Mobile writing room

I have a lot of train journeys coming up.  I could have hired a car for but why? What luxury to be seated on a train with ever-changing landscape and fascinating tail-ends of cities to observe – all those gardens, kitchens, sheds and conservatories to look out on; all those other lives to imagine. The comfort of a rattling tea trolly or bar to visit, and conversations to listen into and jot down, AND you can write, think, muse and not have to steer anything except yourself occasionally to the loo.

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Apart from walking and swimming, I’ve probably had more writing ideas on trains than anywhere else – something about the movement and the gentle hum of voices and ready material all around.

I can still recall London train journeys from my childhood: sitting on bumbling old trains with that particular itchy seat cloth, looking out on stringy suburban gardens as we took an overground to Kew, or got off at Mortlake – or some other such marvellously bizarre named station. Clapham junction, Blackhorse Road, Wapping, Gospel Oak, Turkey Street, Seven sisters, Hatch End, Bushy . . . poetry in motion.

I’m a writer, really I am.

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A well-established author acquaintance recently told me to say this in the morning when I look in the mirror – well, often half a day passes or more before I look in a mirror, but it was nice of him to say it as he meant it.

I have ‘been published’ – short stories and a children’s book but am seeking that real affirmation that what I do currently is as good as friends and contacts have told me – and that my work could be published and put on shelves in shops.

Hoxton got as far as submission and has been turned down after I had waited in that rather comfy little bubble of hope for a considerable time. Yesterday I moped a little but soon recovered knowing I just need to find the right person at the right point.

Here’s an extract from my other working novel, developed from a short story called The 158th Book, where the main character, Hamish (at this point in hospital after falling though a floor) asks himself the question: when is it OK to say you are a writer.

The ward is quiet this morning, just the sound of the squeaky-wheeled medicine trolley and my adjacent neighbour reading a crossword out loud. He stops, exasperated by a clue.

    “Hamish?”

    I turn, wincing a little at my shoulder’s protest.

    “Leroy?”

    “Dog crossing undefined wilderness sometimes in underwear’. First letter P.”

    I look at his old black face, grey eyebrows furrowed in friendly question and wish I could help. Crosswords always elude me.

    “. . . er. Something to do with the night sky?”

    He peruses the page again: “P . . . mm. Nope. What about, ‘oves snared within foliage’? Three words starting with S.”

    “Sheep-eating plant.”

    “ . . . . S. H. E.E.P. Yes . . . man, how’d d’you know that?”

    I’m stunned myself. “I just remember feeling horrified that there is actually a plant that reaches out and grabs large animals.”

    “Not in London?”

    “No. Peru, I think. Although, apparently brambles can do the same thing.”

    “Blackberry plants can eat sheep?”

    “Not as such. It’s the thorns . . . the sheep gets stuck as it tries to free its wool from the plants, gets more stuck and eventually dies, thus nourishing the bramble bush – for ever pretty much considering the size of the animal.”

    Leroy looks impressed. “What did you say you do?”

    “I’m a writer.”

    He nods, smiles and goes back to his crossword and I sit there thinking about that phrase. ‘I’m a writer’. Do you become a writer when someone with special powers says so – like a chief editor at a major publishing house? Or are you allowed to just say, ‘I’m a writer’ if you write?

Oh, I remember those

 

How exciting cassette recorders were back in the 70s. I recall receiving one for, I think, my ninth birthday. It was oblong and black with chrome (plastic) bush-button keys at one end: stop, start, fast forward, etc, and I loved it, mainly for inventing and recording, with a group of friends, The Muck-spreaders, a  piss-takes of The Archers. The days before Youtube . . .

My current book is set in 1985, the main character being somewhat techno-phobic, like me. After being told by his ex-wife who can never get hold of him that he must purchase an answer machine, he ventures into an alien environment to do so . . .

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An hour later, I’m walking up the Tottenham Court Road in a post-beer dreamy state, mind still buzzing from Mr Narche’s extraordinary words. In passing I glance in the window of one of the many electrical shops and notice amongst the avalanche of sleek and grey, a display of answer machines. Time to join 1985, Hamish – within reason.

    I step into the burrow of technology and stand gawping uncomprehendingly at the mass of bleeping, flashing . . . stuff.

    “What you after today, sir?”

    I jump at the voice coming from behind the counter. A youth clad in a satin purple and turquoise outfit is grinning at me. He pushes a hinged lid down on a small rectangle of orange plastic in front of him. I can just make out the upside-down words: Donkey Kong.

    “What is Donkey Kong,” I hear myself ask.

    He looks at me as if I have travelled in time from 1837.

    “Game and watch – hand-held games. There’s tons ‘appening – the future innit . . .” He gives up realising his adolescent enthusiasm is wasted on me. “VCR? SLR? Pack of VHS?”

    “Actually . . . I just want an answer machine – a simple one.”

    He nods: “Right-o,” lifts various chunks of plastic off a shelf, places them reverently before me and instructs me in their various attributes. I glaze over after forty seconds and point at one with a rather fetching band of real wood veneer.

    “That’s nice.”

    He says something that sounds like: ‘sgdtfsj’, ‘tvjjjdsds,’ and ‘sdchduhd’, plus it can, ‘dcsdumaadd’.”

    I smile and say I’ll take it. A boxed version is found, slid into a slippery, yellow logoed bag after which I hand over the required sum, walk out into real air and wonder what just happened.

Stalking the plot

Why do writers get drawn to a particular place when setting stories? Familiarity obviously, knowing your patch of earth and not writing total inaccuracies, yes, but to me its more than that. The characters have to feel alive in their placings, whether content or uneasy there; and I have to feel a connection with the environment to make the words convincing.

Not always the case totally. I’ve invented parts of deserts, the outskirts of Las Vegas, the interior of a mega-yaght, outer space and heaven; not so easy to visit as, in my case, London – my default choice.

London: place of my childhood and a large part of my adult life – I still find myself checking, (with horror-widened eyes) the price of a nine square meter box-flat in Bloomsbury every now and then . . .

I visit when I can; plan a day of galleries and museums and then find myself walking and walking, like a slightly arthritic greyhound let out from a trap in my sub-consciously chosen direction for that day.

Two nights ago I sat in my rented nine meter-squared box – (part of the wonderfully cheap and homely St Athans hotel in afore-mentioned Bloomsbury) and planned my ‘flaneur’ day. This time I had a sort of self-imposed directive: my character Smithi’s walk from Shoreditch church to the Princess of Wales pub on Lea bridge Road and back via the Hackney marshes. Although the tale is set in 2070 and everything would be no doubt somewhat different . . .  I wanted to walk the route – Google Earth is incredible but not the same thing as actually pacing the roads.

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Starting point outside the hotel

 

I left the hotel at 5.30 (insomniac writer) and walked – a lot, in the wrong direction, retraced my tracks and found all sorts of new places I’d never seen before such as St Georges gardens and a building called the Horse Hospital. I also wasted a lot of time trying to find a café that would resemble the steamy, formica interiors of my student-hood. Nope. In the hypercenter all those soul-warming places have disappeared under a tsunami of Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Sob.

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The pub, Lea Bridge Road and boats

As, these days, my legs protest at too much striding I allowed the flaneur activity to include a bus: the number 10 to Clapton pond – not quite the same process as buses tend to stick to their decreed routes and don’t veer off, distracted to then take a new and undiscovered path. There is a pond! – smallish with ducks and trees surrounded by throbbing traffic and sulking pigeons.  I walked on to the pub, which was was closed but I paced around it imagining the lama-roasting scenario I had planned – (good that works), then continued along the river lea and towards the Hackney Marshes, via an intriguing area of ancient reed beds used for filtering the water from the Lea; onwards over a metal bridge, up Millfields lane, stopped at the wonderfully-named Cooper and Wolf  café (formica and ancient stuff, great tea and buns, yes!) up Mare street, Clapton Rd, Graham Rd and onto Kingsland Rd and St Leonard’s Church where I flopped onto a pew and imagined the interior of the vestry that features largely in my series of books.

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Wilderness within London

So, the plot route was walked, photographed, sketched and is now firmly planted in my mind. Now to rewrite that section with all the colour and noise of streets and the strange tranquility of the river Lea, reed beds and the marshes.

 

 

Words brought to life

Following on from last post.

Two photos by Nick Lockett of Paddy and Debbie Turner performing extracts from Hoxton, featuring Mark Lockett on suitably ropey accordion.

A few props, excellent acting and some well-honed accents brought the Londonia 2070 streets to Wirksworth Town Hall.

Thanks all of you!

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Wirksworth festival

About twenty years ago I lived in a fascinating little town set in the Derbyshire hills – Wirksworth; place of winding little secret lanes, ancient church, many pubs, glorious countryside and eclectic mix of people – original Wirksworthians, artists, musicians, teachers, etc – many people drawn to the town for its unusually ‘genuine’feel – no chain shops or cafés . . .

After a few years, a group of friends including myself, started up an art trail to encourage people to explore the town’s very interesting architecture. A couple of seasons on the art trail became attached to the festival, which then grew each year to become what it is now – a nationally recognised and much appreciated yearly art and music event.

This year, Mark (musician husband who also worked on the festival in the early years) and myself have been invited back to participate.

Mark will be performing, ‘Resonance’ a series of piano works influenced by landscape, and I will be ‘assisting’ (not quite sure in what capacity yet) with the performance/readings of extracts from my novel Hoxton.

Londonia 2090 – extracts from Kate A. Hardy’s novel Hoxton, performed by The Sureditch Drinking House Players

DATE: TUESDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016
TIME: 7.30PM
VENUE: THE TOWN HALL
EVENT TYPE: PERFORMANCE PROGRAMME

Hoxton is with an agency at the moment, so I won’t have books to sell – who knows what further edits will lie ahead . . .  but I will have copies of my short stories available – Dog, and Other Tales. And . . . I have been assured by a grammar specialist that my gut feeling about a comma after Dog was the right decision, ha! (Does anyone really know?)

Wirksworth festival starts from the 9th of September and runs for two weeks. The art trail is on the first weekend, this year showing over a hundred and fifty artists’ work.

 

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Cats Like Plain Crisps

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somebody’s cat – sorry not sure whose, or whose image but we don’t at present have a cat to photo, with or without crisps

At present I’m re-editing my short stories with a view to making them into a ‘collection’.

What to call the book? one of the titles perhaps? or something random; something to encapsulate the wandering, miscellaneous subjects . . .

As sometimes happens, my brain (and I assume with most other peoples’) suddenly decided to present me with a curious phrase I haven’t recollected for about forty years. Cats Like Plain Crisps.

The whole figment came back to me – complete in every detail:  1974 or so, Mum driving round a roundabout in West London in the aged Hillman Minx; me in the back staring out on a grey, sleazy day after a school holiday spent in the Hovis-ad-like countryside of Dorset.

Mum, negotiating the rush-hour traffic and probably saying ‘bugger off’ to other motorists, failed to acknowledge this wonderment of graffiti – hand sprayed in large black letters on the blank end of a house, but I obviously logged it away for use forty years later.

Except . . . that it’s actually quite well documented. I checked on Google and there are images of the writing, not of the wall I had seen, but other walls, and on bridges, and padlocks, even. Apparently the first ever ‘Cats like plain crisps’ was scrawled on a kitchen wall in a Grosvenor Rd squat, Twickenham, and then reproduced possibly by the same wonderfully-deranged person in other areas of West London.

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Oh well, just another 40 million words/phrases to choose from . . .

Weasels Dislike Chamber Music?