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.

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.

Here For You

I’ve gone through a few changes of perspective over the past few years. Maybe it’s just been in the past year. It’s certainly been more concentrated in the past year. “Everyone seems to be having babies and getting married and settling down.” That’s been a thing for a while, and, as I’m in my mid-twenties, I’m sure it’ll continue to be a thing for a while yet.

About eighteen months ago when my youngest brother was born, I held him in my arms for a few hours and had a huge cry. A big fat, ‘Where is my life going?’ kind of cry. I wasn’t thinking about the funeral we were going to that day, or much else in any kind of structured way really. Rather, the feeling of sitting there, quietly, spending time just looking at something small and delicate, breathing, just blew me open. My whole body heaved out a release of emotion with no real instantaneous cue. I felt aghast at my own reaction.

I think there was a lot of pent-up confusion inside me then, which was possibly just a time bomb waiting to go off at the slightest sneak of a smile from something that didn’t yet know politeness, like a puppy or a baby. Some hint of pure, unguided affection. But the baby did eke it out.

These days I feel a lot more relaxed around babies. I don’t need to be around them. Don’t get me wrong, your baby is adorable, and fascinating, and I will more than happily babysit, but first, I came here for you.

There is a silent tragedy playing out in the lives of a lot of new young mums. People make a bee-line for the baby and tend to forget about the mother. They stare at the little one, desperate for cuddles. Desperate to assert their stamp of maternal maturity. People who had no interest in the mum before are suddenly clamouring to see them on a regular basis; good friends forget about them and get that Christmassy level of excitement about spending time with Baby. They forget about what would really display an expert level of maternal understanding – knowing what’s best for the mum, and for the baby. When to entertain and when to be calm, when to give baby back. I’ve noticed that some people don’t really get this. They think that, in ‘wow’ing over the children, they are flattering the parents, and to a certain extent I’m sure that’s often true. But I see a lot of parents slipping into the audience when Baby takes centre-stage. It’s interesting to notice the look of someone who is not being watched.

It’s understandable, when you see this, that a lot of mums get jealous, or depressed, in the early days of motherhood. Or, indeed, the later days of it.

I’m here to tell you that I love your baby because it’s yours and I love you, but that’s as far as it goes. I understand the need for adult conversations, reality, and down time. Yesterday I caught up with a friend who has a one-year old daughter, and we ended up chatting for ten and a half hours straight. Ten. How often do you get that kind of time? It was uninterrupted fun. Her daughter was there, sure, and we had a few cooey moments, no one was ever ignored, but it was ultimately about us. Which was fantastic.

Life goes on, babies grow up, and this fascinating and captivating thing about tiny little people is a transient phase. And that’s fine. Because I came here for you. You may be a mummy now, but you’re still my good old friend.

What are your thoughts or experiences of introducing new babies into families and friendship circles?

27

It was my birthday this week. The inevitable internal stock-take becomes me. The past two weeks, I have mostly been:

Playing Yellow Car
Performing nightly in an original Fringe show, and enjoying it more each night
Wandering the Brighton seafront
Painting myself grey
Trying to read, but getting distracted by good company
Playing tourist at museums and stately homes
Giggling at the names of roses
Sharing rooms and swapping beds
Reading reviews
Meeting my friends’ families and loved ones
Watching free live comedy
Having vivid dreams, and apparently grinding my teeth, which is new
And, of course, thinking about a boy. Frustratingly dull, but true, and perhaps a pattern I am destined to follow always.
Thinking about the largeness of life, the wide, open world of opportunity and excitement and new connections and journeys
Feeling inspired and relaxed to a point of meditation, by the sea
Feeling proud of my company and our ideas
Feeling closer to my companions

I said a week ago that I felt “old and tired”. I think this is somewhat untrue since then. I feel refreshed and ready to move on to a new phase of life. My company is taking exciting new steps this year and I am very happy to say that I think we are making personal progress together too.

I am sorry I haven’t written in a while – I had been distractedly working on a series of posts about music, but have been suffering on and off from insecurity, or apathy, with my writing over the past several months. I have neglected a habit which used to serve me very well. More to come, and soon.

Slipshod Sugary Female Thinking

(… Thank you, Mary Poppins.)

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This year’s greatest achievement so far…

Happy new year! A pinch and a punch for the first of the month, and no returns. And other traditional nonsense.

Today I am filled with excitement and optimistic energy for the coming year. I feel rested. I have had a rare week off, with absolutely no agenda, so sleeping and enjoying oneself have taken vital priority over the Christmas period. I am sitting here watching A View to a Kill with a good friend and the dog, and probably going to watch The Hobbit for the second time later on. Banana bread has just come out of the oven, (my second batch in two days; I intend to cook more from now on) the house is clean thanks to my brand new Henry, and I have furniture and finishing touches for my bedroom on order. I am wearing Mary Shelley around my neck.

For the first time in about five years, this year I went ‘home’ for Christmas. When I say home, (I have a few hometowns) I mean the Forest of Dean (or rather, Gloucester this time, as little bro’s all grown up now and has a place of his own, where I stay) and then Ivybridge, in Plymouth. I got to see my mum and oldest younger brother, (twenty-three) which was lovely, and then my dad, step-mamma and baby brother, (nine months) which was just as lovely, and different. Christmas was a quiet, subdued affair compared to the drinking, music, large family gatherings and games that I have been used to.

In the place of forced tradition and routine and scheduled fun, we spent our time ambling around at a leisurely (very, including the spa day mamma took me on) pace, doing exactly as we all wished, eating, walking, watching films, and going to look at animals (perhaps a trivial-sounding activity but oh-so-revered in my humble view – visiting Pets At Home is something I like to do regularly, just for a quick fix of furry company.)

I taught baby bro to wave, which he apparently now does at Guinevere on Merlin, (they think she must sound a bit like me) and anyone who waves on TV. He’s a bit of a screen-lover, and grabs at phones whenever they’re in sight. He loves Skype, and phonecalls, and seems to respond to familiar voices now, which is absolutely lovely. He has skipped crawling and gone straight to walking while holding onto nearby thumbs. He loves being outdoors and near water, and squeals every time a dog goes past. A man after my own heart. I had a great time staying with them and can’t wait to go back. Saying goodbye was actually quite hard, simply because I remember how far away I am.

Last night, per tradition of a few years, I spent new year’s eve with a bunch of my closest friends up North, drinking and catching up and dancing like fools to nostalgic tunes from our teenage years. I was then, and am now, filled with warmth and gratitude for what and whom I have around me, because it’s all pretty damn great.

A few things I will take from 2012:

  • Day-jobs are okay as a part-time compliment to your true passion. You can benefit from different kinds of work bringing respite from each other, and challenging and exercising you in different ways.
  • Sometimes, love is not enough.
  • I am capable of change, but I find it quite incomprehensible until it happens.

And I think that’s enough for now. :) I am going into 2013 with an open mind and heart, and a bit of slipshod sugary female thinking. I wish peace, love, health and happiness for you all.

25 things about me

1. I’m a good girl. I can’t lie, steal, trespass, or anything else ‘naughty’, without panicking and getting caught.

2. I have an unhealthy obsession with the song ‘Forever and Ever‘ by Demis Roussos since I read the script for the play ‘Woman And Scarecrow’. For some reason that play touches me.

3. I care about the spines of books.

4. I was meant to be foreign.

5. I have lost people I’ve loved, that will never even know who they were to me.

6. I don’t do seafood. Keep the slimy, non-air-breathing aliens away.

7. I get about as much of an orgasm from hearing minor notes on a piano as you’re said to get from sneezing. Maybe more.

8. I love to sing, and desperately wish I could do it in front of people. This is not an option.

9. I feel a bit behind in life; I was always top of the class till I got told in year nine that your intellect plateaus at a certain point. Now I feel stupid, slow and clumsy. This upsets me, as I have always taken pride in being graceful, dignified and clever.

10. I wish I could remember more. One of my earliest memories is of climbing over the wood chippings pile behind our shed, past the big tree we made a swing in, to play with Charlie, the boy whose garden backed onto ours, where we made sand castles and watched Andy Pandy videos with his mum, Gay, who taught me there was more than one meaning to that word.

11. I was a loud, vibrant child who talked to everyone, until I started school. Thus marked my gentle decline into the recluse that I am now. I am still the one who replies to group messages, hosts unsuccessful parties and calls you first.

12. Language is important to me because it’s one of the few skills my parents passed on.

13. I always forgive once. I am learning to be stronger, whatever that means after the first mistake.

14. I believe everyone has just as much right to be in the world as anyone else, to have all the good things in life, to achieve whatever they want, to be loved, without hindering others in their own. Whether they choose to do these things is up to them.

15. I try not to take life too seriously, although I panic about the smallest things. There’s got to be some balance. If you took the big things seriously, surely that would be too much.

16. Deep, deep down, I know I’m worth it.

17. I like holding hands and hugging. It makes me feel whole.

18. I want to see as much of the world as possible, excepting the Middle East, which just doesn’t appeal as much.

19. A part of me wishes I’d been Catholic, some for the rosary beads, some for the drama of confession and sin. However I am not religious, though I see good in Buddhism.

20. I hate being unable to solve a problem, or help my loved ones.

21. My brother fell down the library steps at Haringey when he was two, and now has a scar on his eyebrow which makes me jealous because it looks sexy. The same year, he dropped a toy gun out of a window at our mum’s friend’s new house; for some reason that also stuck with me.

22. I am actually, honestly, not lazy, and my ideal wake up time is 8am. Unfortunately my job on lates at the cinema disagrees.

23. I can’t hold my drink, and I can’t take drugs. I don’t have the physical withstanding. Party pooped.

24. I would like to live in black and white.

25. I have a lot of love in and around me.

Hello cruel world. And other drama.

Okay.

This is me. It is all true (and part fiction). I am here to vent, to heal and perhaps to develop.

The name is what I want to call my daughter, should I have one.

Okay.

As I was waiting at the doctor’s today in a packed reception, there was a woman whispering in French to the man next to me. I liked that. All the children’s toys had been removed to reduce the risk of infection. At one point someone received a text, and everyone heard the ‘INCOMING’ missile sound bite from the computer game Worms. I liked that.

I am hoping, or imagining, or whatever, to be diagnosed with depression, or whatever it is that keeps throwing me into this black hole, so I can take steps and get on with my life. I feel useless, lazy, lethargic, weak, and emotionally worn out. I cry a few times every day, I have had panic attacks over the past few months which have increased to at least once a day over the past week. I feel like a crazy person. I have a loving, perfect boyfriend, and I waste our limited time together each week by picking fights from insecurities and paranoia.

We are at different points in our working lives – he has one year to go at uni, I have been in the real world for a year having finished my degree, which, I’m sorry to say, got me exactly nowhere. I got a 2:1 in Theatre and English, and now I serve popcorn to people who pick quarrels with the staff over the fact that they can’t use certain vouchers for “Meaty Balls 3D”.

I am: twenty-three, unchallenged, disillusioned, self-obsessed, alienated. I do it to myself. I do. Me and no one else.

I know I have a book in me; I have written plays, poems, stories. I need a new project. I also need to start helping myself before I ruin a relationship I could happily end up in, and waste my youth.

Thus, I will from now on love myself and others, only open my mouth when I have something positive to say (or some evil that needs to be vanquished), and follow affirmations to get me through what feels like the longest-yet dark period in my short life. Or just, to begin with, to get me through the day.

Friends, family, lover, I love you. You have all taken care of me and the only way I have to repay you is to write.

I will start my positive outward vibes with some letters inspired by a stranger called Asia. These made my relationship what it is. Or, what it was before I freaked out.