Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 79: Twilight

Before I moved to Australia, in 1822 (actually it was 1987 but it feels like centuries ago), I was living in London and, I agree with whoever said (probably Oscar Wilde, as he said most things) that “a man who is bored of London is bored of life”. I think Oscar Wilde also said “..the coldest winter I ever spent, was a summer in San Francisco...”? I don’t know why I bring that up now? I’ve been to San Francisco, it’s a fantastic city and I can’t say the the weather left a lasting impression on me.

However, the weather in London, is never far from my recall. I oft used to complain that whoever was responsible for “booking the weather” in England must have sometimes forgotten. England is susceptible, like no other country that I know, to days when there appears to be no discernible weather: it’s neither hot nor cold, there’s no rain, nor sun, or even any clouds; just a greyness up above, an “above” which I think is some sort of ceiling masquerading as the sky? It is, literally, as though somebody forgot to book the weather for that day; a waste of a weatherless day.

I think I miss London more than I do England and I don’t get back there as much as I’d like to, but when I do, I have my own favourite haunts that are idiosyncratic to me. Today I will share one with you.

Piccadilly is a thoroughfare that runs from Hyde Park Corner, in the west, to Piccadilly Circus in the east (located, ironically, in the West End). One of the yellow properties on the Monopoly Board (I have no interest in the yellow properties), it is bordered to the north by Mayfair (who doesn’t covet that deep blue property) and abuts St James’s and Green Park to the south.

At the point where the small parish of St.James’s sits cheek by jowl with Green Park, there is a small walkway through the park, from Piccadilly, south to The Mall; it’s called Queen’s Walk.

Queen’s Walk can be little more than 500 yards in length and is my favourite place in London to seek solace, contemplation and reflection, but it has to be autumn turning into winter and at twilight when the lamps dotting it’s length are lit. The French have an expression for that time of day, “entre le chien et la loup” which means “between the dog and the wolf”, because at dusk it can often be hard to tell which is which, especially if you’re not wearing your glasses, which is often the case for me. What feint power there may have been in the winter sun, has left Helios by this time of day (usually around 4.45pm) leaving just enough illumination to offer the bare branches of the tree in silhouette against the pale, pastel pink of the sky.

Wrought iron benches also punctuate the broad pathway and here I will sit for a moment to contemplate the back gardens of the opulent villas of St. James’s. I can’t imagine that many of these are residential properties, preferring to believe that they are the rear-ends of embassies, government offices or maybe even an MI5 safe house. It doesn’t take too much creative work for me to imagine that the hand and cuff-of-sleeve that switches a table lamp on in the waning light, belongs to that of George Smiley; England’s foremost spook of the 1970’s ready to expose one of Her Majesty’s art gallery curator’s as the Fourth Man (reason enough to leave the lights well off I’d have thought?).

Double decker London buses chug along to the north, whilst pedestrians constantly ebb and flow along Queen’s walk, weighed down with umbrellas, attaché cases and gift-wrapped presents from the sparkly and luxurious retail providores, squeezed between the international airline shop fronts of Piccadilly (Pan Am long gone, Air France still doing a brisk trade). My unrestrained and probably unreliable memory, has me believe that you can hear the chimes from the bells of St.Stephen’s clock tower (Big Ben) from across St.James’s Park but maybe I’m gilding the lily now.

The trick though, is to leave my park bench and head off, along what was once gravel, before I’ve had my elegant sufficiency; too much, after all, is worse than none at all. There is Burlington Arcade and Jermyn Street along which I may yet meander, pressing my nose against the windows of bespoke shirtmakers and the like. That great British writer & conversationalist (Dr) Samuel Johnson (a leading figure in literary London of the 1700’s), or maybe his equally noted biographer, James Boswell, may have had something to say about Queen’s Walk, I know not, perhaps Green Park was but a meadow then? Samuel Johnson did however, have plenty to say on many a subject; in my copy of 'The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotes', four and a half pages are devoted to 94 of his pithy quips. I will refer us to just one of them.

Day #79 Tip: Don’t get blocked by “writer’s block”
“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it”; Samuel Johnson said this in 1750.

Two hundred and forty-nine years later, In 1999, Robert McKee had this to say: “Have you ever had writer’s block? Scary, isn’t it?.....I know a cure, but it isn’t a trip to your psychiatrist. It’s a trip to the library. You’re blocked because you have nothing to say. Your talent didn’t abandon you....talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas.”

The business of “teaching” or “guiding” screenwriters is possibly as big and as lucrative as the business of screenwriting itself and within that educational writing sub-sector dwells a whole other microcosm on overcoming “writer’s block”.

For me, writing is no different from a 9 to 5 work mentality, nor was it for Graham Greene and many other writers of note. Green’s 9 to 5 was 2,000 words a day and then he would stop, bang on the knocker of word number 2,000, whether in the middle of a sentence or paragraph (I’ve probably made that last bit up). I want to say I read that Richard Curtis (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually) writes from 10.00am to 4.00pm, every day.

When I was a dilettante, I used to wait for my muse to come-a-waltzin’. Can you imagine the
mighty reams, nay, the volumes of unfathomable length that I wrote then....for that’s all they remained: imagined. These days, I’m at my work at 8.30am and - breaking for meetings and wotnot in between - stop at 5.30pm. It works for me, you must find what works for you.

If I get stumped, and I never have, I would follow Mr Mckee’s advice of heading to my research department to feed the ravenous writer within. Perhaps I’ve not been “blocked” because I’m already and always doing this anyway, in between compiling Index Cards, writing character biog’s and trying to tell the difference between a dog a wolf?

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