Thursday, 30 April 2009

Just another quiet, uneventful day

I knew that today was going to be hectic, but it was hectic in a different way from what I'd expected.

I was due to give a talk on Ian just after lunch out at Cumbernauld, which is maybe 45 minutes drive away from where I live. It was also deadline day for the paper I write freelance for and I'd covered a couple of events last night and taken lots of photos. Fortunately, I decided to get all the copy and photos sent first thing this morning to leave me free to do a couple of last minute bits and pieces before heading out.

Which was just as well, because my mother ended up being carted off in an ambulance to hospital late morning and I never made it to Cumbernauld.

Mum has been kept in at least overnight, to be monitored. The receiving ward she is in has more men than women in it and the man on one side of her has machines that are beeping away all the time and the woman on her other side is constantly asking what the time is and if anyone is going her way and can give her a lift. Knowing Mum, it will make her very determined to be discharged as soon as possible. Let's hope so.

In between times, I managed to exchange a couple of Emails with the publishers and the front cover of the book has been finalised and is now up on their website We Could Possibly Comment

I think they've done a pretty good job!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Rodent confusion

In my last Blog, Steady as She Goes I made a mistake in my response to one of the comments.

I mentioned the terrific scenes in To Play the King in which Francis Urquhart talks to the viewers whilst striding through the Corridors of Power. I quoted FU as saying "'Is the Prime Minister aware' - very frightening - like being mugged by a hamster."

At the back of my mind, I had a feeling it might have actually been 'a guinea pig' rather than a hamster and on checking the DVD just now, right enough it was the slightly larger species of rodent mentioned in the phrase. Actually, there were also some other cracking phrases included in FU's scornful description of the opposition leader egged on by the monarch - 'Yes, it's all very well tormenting the intellectually challenged' and 'dismal egalitarianism running rampant with the Royal seal of approval' being just a couple of examples.

Anyway, although my memory was faulty, it wasn't a case of not knowing my hamsters from my guinea pigs, as the latter is one of the few types of rodent we haven't had as pets in our home. We started off with hamsters and had a series of them - one cuter than the other. Here's the last one, Rocky (think we'd just seen the Rocky Horror Show at the time and particularly enjoyed it just before we got him).

He was a very sweet little fellow and very friendly and even-tempered.

We ( I say 'we', because my daughter Suzanne is the person whom they've belonged to ) also had some gerbils who used to love taking chunks out of plant leaves.

After we lost Rocky, Suzanne decided to get a rodent with a longer life span and she got a chinchilla (often confused with a chiuaua), Freddie, who was the most darling pet imagineable.

He was incredibly cuddly and friendly and I could sit with him on my knee, and let him run around the flat - and he was very amenable to having his photo taken wearing hats. Sadly, he became sick and we lost him before he was three.

We've now got Kylie, who's a bit mad and unfortunately we can't let her have the run of the place. Any time she has got loose she has dived straight behind the wall unit in the den and it has taken a great deal of sweat and tears (for all concerned) to retrieve her. Kylie eats like crazy, only seems to beg for treats from me, and whenever she hears one of the alarm clocks go off, she darts for the top of her 4-tier cage with a quizzical look on her face.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Steady As She Goes

I entered the world of Bloggers on 12 April and somehow thought it was going to be plain sailing. After all, once you've got to grips with the basics (and have a good friend like Brian Sibley to explain how to make your links look a bit tidier and YouTube clips ready to view), all you have to do is write - whatever you want.

Not entirely true as can be gleaned from the fact that I've just deleted half a dozen paragraphs of blogging I suddenly realised wasn't going anywhere.

I remember the first time I wrote to Ian Richardson, in December 1993, saying that his acting as Francis Urquhart and Andrew Davies' scriptwriting had inspired me to return to my first love, writing.

Ian wrote back and said 'why not - after all, all writers have to do is write, whereas actors have to wait for work to come along.'

That's very true but, as Ian came to realise through getting to know me over the years, people have to want to read what you've written for you to be a successful writer and it can be an extremely difficult and frustrating career path in the same way that acting often is.

Of course that assumes that you want your writing to reach a wider audience. Many people write just for their own amusement or as a means of therapy or organising their thoughts. Letter-writing can be a wonderful means of expressing yourself and sharing your life with others. Some writers are content to share their work with fellow writers and perhaps enter competitions but have no desire to attempt to get anything published.

But, to earn your living as a writer, it's necessary to keep writing all the time and be aiming to produce something that a publisher or an editor wants.

So, although I hope my blogs will eventually reach a wider audience, I have to bear in mind the fact that 'paid' writing and all the other jobs associated with promoting it, has to take precedence.
Which brings me back to combining this Blog with a little more promotional work for We Could Possibly Comment (you'll notice I've now added my author details - another task to divert me from here).

Here's a little illustration and reminder of the explosive power of Ian's acting.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Cutting the Mustard

A couple of days ago I received a copy of an article entitled Mustard brings back tasty fond memories.

It was kindly sent to me by the writer of the piece, Carol Ferguson, Feature Writer for the Herald Banner in Greenville, Texas, who had been in touch wanting to find out if there was any progress on getting the book published Matador.

I must admit that I'd found it a little galling that for many Americans, Ian was best known as 'The guy in the Grey Poupon commercials'. What cheek, I thought, when you consider all the wonderful performances Ian gave in his 15 years at the RSC; as Henry Higgins in the 20th Anniversary Broadway Revival of My Fair Lady; and in a vast number of great screen performances - IMDB

However, reading Carol's article, I discovered that the advert, run in the 1980's, was highly successful - three in all were made and,

"American consumers were willing to venture beyond yellow mustard and pay a little more for Grey Poupon with its air of sophistication and its unique flavor. Sales rose, and marketers later said Grey Poupon was responsible for the fact that the standard American supermarket today has an entire mustard section rather than just the ordinary yellow product.

Another kind of fame came its way when Richardson's line, 'Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?' was chosen as one of TV's 100 greatest catch phrases in a survey by TV Land cable network."

So, I suppose I have to acknowledge the fact that the adverts - which also starred Paul Eddington (who played another famous TV Prime Minister, Jim Hacker in Yes Prime Minister) did indeed have a big impact on Americans, though I would hope that our friends across the Big Pond will have seen many more of Ian's great works.

As it so happens, Ian also helped sales of another product - the malt whisky, Bruichladdich. Was he seen in an advert for the drink? No - but it was the favourite tipple of Francis Urquhart in the House of Cards series. I remember Ian telling me that the distillery was in the doldrums until HOC was broadcast in 1990 but then experienced a revival. The boost of sales brought about by it being seen to be 'FU's' drink appears to have been short-lived, however, as the Isle of Islay-based distillery closed in 1994. It was, however, bought over in 2000 and completely remodelled Bruichladdich.

So, what could be more enjoyable than having some Grey Poupon on your steak and relaxing afterwards with a glass of Bruichladdich.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Parliamic Pentameter

Up getting the shopping in the local supermarket, I came across a book that just had to make it's way into my trolley.

The Parliamo Glasgow Omnibus, by Stanley Baxter (Birlinn) - with great illustrations added by Bob Dewar in 2008.

Parliamo Glasgow

It's a must for those who spent many a happy hour watching the Stanley Baxter Show.

Phrases like 'Erra perra perrs on ra flerr ar'rerr' - (There's a pair of pears on the floor over there.)

'Geeza punna burra furra murra' - (Give me a pound of butter for my mother)

have remained etched in my memory.

Opening the book to a chapter entitled 'On a Glaswegian Summer Holiday', starting with a description of the Glasgow Fair, you can find gems such as

"As I hastened into the street to join in the revelry I found the air filled with the traditional festival song - 'ERRARAINOANU... SCUMMINDOONINBUCKITS!'

It's all self-explanatory, of course, but just in case you are struggling a little, it translates as 'There's the rain on now... It's coming down in buckets!'

Parliamo Glasgow, seen on the Stanley Baxter Show and Stanley Baxter Picture Show in the '60's and '70's, parodied the adult education programme Parliamo Italiano, with Baxter acting as the 'language professor'.

You'll notice the way the words are strung together, giving Parliamo Glasgow a unique rhythm all of its own. Phrases often begin with gems such as Gonnigeese (are you going to give me?)
and the inquiring Zarra (Is that a?) with Zarra Marra Oanra Barra Clarra (Is that a marrow on the barrow, Clara?) being a true classic.

Here's a little taster

Time for me to Pirrasoackinit until next time!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Value of Writers' Groups

If you are at all interested in writing, in whatever form, then I strongly recommend joining a writers' group.

In 2000, when I was keen to be a scriptwriter, I checked out what was available and joined the Glasgow Screenwriters' Group. It was a great source of inspiration and support and helped me to achieve some progress on the screenwriting front, even if I didn't quite make it as far as getting any of my scripts taken up.

When I decided that I needed to broaden my writing horizons I discovered, through the Scottish Association of Writers, that there was a rather good group on the other side of Glasgow. I joined Strathkelvin Writers' in 2003 Strathkelvin Writers and have been there ever since.

The Club caters for all writing needs - articles, short stories, novels, poetry and drama and the members have a wide range of experience, from beginners, to highly published authors, like Margaret Thomson Davis Margaret Thomson Davis

Strathkelvin is a highly friendly, supportive group and has been responsible for launching the careers of many a writer. At last night's meeting, for instance, there was a 'work in progress' session at which members, myself included, brought along pieces at various stages of readiness and read extracts from them. The reward for 'putting ourselves out there' was a lot of positive feedback, constructive criticism and suggestions for possible markets and ways of developing the writing.

One thing I've always found to be a joy as a writer, is the level of support shown by fellow travellers along the long lonely road, and the genuine pleasure we feel about each others' successes. I remember the first writer I contacted, scriptwriter par excellence Andrew Davies - he couldn't have been more helpful - and I'll never forget the late Jack Rosenthal taking the time to make a 45-minute call to me to talk through a script of mine he'd agreed to read.

Recently, whilst I was striving to get my book on Ian Richardson completed, I received tremendous help and encouragement from Brian Sibley, who did a great job editing the book and still continues to provide support in the 'post natal' stages. Brian, by the way, is an excellent writer and his entertaining and insightful Blogs make for compulsive reading.
Brian Sibley

For several years I've been attending the Scottish Association of Writers' Annual Conference
Scottish Association of Writers

and the Writers' Summer School at Swanwick, Derbyshire Writers' Summer School . This year, in their wisdom, they've invited me to run a non-fiction course.

At both of these gatherings, not only have I learnt a great deal, but I've also made many lasting friendships.

So, the point I'm making is that one of the best places to be for a writer, is in the company of other writers. And if you are starting out, or even somewhere along the road, why don't you find out if there's a writers' group near you? If there isn't, you could find out if there is a published writer in the area who might be willing to help, or contact your local council and see if they can help.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Just in Case

In my youth, I was never a Brownie or a Guide, and I've been compensating for it ever since.

At home, I kept a little single ring gas stove for years - just in case there was a power cut.

I've always believed in weighing down my handbag with lots of useful items - just in case. Things like a magnifying glass, lighter (though I don't smoke), safety pins, miniature torch, notebook and pens, spare tissues.

On holiday I always pack plenty of just in case items - Swiss army knife and scissors, plastic cutlery, a medicine chest, more footwear than I'm likely to need, washing line and pegs, a few plastic hangers, bedside torch and other bits and bobs.

Perhaps this need to test my neck,shoulder and back muscles to the limit also comes from my imagination. Ever since I can remember, I've had characters inside my head who have ended up stranded somewhere - in the desert, in the snow, on an uninhabited island, and managed to make sure that they've taken enough items with them to keep them alive until rescued.

A new phenomenon - or at least newish as far as I'm aware - that has got me quite excited, is the torch that doesn't need batteries. Think of how fantastic that will be next time I've got someone stuck in a cave and they happen to have infinite access to a source of light!

Mind you, I sometimes forget that I'm not present in these adventures. I was in Tesco the other day and I came across one of those torches on a band, you can wear on your head. And it was of the wind-up variety. I almost bought one before realising that with the kind of life I lead, I'm unlikely to ever need it.

And when I purchased a new backpack for my swimming gear, I decided I didn't really have to stick an extra costume away in a pocket just in case I forget to take one. After all, I generally put the costume on before I leave home these days, so it just isn't necessary.

A pity that, because it would have come in handy when I went to get dressed after my swim and shower this morning and discovered that I'd left my undies at home.

Some people might be quite happy to go commando style but when, as my blogsite name reveals, you are rather top-heavy, the nipples at waist-level look doesn't flatter. And if you also suffer from slight bladder weakness, getting safely home without sneezing or coughing adds a little anxiety to the journey.

I did make it home without mishap, so my little adventure ended well. But, I think I will stick that spare costume in the bag now... and knickers and a bra - just in case.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Writing a Book

One of my main reasons for becoming a Blogger was the fact that I've just completed a book, We Could Possibly Comment: Ian Richardson Remembered, which in the process of being published by Matador.


When I sent the final manuscript to Matador, an imprint of Troubabor Publishing, a fortnight ago and signed the contracts, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The principal reason for that was that I knew that what I'd set out to do - honouring a greatly missed, much-loved friend and brilliant actor - was at last coming to fruition.

I also thought, rather naively, that I could at last take a little breather - get my accounts in order, have a much-needed clearout of clutter that was screaming out for freedom, and do a bit of wardrobe-pruning.

Silly me! No sooner had I emailed the book to Matador MD Jeremy Thompson, than he sent me an Author Questionnaire to complete. That took a few days, including a 'photoshoot' after my skunk-like hair had received the tint and highlight treatment. Unfortunately, I haven't quite found out if Photoshop will help airbrush out a couple of chins yet.

Then came a link to my author's webpage on their site - to be populated, of course. Another task - after getting this blogsite set up.

On top of all this, I need to get the photos for the book finalised and since they are going to be in black & white and need to be 300 dpi, plenty of work to be done on them.

Well, that doesn't seem to bad after all. Except... I need to let people know about the book, starting with more than 50 contributors, including Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, John Sessions, Brian Blessed, Stacy Keach, Joanne Woodward. I've done the email, but of course many of the people who so kindly gave their input aren't on email, so I'll have to compose letters to them.

'Tell everyone you can think of'' - I'll make a list.

How are you going to promote it? I'll need to think of a suitable venue for a book launch plus make a list of bookshops to approach about a book signing. Book festivals - good idea - will get started on the research. Publicity - will need to get quotes for posters, flyers, postcards. Will I get a teeshirt made too? All things must be considered.

Somehow, I think that the clutter will remain and that I'll have to continue trying to shoehorn clothes into my groaning wardrobes and drawers.

I'm not complaining. It has helped me realise that there's more to writing a book than... writing a book and that the 'post production' work is considerable. I'll know what to expect with the next one - and that it will be a little while before I can get started on it.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Dipping my little toe in the water

Well, I knew this day would have to come, eventually - my entry into the world of Bloggers.

It's quite a daunting thought, but as a writer, I hope that it will come naturally - and that I'll be able to come up with interesting, intelligent and at times witty things to say.

What do they say - it's better to live in hope than in expectation?