this turns out? Um… O-kaayyyyy…” *Makes ‘help me’ and ‘crazy’ gestures at someone behind you, as if you’re so blind with crazy that you can’t see them.* I’ve been taught over and over that I’m not welcome at the party if I want the thing at the party.

Recently I discovered a TV series which made my heart sing and my brain buzz and I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to be doing.” It crept inside me and I started singing out loud and practicing accents and expressions and seeking out auditions and acting classes and agents again. (Don’t get me started on the endlessly deflating catch-22 of needing drama school to get an acting job to get Equity to get Spotlight to get an agent to get an acting job to get Equity…)

I suggested it to my partner while cat-sitting at a friend’s house, we watched it together, and it was all great fun and dreams were ignited. Kittens literally gamboled. And now that friend is making something in the vein of said musical wonderment, and they’re making it for someone else. And they happened to mention to my partner that they discovered it because he had watched it on their TV. So, not only am I not  in the running for my dream roles, (not putting myself in the running?) I’m being written out entirely from my own mini tale of self-pity about it. What am I left with? My own fucking ideas?  Have you forgotten what my brain’s doing to me? No thanks, I hate that guy.

I’m all for loving one’s own company, and building one’s own dreams, but fuck pretending not to care. I am fucking burning with want. It feels ridiculous to even have to say. I’m an actor, of course I want all the goddamn roles that have ever been written. I want to perform every classic as a one-woman show in downtown New York unused fire stations, I want to be shimmying across Broadway under the spotlight, I want to be standing next to Spielberg in photographs where he’s explaining how he wants me to do something emotionally complicated. I want all the lead roles, now and always, all the best and most demanding ones, all the ones that show range and give me a chance to be loved and hated  by committed audiences. And the funny ones.

And I will hunt those down. But it would be nice for the phone to ring sometimes too.

‘For a Kiss’: a postcard poem

Another poem written for my penpal, inspired by a vintage book cover postcard, though drawn from a real experience that lingered with me. There are tons of these postcards in my local Amnesty bookshop, for 30p each (or 5 for £1), which makes me happy. I go foraging there in my spare time with another writer friend.

I am currently really enjoying writing just for the fun of it, for myself, and to make someone smile briefly, and with no pressure to be technically (or at all) perfect, but letting go and writing anyway.

kisskiss

You can have it for a kiss, Miss
That rare, special issue of National Geographic
from the year and month of her birth

For a kiss

All she wanted was to hand over some change
in return for this treasure; a simple exchange

She looked at the grizzled banterer before her
She had not expected a challenge
to be noticed
to be put on the spot

Go on
urged her friend
It’s only a kiss

She shook her head
ready to turn away defeated, hands empty

The man relented in mock hurt
and gave her the treasure for nothing

‘The City’: a poem

You can meet anyone in the city
over the brim of a coffee
under the shadow of a bridge
with the help of the wind
mutter to a stranger of the rain
share knowing looks at ironic bad luck
in every tiny window lives another story
you know nothing of
and possibly will never
but possibly could

city

Inspired by this artwork by Kristyna Baczynski http://www.kristyna.co.uk/

(Written for my penpal, inspired by another of Kristyna Baczynski‘s awesome fishy postcards. I don’t even usually like fish! Thank you!)

This brought up feelings I always wanted to articulate about living in London and the feeling of vastness mixed with connectedness, which I still don’t think I could really communicate. I immediately thought of a city, and what city life meant to me, and after writing this discovered that that’s exactly what the artist called it! We are obviously in tune.

‘Margot’: a poem

I live on the top floor
just next to the surface
where I can practise the flute
and none of them notice
My name is Margot
and I’m looking up
my padre the crab
sees me as just a pup
none of them know
what I’ve got in store
but one day my name
is a doorway to war

margot

Artwork by Kristyna Baczynski http://www.kristyna.co.uk/

(A quick bit of folly written for a sea-spirited penpal, inspired by this postcard image by Kristyna Baczynski. Thank you for the stimulus!)

An exclusive interview with Alexander King, author of It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter

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Cover graphics by Andy Curry. Click on the image to buy the book.

Recently I was privileged enough to get an early glimpse at this debut novel from author-musician Alexander King. If that wasn’t exciting enough, (it was) he agreed to tell me a bit more about it, to share with you all on here (below).

I had a great time with this book. It’s a fast-paced, gripping social-media-social-commentary thriller. I liked it as a detective story, and a road movie, and as everything else it was, because it’s so much more. King paints affectingly the exhilaration of unexpected moments of human connection, and other poignant reminders of the sad state of modern-day interaction.

It’s full of cheeky, fun, clever uses of language and tasty characters. I can see it working really well on the big screen should we be lucky enough to see an adaptation. The world-building was immediate, natural and effective. It had terrifying parallels with our own reality. The ending was very satisfying, which is a big thing to say of any story, though I was hungry for an extension of time in this world when I finished reading.

Fun, thought-provoking, insightful and poignant. And fun. Looking forward to a second read, and to sharing it with my friends and family.

Anyway, enough of what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.

1.1 What’s the book about?

It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter is a sci-fi/detective story set in the near future, in a world where one social network knows everything about everyone. It follows Henry Thorner, a consultant who specialises in missing persons cases, trying to track down a young hacker called Tanner Griffen. The ubiquity of Ora, the world’s largest social network, makes his job harder as he’s “off-grid” and he’s trying to find someone who is an expert in manipulating the online world. There are twists and turns, murders and double-crosses and an explosive denouement.

1.2       What does the story mean to you?

On the one hand, it’s a way for me to pay homage to all my favourite literary and cinematic tropes, but on the other I’m exploring a subject very close to me, which is our digital life and how it’s changing, and whether these changes are a good thing or a bad thing. I had a friend who died young, and his social profiles lived on without him and it got me thinking about how much of our ‘soul’ is contained in databases owned by huge corporations.

1.3       Describe the route to this debut novel being published…

I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (2013) and wrote the first draft of 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote 1600 words every day without fail which was tough but a huge achievement personally. The book went through a long editing process, I think I did nine or ten drafts, with the help of an editor friend of mine. Once I considered it complete I had a cursory attempt at sending it to a few literary agents and had a few rejections before deciding to self-publish digitally. I figured I could bang my head against the wall of the literary establishment for a year while my story withered on the vine, or publish and be damned and have real humans actually read it. It was a no-brainer.

1.4       How do you feel about the cover graphics?

I love the book cover. Andy Curry has done a great job both on the concept and the execution. I like it because like the book title, it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve read the book.

1.5       Any chance of an adaptation?

I hope so! I’d love the story to be made into a film. When I wrote it, I basically played a film in my head and wrote down what I “saw”, so I think it would suit that media. There’s enough action in it and colourful characters to make it something I think people would watch. I’m also realistic enough to accept changes to the characters or stories if the book was turned into a screenplay by someone else.

1.6       What’s your Thing? Do you lean toward a certain style/theme/time?

I love stories with an interesting concept or premise. Something that makes a reader think and maybe see life in a different way. Quite lofty ideas but why spent months of your life on something if you don’t want to change a little corner of the world, or people’s perceptions? This book is an action/adventure novel and exploration of the human race as data in equal measure.

1.7       Why do you write?

It’s just another creative outlet really. I also write music for theatre and film, draw and paint and play guitar in a rock band. I often start with an idea then determine what media best suits it. I’ve got an idea for a play, for example, that I think is pretty strong, but that idea wouldn’t work as a novel. I’ve never written a play before, but it would be exciting to try.

1.8       Who/what are your influences/inspirations?

I love Philip K Dick, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Bret Easton Ellis, Ray Bradbury and all the big Sci-Fi writers.

1.9       Favourite writers?

See above!

1.10  What are you reading?

I’m currently reading I, Robot by Asimov and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I listen to audiobooks in my car when driving to and from work every day, and have a paper book on the go at home.

1.11  Describe your writing routine/ritual

I read a lot about the first hours of the day being the most productive and this has proven to be true. I get up an hour before my family (very early when you have a 3 year old!) when the house is quiet and nobody is asking me to do other things. An hour is usually enough.

1.12  Do you have an agent? Why?

No. It’s a bit early in my writing career and I feel I have to prove myself before I can seriously approach people like agents and publishers. I’m really hoping that the interest in It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter will create a bit of a buzz around what I do.

1.13  What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?

How easy it was. I paid a company to format the ebook to the acceptable technical standards, then used SmashWords to push it out to most of the online bookstores. Amazon and Google Play had to be done manually, but even they were just a case of filling out a few online forms and bingo – you’re published.

1.14  Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again?

Knowing what I do now? Everything! I pretty much learned how to write in the process of writing this book, which sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true. I thought I knew a bit about grammar and punctuation but when you actually sit down and analyse your work word-for-word it’s a real eye-opener. The plus side is that I feel more at ease about the idea of tackling another book.

1.15  Something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?

I teach Wing Chun Kung Fu, which I’ve trained for 16 years.

1.16  Would you identify yourself as a writer, or something else?

I would like to! I think having written a full-length book that I’m very proud of should qualify me. It’s not all I do, but I’d like to add it to my list of skills if that’s not too presumptuous.

1.17  What are you working on next?

I think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve got a half-baked idea for a novel with a lot of depth, probably a lot less action-based than It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter and more psychological. Plus I’m writing music all the time for some York based film and theatre companies and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time!

1.18  What’s your ultimate goal, writing or otherwise?

To be happy. I think that should be everyone’s goal. Everything you do should go some way towards making you a happy person. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, stop doing it.

AK

You’re welcome.

You can buy the book here, which you should, like, now, because it’s currently an absolute steal at £1.83.

Check out Alexander’s own website here in time for when you’ve finished reading the book and developed a totally healthy celebrity obsession.

Book Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

My first experience of this story was the 2007 film, which I watched a number of years ago when there was still enough of a World Cinema section in HMV to browse and buy interesting new gems from the world outside Hollywood.

I recently read the graphic novel for the first time, it having been given to me as a really thoughtful gift quite a while back and subsequently sat on my shelf for a criminal length of time.

The film, despite adding some nice depth and (somehow, using a majoritatively black and white palette) colour to the illustrations of the book, originally left me feeling a bit flat, and since reading the book I think I can see why: the book is just so rich and expansive, and while it’s a worthy story to develop into multiple mediums, a traditional feature-length animated film just can’t communicate in the same way that the book can. The snaking headscarves are one element that really do work on-screen; adding a sense of urgency and real threat to their confrontational appearances. It’s worth a watch, maybe even before you read the book, because the book was, for me, a more enjoyable experience.

Anyway, enough about the film.

The book is a treasure. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s been a while since I read anything so full of perfect snapshots of humanity. Having never visited Iran, it felt quite special not only to learn a tremendous amount more about its history than I ever did from the news or from school, but also to feel connected to the author, an Iranian woman with whom I had no idea I’d have much in common with, but who seemingly went through a lot of the same personal and social feelings and ideological questions that I did growing up. And, while emotionally universal, it’s a unique and landmark book. It’s not every day you read an illustrated autobiography detailing that a young girl has tried to pee standing up to understand someone’s point. ‘Marji’ maintains this objective curiosity (portrayed wonderfully by a kind of blank, alert look penned by the author herself) throughout the years the book covers, making her the perfect empathic window of a protagonist to vessel her experiences to the reader. She also illuminates little mental games she used to play to keep herself occupied, for example guessing the shape of a woman under her scarf, which is just joyful.

Ostensibly the story is about growing up in Iran during a time of war, change and unrest, and the events of the period are inextricable from her personal experience, but actually on finishing the book I was left with an overwhelming focus on the feeling of being human. Of connecting to someone halfway across the globe, born two decades before me. For that, I have Satrapi’s integrity and continuing self-belief as a spokesperson to thank.

Marji compressed into cartoon form, in her early years at least, is kind of like Bart and Lisa Simpson combined. She’s mischievous and fun-loving, passionate and philosophical. Throughout the comic-strip chapters we get to know her through dialogue with her friends at school and her family at home – mainly the latter, where her emotional and philosophical forming seems to have undergone the main course of its development. It is clear that Satrapi’s family was a strong community of which she was an important, comfortable, accepted part. She also delivers us informative asides detailing specific terms, making the story further accessible.

She moves on into an independent young-adulthood abroad and continues to travel and take in new experiences, until heartbreak drives her to homelessness, and subsequent illness, before she returns to Iran to reconnect with her family.

Of course, the subject matter could and does no doubt provide enough of a unique selling point for most publishers, but quite aside from the backdrop of the Iranian revolution and the Europe of the 1980s, I really enjoyed Marji’s company.

Find more book-related thoughts on my Goodreads.

Growing Down

As I grow older, I grow different. Six years ago, I entered into a relationship that would rather change me for the worse. Two years later, I surfaced with more than a few new issues. However, I got one really great thing out of it – a love of graphic novels.

Comics and graphic novels are genres that I had always considered lesser to classical literature and modern fiction, and had never bothered to test drive myself. I saw the artwork as tacky, the titles as cheesey and the concepts as less than vital. I looked down on them. How wrong I was.

With encouragement from said relationship, I began with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and moved onto Watchmen by Alan Moore. I was hooked and baffled. Okay so there were moments of cheese, but they were totally allowed to be there because of the incredibly complex, fundamental themes. The genuine exploration of timeless issues through fantastical filters. The highest rewards of escapism and intellectual and philosophical development. The open-mindedness, the acceptance, the willing and readiness to delve into a topic through the eyes of, for instance, some kind of space worm, without having to explain itself. Because why fucking not?

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Since then, friends have recommended hundreds of titles and series to me, and I can’t think of anything better than sitting down in my garden on a sunny weekend and reading a graphic novel. And it’s such a great thing to share and talk about. The more I think about it, the more I want to share all these cool stories with the people I know who don’t read comics yet.

I’m obviously very new to the area, and this stuff has been widely appreciated for many years, so I in no way know my stuff, but this is what I’ve found so far, and I’m really, really grateful for those who do know it being infectiously enthusiastic about it.

So, here is my recommendation. Take it, if you will. Read some comics – they’re amazing. Here are some of my favourites so far:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

“… two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.”

Refreshingly modern, blunt and beautiful, imaginative, colourful, thrilling, wholesome and magical, hilarious. One of the best, it’s still ongoing and there’s time to catch up.

250px-Saga1coverByFionaStaples


Fables
by Bill Willingham

“When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.”

Need I say more? This series is huge and it’s funny, dark, and familiar. An addictive train of ‘what if’s.

Fables

 

Sandman by Neil Gaiman

My absolute favourite.

“… an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps Death’s younger brother Dream instead. After his 70-year imprisonment and eventual escape, Morpheus goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine and an all-powerful madman.”

Gorgeous artwork ranging in style. Wonderful, dreamy, surreal narratives spanning the whole of time, colourful and chilling characters, epic backstories, and really clever design. I’m just in awe of Neil Gaiman and the artists working on this series. The original 75 issues were produced between 1989 and 1996, but Gaiman has recently started releasing a long-promised prologue series, ‘Overture’, which is just as exciting, beautiful and satisfying as the rest.

sandman-overture

 

Watchmen by Alan Moore

A groundbreaking classic tale of war, politics, conspiracy, life and mortality. A must-read.

“It all begins with the paranoid delusions of a half-insane hero called Rorschach. But is Rorschach really insane or has he in fact uncovered a plot to murder super-heroes and, even worse, millions of innocent civilians? On the run from the law, Rorschach reunites with his former teammates in a desperate attempt to save the world and their lives, but what they uncover will shock them to their very core and change the face of the planet!”

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Death Note by Ohba Tsugumi

“An overachieving 12th grader, Yagami Light is an aspiring young man who seems destined for success. Unfortunately, his daily habits bore his incredible intelligence–So when a strange black notebook falls from the heavens during his class, it isn’t long before he takes it for himself. In his room, he finds, to his horror/fascination, that the Death Note is real, and owned by Ryuk, a Shinigami (Death God).
Any person’s name written in the Death Note will die in 40 seconds…. without fail.
With this supposed gift of God, Light swears upon his grave that he will ‘cleanse’ the world of the evil and needless people that inhabit it, thus creating a utopia for all. With the world’s greatest detective, L, hot on his tail, will Light’s ideals prove too fantastic to realize, or will he succeed bringing justice?”

I finished reading this recently, having started it a couple of years ago and not quite been on the ball about hunting down the rest, but being very excited about receiving a Black Edition volume (thicker, combining two original volumes each, and suedey-feeling) as a gift, and later discovering that you can pretty much read the whole saga for free online, or even on phone apps. Like here: http://mangafox.me/manga/death_note/ (Scroll down for a list of respective chapters with links.)

It’s bloody thrilling. And what a concept. Tasty as hell. It does suffer a dip in excitement in the late-middle, but stick with it, the ending is so ultimately satisfying. I’m really looking forward to watching the anime series and even the 2006 film version, which stars the awesome Ken’ichi Matsuyama from Norwegian Wood – another film adaptation that I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Death-Note-Cartoon

But don’t take my word for it. Local libraries stock a ton of these, and here is a list of some of the biggest titles in the genre:

http://www.empireonline.com/features/30-comic-books-you-should-have-read

Also, if you own an iPad, there’s a fantastic app called Comixology, which is a dream to read on. It even offers a ‘guided read’ function for anyone like me who suffers a brain-fart when offered a full page of images and doesn’t know where to look first.

Happy discovering!