On rain and writing.

Did you know I have a ‘thing’ about water? Not a ‘thing’ thing, just a writer’s thing. I blame early indocrination on Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and T S Eliot – and, oh, I could go on. Thus far in my writing life I have made characters fall into the river Cherwell, mythologise a trip to a Scottish loch, dance in a fountain, skinny dip in a lake as 1999 passed into 2000 and decide the future of their thirty odd year relationship by a duck pond. Indeed in a first draft read through of that particular play the most universally loved aspect of the play was the ducks and I understood why. I could list the one hundred and one metaphorical/ literary/ allusive reasons I come back to water time and time again, just like I could try and list the reasons why I could never live somewhere that wasn’t (at the very least) near a river. And why I have to make periodic trips to see the sea or else I might combust. But I’m sure you’re smart enough to guess them – or, better still, invent your own more complex ones.

The water thing, then, was part of the reason that I immediately loved the idea of Hannah Nicklin‘s The smell of rain reminds me of you. The idea is that you submit your (true) stories of kissing someone in the rain. As it happens, in the depths of my ‘Unblogged’ file I had one such story I’d already written up (but then, as the title of the file it resides in suggests, had never published because of things like scruples and privacy and the fact that the blog post concerned goes on to talk about my watching the son of someone famous take drugs in the lobby of a hotel. Ah, those were the days). So I found said blog, cut and pasted the relevant bit as – crikey – four years later I know I’ve shared much worse.

So now it resides as part of the growing collection of  The smell of rain reminds me of you. Th0ugh, no, I’m not saying which is mine (though, if you know the lyrics of Gary Lightbody then it shouldn’t be too difficult). And if you’ve got a story and feel even vaguely writery then you should add yours too to what is fast becoming a beautiful, funny and often moving project.

[As a side issue should anyone feel like taking in other weather conditions I have a cool snow story too].

Reasons For Listing: Your List 1

As with many ideas in the last year I was on a train somewhere in London when I dreamt up Reasons For Listing. It certainly didn’t come out fully formed – Charlie would give it the working title which has firmly stuck a week or so later – and I wasn’t sure exactly how all the pieces slotted together. But I knew then I wanted to write about an adult with Autism (and not the Savant-style Autism that apears in many fictional portrayals) and I wanted the piece to be in some way interactive. That the experience of Autism should be a catalyst for an interactive piece seemed oddly right in a way that I couldn’t quite articulate but which instinctively felt right.

The plot fell together quickly and I soon began to get a feel for who Joseph, Reasons For Listing‘s protagonist, was (and indeed is for, really, we are still getting to know each other). My starting point – intensely personal and spotted with the kind of fears that if I thought about them too hard would prevent me from sleeping – was there but no loner visible.  Reasons For Listing is about a young man who has Asperger’s Syndrome but it’s also about growing up, striking out on your own and puzzling out the world around you. Which, at some point, every one of us has to do (for some it is, quite simply, a bit later or a bit harder than for others).

It’s a cliche to say that a picture paints a thousand words. I’m a playwright so I wouldn’t dismiss words so easily. But what might a photograph express? If we were to choose them what might it say about us? Living alone for the first time Joseph begins to create a photographic list of everything which makes him happy. And those pictures told a story too; there’s something about the photos that I realised he would choose that elevated him from casual labels. Because we’re all a lot more complex than a throw-away sentence describing some aspect of who we are.

As it stands I have a draft of Reasons For Listing which is labelled 0.75. In the next few weeks it’s going into the hands of both Charlie and a willing actor and it will undoubtedly see itself anew again at that point. But before we get there there’s the vital part of Reasons For Listing that requires your contribution:

If you were to take a photograph of something which makes you happy what would it be?

The idea is that Joseph’s story will never quite be the same in any two performances, changed as it is by the photos that people submit. For there is Joseph’s list of things that make him happy and then there are the lists those who he comes into contact with (or, equally pertinently, who come into contact with him). And that includes you.

We’ve written up all the details here and the only limit to what can be submitted it your imagination. Equally, if you want to submit more than one photograph please feel free.

So, what makes you happy?

Dance even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room 1

Let’s get something straight: I’m a tiny, tiny bit addicted to the live stream of Antony Gormley’s “One & Other”. This is something probably compounded by the excitement when for some reason or other I find myself passing through Trafalgar Square and can see FOR REAL what is happening. I imagine it’s the kind of feeling I would have gotten had I been allowed to wander into the Big Brother house mid series two.

Of course some of the stuff on the plinth has been the equivalent of Big Brother Contestants doing the washing up and not talking (do not mock, yes I have watched Big Brother Contestants wash up. What can I say, I was an Undergraduate with a maxed out overdraft and…okay no more excuses). But there’s also been incredible inventiveness, oddly troubling moments and then those moments that just make you stop.

I honestly can’t think of a better way of using the empty plinth than to celebrate the ingenuity, mundanity and all round insanity of those who live in this country.

So I was somewhat chuffed when I read that the Blogger Mike Atkinson, otherwise known as Troubled Diva, is going up on the plinth with the kind of crazy scheme that makes me want to jump with a little bit of joy.  For he’s going to be dancing to a specially prepared soundtrack – and he’s encouraging everyone else to participate too, either in Trafalgar Square if you can make it in person or via the web if you can’t. The Ultimate Plinth Mix is up and ready to be downloaded or streamed – though the idea is not to listen to the songs beforehand so no peeking.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a sucker for popular music telling a story, and this reponse to the project emphatically does that. Plus, as anyone who has at some point in their life waved their arms above their heads with little regard for public safety will know, there is something totally wonderful about closing your eyes and flailing your body to music.

Maybe most importantly however, and the thing that really made this idea stand out to me, was the fact that this is about both the individual and the community. Yes, Troubled Diva will be the man on the Plinth and the songs chosen are ones that mean something to him but if you close your eyes and dance then you are part of the narrative too. And you can create your own story whether you’re on the Plinth, in Trafalgar Square or watching a computer screen in a room hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. And that is exactly why this is a little bit special.