Monday, June 28, 2010

The Scottish Play, the Russian Play and Lowe in Basingstoke

Ah, it's always fun to hit the Globe; I had missed their Macbeth earlier, so was glad to have a chance to catch it before it ended. The staging was a bit more elaborate than the usual plain stage: there was a double ring with chains and drapery over the stage, and a kind of bib stretching out from the stage itself, which had holes cut in it to allow the mostly young groundlings to put their heads through. It also allowed the three witches (pictured left) to sneak up behind them and make them shriek. This set the tone: it was a gruesomely bloody production that emphasized the violence. I liked that the witches were always around, so you had more of a sense of their orchestrating all the events. A very enjoyable production that seldom lagged.

Another stop at the NT is hard to resist when they have the Travelx £10 tickets. I had already seen the set for Mikhail Bulgakov's The White Guard during the back stage tour and was looking forward to seeing it in action. I had no idea that there were a few sets between which the action switched. The main location, the Turbin's home, was a wonderful evocation of early 20th century Russia, but I had no idea how quickly the entire set could roll away and be replaced with succeeding sets, even an underground bunker. Bulgakov's play deals with the horrors of war and its pointlessness, but with a great deal of humour and tenderness as well as anger. Very enjoyable. Even more enjoyable was coming out of the theatre in the midst of the England-Slovenia match, so the streets were completely empty and there was no traffic to fight while cycling through Waterloo. Whoo hoo!

Thursday was Basingstoke and Nick Lowe. His opening act was part of his band: Geraint Watkins. The good-natured singer and keyboardist ambled through a few songs accompanied by clarinet and saxophonist Martin Willing (I think?) that really pleased the audience. Later Lowe dueted with Watkins on "Only a Rose." Lowe was his usual low key self with the big shock of white hair and thick horn-rimmed glasses. He hit songs old and new like the yearning "Long Limbed Girl" and "I Trained Her to Love Me" (which he called "evil") from At My Age and older songs like acoustic versions of "Heart" and "The Beast in Me" as well as a really romping version of "I Knew the Bride" and wonderfully moving rendition of "What's so Funny 'bout Peace Love and Understanding?" Wonderful show -- worth the trip!

Yesterday, of course, was the disastrous loss of the England team, or as the Express headline I saw on the Tube said, "YOU LET YOUR COUNTRY DOWN." Worse, I lost £10 betting on them and Germany was just a much much better team. At least I got treated to a drink to make up for losing :-)

It's outrageously hot in London. I cam back in the middle of the afternoon and took a bath I felt so grotty. Where are my grey skies and cool breezes?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Fairy Tales with Cate Masters

Join me at fellow writer Cate Masters' blog to talk about fairy tales: what's your fave and why? Yes, of course -- this is another chance to talk about PELZMANTEL!

By the by, because a few people have asked: if you are not within signing distance, send me your address and I will be happy to send you one of the promo postcards signed that you can tuck into your book.

Of course, if I end up anywhere near you, I can replace that with a real signature :-D

By the by: Nick Lowe was WONDERFUL!! of course :-D

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Tour

I'm off to Basingstoke to see Nick Lowe tonight; I'm also going to be the featured writer at Cate Masters' blog tomorrow, talking about Pelzmantel, so be sure to stop by and say hello. The difficult task for all writers is getting the word out: I need all the help I can get!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Zombie Land

I came out of The White Guard today, hopped on my bike and thought I had landed in 28 Days Later. I had misgivings about the Waterloo roundabout, always an insane mess of cars, bikes and other vehicles and there was --

no one.

I have never seen the streets of London so empty (at least not since the zombie flick). Yeah, it was the England v Slovenia match of the World Cup. I cycled off to meet a friend at the Black Prince, where we had a beer before the crowds started gathering for the next match (Germany v Ghana). Who knew there were so many Germans in south London? They came to the Black Prince because "the other German pub was full." Har!

Reviews of the Russian play and the Scottish one to come --

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Dandy, Van and Rude Britannia

No time for anything but a quick recap in reverse time order: last night saw Dandy in the Underworld, the one man play at the Soho Theatre about Sebastian Horsley. It was quite good and alternately funny and sad, particularly with the fact of his death last week hanging over the production -- though Horsley was apparently delighted by the play based on his autobiography of the same name. With Soho likely to go the same way as Times Square as the forces of gentrification take hold, it's sad to think Horsley may be the last of the true eccentrics of the city. We stopped by his building which is just around the corner on Meard Street, still bearing its famous sign. Flowers, especially his beloved sunflowers, were gathered in remembrance, often with accompanying cards speaking to the fondness people had for his flamboyant life.

Saturday was the Rude Britannia exhibit at the Tate Britain, which was very fun, although as Brad said, it could have used a lot more cartoons. There was a lot of fun stuff along with the expected Gillrays and Hogarths, including GIANT versions of Viz pages, Roger Mellie offering the text for the art, an anvil hanging over a doorway and perhaps my fave, Eddie Adams' recreations of famous incendiary photojournalist shots with old age pensioners (think Ruby, napalm, the Viet Cong execution). Morbidly funny. I was surprised to see that the Ally Sloper offerings were courtesy of pal Roger Sabin. I texted him, "You're in the Tate!" Hee hee.

Friday night was the wonderful concert, another part of the Meltdown Festival curated by Richard Thompson. The opening band Clare and the Reasons were quite delightful. Headliner Van Dyke Parks came out to play the lovely Harry Nilsson song "He Needs Me" from the Popeye soundtrack, where Parks was musical arranger (and played the piano player on film). Thompson introduced Parks' solo set -- clearly they are old friends -- as being like "Mark Twain if he could sing". Lots of old friends apparently turned up for the show. Parks is a legend among musicians, but not well known to the general public. He has an unusual style and was quite jokey and relaxed. Hard to describe but wonderful to enjoy. Parks clearly felt gratified by the enthusiastic audience in the end, hopping out into the audience to shake hands and soak up the love. Wonderful!

Meanwhile the vuvuzelas fill London with their hum. Every pub is filled with flags -- mostly England flags, but considering the broad swath of people in this city, you'll find fans for every team cheering loudly. You can't help but be caught up in it enough to know who's doing well and what calls have been decried. Summer in England. Hope everyone had a great solstice yesterday and made the most of the longest day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pelzmantel Book Trailer

BitchBuzz: Shakespeare Lunch

My latest column for BitchBuzz takes up another theatre experience:

Shakespeare for Lunch at the Bridewell Theatre

If you like your Bard on the light side, C Company and the Bridewell Theatre offer you the chance for a taste of the Elizabethan drama cut down for lunchtime viewing in the intimate surroundings of the tiny theatre. Tucked behind the historic St Bride's Church just off Fleet street, it's a magical little spot. Eat a sandwich in the churchyard, then pop down into the bar for a matinée drink before the performance starts.
This month it's Cymbeline, Shakespeare's confection about lovers parted, tokens given and true love bedeviled by the envious and unloved. Director Susan Bracken has a tight team of players who whip round the kerchief-sized stage with quick efficiency despite the constant changes. The entire cavalcade of characters is played by a cast of just four. Kate Brazel-Wood's simple but clever set makes it possible to change locations visually with only a small effect (which inevitably provokes laughter) while keeping the central conceit of a bedtime story believably present...

Read the rest at BBHQ:

Van Dyke Parks tonight at another Meltdown event; if all goes according to plan, Rude Britannia tomorrow. I should be working on my press release, but I may need to wander around town for a bit (always, always).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PELZMANTEL Publication & Review Copies

Yes, it's true! Pelzmantel is available for order (or should be any minute now) at Immanion. Let the champagne corks fly! Or perhaps prosecco, as I prefer the Italian sparkler to the French. Whoohoo!

I'll be doing signings and cons next month in the States. Not sure I have time to put something together here. We shall see -- pop up book signing, anyone?!

If you bought the original edition, let me tempt you with some of the extras. Not only is there a brand new introduction by the wonderful Liz Hand, but there are also three additional stories included, one which I can assure none of you has seen. I've also written an introductory overview to medieval magic which shows how much of the story is drawn from real magic from the Middle Ages.

After all, it would be worth buying just to have the lovely cover by Ruby! I do still think it's utterly gorgeous. I am so very pleased with everything at Immanion; Storm has been wonderful to work with -- insightful, too!

Don't forget: if you're short on money, why not ask your local library to order a copy?

One thing I could use some suggestions for: places to send review copies. I know a few of the top of my head that would be good, but feel free to suggest what you think would be the best places to have it considered. Many thanks!

Monday, June 14, 2010


I woke up with this song in my head. Tick, tick, tick; is it already the middle of June? Must find a way to stay here...

Weekend fun with the Brookses: Sophie and I played footie in the back garden because the air is full of World Cup fever here. Yes, we even watched the England-US match (very poor!); well, Liz and I drank some wine and giggled a lot while Brad watched it. Fun!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Double BitchBuzz: Tea and Fairy Tales

Busy week and I'm making good use of it! Two extra columns:

Fox's New Biscuit and Tea Tasting Guide

"I prefer a nice cup of tea to sex." - Boy George
What could need less thought than your tea and biscuit? Kettle on, package open, insert in mouth. Well, Fox's Biscuits wants you to reconsider everything and to get you to approach tea and biscuit combinations as if you were pairing wine with your dinner. I had my doubts, but I have to say I was won over.
Pearl Lowe hosted the tea party to launch Fox's new Biscuit and Tea Tasting guide, adding a touch of her particular style to the event, but it was the surprise appearance of notorious tea lover Boy George that really brought the point home: some people are just fanatical about tea. And why not? There's no indulgence quite as comforting as a big tea party. Add a little Buck Fizz if anyone feels like they're being deprived somehow...

Read more:

Joan Jonas's "The Juniper Tree" Exhibition

Joan Jonas ignites the resonant power of the fairy tale in her installation The Juniper Tree at the Tate Modern. What is it about the magic of "once upon a time" that seems so well suited to echo the tangled webs of female existence? Whatever it is, Jonas has harvested it for this piece, which memorializes a performance piece she has presented in various forms since its debut at the ICA in Philadelphia back in 1976, although like all her productions, she considers this to be a "work in progress" yet. While a static version of a performance piece may not sound ideal, as Jonas herself puts it, it captures "the shifting nature between performance, memory, and physical presence." Think of it as a 3-D scrapbook...

Read more:

Check the two pieces out and be sure to retweet or post on Facebook if you want to help share them. The Jonas installation has inspired an idea for a play which I'm pecking away at while I work on ten other things (as usual). And no, Robert -- she's not related to the Jonas Brothers as far as I know.

Yesterday went to the new exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery, but I found it rather disappointing and uninspired. The only pieces I liked much were paintings by Sigrid Holmwood and Ged Quinn. I was hoping for more.

Off to the wild west today (Hanwell, that is). Fun!

Friday, June 11, 2010

BitchBuzz: Women Beware Women

My latest column for BitchBuzz is another theatre review:

"Men buy their slaves, but women buy their masters." – Isabella

Shakespeare gets all the love when it comes to Elizabethan theatre, but that's because people tend to forget that the stage was the television of its time, cheap and plentiful, aiming only to get bums on benches and crowds in the yard. They were up against bear baiting and the groundlings cried for more jokes and more violence. One of the crowd pleasers getting revived of late is Thomas Middleton.

Women Beware Women is a great example of Middleton's work. Like last years' The Revenger's Tragedy, the National Theatre gives Middleton an enthusiastic outing that makes the most of his brutal phantasmagoria. Marianne Elliott directs the production with a kind of gleeful decadence (why is it that there are more women directors at the NT than on the whole of Broadway?).

Loosely based on some of the Medici family goings-on, the plot is a bit complicated: trying to summarize it to a friend, I quickly saw his eyes glaze over...

As always, read the rest at BBHQ. I ought to have an additional piece up very soon as I attended another launch for BB yesterday with celebrities both planned and unexpected. All to be revealed soon, but now I need some more tea.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: After the Dance + NT backstage tour

I love the NT! What could it be? Their wide variety of programming? Plays old and new? More female directors in this single building than on the whole of Broadway? So many reasons!

I found yet another reason when I took their backstage tour. Yes, I am so enamoured of theatre life that it was bound to be fun. Plus I got previews of the two productions I was going to see this week. Although it was the dinner break for most of the crew, there were a few people around including some of the actors warming up.

First stop was the Olivier, their largest theatre. The set for Women Beware Women was on stage and they were doing the sound check for the evening's performance. Our guide explained how in addition to turning the set around, the giant cylinder can also bring up an entire set from below while taking another down in a sort of corkscrew movement. There are over a thousand lights, some fixed, some programmable, and sight lines are fixed at 118° which matches the sight lines of the human eye, the slope of the seats making sure no one ever blocks your view (though I find it does make me knees a little wobbly looking down).

The Lyttleton is a more traditional theatre, but the proscenium can rise and lower and the sides as well, so it can be widescreen or not.  The set for After the Dance was up and a few tech people were testing things out, as it's still in previews. We went back stage and there were still sets for The Habit of Art, Alan Bennett's latest play, which I'd seen via simulcast just before I left for London. Everything was modular so it could be moved in and out easily. There are up to three plays rotating on all three stages at any given time -- amazing! We went around directly behind the stage where the set for The White Guard sits, wonderfully evoking turn of the century Russia in the winter -- there's even a real spruce for the Christmas tree.  The entire set rolls forward and then gets lowered onto the stage. Quite ingenious.

In the tiny Cottesloe, actors were warming up on stage, but our guide said they were all right with our trooping in to take a peek. I haven't been to a production in this little black box theatre, so I'm looking forward to doing so soon. Not only can the stage be reconfigured, but the seats as well. Behind the scenes, we saw the boxes of the horses from War Horse packed to be shipped to Broadway, and a giant portrait of Olivier hangs in the narrow but very long corridor between all the workshops. Among the props were things like a bloodied head and a few turtles. In the huge paintshop the floor for Moira Buffini's new play, Welcome to Thebes, were newly painted and partially assembled. The huge backdrop painted like a grey sky hung across the walls. Amazing that there's that much space.

After the tour, it was time for After the Dance and its decadence between the wars, when the sparkle of the Bright Young Things has lost most of its lustre. Thea Sharrock directs a stellar cast in Rattigan's play which allow individuals to emerge from the types and shifts our sympathies as layers are gradually revealed, even in people steadfastly determined to have only a shiny surface. Hildegard Bechtler's set effortlessly reproduces sumptuous but tasteful wealth.

We're introduced to the Scott-Fowler home by the absence of its central figure, David (Benedict Cumberbatch), who's sleeping off the effects of yet another of the endless parties. His cousin, Peter (John Heffernan), a poor relation who's paid to be a secretary for the history he's supposedly writing. His disapproval of his cousin's life comes out in conversation with John Reid, a sort of professional hanger-on played by the always wonderful Adrian Scarborough. David's wife Joan (Nancy Carroll), tries to dismiss Peter's concerns, but when Peter's fiancée, Helen (Faye Castelow) arrives with her doctor brother, it soon becomes clear that David is far worse off than a mere hangover -- and that Helen is completely smitten with him.

It's wonderful to see the ways that various characters figure it out. David is nearly the last, but finds himself drawn to the very different version of himself that Helen is briskly determined to make. Peter is of course the very last, in his youthful assumptions of clear cut answers, it simply doesn't fit. The most moving performance comes from Carroll's embodiment of Joan, who works so hard to be the superficial party girl that she finds it too difficult -- until it's too late -- to show how much she really feels. The most affecting character ends up being Scarborough's Reid, who spends most of the play being a terrible sort of scrounger and lout, yet digs out some of the most heartfelt lines by the end.

The tense final scene would have played a lot better if there were not a veritable chorus of coughing during it. Why do people save up their hacking and harrumphing for the theatre?!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Publications: "Touched by an Angel" & 21st Century Gothic

I just received a copy of the cover of the new collection 21st Century Gothic which features my essay on Graham Joyce's [AKA William Heaney's] Memoirs of a Master Forger. It was one of those projects that comes out of the blue and then -- typical for me anyway -- I forget all about it and am pleasantly surprised to be reminded again. I had actually overlooked the deadline in the midst of all the tenure folderol and was tempted to beg off the project, but Danel convinced me to give it a go and I have to say I'm very glad I did. I look forward to reading the rest of the collection.

Speaking of forgetting: most of you know how I hate to let anything go to waste, writing-wise. Ages ago (yes, years) I wrote a gruesomely funny little short story called "Touched by an Angel" that I had accepted for publication and then promptly forgot. Yes, the vintage is clear from the title; I'm hoping somewhere the show is still living on in syndication. Anyhoo, eventually I realised that it had not appeared, so I looked into it and found that the magazine had folded, so off it went elsewhere.

Lather, rinse, repeat. That's the nature of publishing. Almost everything can find a home eventually, I suppose. You just have to find the editor who wants it. It's always a tricky thing for me as I have an annoying habit of mixing together things that don't belong together according to conventional wisdom. So at last "Touched by an Angel" appears in Kalkion, an on-line publication. Do drop by and read it or at least tweet or Facebook it (even if you don't read it, it helps). If you like funny and gruesome, you'll enjoy it.

I need to write up the WONDERFUL backstage tour I had of the National Theatre and the production of Terence Rattigan's After the Dance I saw there afterward, but I have a matinée of Women Beware Women there this afternoon, so it will probably have to wait. I did finally get to the British Library to renew my card and do a little work, so more of that likely to happen as well -- it's not all idleness!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Review: The Real Thing

Wednesday I caught The Old Vic production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, as I mentioned in a recent post.  Most of you know how I am enamoured of Stoppard's work and I had heard good things about this production. The bar was set high by the most recent production of his Arcadia, which was one of the most compelling productions I have seen despite an unbelievably hot theatre.

The cast included the wonderful Toby Stephens, Hattie Morahan, Fenella Woolgar and Barnaby Kay.  It's a surprisingly affectionate look at love, something I suppose most people don't associate with Stoppard. It does begin with a little bit of a trick that you do associate with him: the opening scene -- you begin to realise during the one that follows it -- is part of a play within a play, written by Henry (Stephens) and acted by his wife (Woolgar) and friend (Kay), whose girlfriend, we come to find, has begun falling for Henry.

Much of the play circles around Henry and Annie as they deal with happiness and their own insecurities. Henry wants to write a play for Annie, but finds that happiness is not very inspiring for good writing, that love and lust lead only to banalities and clichés.  Annie gets upset because Henry fails to be jealous of a love scene she has with an attractive co-star. Like all couples, they had divergent tastes that can't necessarily be reconciled. Annie tries to get Henry to appreciate classical music, but he's stuck on vintage pop songs (which punctuate many of the scene changes) which he finds the best way to express those 'banal' feelings of love.

The excellent cast inhabit their roles with real verve. Stephens manages to give Henry a down-to-earth friendliness that balances the sometimes knowing speeches about writing and the power of words that often infuriate Annie when she's trying to convince him of the importance of her cause celébre 'political prisoner's' play.  The famous 'cricket bat' speech -- where Henry compares good writing to the crafting of a bat in contrast to a similarly shaped bit of wood -- can easily sound pedantic, but Stephens gives it a kind of eager enthusiasm that makes it seem entirely inspired by a spur of the moment thought.

Morahan's Annie has a harder job because she has to be a bit histrionic at times, very much an actor, and occasionally her gestures seemed a bit too controlled for effect, but then again, it fits the role. With the slight hoarseness in her voice and some of the mannerism, I couldn't help seeing her as Felicity Kendal which was likely just my knowing the history of the playwright.  The wonderful Woolgar did so much with the largely thankless task of the discarded spouse, infusing   with such wit and intelligence that you couldn't help but wonder why Henry would have left her for the more emotional Annie, but the heart is an unpredictable little muscle.

Stoppard seems almost apologetic dealing with 'the real thing' here; it gives Henry and the play a kind of charming awkwardness, but it also offers a compelling meditation on the ways we learn to deal with the ebb and flow of love and the hunger to find it that makes us step out into the darkness time and again with a leap of faith -- and the hope that the next time it will be real.  As the strains of "Daydream Believer" ring out, you can't help but smile and wish the best for Henry and Annie.

Some wandering today along the Thames and back to the Tate Modern: on Waterloo Bridge I happened to run into Nigel Planer, who looked very good. I had just missed my bus and it began to rain.  A cooler day than the last couple -- hurrah!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Interviewed at UnBound / BitchBuzz

The wonderful Adele over at the fabulous book review (and more) blog, UnBound has interviewed me and wormed many secrets out of me :-) and that's me laughing at the noodle restaurant the week before. It was such a pleasure getting to know in real life someone I had got to know over the 'net. I love the internet! So many friends and opportunities I would not have had but for it.

Yesterday I dawdled along the Thames near Millbank mudlarking. There was the usual assortment of glass and pottery shards, but I also found odd things like the front part of a telelvision set (no screen of course), a camera, a set of rusty keys with a Galapagos diving fob, which amused me (surviving all that diving and then losing your keys in the river? Then again maybe it was all a pose anyway). I went to the Tate Britain afterward. I'm still amazed at how much I love the new Turner section, mostly for his unfinished paintings which seem like precursors of the Impressionists. There's a new room of early Bacon works that include a painted screen and three rugs (!) from his interior design business in the 30s.

And my latest column is up, too, at BitchBuzz: a mad mash-up of the Stoppard matineé, the guy behind me on the bus, random musings about the Middle Ages and the usual weird stuff in my head. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Publication: Lachrymae Draconis

I have a new publication out in the latest issue of Realms. It's a kind of medieval mystery with a dragon called "Lachrymae Draconis" which you'll quickly figure out is Latin for "dragon tears" -- an entirely fake commodity that young Colburga has been dealing in with the help of the dragon she's got hidden away in a cave. No, the dragon doesn't cry. Colburga knows that's not possible -- but the dragon has other skills that help sell what they label "tears" and Colburga's knowledge of healthful herbs makes the concoctions effective. She's become quite a business woman because she doesn't do anything without making a profit. Her life may be lonely, but that's okay -- things are safer that way. Or so she thinks until the day a crying child appears at her gate with an intriguing problem...

I hope you enjoy the story. I had thought to include this among the stories added to Pelzmantel, but it got snapped up too quickly. I have seen the page proofs and the final cover and oh! does it look gorgeous. I'll see if I can make a reduced version so you can see. I'm still just gaga over Ruby's stunning artwork. Amazing!

I saw Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing at the Old Vic yesterday. Wonderful! Review coming soon: yes, it's a play about love, but also the love of words, including this hopeful line every writer dreams of making real:

I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Magus: The Alan Moore Conference (Day Two)

Here's another one of Adele's photos: just out of shot to Alan's left is me holding Melinda's glass. One of these days, I'm going to remember to take a picture with them. But don't they look sweet together? More on thee two later. I left London on the same train as I had the day before, but bank holiday weekend engineering works made sure that I was late. The cab dropped me off just after the time slated for panels to begin; fortunately, things were running slightly late, so Andrés was just introducing Gary Lloyd when I arrived, waving a belated hello to Adele.

Gary had worked with Alan on Brought to Light—not one of my favourites among the CDs, but an important work nonetheless. I was interested to see what he would talk about as his title "Moore and Music" could cover a lot of ground. It was fascinating to hear him talk about working together and how Alan has 'perfect pitch' but a voice so deep his falsetto doesn't sound like a falsetto. He was amusing, too, illustrating his talk with imaginary charts (all of which worked in an off-hand reference to SKIZZ), Homer Simpson eating a donut, and his six year old nephew's drawing of Watchmen, a drawing that showed superheroes like Spider-man, Batman and Hulk at the bottom of a cliff crying for help and Rorschak simply saying, "No."

Cyril Camus of the University of Toulouse traced the many ways in which Neil Gaiman had been inspired by Moore's work, often quite directly and how the friendship and influence of Moore helped shape Gaiman's career.  U Northampton's Jasmine Shadrack presented a lively discussion "V Versus Hollywood: A Discourse on Polemic Thievery" with a V mask hanging from the podium.  She traced her unexpected reaction to the movie version of V for Vendetta, which had been a singularly affecting novel for her on first reading it.  While the film changed much, there was still a great deal to celebrate.

I chose to go to the film panel after the break, perhaps perversely, because most of the films made from Moore's material have been so exquisitely bad. Stephen Keane, also from Northampton, covered "Watching the Watchmen: From Panels to Frames in Watchmen" which he warned us would be a loose presentation, more preliminary than final and it was, but he had a few interesting points to make from film studies approach.  Aine Young from Queen's University Belfast, examined "From Hell: The Adverse Journey from Page to Screen" and how Moore's carefully constructed Victorian landscape (among other details) was flattened and homogenized by the filmmakers.  The Hughes Brothers may have wanted to capture the grit and the slums, but in the end could not escape the Disneyfication of the project.  Ian Dawe of Selkirk College spoke about "The Moore Film Adaptations and the Erotic-Grotesque" as a way of measuring the success of the film versions, as he found those that removed that quality from Moore's texts were sure to render a bland product.  While it seemed an intriguing concept, I couldn't really agree with his declaration of From Hell as the best adaptation.

Then it was lunch and more chat with Adele and with Marc, whose paper I had missed (but it went well, he said). As I was getting yet another cup of tea, I suddenly found myself handing a tea bag to Alan. I wasn't sure he'd remember me, but he did and we chatted a bit as we made our teas, mostly about what a strange thing it was to have a conference all about one's work.  But then as he said, "I've had a weird life, so this is just one more bit."  Since I hadn't met Melinda before, he made a point of taking me over to introduce us and she's just as delightful in person as she had been on the phone (and gave me a nice compliment too, "We love your writing!"). Yes, I made sure to introduce Adele, who snapped that lovely photo. We all went in for the Q&A, which Paul Gravett was hosting. I brought my new Flip camera and managed to video most of the session, while Paul talked with Alan and then Melinda and then they both responded to audience questions. But the session went long (no one complained!) and my camera ran out of memory, so I'm missing the last bit.

I hope to put up the video on line, so let me just mention a few things that came up at the end, including Alan's comment that "art is a kind of possession" and that "I'm a very possessive person!"  Most people in Northampton seem to know him (and judging by folks at the conference, have stories to tell about him), except for some employee at Sainsbury's who threatened the "scruffy guy" with calling the police if he came in again. I loved how Melinda described how we should all realise we're mushrooms who seem to be separate, but under the ground we all share roots. Referring to some of the people who claim him as an influence, Alan suggested that all they had picked up was the idea that "more sex, more violence, be incomprehensible" was what created "that Alan Moore feeling." Subjects ranged form Lost Girls, Jerusalem, Dodgem Logic and Melinda's autobiographical project to upcoming appearances by Alan on Radio 4 with scientist Brian Cox and in the newly opened catacombs under Waterloo (with musicians in July – argh!)  They were both generous enough to stick around for a good while chatting with people and signing things, though Alan said it was really just an excuse to mow through the buffet table. I shared a cab back to the train station and the trip to London with some colleagues chatting about the conference. Everyone seemed delighted.

While Saturday had been rainy and grey, Sunday was gorgeous though blustery, perfect for cycling over to Battersea Park to check out the boating. Baby coots, ducklings and goslings abounded and an entourage of ducks followed the boat quacking loudly for the apple bits I tossed behind me. Pub lunch was a nice roast dinner—yum!  Monday coming back from shopping I got caught in the midst of the pro-Palestinian protestors who gathered at the entrance to Downing Street and lay down in front of the bus I was on. Good thing I didn't have any ice cream in my bag of groceries.

Today I'm off to see a matinee of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing at the Old Vic with Toby Stephens. Can't wait!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Magus: The Alan Moore Conference (Day One)

Here's a lovely photo of me and Marc Singer snapped by the wonderful Adele, who already has her write-up of the Magus conference up over at her book blog, UnBound, and has pictures up as well. I was looking forward to this conference despite not quite having my paper done before I headed off to the UK. So many weird things happened while I was working on the paper that I decided to make that journey part of the paper, too.  I think I'll put the Powerpoint presentation on line with the paper as narration, so I won't detail everything here, but I had a lot of interesting coincidences arise from listening to Moore's performance CDs while sauntering through various museums in London and while lunching with my friend Roger Sabin in Red Lion Square (the site of the original performance of Snakes and Ladders.

I ran into Paul Gravett on the train coming into Northampton: I hadn't seen him in a few years, so it was great to have a chance to catch up on the cab ride to the campus, because he was busy right away as the keynote speaker. Adele was in the lobby with everyone else, so we had a chance to chat and meet other folks. I was pleased to see someone else I knew, Marc Singer, who was giving a paper on the Pog issue of Swamp Thing. I was a bit surprised to find that I had been moved from a later afternoon slot to the one immediately following the keynote, but it's just as well to have the paper done, so I didn't mind.

Nathan Wiseman-Trowse welcomed us all to the conference and talked a little bit about its genesis from a half-joking proposal to a serious academic undertaking (but fun, how could it not be?). He then introduced Paul who gave a lively presentation, "Something from Nothing -- Small Killing, Big Numbers: Comics Beyond Referentiality and Reinvention" which tied together some wonderful art exhibits of Moore's work (I especially yearned to see the Belgian one) and these less well known stories by Moore. I was glad Paul introduced the theme of the magic of art, creating something out of nothing, because I was going to be running with that topic, too. In a rather amusing moment as Paul talked about the giant diagram Moore created for Big Numbers, Gary Lloyd ran down with a facsimile so we could all see just how insanely detailed it was (four large sheets of paper with miniscule writing in tiny boxes representing each character and their storyline in all the issues. Wonderful!

I was on a panel with Rikke Cortsen from the University of Copenhagen. Antonio Venezia was supposed to be on the panel, too, but wasn't able to make it to our re-scheduled time and presented later in the day. Rikke's presentation, "Building Fictional Worlds: On the Construction of Place in Alan Moore's Top 10", examined how the variety of chronotopes employed helped map the complexity of not only the interwoven stories, but also the distinctly different time lines that overlaid the story lines.

My paper was a bit less formal and really became a performance about Moore's performances and the weird coincidences that dogged me as I wrote it. Most of you know that I enjoy a little theatricality in my performances and it seemed to go well. There didn't seem to be enough audible laughs at the right places (EL Wisty! Did people not recognize EL Wisty?), but afterward many people complimented me, so I was satisfied that it went well enough. The panel finished with a lively discussion, which soon proved to be the norm. So many people all interested in Moore's work gathering together, it was inevitable that people were bursting to discuss their ideas with folks who knew the score.

Lunch included a screening of Don't Let Me Die in Black and White, but most folks were too busy talking and eating to really take it in. After lunch, I headed to the panel "Chaotic Criminality: The Villains of Alan Moore".  First up was Geoff Klock, who appeared via Skype, which has a great potential for interconnectivity, but I can't help thinking he might have had a better presentation had he actually traveled to Northampton, for it was a bit rambling and had a few factual errors that irked. Mervi Miettinen from the University of Tempere presented "Past as Multiple Choice? Textual Anarchy in The Killing Joke" which explored the carefully controlled 'anarchy' of a dogged structuralist like Moore. Laura Hilton from the University of Birmingham presented "Reincarnating Mina Murray: Subverting the Gothic Heroine?" which compared the very different approaches between the film and the comics versions of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to the traditional passive Gothic heroine and both Moore's and Stoker's use of Mina as the powerful prototype of the New Woman. Yes, the excrementally bad film version destroys everything subversive about her.

The final panel of the day had Tony Venezia (Birbeck College) giving his presentation, "'A Sense of History's Patterns...': Mapping Northampton in Voice of the Fire and Big Numbers" which once again returned us to Moore's obsession with his hometown and its geography (and chorography). Our co-host Nathan gave us "Marvel or Miracle: (Re)Placing the Original in Alan Moore's Marvelman" which traced patterns within the history of that much troubled superhero. Deneb Kozikoski Valereto (Leiden University) offered a thoughtful study "Philosophy in the Fairground: The Killing Joke and Thoughts on Madness" which again focused on the deliberate interplay between insanity and Moore's careful and complex organisation.

We had a brief stop at the reception, but then Adele and I went to a pub toward the rail station so she could interview me :-D I'll let you know when it's up. I headed back to London and got ready to do it all again the next day.