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Friday, February 25, 2011

Writing a new play

I’ve just been commissioned to write a new play for AsOne Theatre Co.  Its about the Lyme Regis scientist Mary Anning. I thought some of you might be interested in the process that I go through that ends of with delivering the finished script to the company.  If I make occasional notes on my blog it might also help me concentrate on what I’m doing and thus with meeting the deadlines.  

So where do you start when writing a play?   Obviously a bit of research into the character but not too much at this point.   I know a bit about Mary Anning and what she did but i don’t want to get bogged down with detail.  The first process iinvolves lying in bed trying to imagine one or two stage pictures.  These begin to give me the flavour of the piece.  How do I want it to look?  Even at this stage I know how many actors will be involved, what sort of venues it will play in and what limitations or opportunities there will be in the staging.   I also know that we’re going to aim at it family and, possibly, schools audiences.  On the other hand I know there are plenty of biographies and life stories of the great Woman so I want to find another way into telling her story.  Not a simple biography, then.  A single point of view;  Mary’s own view of her life.  I already have a picture that I’d like to work from – Mary standing on the cliff just after the landslide has buried her little dog Tray.  A simple, evocative image.  And then there’s her own shop in Lyme with the glass cabinets full of cleaned and prepared fossils.  Perhaps she could show us round her cabinet of curiosities.  Opportunity for some nodels or even puppets.....   Now perhaps, I’ll read one or two of the biographies and see what has already been written .  Then I can avoid what’s been said and find the sort of gaps that are the places a playwright can fill in with imagination.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

She Opened the Door

A wonderful review.  Click on the link above.

Its very heartening to have such a fine review but theatre is a collaborative art and the writer and director only share some of the credit along with the actors, designer, sound and lighting, projections and crew.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


From Cafe Conversations by Peter John Cooper

The woman calls on her mobile

Hello....  Oh hello Andy.  I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday darling.  You’re not in at home so I’ll try you at the office.   Happy Birthday  mwaa mwaa.

She tries again

Hello.  Hello.  Oh yes, I wanted to speak to Andy Stapleton.  He’s not at home and I can’t get him on his mobile so could you put me through to his office.   No, I don’t know his direct number.  That’s why I’m coming through the switchboard.  Well, I haven’t got it.  It’s Jane his wife, I’m away for a few days.  I haven’t got my address book.  You must be new.  Yes, Jane....  No?  Never mind, I’ll try again in a few minutes.

A few minutes pass.  She tries again

Hello, yes, it’s Jane Stapleton.  That’s right... Andy.  Could you try him again for me.  No?  Well, would you give me his direct number then I won’t have to bother you again.   No.... I’ve got his mobile.  I’ve already left a message....  I know it’s not company policy to give out personal numbers.  Of course I know his home number.   I live there.  I’m his wife.   No, don’t get him to call me at home because I’m not there.  If you remember, I said I’m on holiday.  I just wanted to talk to him.  It’s his birthday.  Never mind. Just put me through to his office.  It’s marketing somewhere.  No?  Not answering?  I expect they’re in the morning meeting.  They do drag on a bit.  I’ll try again.

She drinks another cup of coffee

Hello?  Jane Stapleton.   Yes, Andy Stapleton’s office please.  No?  They’re usually finished by now.  Do you know whether he’s still in the building?  Yes, yes, I know.  Well, do you know where he’s gone?  I mean he’s not picking up his mobile...  Well it is quite.  Not earth shattering.  No emergency.  I just wanted to wish him Happy Birthday.  Why?  Because it’s his...  So that he’ll know I’m thinking of him.  He’ll think I’ve forgotten...  No, I can’t.  I’m on holiday.  I’m away for a few days and I wanted to wish him happy Birthday.  Look, I’ll try again in a few minutes.  If you could find out where he is in the building..  Yes, I think you said he was still there.
Another cup of coffee

Hello?  Andy.  Oh Andy... I’ve been leaving messages all over. Happy...  I’m sorry...yes, I know you don’t but I just wanted to say Happy Birthday darling... I mean it is your birthday... even the office...  Yes, I know the pressure you’re under.  I understand...  I know.  I just wanted you to know...  Look, please don’t take it out on me...  Please... Not now...   You what?  Pardon?  I didn’t catch that..  You...  I don’t understand...  Andy... are you sure. I mean, but when?  You can’t today....  Why not?  It’s your birthday.  When I get back... What do you mean you don’t .....?  You can’t.... Nonsense. It’s my home as well.  Not like this.   Andy, not like this.  It’s that new girl, isn’t it?  You know the one I mean.  The one on the switch board.  All hoity toity and “it’s not company policy.”  Andy, I know you wouldn’t, couldn’t, have thought of this on your own.  She’s just after your money.  She’s too young.  Andy....  How dare you.   How dare you.  I’ve never...   Of course, I’m losing my temper.  I’m upset.  I’m hurt.  And I don’t care who hears.  It doesn’t happen like this.  Not after this time.  I know it happens to other people but we aren’t other people.  We’re...  you and me.  Andy and Jane.  That’s who we are.  How am I meant to tell people?  People that I meet.  My friends.  How do I explain it?...  On the phone... It’s not...  It’s crazy... It doesn’t happen like this. Let’s sort this out properly.  Wait till I’ve got home.  I’ll come now.  Straight away.  We’ll talk about it.  Properly. It doesn’t matter about the rest of... We’ll talk about it.  We’ll sort it out.  Andy, don’t you dare ring off...  

But she has been talking to herself for some time

Andy...  Andy....

She turns to everyone else who is now listening

 I just wanted to say Happy Birthday. 

She weeps

Sunday, February 13, 2011

St Michael and All Aliens

Every time I walk down the track over the railway line and see the barn in front of me, I get a certain sense of satisfaction.  I may have been away for months or weeks or even just for the afternoon but it’s always the same. First there’s a whiff of nostalgia when I catch sight of my father’s old leather covered armchair under a pile of fertiliser bags, but that soon gets elbowed out by a sense of tedium, depression and even pain.  “A rich kaleidoscope of rotating emotions” as Gary would say.   This is my barn, my farm; it was my father’s briefly, my uncle’s and then my grandfather and great grandfather before that.   Their efforts to scrape a living for their families and descendants were heavy, hurtful and stifling.  Their lives and deaths hang  round my shoulders and I will never shake them off.   The pain is that I see the land and buildings corrupted with neglect which I have no inclination to overcome.  But spilling out  over everything is this sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction is that I have a television production company in London.  I am rich.  I do not have to work the farm.   I live in the farmhouse on a whim and the land and buildings and machinery rust, rot and decay and I don’t have to do a thing about it.

It is my Mother, of course who prevents me overcoming the negative aspects of my existence.  It is, I suppose, a mother’s role to keep reminding you how hard your father worked in his short tenure of the property, how well he kept it.  How neat the buildings were, how he worked every hour of daylight and long into the night and how she had to go cleaning floors in order to let me stay on at school for the A-levels, which I flunked.  This, I entirely accept and completely agree with, but ultimately, silently ignore. I can live here how I like.  My mother has her bungalow across the yard and is comfortable.  Or would be comfortable if it was a concept she was able to grasp.  So much of her life has been devoted to aimless, endless drudgery that she now misses the whole point of what life she has remaining to her.  All she has to do is to get a big car and someone to drive it and she could spend every afternoon and evening out enjoying herself instead of sitting here, sometimes for weeks on end, just waiting for me to come down the track so that she can harangue me on the state of the outbuildings.

Naturally, for all the hours I lie awake at night wondering exactly which part of her body to stick the carving knife in, I am a dutiful son.  I sit all afternoon and listen to her litany of discomfort and disappointment in me.  I call a cab and take her out for lunch and remain silent at her exposition on her digestion and how it prevents her enjoying her food.  I promise to get a contractor in to tidy the yard up but It is my labour she wants to see.  Me she wants to see out there with the old Fordson with the front loader sweeping away the piles of rubble left over from when I had the pool dug.  Me she wants to see white washing the milking parlour and installing new equipment and a herd of pedigree Jerseys.  Me she wants to see in the yard at four in the morning calling up the cattle for milking.  Me she wants poring over calving records long into the night. 

I’ve even had a go at it, once or twice.  When the company originally went ballistic and I had some more time and a lot more money on my hands I did think that what I really wanted to do was to run the old farmstead.   I felt it would look as though I had really made it.  I would be the only one in West One who had a real need for a Barbour and a Range Rover.   But in the end I found I had to spend more time than ever attending premieres and receptions and all the stuff necessary to keeping a successful company afloat and besides Barbours were strictly passe by then.

Then, when we became one of the top ten companies in our field I thought of selling up and returning to my heritage.  The idea was that this time I get a manager to do the hard stuff and I could wander round in old jumpers and join clubs in the village. Actually, it wasn’t my idea at all and I had to go to some lengths to get out of it.  My only heritage is that of escape.  I had broken the ties that kept my family’s face in the dirt for generations.  Now there were no links with the past.  St. Michael’s Farm had been my embarrassment in my teenage years because it was the name in other boy’s underpants.  I could do without reminders of any of that.  My heritage was a millstone of drudgery and effort round my neck that I had broken free of.  And for ten years I have been free.

 Ten years ago I was married with dogs.  The dogs weren’t mine.  I was brought up to believe that it was unkind to keep animals as pets.  Dogs needed to work for a living, so should be kept outside where they wouldn’t go soft.  There were words about whether Snapper and Griff should live indoors or out.     Now I keep my trailbike in the big, brick built kennel in the corner of the yard and there are no animals at all.  The great thing about not having pets is that you can stay out as long as you want without having to hurry home at feeding time.  I don’t have a Range Rover now or even a car.  When I travel up to town I go by bus from the main road at the top of the track to the railway station in Wareham.  In London I stay in hotels.  It’s a lot of money but I can afford it.

I always try to be at the farm for Christmas so that I can be with my mother.  Apart from that, I come down as seldom as I can.  People come to see me over the summer because they like to have a few days by the sea-side whilst they’re pitching an idea to me.  I don’t ever let them stay.  They’re better off at The Grand or The Pines or, if they’re just starting out, The Sea Glimpse Bed and Breakfast.  I can’t remember the last time I had anyone to stay.  It would have been a lot of hassle, I’m sure, with breakfast at set times and cereal and marmalade to get.  When there were dogs I remember running out of dog-food one Sunday and having to phone for a cab to pick some up and bring it out.    I wouldn’t want all that aggravation. My mother never comes in.    She thinks I keep  the farmhouse in a mess. So If she wants to see me she phones and I pop over to the bungalow.

In London, it’s all different.  Silk shirts from Jermyn Street.  Hand made Italian loafers.  Breakfast whenever I want it. At work people are pleased to fetch and carry for me.  I like to give them things to do to keep them busy.  At least, that’s what I tell Gary to do.  It’s a happy company and I listen to what people have to say and give them time off when they want it but I do like to see my people busy.   When somebody asks me what I do, I’m always at a bit of a loss what to say.  We have lot of work on so there’s a lot of people doing a lot of things.  But nobody notices if I disappear off to the farm for a few days.  I mean, it’s my company but I don’t actually have to do anything myself.

Then one night, having got the last bus back from the station and walking down the track in the darkness feeling my usual mixture of depression and nostalgia overlaid with satisfaction,  I saw a UFO.  Now, I’ve lived here all my life.  We’re only a few miles from the tank ranges and we’re surrounded by sea so I know all about flares and Very lights and helicopters and target drones.  I’ve seen reflections off the clouds of searchlights and lasers from the roofs of the discos on the front.  I’ve seen mirages of ships’ lights.  This was  a perfectly standard Stephen Spielberg UFO with bright white search lights and rotating circles of coloured lights which hovered for a few minutes and shot off vertically upwards at incredible speed.  I suppose the only unusual part of it was that there were no beings in sliver suits and big, slanty eyes and there was no time lost out of my life, at least the clock said twenty past eleven when I got in and unless the bus was prehistorically early that night there would have been no time for me to have been taken away to the mother ship for strange items of microcircuitry to be inserted up my nose.

You can probably tell from my tone that I’m fairly cynical about these sort of things.  You’re right. Basically anybody who claims to have been abducted by alien beings gets consigned in my mental filing system to the same drawer as reincarnated pharaohs and people who have seen Elvis in a launderette in Hounslow.  I'm not too sure about the mental stability of people who claim to have seen UFOs.  I’m pretty sure that they are Anoraks who see flares or Very lights or helicopters or target drones. They’ve probably seen reflections off the clouds of searchlights or lasers from the roofs of discos.  They might even have seen mirages of ships’ lights.  What they won’t have seen is genuine Stephen Spielberg type UFOs. 

This puts me in something of a quandary.  It has always been my contention that Anoraks who spend their time hoping for close encounters on Wiltshire Hill tops would be better off watching the TV.  Preferably “What A Living!” or “It Works for Me” which could have been doing better in the Autumn ratings if only more people would stay at home and watch them.  Ironically, we had a team working on a revamp of “It Works for Me” on the very evening I saw the UFO.  That’s why I had travelled down to the farm.  They don’t seem to like me hanging about when they’ve got big sessions like that on.  I always used to keep on hand so that I could OK the final decision.   I used to make them coffee and go out for sandwiches whilst they thrashed things about.  I got very good at Minesweeper during those meetings.  But now we have a really good team in place,  Gary says I’m not even needed for that.

The UFO thing was a bit of a worry at first.  I couldn’t decide who to tell.  My Mother would have accused me of attention seeking and the Guys in the Office might have decided on some sort of tacky documentary.  I’ve put together one of the best teams in the business but it doesn’t mean they can’t do tack occasionally.  I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Gary who seems to have certain abstract tendencies.  So the best course seems to not mention it all.  You can’t be accused of being an Anorak if you don’t jot the sighting down in a notebook or send it to Jodrell Bank or whatever.

But keeping quiet seemed to have its own problems.  I actually felt I did want to tell someone.  I wanted to be one of those people who go into the Queens Arms and regale the public bar crowd with tales of fighting off little green men or how I woke up with strange memories of being interfered with by a beautiful Venusian Maiden.  I could have done that, I suppose.  I know most of them who get in the pub and they would listen to me politely, but  I’ve only been in there once in the past year so I would hardly get the attention that a regular would.  Besides, the experience wasn’t the type that would excite them.  The whole point is that it was so ordinary.  It actually happened,  ike a bus going by.  There wasn’t any strange, transcendental emotion.  Just a UFO hovering overhead and then making off into the clouds at incredible speed.

What the experience demonstrated to me, however, was that there are more things in heaven and earth, blah, blah.  You see, I’ve never had the inclination to consider other worlds or other realities or whatever the jargon is.  I’d never really considered anything apart from what is and what happens here and now on this earth.   It was as though a worm-hole had opened up in space and let me glimpse for an instant another sort of reality.  One that is not explained by our everyday laws of physics.  And I had definitely seen it.  I knew and felt I had seen it.  I didn’t need to question it.  I didn’t need any sort of proof or disproof.  There it was, in front of me - another dimension.

What happened was that I started going to church.  I had this piece of knowledge, this fraction of understanding and the only place where I could imagine it applied was in church.  I don’t know how, I didn’t really believe all the stuff about Jesus being resurrected from the dead but somehow it seemed vaguely applicable.  I mean, if someone had seen him.  Actually seen him alive in the way I had seen the UFO then they’d have to believe, wouldn’t they?  And I guess, like me they would have the feeling that they wanted to tell someone else.  Hence religion and churches and so forth.

Frankly, I was embarrassed about going to church, so I went to the very early service,  pushing my trail bike out of the yard so that my mother wouldn’t hear it being started and taking the path up through the woods.  I had been in the choir when I was young so I knew how it all worked.  I hadn’t really been for years since then but things hadn’t changed that much so, in a strange way, I felt quite at home. I kept going on and off for quite a long time and I even ended up serving occasionally and taking the collection.  I never got to feel holy or anything, but maybe that was appropriate.  These things, I knew, were ordinary not metaphysical or different.  They were part of the world as it is.  The only symbolic act I subscribed to  was attending on the anniversary of the encounter.  Which just happened to be September 29th.  Michaelmas, the feast day of the patron saint of underpants.

When I was in church, I always felt a bit daft because I didn’t believe in the Jesus bit.  I believed he was a great man and teacher and so forth and that he spoke a lot of sense.  But the Son of God?  Risen again?  What did that all mean?  No thank you, I parted company with them at this point and I suppose I felt a bit shamefaced that I was telling porkies when I recited the “I believe...” item.  However, I was willing to trade that off for the certain knowledge that there was another life, another world beyond and that they, the honest and upright citizens, would have difficulty getting a grip on any other reality but this one.  I see that old Biddy Janet Hawkins looking all pious and nodding and smiling at me.  “We’re all the same underneath.”  She is telling Jesus, forgiving me with all her might for being a wastrel.  “We’ll all be equal in heaven.”  She smiles, hoping even so that they’ll be a special bit where people like me can go.  The fact is, if you turned her upside down and shook her there wouldn’t be any real belief to fall out with her false teeth because she had never experienced anything but the dreary daily round.  I did pray for forgiveness for thinking like that.  But not very hard.

So what is the upshot of all this?  The point of the story as I would tell it to the lads at The Queen’s.  Well, I’m not sure.  Nothing happened to me physically. Or mentally.  I still eat cold baked beans out of a tin with a spoon.  The house is still a tip.  The yard and farm sink deeper into its wilderness of nettles and rusting corrugated.  My mother still wants to know when I’m going to do something useful with my life.  By which I take it she means get married again and serve farmhouse teas to walkers stopping to admire the acres of flower beds with their broad swathes of colour and variety. But I suppose there is something going on, or I wouldn’t have taken the trouble to write it down.

Oh, and there is a sequel, a rider or whatever you call it.  As a final sop to my Mother, or perhaps because I was really turning over a new leaf.  I decided to clear up the house and get rid of some of the clutter.  I was going to decorate the living room where my father had his office and make it into a place where people could come and sit.  I had actually made up my mind to do some wallpapering and paint the old, brown stained ceiling.  Not get somebody in, but do it myself with my own hands.  I was burning a lot of old papers from the desk drawers when I came across an old map of the farm.  It showed that the name of the place had been changed in the middle of the last century.  It was called Stone Farm before that.  I checked with some of the old diaries and I found that the name had been changed because my Great Grandfather’s uncle, who had been a tenant, was a methodist preacher and had had a vision of an angels.   He had been walking home one night from chapel and had been on his way up the track when....   Twelve months later he had given up the tenancy to go on a mission to the heathen in Birmingham.  His nephew had bought the outfit  and renamed it after St. Michael and his Angels in honour of his uncle’s translation to the spiritual world of  Balsall Heath.  I don’t know where he got his money from but it was clear he didn’t have any left a few years later.  Tenancies always start and finish at Quarter days and this one had finished at Michaelmas because that was the anniversary of his vision.  You know, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  150 years ago some distant relative had seen an angel just where I had seen a UFO and on the same date.  Just for a moment I wondered whether there was something linking me back through the generations after all.  Some great metaphysical chain of Jungian experience that makes me at one with my ancestors.  But I quickly decided that that’s all just a load of bollocks.  Besides, I’m really too busy to think about it at the moment.  But If I get the living room finished I’ll get rid of all the fertiliser bags off the big leather covered arm chair out in the barn so I can sit and think about it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Jimmy and the Cat in the Box

Jimmy was sitting in the garden pondering how quickly and easily things could be forgotten.  He could remember what things were like before the year 2000 but somehow he couldn’t remember why or how.  For instance, he knew that before then cars ran on four wheels instead of just hovering smoothly in the air.  But he couldn’t remember how the wheel  thing worked or why anyone would go to the trouble of making something that screeched around corners and bumped over potholes and could only go forwards and backwards instead of side to side and up and down as well.  Making a car that hovered seemed so simple and obvious that the alternatives seemed downright perverse.  And so it was with everything else.  Why hadn’t people lived in cities surrounded by great plexi-glass domes instead of putting up with all that fog and rain?   Why go to all the trouble of cooking and eating huge meals when you could just swallow a few pills and be out to play again in a minute?  Why spend time and money on being unhappy when everyone could just live together in peace and harmony?  No, the more he thought about it the more it seemed to him that the past was just plain stupid.
Thinking of food reminded him that it the day was wearing on and he ought to go in for his dinner pills.  He wondered what they would taste of today.   Shepherd’s pie and apple crumble?  Sausages and rhubarb and custard?  He licked his lips in anticipation.  

It was later that afternoon that he found the cat in the box.  Or rather, it was the box he found.  It was made of polished wood andit looked as though it had been used for something else first as there seemed to be some sort of foreign writing on the lid.  On the side of the box was a curious contraption made of wires and odd pieces of mechanism.  The box had been left on the doorstep and there didn’t seem to be any label saying who it was for. Jimmy couldn’t decide what he should do with it but when he picked it up and shook it hewas certain he could hear a frightened mewing noise.  Jimmy’s father was out on the supa-golf course and his mother was busy ironing the plasti-form curtains.  They didn’t actually need ironing as they were made of a smooth hard plastic but Jimmy’s Mother insisted she ironed them every week anyway as she liked to keep busy.  So Jimmy’s father said.
Jimmy looked over the fence and saw to his relief that his friend Tommy Smith had been released from his extra lessons with his father and, after a few words, Jimmy was carrying the box anxiously round to the Smith’s house.
Mr. Smith tapped his pipe out in the visi-fireplace.   “Hmm.” He said.  
“I think there might be something in there.” said Jimmy anxiously. “I’m sure I heard it making a noise.  But its quiet now.   I think it might be a cat.”
Suddenly, Mr Smith smiled.  “it’s a little joke I think.  From Professor Von Plonck. “
“A joke?”
“He always was a bit heavy handed with his jokes.  He’s a theoretical physicist.  They’re very good at thinking up ideas but, oh dear... this box.    And Mr Smith began to chuckle so much his teeth rattled against his pipestem
“But the cat...” Jimmy was getting agitated that there might actually be a cat shut in the box.
“The box.  It’s a very poor job.  Rather amatuerish.  It’s definitely meant for me.  But I see what he’s trying to say in his theoretical way.”
“What about the cat?”  Jimmy’s voice was rising in anxiety.   “Is it a cat?”
“Oh yes, its a cat right enough.  Old Von Plonck and I were having a bit of joke about it down at the government lab the other day”
“Shouldn’t we let it out?  Won’t it die if we don’t do something? ”
Mr Smith was now guffawing as merrily as a troll.  “Is it dead or is it alive?  That my boy , is the joke.
Jimmy was looking very bewildered indeed.
“Tommy, you should be able to explain.  After all, we have just been having a rather amusing time with quantum mechanics, have we not?”
Tommy looked as if he was about to say something but then stopped.
“Come down to my shed and let me explain.“  Mr Smith put his arms round Jimmy and Tommy’s shoulders and led them out into the garden.
Mr Smith’s shed was really his laboratory where he carried out secret experiments for the government and tried out all sorts of complicated machines and devices but Jimmy waas relieved to see that he had a very ordinary hammer and chisel poised against the lid of the box.
“First of all.”  Said Mr Smith.  “Before I actually prise off the lid tell me whether you think the cat in the box is alive or dead?”
“I hope it’s still alive” said Jimmy with feeling.  “But its been in there a jolly long time.”
“What do you think Tommy?  Alive or dead?”
Tommy thought for a moment.  Jimmy interrupted “I don’t think there is any way of knowing whether its alive or dead.  Until we get the box open.”
“Bravo Jimmy.  That’s a perfect answer.  And if we heard it miaowing we would know.  But as we cannot hear it we can’t know one way or the other.  That is the joke.”
By now Jimmy and Tommy were both looking completely baffled.
“Actually its a very old joke and the Professor obviously wanted to send it to me as a reminder. He must have  dispatched the box to the wrong address.  I told you he is only a theoretical  physicist and coordinates in time and space are not his thing.”
“But I don’t see what the joke can be.”  Said Jimmy still anxious about the cat inside.
“It was a joke first thought up by an Austrian scientist called Schroedinger.  He got into a bit of a paddy at a conference on Quantum physics because people didn’t like his ideas so he dreamt up this experiment to show the others how silly he thought their ideas were. “
Mr. Smith began filling his pipe again. “These other scientists, pricipally a Dane called Heisenberg  had said that in the quantum world it is impossible to know what state a particle is in without looking at it.  But once you look at it you automatically make it one thing or another.  So, as you could never know which state a particle was in, it was, in effect, in both states at once.”
Mr. Smith seemed to be enjoying himself immensely with the story.  “So this Schroedinger chappie said, as a joke, that if you put a cat in a box with a cannister of poison gas triggered by a quantum particle you could never know whether the particle had triggered the poison gas or not.  So all the time the cat was in the box, to all intents and purposes the cat was both alive and dead at the same time.  Or neither.”
Jimmy began to sob.  “Please let the cat out.” He said gulping.
Mr Smith looked at Tommy.  Even he was looking a trifle green.
“Very well, let’s see, shall we?” and he set to work with the chisel.  Suddenly the lid of the box clattered to the floor.  No cat jumped out.  Jimmy was afraid to look.  He didn’t want to think that he had had some hand in gassing a poor moggy.  Then Mr.  Smith began to laugh.   Softly at first and then louder and louder.
The more Mr. Smith laughed, the more Jimmy felt like crying.  “It’s all right Jimmy.  Look in the box.” Chortled Mr. Smith.  With a supreme effort, Jimmy opened his eyes and peered in.   “Look!  Look at this.”   Mr. Smith was holding a grey canister.  “Was this the poison gas?” Jimmy thought.  “How terrible that there should be such a thing.”    Suddenly Mr Smith was tilting it backwards and forwards.  As he did so a mewing noise issued from it.  It was a pussy-matic noise maker.  Jimmy had seen them in joke shops in the town.  Now he was laughing as much as Mr. Smith who waved the noisemaker backwards and forwards  making it miaow non-stop.
“Yes,” said Mr Smith.  “This amply demonstrates  Schroedingers point.   Without opening the box and looking we couldn’t tell whether the cat was alive or dead.  As it happened, it was neither alive nor dead.  Good old Von Plonck.  A bit heavy handed but a good joke all the same.  And of course, Jimmy, do you know what the best bit of the joke was?”
“N-no” stammered Jimmy
“Well, in the end the joke was on old Schroedinger.  He set up all the cat business to prove the other scientists wrong but in the end it turned out that they were right and he was the one who looked stupid.  The cat in Schroedingers box IS alive and dead.  It’s called superimposition.  It means that all possibilities are present at one and the same time.  I mean for instance there is another year 2000 out there where there are no silver suits and hovercars and domes.  And another Jimmy who doesn’t eat pills for tea. But has buttered toast and jam and rides in his father’s Ford  Anglia.  Do you see?”
And with that Jimmy remembered that here in the real world of 2000 there were silver suits and hover cars and any other possibilities just didn’t matter.

Friday, February 04, 2011

How do you see the words you use when writing?

Someone asked me to elaborate on my ideas about words and their associations.  Is it a form of synesthesia?  They asked.

If I lie in bed and just think about a word – any word at random, I am confronted with a sort of image of that word.  It may contain letters or shapes and colours and often it will have smell and taste as well.  These may or may not be associated with the meaning.  Nouns often do have some sort of representation of the thing itself but many times they do not.  Take the words for colours, for instance:  “Brown” is, indeed, brown coloured but a very particular coffee colour and the shapes are round and tubular like a bundle of sticks, I suppose.  So far so logical.  But then “Green” is more a black dappled colour with only a little green and “Blue” is a definite yellowish wash.  None of these contain any of the letters of the words.

Let me give you another example:   The word “party” is a three dimensional red and yellow spiral like a Belgian bun outlined in black with one side bent towards me to form a sort of lip.  Are you following?  Good.  The interesting thing that follows is that words that rhyme have the same shape but a different colour so that “Tarty” is a bent sprial in a sort of navy blue and purple with an obvious acid taste.  “Arty” is pale green and “farty” is grey.  The name “Marty” is bright red (obviously an association with “tomato”).  In each case the shape is the same and that even extends into completely made up words but which rhym e – “sparty” is silver grey, “clarty” is a dark maroon and so on.

The upshot of all this is that when I’m writing I choose words that fit each other in shape and texture as well as meaning.  And often, when stuck for exactly the right word, I only have to try and picture its shape to get what I want.  

Try it yourself.  When you’re lying away in the small hours and sleep won’t come, picture the opening words or your latest story, play or poem – “tree branch marshmallow sunshine yellow dry grass.....”  “once upon a time....”