Sam Simon: A Writer’s Life (Taxi, The Simpsons and so much more)

Up until last week, thesimpsons credits reference Sam Simon was nothing more to me than a name on the credits rolls of The Simpsons. I knew nothing of the man, his life, his achievements, and his role as co-creator on one of the greatest animated series ever. Without The Simpsons, I never would have met my wife and my life would be unimaginably different (not for the better).

sam simon

Sam Simon died on 8th March after a battle with cancer, aged 49. It was only seeing his name alongside The Simpsons in online headlines made me stop and take notice. And having taken notice, his story, his life as a writer and producer offers a lot to inspire.

 

Simon wamighty mouses always a skilled and inventive when it came to drawing. Aged 24, after years of sketching comic strips for the San Francisco Chronicle, he got his first writing credit on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse soon followed by Heckle & Jeckle and Fat Albert. ‘What I learned, honestly, that was so valuable was…they made me a writer. They said we want you to write scripts.’

Over the next couple of years he worked on a number of shows that were either going nowhere or seemed to be leading him nowhere. The measure of the man came in 1982 when he submitted a script on spec to the TV show Taxi (starring Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufmann).

taxi

‘I wrote a script and I mailed it in…I decided as long as I’m writing TV I should write something I’m not embarrassed about.’

How Simon forged a path for himself based on talent, desire and integrity, reminded me of @elise_janes recent post on The Cringe where she got real about shoulda, coulda, woulda and how bullshit that all is – we need to go after what we want.

These lessons and examples are all around us: people who achieve through a willingness to work hard with no guarantee of a return, no guarantee of acknowledgement or success. Those who commit themselves to following through on their creative endeavour, because it matters. Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe this is who are working hard to become. I know I am.

Sam Simon left us writers and creators with three tips. In his own words, this is ‘the best advice ever’:

  1. Story above all
  2. Don’t be afraid of the quiet moments
  3. Love your characters

I’ll give the last word to The Simpsons themselves. On the most recent show, which aired in the US on Sunday 15th March, they ended the episode with a simple and touching tribute:

thank you

 

Ken Ward

 

(Quotes sourced from Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, ‘Episode 389 – Sam Simon’, May 16, 2013)

Most Likely to Succeed

Available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmpnguy/92214672/in/photolist-4FEYZg-pp7ZLZ-5D2XpQ-4LDBaz-6vNYCx-Bb3Uq-gd2au-44nXcJ-dXEM6y-BMLyo-8429eX-9i9QUS-oz3Zdn-aDPyCo-5T858V-4QF4ch-dERcri-99Cd9-wR4xs-aiJ5PJ-8nrw9Z-5u1nze-9oMJNH-nG7jq4-7fDYu-6aRWKr-3eLdT1-b8ocdz-Bb42i-3AiLhe-ci85c9-bPaTap-nGRnr1-6zBHbi-jQv8h-7BQD1b-Bb3ZQ-gA5B4Q-9rAjY6-NxRFT-2AMvfX-G3NVq-nXdNf5-tHSUZ-m7V4yq-6zFMVf-3ezSGo-bPaT5z-ppnCDu-egauEH/

Photo: Loyd Schutte, ‘High School in the 80’s’. Shared under Creative Commons License.

One of the most fascinating things about being in my thirties is that I’m discovering what kinds of adults the people I went to school with have become. My family moved around a lot and I went to many different schools, but through Facebook, and extroverted tendencies, I’ve managed to keep in touch with several people. Some of their experiences have surprised me, particularly those of my old schoolmates Harry, Angie and Cecilia. Here are their stories. I’ve changed the names and fictionalised the details, to avoid incurring me a defriending, but the basics are true.

Harry was one of the first guys in the ‘challenger’ class for ‘gifted’ kids to get a girlfriend. They earned social status in well-behaved ‘challenger’ circles by making out at the bus stop and drinking beer, but not so much that it affected their grades. Later, Harry graduated from Law with great marks and started with a prestigious and highly competitive firm. He moved into a house with some of his male colleagues who’d also just started with the company. He once invited me to one of their parties, where Harry and his friends spent a lot of time listing which of their female colleagues had the best legs/tits/arse. He then moved to a regional office, where he worked for a female manager who talked openly about how as the acknowledged geek at high school, she’d been highly unpopular. (She would never have won that graduate boys’ prize for best legs/tits/arse.) She yelled at him in front of clients and criticised every piece of work he produced. Normally reluctant to admit to vulnerability, Harry asked for advice from his old school friends and sought help from HR. Our advice didn’t work, and HR backed his boss. Eventually, he quit his job. He now works for a smaller, less prestigious firm. He’s still angry about his earlier experiences, but he also says they’ve made him a kinder manager, because he doesn’t want to turn into his old boss.

Angie drove me a bit crazy at high school by asking me what mark I’d got on every assignment, and smugly announcing whenever she’d done better than me — which was quite often. Angie worked hard and got excellent marks. She also struggled with mental health issues. She was never popular and sometimes faced teasing by the ‘cool’ kids, but she always had a few loyal, nerdy friends. At the end of high school, when she didn’t win the dux, rather than congratulate the winner and grit her teeth, she went home crying. Shortly after graduation, she won a prestigious overseas role as a middle manager with an international development agency. She was unlucky enough to be involved with a public stuff-up in which her agency inadvertently caused several local people to be injured. As a manager, Angie was held partly responsible. The work pressure and media attention were too much. She left her job to focus on her mental health. Once this was stabilised, she took a less demanding management role back in Australia. Now, she devotes her competitive energies to running the best ever under 18s local girls’ basketball team. The girls love her — especially those who are going through tough periods — because Angie always makes the time to listen to them.

Cecilia always intrigued me, because she managed to get through one of the most brutally alpha schools I ever attended, doing well academically, and never being bullied or bullying anyone. This in itself was remarkable at our school. If you did well in class, the teachers would like you but the other kids would torment you. If you did badly, the teachers would call you stupid, but the kids would leave you alone. In Cecilia’s adult life, she continued to achieve impressive things modestly, earning a PhD and then a sought-after scientist role in an elite national institution. When she started at her workplace, the women’s toilets were being turned into offices because there weren’t enough female scientists to use them. Many of her male colleagues resented the arrival of this young, female upstart, and they didn’t bother to hide it. Yet Cecilia kept doing her job well and ignoring the critics, just as she’d brushed past the bullies in high school. She’s been there for five years now, quietly advancing the nation’s knowledge in her field, and showing future scientists that it is indeed possible to be female and do her job. She recently had her first child.

High school can be one of the most difficult experiences people go through. Surprising numbers of adults struggle to hold it together when asked about high school — or they lie and pretend it was all easy. What I’m seeing with the people I know, however, is that high school is not destiny. The smart, popular guy can lose his job. The modestly high-achieving girl can quietly smash gender barriers.

We as grown-ups have a responsibility to share this knowledge. I think this is a role for books, and for young adult writing in particular. We need to tell our own high school stories — honestly — and we need to share the perspective that comes from being out of school for twenty years (and developing wrinkles and knee problems). Yes, high school is full of bullshit, but the bullshit will pass. If you’re having fun, great — enjoy, and be nice to others. If you’re not having fun, ask for help, and try to remember that grade nine is not all you will become. Life has many more challenges and adventures along the way.

Penny Jones   

Work Habits of Successful Writers

If you’re an emerging writer you’re probably still squeezing in your scribblings at some inconvenient and uncooperative time of day, like 4am before you have to get ready for work, or in the park at lunch (if you can get away from your desk), or on the train commute home. You probably have to set aside whole evenings two weeks in advance, hoping that your plans won’t be thwarted by an impromptu dinner guest or a forgotten birthday party.

And this is good, because as E.B. White once said if you don’t write when circumstances suck, you’ll never write at all. I’m paraphrasing.

Then every few months you find yourself with an entire day at your astonished disposal. Maybe even two in a row. Two?! At first you stand in shock, raking your memory for any possible forgotten commitments. But then you realise that the washing is done, the bills are paid, the kids/spouse/parents/roommates are nowhere to be seen, the blank page in your diary really is a blank page and you well up with joy.

Now what? How do you transmute all that free time into a productive writing spree? Because, for the love of all things, don’t let a single second go to waste.

In preparation for that day, and for the gilded future in which writing is what you do for a living, peruse the daily habits of some people who really know what they’re doing.

 

Maya Angelou

amd-angelou-jpg“I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them — fifty acceptable pages — it’s not too bad.”

and later in her life…

“I keep a hotel room in my hometown and pay for it by the month.
I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible. Usually a deck of cards and some crossword puzzles. Something to occupy my little mind. I think my grandmother taught me that. She didn’t mean to, but she used to talk about her “little mind.” So when I was young, from the time I was about 3 until 13, I decided that there was a Big Mind and a Little Mind. And the Big Mind would allow you to consider deep thoughts, but the Little Mind would occupy you, so you could not be distracted. It would work crossword puzzles or play Solitaire, while the Big Mind would delve deep into the subjects I wanted to write about.
I have all the paintings and any decoration taken out of the room. I ask the management and housekeeping not to enter the room, just in case I’ve thrown a piece of paper on the floor, I don’t want it discarded. About every two months I get a note slipped under the door: “Dear Ms. Angelou, please let us change the linen. We think it may be moldy!”
But I’ve never slept there, I’m usually out of there by 2. And then I go home and I read what I’ve written that morning, and I try to edit then. Clean it up.”

 

Simone de Beauvoir

“I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine. I have no difficulty in picking up the thread in the afternoon. When you leave, I’ll read the paper or perhaps go shopping. Most often it’s a pleasure to work.”
“If the work is going well, I spend a quarter or half an hour reading what I wrote the day before, and I make a few corrections. Then I continue from there. In order to pick up the thread I have to read what I’ve done.”

 

Don De Lillo

“I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle — it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent — you don’t know it’s passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes — I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it. Looking out the window, reading random entries in the dictionary. To break the spell I look at a photograph of Borges, a great picture sent to me by the Irish writer Colm Tóín. The face of Borges against a dark background — Borges fierce, blind, his nostrils gaping, his skin stretched taut, his mouth amazingly vivid; his mouth looks painted; he’s like a shaman painted for visions, and the whole face has a kind of steely rapture. I’ve read Borges of course, although not nearly all of it, and I don’t know anything about the way he worked — but the photograph shows us a writer who did not waste time at the window or anywhere else. So I’ve tried to make him my guide out of lethargy and drift, into the otherworld of magic, art, and divination.”

 

William Gibson

“When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap.”

 

Ernest Hemingway

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

 

Jack Kerouac

“The desk in the room, near the bed, with a good light, midnight till dawn, a drink when you get tired, preferably at home, but if you have no home, make a home out of your hotel room or motel room or pad: peace.”

 

Stephen King

stephen-king-writing-tips“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book—something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I’m up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning, perky as a rat in liverwurst. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day’s work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I’m still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.”

 

Henry Miller

“MORNINGS:
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
AFTERNOONS:
Work of section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
EVENINGS:
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections — on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.”

 

Haruki Murakami

“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

 

Anaïs Nin

“I write my stories in the morning, my diary at night.”

 

Susan Sontag

“Starting tomorrow — if not today:
I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)
I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)
I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)
I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.
I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)
I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? — I have to go to the hospital anyway.)”

 

Anthony Trollope

“Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.”
Every day for years he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him. He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next. The writing session was followed, for a long stretch of time, by a day job with the postal service. Plus, he said, he always hunted at least twice a week. Under this regimen, he produced forty-nine novels in thirty-five years.
from Daily Routines

 

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt-Vonnegut-260x300“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach of prepare. When I get home from school at about 5:30, I numb my twanging intellect with several belts of Scotch and water ($5.00/fifth at the State Liquor store, the only liquor store in town. There are loads of bars, though.), cook supper, read and listen to jazz (lots of good music on the radio here), slip off to sleep at ten. I do pushups and sit-ups all the time, and feel as though I am getting lean and sinewy, but maybe not. Last night, time and my body decided to take me to the movies.”

 

 

Elise Janes

What’s at stake?

lord_of_the_rings_book_cover_by_mrstingyjr-d5vwgctFrodo has to destroy the one ring. The father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road lives on only to keep his son alive. For Umberto Eco’s William of Baskerville in The Name of the Rose, it’s the importance of solving the series of murders that have engulfed the monastery.

Struggle is the core of every story. Struggle and conflict. Conflict with the way the world is and the way we want to world to be.

In an oft repeated quote from Gandhi, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

the-name-of-the-roseWelcome to the world of our protagonist. Whether they want to or not, our main character is thrust into a situation that demands their every effort to resolve.

Our protagonists are often unwilling, unwitting and unprepared. They make mistakes. They are flawed people after all, mirroring a flaw or two that maybe we recognise in ourselves or others we know. They will frustrate us, even disappoint at times but as long as they stay the course they will never let us down.

How well defined is your protagonist’s struggle? Are the stakes high enough to fuel your story through to the end?

9780307387899_p0_v3_s260x420Whether it be life or death, end-of-the-world or just two people repairing a damaged relationship, have you taken the time to really understand what’s at stake for your characters?

Each character will have their own agenda and here begins the possibilities for conflict and struggle. The writing journey will be about how you sometimes guide, sometimes drag kicking and screaming, and sometimes just stand back and let your characters work it out for themselves, so that resolution, be it good, bad or otherwise, is found.

Our characters must be agents for change because whatever is at stake it matters enough to them (and to you as the writer) to tell this story.

 

Ken Ward

Writing is Work (and other things you need to get over)

The-joy-of-writing-1

Let’s get down to it. If you want to be a writer chances are you’ve wanted to be a writer since you read your first book/poem/play (probably a book, not many infants learn their ABC’s with Samuel Beckett).

Actually, revise that. You’ve probably wanted to be a writer since you experienced your first really good story, you know, the moment when all the hairs on your arms stood up, and you forgot where you were and who was with you, and you got the feeling that there was a lot more to this grand old life than most people realised.

And chances are that this feeling never left you. In fact as you chose your subjects at school and went on to study medicine and then became a doctor and settled down and had kids and bought a house and took out the rubbish bins and made dinner at night, that feeling followed you everywhere. It never went away.

Most people will never write so much as a tweet in their whole lives and still manage to live an extremely satisfied existence. But that’s not you. And whether or not you come to it late in life after a long career in something else, or you wrote your first play when you were five and never stopped, there are some things that you will need to get over in order to make your writing dream a reality.

  1. Yourself

The first thing to die must be your own insecurities. Easier said than done. And this is something you will have to battle every day for the rest of your writing career, because unless you have the unshakeable ego of, say, Napoleon Bonaparte, those doubts will niggle you every waking moment.

The thing is if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Don’t apologise for wanting to be a writer. Don’t apologise for thinking that you can be a writer. Don’t mumble when people ask you what you’re working on. If they don’t get it, who cares. You get it. That’s all that matters.

  1. Other people

Just to be clear, no one is going to fully understand your work except you. No one is going to care about your work like you do. When people ask how your weekend was and you say “So busy, I wrote 10 000 words, stayed up all night, so exhausted.” Not only will they mentally roll their eyes, they will immediately compare your sitting on your butt in front of a computer screen all weekend to the fact that they had to take their 8yo to three different birthday parties, their 5yo to soccer, have ten people over for dinner, walk the dog, mow the lawn, get root canal and paint the house.

They don’t give a shit and they probably never will. In fact many of them will resent you for having the courage to try and do something creative. Don’t look for encouragement in others, even in your close friends and family, because many of them will just not get it. And that’s the way it is.

  1. Time

Writing is one of the most time-consuming activities in the known universe. Even if you write 3 000 words a day (which takes most people about 5-6 hours), it will take you thirty days straight to write a 90 000 word manuscript. That’s if you literally do nothing else for a whole month. Add to that full-time work, family, weddings, funerals, sickness, appointments, birthday parties, holidays, and actually having a life (so maybe 1 hour of writing a day if you’re lucky) and it will take you around six to eight months. Add to that research, frequent slow periods, and some moments of despair/writer’s block/questioning the meaning of life, you’re looking at twelve months. Absolute minimum. For a first draft. Then comes the rewrite, editing, reworking, burning it in the backyard and starting all over again, blah blah bah.

The point is it requires serious dedication and deliberate effort to even get a first draft on paper. It will require you to stay home when everyone else is going out. You will have to miss birthdays, dinners, events, holidays, usually to the great offence of everyone around you. No one will understand because the deadline is self-directed, and people rarely respect a self-directed deadline. But if you want to write, you have to actually write. And that takes real time.

  1. Where you came from

Some people are born into artistic families. Most people aren’t. Some people are born into culturally fortunate locations where inspiration and opportunities and contacts abound. Most people aren’t. Some people get recognised in their formative years and get useful legs-up in the creative world. Most people aren’t. These are things you have little control over. But it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way.

If you need to move to a more conducive artistic environment, then do it. If you need to change who you hang around so you can get inspired, then do it. If you need to remodel so you have a useful writing space, then do it. If you need to change jobs, degrees or fields of study in order to get the input you need, then do it. Most people don’t. But you should.

  1. IMG_0512Conventions

The rules state that you have to go to school then go to uni then get a job so you have money to buy a car, get married, buy a house, have a family, go on family holidays, invest in superannuation and retire.

Thing is, you don’t.

Spending two years of your life writing a novel goes against all rational conventions. Do it anyway. You may have to delay other things in your life to get it done. Do it anyway. You may decide that you need to drop out of uni, postpone a life event, or turn down a great job to get done. Do it anyway.

Just don’t get to the end of your life never having tried.

  1. Work

Most writers will actually have to work for money for a long time before they are able to live off their writing. Some writers will never live off their writing. Work will always get in the way. You need to manage it. If you need to get a different job so that you have more time/energy/brain space to write, then do it.

Writing is work. It’s not a hobby. It’s not a fun idea to kill some time. It’s not a phase. It’s not a therapeutic exercise. It’s damn hard work and it’s no less worthy of respect than any other job.

  1. Expectations

If you write always worrying about what other people will think about this or that then you will never put a word on paper.

In order to be true to your genre, characters, story, whatever, you may need to write graphic sex scenes, violence, abuse, morally shocking behavior, drugs, mental and physical illnesses, gosh you may even have to use a four-letter word or two.

Yes, your granny might be offended. Or your colleagues/parents/friends/family. Know what? Too bad. Hey, everyone watches Game of Thrones. Even if they say they don’t.

  1. Security

There may come a time when you decide you need to spend a solid three months on your book. You may need to take unpaid leave. You may even need to quit your job. Again, no one else will understand or care. They will tell you that you’re crazy because a promotion is just around the corner, or that you’re leaving the team in the lurch, or that certain projects won’t happen if you’re not there. In the end, this is your life and your future, not theirs. Work out which one matters most.

  1. Genre

So when you decided to be a writer you thought you would be the next James Joyce. Then you started writing and you realised that all you wanted to write about was guns and car chases. Does that make you a second-rate writer? HELL. NO.

Write what you want to write. Don’t write to win the Booker prize or the Nobel prize or to be the next J.K. Rowling. There are plenty of authors out there who are writing from ambition and I can guarantee that deep down they know they’re not being honest with themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our most lauded literary minds will lie on their deathbeds wishing they had created the next James Bond instead of ten award-winning lyrical masterpieces.

  1. Other writers

The great thing about finally owning up to your dirty little secret is that you will start to find some like-minded people. You will find workshops, seminars, competitions, writing groups, writing centres, literary fetsivals. You will find beta readers and crit partners and people who just love sharing your work and talking about it. And then you will also find people who are just plain rude or ridiculously elitist or want nothing to do with anyone else because they are the ultimate lone wolf.

In the end, writing, like any creative pursuit, is a small and competitive field and some people are in it to win and don’t care about anything else. They will resent your success and then smugly rub their success in your face. They will use you for a profile boost and then clamber over you up the literary social ladder. So find the good ones and don’t let them go. The rest? Forget them.

  1. What you could have been

Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. People tell me I could have been a singer. I could have been a performer. I could have been a great music director. I could have been a great educator. I could have been a principal. I could have been an actress. I could have been an academic. That’s all great. But I have only one life. And I’m at least going to try to do what I really want to do.

And you should too.

 

Elise Janes

Sir P Speaks: For he is a gentleman

duel

 

Dear Sir P

I feel unaccomplished. I can’t hold a tune, wield a sword, ride a horse or speak a foreign tongue. I have also occasionally behaved like a bounder and/or a cad. Do I have the right to call myself a gentleman? What is a gentleman, for God’s sake? Also, what is the difference between a bounder and a cad, and which am I?

Am I in fact a true man in any sense? The notion of ‘manhood’ has become extremely confused of late.

Also, I’ve been challenged to a duel. Will you be my second?

Finally, is it inappropriate for a grown man to build models of WWII battleships?

Oh, and what is your favourite country?

Affectionately,

Fuddbut Tromso

 

Dear Fuddbut

As it happens, a number of people have stridently insisted I write a guide to becoming a gentleman. They believe that it would be for the good of the country, that young men are so ill-defined nowadays, and the world at large so wayward and pre-apocalyptic, that what’s really needed is a manual to help an individual forge a robust identity that will survive anything.

I’ve always refused. You can’t teach such things; you can only throw quotes at the problem. So here’s one: the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke wrote in the late 18th century that “a king may make a nobleman, but he cannot make a gentleman”.

Sadly, I am living proof of this.

Similarly, a treatise called ‘A Discourse Concerning the Character of a Gentleman’ by ‘A Person of Quality’ in 1716 explains, “The Appellation of the Gentleman (says the Tatler) should never be affix’d to a Man’s Circumstances, but to his Behaviour in them”.

So if by any chance you have a pipe, I invite you to stick the above in it and light up. In my mind, to be a gent it is simply necessary to bear those notions in mind, not speak with your mouth full and to be willing and able to rattle off at least three Gilbert & Sullivan songs, whether sober, squiffy or hammered out of your mind.

In days of yore, being a gent was much more demanding. In 1528, one Count Baldassare Castiglione published The Book of the Courtier, a how-to guide for the original Renaissance man. Among an array of accomplishments, Castiglione encouraged sprezzatura – a certain effortless composure or nonchalance. The sort of thing, frankly, that only an Italian can pull off convincingly. And I suspect, young Fuddbut, that you are not an Italian.

Because I have a dictionary and you clearly don’t, I will now explain the difference between a bounder and a cad. Both are morally reprehensible anti-gents, but a bounder is distinguished by being something of a social climber to boot. I, for one, am a cad. As for which one you are, old son, only a good hard look in the mirror will tell you that.

So where does this leave your manhood, or indeed that of any adult male? Life for the modern man is indeed emasculating but then we can take comfort in the fact that this is true for women too. Judith Lucy is doing a good job of explaining this in her ABC TV show, as has Annabel Crabb in her book The Wife Drought, which my parlour maid told me all about while completing my nightly bed turndown service. Harking back to some non-existent golden age when men bestrode the world safe in their shining armour of self-knowledge is the distraction of a fool. You must fashion your own sense of who you are from true self-knowledge, Fuddbut. Anything else is just another kind of identity fraud …

As for your duel, no, I will not be your second, though I encourage you to get one. He or she needs to make sure your interests are well served and that your opponent doesn’t cheat. More importantly, they’re honour-bound to step in should your nerve fail you. As I suspect it will. But I do admire your willingness to take part. Though duels to the death are rare nowadays it is still sometimes necessary to defend your honour with cold steel or hot lead. There are however two things to bear in mind:

  1. You might lose and end up dead or badly injured
  2. You might win and end up badly jailed

Not that I particularly want you to survive. I suspect your DNA lacks the necessary robustness to warrant being passed on. Though your fondness for building model warships is a redeeming feature. After all, a three-foot-long replica of the Bismarck graces my own hallway. It took Chivers, my manservant, two months to build. Time well spent.

I have two favourite countries. One is Burkina Faso because its capital city rejoices in the splendid name Ouagadougou. The other is Iceland because, quite genuinely, their roads authority has a pro-elf policy, which means that no highway is built across an area thought to be inhabited by elves, trolls or any other supernatural beings. Superb.

Farewell,

Gormley

 

 Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Kiss & Cry

Guest contributor Frances Chapman reviews Kiss & Cry, a live-art performance from the Sydney Festival that pushes the boundaries of staged artistic work.

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Kiss & Cry is a sweeping cinematic romance with a twist: its stars are a duo of dexterous, dancing hands, moving with grace and precision onscreen through a series of miniature landscapes. Shot and projected onscreen simultaneously, a sensual small-scale ballet comes to life before your eyes.

From prize-winning filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey, a founding member of Rosas dance company, this story of forgotten love, told from a beautiful tiny world, has charmed audiences of all ages.

A moving love story – and a showcase for some seriously inspired handiwork – Kiss & Cryis a gorgeous intertwining of film and dance, as nimble of finger as it is nimble of imagination.

– from the Sydney Festival

It is unusual to see a truly original piece of theatre. Live audio visual hook-ups, meta “re-imaginings”, a guy painted red and shouting grandly into the abyss – we’ve seen it all. But Kiss and Cry, the darling of this year’s Sydney Festival, is truly something new.

Part dance piece, part movie, part small-scale puppet show, Belgium’s Charleroi Danses’ Kiss and Cry is hard to categorise. Choreographed by Michele Anne de Mey, of the Rosas dance company, and co-directed by filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, Kiss and Cry is a simple and meditative love story. Looking back over her life, an old woman waits at a station and remembers her five great loves: the first, so brief, a boy in a train carriage when she was twelve, right up to the humdrum long relationship of her late adulthood.

Carriageworks’ Bay 17 is transformed into a movie studio, complete with miniature sets and an array of cameras capturing a range of creative angles. The story is told through poetic pre-recorded narration from British actor Tony Regbo, whose Jude Law-esque enunciation lends a whimsical tone, and brought to life by two hands (one de May’s, the other of dancer Gregory Grosjean), which dance together and apart, their small intimacies projected onto a large screen. A tiny ballet unfolds, the camerawork seamlessly capturing the precision of the dancers’ hands.

15305388158_ca106ac98b_bThere is plenty to watch: the dancers, the simultaneous film onscreen, and the backstage crew who comprise an ensemble themselves as they go about creating visual effects: blowing cigarette smoke across a dancefloor, moving dolls with great delicacy, working in unison to bring the finished product to the screen above. This is a theatre piece which shows the great beauty in the process of making art, as well as in the art itself.

Kiss and Cry takes our most used appendages, the taken-for-granted, humble hands, and projects them, naked and huge, onto the screen for micro-examination. Its ruminations on lost love are simple and poignant, but the spectacle of the minute is truly extraordinary.

Frances Chapman

So you have this idea, this amazing idea

coolgrassnaturewritingvintagelovely-b141dfdd83bf6d3a1af736d1d5f680f1_hIt’s the first thing you think about when you wake in the morning. It’s the last thing you think about when you’re falling asleep at night.

You find yourself (lose yourself?) thinking about it in the lift between work meetings. Even in those most intimate moments, the ones in the bedroom with your partner, there it is, the idea, it just won’t leave you alone. Worse, it’s not an idea for a holiday or some home renovations. It’s an idea for a nonfiction book. And it’s an excellent idea, you know that, because it makes your gut ache as though you’re in love – there are times when you feel drunk because of it.

So you put a plan into action. You start writing notes. You visit the library. You even make phone calls and arrange to meet people.

Now this whole book thing is becoming more exciting than ever.

Teasingly, you write a creative essay for a literary journal, which causes a bunch of emails to come your way – there are people who love your nonfiction project so much they want to share information with you.

You begin to think that maybe you should approach some agents and publishers. But how to do that without embarrassing yourself? On the internet you find what appears to be a reputable site about how to prepare a kick-arse non-fiction book proposal, and you spend your evenings and weekends getting a package together. But still you’re not quite sure. Am I really ready for this? That’s your question.

You might be ready. You might not be. Which is okay, because there are thousands of other non-fiction writers out there just like you (except that’s a thought that gives you shivers – all that competition.)

Thankfully, courtesy of the ACT Writers Centre and the Australia Council for the Arts, there’s a program called HARDCOPY.

According to the ACT Writers Centre, HARDCOPY is a professional development program that builds the capacities, resources and aptitudes committed emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential. By creating an environment that is educative, vigorous and nurturing, the program: helps writers develop their projects towards full-length-manuscript status; significantly increases industry knowledge; facilitates relationships between writers and literary professionals; and breaks down the barriers of location and geography.

Last year’s focus was fiction; this year’s is nonfiction. Which pleases you no end.

What actually happens in HARDCOPY?

There are three main stages. The first, Towards the Best MS, involves the 30 participating writers – they can be from anywhere in Australia – attending a three-day project/manuscript development masterclass in May 2015 in Canberra with professional editor Nadine Davidoff. Writers will discover how to put together best-practice non-fiction book proposals, but also learn about how prose works, especially in terms of illuminating a project’s themes to engage readers.

HARDCOPY+tag_CMYK_workingThe selection panel for the first round is Paul Daley (journalist and author of Beersheba: A Journey Through Australia’s Forgotten War, MUP 2009, Canberra, New South 2013, and the novel Challenge, MUP 2014); Dr Jen Webb (University of Canberra, co-editor of Axon: Creative Explorations, and, with Tony Schirato, author of the Sage book series Understanding Contemporary Culture); Dr Frank Bongiorno (Australian National University, author of The Sex Life of Australians, Black Inc, 2012), and Biff Ward (author of In My Mother’s Hands, Allen & Unwin 2014, which has been long-listed for the 2015 Stellar Prize).

HARDCOPY participants then return to their home states and territories to progress their projects/manuscripts.

All writers come back to Canberra in September to attend Intro2Industry, which involves three days of presentations and seminars that cover all the ‘industry’ side of nonfiction writing: the role of agents; what publishers are looking for; future directions for the book as a concept; navigating the minefield of contracts; and the importance of using social media and other elements of the online environment to engage with readers. Intro2Industry also includes panels with prominent, published non-fiction writers, who will discuss what they wished they knew before they were published, and also other topics such as how to give presentations that engage audiences.

HARDCOPY participants then apply to the final stage, which will give ten the opportunity to meet with agents and publishers to gain industry-level feedback. Highly regarded publishing professional Mary Cunnane will select this final round of participants. The purpose of this final session, called Going Public and to be held in November, 2015, is not about achieving publication per se, but enabling writers to hear what agents and publishers think of the proposals submitted.

In short, if you’re a non-fiction writer with an idea that just won’t go away, it’s an opportunity like no other.

 

Applications close Friday 13 March 2015.

For more information, visit the ACT Writers Centre at http://actwritersblog.com/2015/02/18/2015-hardcopy-development-program-applications-open/. HARDCOPY is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts.

 

Nigel Featherstone

 

Nigel Featherstone’s latest work is the novella The Beach Volcano (Blemish Books, 2014). He is a longstanding freelance writer for Fairfax Media and other publications, and, on a contract basis, is currently assisting the ACT Writers Centre with the delivery of HARDCOPY. For more information about Nigel, visit www.opentopublic.com.au