Saturday, 25 April 2009

Words and Music

What is it that makes writing and music so emotionally compatible? So many writers are often musicians and vice versa. They both demand exclusivity in terms of time-management. Often when I have a gig I’m painfully conscious of the dent that it’s making in my word-count schedule. And sometimes I’ll even turn down a gig because it comes at a time when I really do need to be writing.
But I cannot set one above the other.
I have a show this week, HMS Pinafore. I’m 2nd clarinet in the pit. It’s demanding, it’s every night, and it takes nearly an hour to travel to and from home. So the solution is: I don’t travel. I bring my home to Llangollen.
Here I am, at the end of the arrow. Instead of driving for two hours I can write, and Sarah can paint. And just look at the scenery round here. Can life get much better than this?

So, back to the initial question. What makes writing and music such comfortable bed-fellows?
Here’s my view: It’s all about validation. As a musician I love the sound of applause. You know that you have entertained people when they clap. There’s nothing like seeing a group of smiling faces leaving a theatre or club and knowing that you have been part of their experience that evening. Or playing a solo that comes together and really works, and hearing the approval immediately afterwards.
But, here’s the thing, it’s fleeting. When a solo is done, it’s done. Over. It will never be repeated. (It might be recorded, but that’s rare.) So with music you get instant gratification, but it’s gone the moment you let it out of the bag.
With writing it’s different. It takes time to create, to rework, to edit. Then it goes out to editors and you wait weeks and months for any feedback – meanwhile you’re working on something else. Often the feedback is negative (although I have noticed, since becoming a ‘Writers of the Future’ winner, that I do seem to be getting a better class of rejection slip nowadays.) When something gets published there is another delay, weeks and months. There’s no instant gratification with writing. But writing isn’t fleeting, like music. When its out there it’s out there for a long time. The feedback is no less gratifying than applause for a good improvised solo, but it has more substance, because it lasts. There’s also a better chance of it being heard by a wider audience. Maybe no more in number than the hundred or so who fit into Maghull Town Hall each month to hear my efforts with the Merseyside Big Band, but they’re more geographically dispersed.

It’s my last night in Llangollen tonight. I’m going to miss it. It’s the first time I’ve done HMS Pinafore – a terrific show, packed with good tunes and there are some great lines. It was very political in its day and it still has resonance. And it's still very very funny. Words and music, working together.

But before I put on my DJ and dicky, and go off to entertain the cultured masses of North Wales, there are other pressing duties to perform: The toilet is full; it has to be tipped out into a big hole at the top of the field. And the drinking water tank needs filling, the waste water tank needs emptying and... oh, it’s my turn to cook the tea. I’m not going to get away with beans on toast again tonight.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Eastercon Retrospective

This is me outside the caravan the morning after Eastercon LX. Notice the dark glasses which hide the bleary-eyes that half a night’s sleep hasn’t managed to fully erase.
So, how was my first experience of a SciFi convention? Would I do it again?
Well, I’ve already booked for 2010. So that probably also answers the first question.
What were the highlights?
It’s hard, but I’d have to say, for me, the George Hay Memorial Lecture, given by Dr Adrian Bowyer, about the RepRap project was the talk I’ll take away and remember. Here’s the link. ( The whole concept just blew me away.
The trouble with doing just one day is that so much is going on you are scared to miss anything, and there are so many panels at any one time. And when do you eat? You have to stop sometime and then you fret about the panels you’re missing by pausing to eat.
But then, at about six o’clock you realise that your head is filling up and there’s a data buffer overload thing going on, with knowledge escaping out of your ears in the form of both steam and ectoplasmic goo, and the latter is dribbling down your neck. So that’s when you have to stop. And so at that point you may as well eat.
But then there’s more to come. Because events go on into the night – on this night there’s a full sized orchestra playing Wagner and film theme music and Beethoven.

Sarah puts up with a lot. I thought that twelve straight hours of SF geekdom just might cause her to crack, but she surprised me by declaring that her favourite was the session on small-satellites, (because we’d recently been to a lecture on satellite technology at the Wrexham Science Fair, and this had set up the context for her).
“So, are we going next year,” she said.
“Wow!” I said.

Friday, 10 April 2009


Starting a new caravan season with a visit to Eastercon. Right now I'm sitting in the caravan on a Yorkshire hillside just outside Bradford and the rain is beating out a samba on the caravan roof. Nothing much new there, then. It rained every day we were away last year so I'm well used to it. At least I don't feel tempted to do energetic stuff like walking. I have a full car battery to power the laptop so I'll get lots of opportunity to write. Yeay!
Tomorrow we head for Eastercon, the British Science Fiction Convention. Never been to a con before. Don't know what to expect. So I figured one day would be enough to try it out. Besides, Eastercon runs for four full days, dawn 'till after midnight. I couldn't do it to Sarah, she puts up with enough. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to meeting people who have heard of the writers I enjoy- people who know the jargon and what's happening in the field. Maybe I'll even get to meet some real writers.
Uh-oh, the winds picking up. Caravan's starting to rock and creak a bit. The rain's gone all sideways. Must be a sign. Must be about to run out of water. Time to get the wellies on again.