Remember That Night – Gilmour & Bowie, 29th May 2006

It was ten years go today…

Introduction:

I work for the Orion Publishing Group and had really enjoyed Guy Pratt’s My Bass And Other Animals one man show and after seeing one of his shows in London I plucked up the courage to ask him if he had ever considered getting his stories published as a book. In fact, he had written a draft of the book and was looking for a publisher, so I introduced him to one of our editors Ian Preece and the rest is publishing history.

To promote the book we invited staff from Ottakar’s (the now much-missed UK book store chain) to come to Guy’s show at the Salisbury festival, which just happened to be the night before one of the best David Gilmour gigs ever. Here’s an extract from my diary, featuring Guy, Ian, my nephew Chris (who was 14 at the time, and in a band), my dad and his friend Kevin… and a new friend from Brazil…

Sunday 28th May, 2006

Took Chris down to Salisbury to see Guy Pratt’s ‘My Bass And Other Animals’ show. Couldn’t find the venue at first. We walked in circles along Endless Street (oh, the irony) in Salisbury looking for the Arts Centre only to find a very sorry-looking dilapidated building. We asked some guys playing basketball nearby if they knew where the Arts Centre was and they pointed us in the direction of the church, without pointing out that it actually was the church.

Chris and I were wandering about, looking very lost when, by random luck, a door opened and Guy stepped out.

‘It’s Guy!’ I said, and for a second he gave me one of those Christ-should-I-know-you? looks (I had only met him a couple of times at this point).

Indeed, the Arts Centre is a deconsecrated church and what a fantastic little venue it is. Guy led Chris and I through the backstage area as he told us about his gigs with David Gilmour in Manchester and Glasgow (which was just the night before).

We met with the Ottakar’s guests (including Duran Duran devotee Jon Howells) and the show started. We elected to stay seated at a raised area at the back, and behind us was a massive stained-glass window with an image of Christ on the cross, which Guy said was putting him off a bit.

Guy’s show was superb (this would be the third time I’ve seen it). He had new material from the recent tour — mostly about insane American fans — and, despite coming straight from the Glasgow gig, was full of energy. He also gave a lot of time to the Ottakar’s people after the show (even though Jon was clearly hurt by the Duran Duran only have one bass riff gag) and he dropped lots of hints about tomorrow’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazingly, he’s definitely got us two passes for backstage. I cheekily pushed for more and Guy very kindly explained that he would see what he could do, while pointing out that it’s not very exciting and you’re just shoved into a little bar with all the other liggers.

He saved the best till last, though… he let slip that Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the same rehearsal studios as Gilmour’s band last week. He then added that something very special was lined-up for Monday night’s gig, he wouldn’t tell us what, but I can’t bloody wait!

Tuesday 30th May (my diary entry written the day after the gig).

I’m surprised Claire (my wife) didn’t thump me yesterday as I spent most of it in a distant daze. We had family and friends over for a barbecue (it pissed down, of course), but all I could think of was the Gilmour gig and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house.

Chris and I eventually ran off at about 5.30 and we picked up dad and his friend Kevin and set off the Royal Albert Hall. The doors opened late and the crowds were heaving. Luckily it had stopped raining and we found Ian Preece (the editor of Guy’s book) by the band’s blue catering bus by door nine. We found the guest list and got our passes. There were three of them: big red stickers that you had to slap onto your shirt. I broke the bad news to dad and Kevin that we didn’t have enough for them. Kevin was fine about it, though dad threatened to write me out go his will if I couldn’t get him a backstage pass.

Dad and Kevin were sitting in the next block, so we split up and Chris and I took our seats.

The gig… Well, bloody hell…

History will record that, despite all the rumours, Waters and Mason didn’t turn up. After a brilliant start with Breathe/Time/Breathe (reprise), Gilmour forgot some of the words to ‘On An Island’ and seemed initially hesitant with his playing and hit a few bum notes. But, once he warmed-up, the evening became something very special.

David Crosby and Graham Nash popped-up throughout providing backing vocals, Robert Wyatt played trumpet on ‘Then I Closed My Eyes’ and the main show concluded with a version of ‘Echoes’ that completely blew my mind… and all through this I was wondering what the big surprise could be.

Then, for the encore, David grabbed his Telecaster and said, ‘Now I’d like to invite onto the stage… Mr. David Bowie.’

The Albert Hall erupted as five thousand people jumped to their feet all crying ‘David-fucking-Bowie?!’ all at once.

Bowie then sang an absolutely stonking version of ‘Arnold Layne’ that had everyone in a frenzy and if that wasn’t enough he followed it by singing the verses to ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by one of the best renditions of the solo I’ve ever heard Gilmour do…

… it was around this time that my head exploded.

Still stunned we came reeling out of the hall to find dad and Kevin. Dad took my car keys — they were gamely going to sit in the car while we checked out the post-show party — and we went to find Ian.

We found him by door one, a member of staff told us to go back to door nine, which we did, but when we couldn’t find anyone there we were directed to door twelve, then eleven. While hanging around we were approached by a very attractive young woman with what I thought was a Spanish accent. She pointed at our red backstage stickers and wondered where we got them, ‘We know Guy,’ I said.
‘You know a guy?’ she asked with a frown.
I showed her Guy’s picture in the program and she understood, and wondered if we had any more. I explained that I had already left my father and a friend shivering in a car because we could only get three, but she decided to tag along anyway and in an exceptional piece of blagging she shuffled through security flanked by us badge-wearers. We were so impressed we bought her a drink. Her name was Paula and she was from Brazil and she’d been travelling across Europe when she heard about Gilmour’s tour and managed to get a ticket just the day before. She was a huge fan and we talked about the best songs of the evening. Guy arrived to say hello and I congratulated him on the show. He was really happy with it and felt we had seen the best version of Comfortably Numb ever. Phil Manzanera and Steve DiStanislao drifted through too, and Guy explained that David had his own private party downstairs. Paula had been hoping to meet the great man, and knowing her impressive blagging skills I’m sure she eventually did.

After half an hour Chris and I headed back to the car to find dad and Kevin inside with the engine running and the heater on full playing Freebird at a head banging volume. A perfect end to the evening.

 

Arnold Layne…

 

Comfortably Numb…

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Getting Paid – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On, Thursday 25th May, 2006

If you’re an aspiring screenwriter and cursed/blessed with a vivid imagination, you might get a bit carried away when fantasising about that first ever professional payment. Would it be for a life-changing sum of money? A million dollar deal that meant you could finally say sayonara to the day job and pursue your dream full time? Or would it be for about £82.73 (less tax) and take forever to arrive? Guess which one happened to me!

My script Waiting For Eddie had been optioned by a producer back in November 2005. The producer paid promptly, but whenever I asked my agent about the money I only ever got vague replies. Things were complicated by the fact that I had two agents: one for film and a literary agent. The film agent did the deal, but all the money went through the lit agent. I found a handful of mentions of it in my 2006 diaries, and I’m clearly getting a bit fed-up at this point…

Tuesday 18th April, 2006

Script agent emailed me to day and told me that the Literary Agent has had my Waiting For Eddie option money since November… It’s only £85, but it doesn’t instil me with much confidence.

Then, over a month later…

Tuesday 23rd May, 2006

I got another rejection today… Oh, and they (Literary Agent) found my cheque. It was at the bottom of an in-tray… I should get it tomorrow.

Thursday 25th May, 2006

The cheque arrived today. My first money earned from writing. I suppose I can call myself a writer now… £82.73. I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet.

Nearly six months from option to pay! Believe me, that would not happen now. I’d be on the phone with an earful of righteous indignation for someone in less than 48 hours. When you’re starting out, it’s not uncommon to be coy about getting paid, but never forget that what you do as a writer has a value. No one would be on that set if not for you and your ideas. Forget any bullshit about getting exposure, or publicity value, or an opportunity to “get on the ladder”. You have worked your butt off producing a work, and if they want to make it, they have to pay you, and pay you the going rate. If they can’t afford to pay you, then they shouldn’t be in business. No other industry puts up with this crap – try asking a baker to make you some bread for free – and yet it still goes on today: see the recent scandal over Sainsbury’s attempt to get an artist to work for free.

And just put yourself in the producer’s shoes for a minute. They have a slate of projects, including your script, which they optioned for free, and another script which they paid money for. Which one do you think will be their priority? They have to make a return on their investment, and producers hate losing money, so your little freebie won’t be getting to the top of their pile anytime soon. It’s all about being valued. Make sure you are.

I’ll leave the last word to the wonderful Harlan Ellison. This video has been doing the rounds for a few years now and it’s one of my favourites (and yes, I’m aware of the irony that, this being YouTube, Mr. Ellison probably doesn’t see a penny from this), but he sums it up better than I ever could…

By the way, I still have a day job, so clearly need to work harder at this payment malarkey myself.

 

My First Agents – My Writing Diary, Ten Years On: Sunday 14th May & Monday 15th May, 2006

I had not one but two agents at this very early stage of my writing career (that word still makes me look over my shoulder to check that no one’s sniggering at me). I met my first literary agent at a networking event at Waterstone’s Piccadilly called ‘The Film World Meets The Book World’ (I think). I can’t remember how I heard about it, but I knew that I had to go as there would be agents and film producers and people who would surely see my colossal writing genius for what it was and insist on flying me out to Hollywood to introduce me to Mr. Spielberg that very weekend… I’m nothing if not optimistic.

Like many British people I can find it difficult just introducing myself to strangers for no reason other than personal gain (or “networking” as it’s known) and like many aspiring writers I found it borderline fraudulent to introduce myself as a writer at a time when I’d only written and staged a handful of plays. But one of the most important lessons I had learned from my failed career as an actor is that no one will knock on your front door and ask if you fancy a role in the Royal Shakespeare Company… You have to go to them and let them know that you’re good and what you do could be of value to them.

And so I walked into a crowded room where everyone seemed to know each other and I knew no one.

Eventually, and I have no real recollection how, I found myself talking to a very nice lady who ran a well-established literary agency, primarily for children’s books. I had no real desire to be a children’s author (at the time), but happily chatted with her and pitched my first play to her, which had a teen protagonist. She thought it would make an excellent children’s book and asked to read it. She was also intrigued that I worked in publishing and we discovered that we had a few mutual friends. I made it very clear that I wanted to be a screenwriter first and foremost and she said that was fine and that she would hook me up with a film agent, too.

Which is how I ended up with two agents. This all came together in the autumn of 2003, so I had been with them both for a couple of years at this point and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to pursue the children’s author career. I had written a couple of books that got some very nice rejections from publishers, and the pleasant lady who ran the agency had since passed me on to one of her junior associates. To be honest, the junior associate and I did not get on. She pulled strange faces when talking about my work, and seemed to treat me like a nuisance if I ever got in touch.

The film agent, however, was terrific. She was very encouraging and wanted to get me work and I was kicking myself for faffing about with the books for so long, and so in 2006 I made sure I would have a spec script for her to show around town. Few spec scripts sell, so I was determined not to worry about budget or anything that might seem small or too kitchen-sink-British. I wanted to write a commercial Hollywood movie that would get me noticed by commercial Hollywood people, and I came up with an idea called The Last Time Machine, which was epic stuff with time travel, dinosaurs, Roman Legions, the Luftwaffe and the end of the known universe  (I write more about this project and how it was doomed here).

By May 2006 I had finished a polished draft (written in Microsoft Word, hence my note that it needed formatting!), my script agent had read it, and we were set to meet for lunch on the Monday, and here are my diary entries for that time:

Sunday 14th May, 2006

Had a quick read-through of The Last Time Machine script in prep for tomorrow’s meeting. Made a few minor notations. I’m proud of it, just a shame it’ll never get made.

Monday 15th May, 2006

Had lunch with my agent today. She loved ‘The Last Time Machine’ and has a whole list of people she’s going to send it to. I just need to format it finally and she’ll send it off. She said a very nice thing: she’d wondered if she’d been having too good a day when she read LTM because she had so few notes. She really couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I explained that this was my first truly original script without the baggage of having previously been a play. We talked about other movies I could write – she’d love to see me write a horror movie – and my career. I asked about the teams that write for the likes of Spooks and Hustle. She’d rather establish me as a feature film writer first (her words – there’s something a little bit unreal about all this… at least until I earn some money from it or see my name on the big screen).

I wasn’t so aware of it back then, but she was doing the things that a good agent should aways do: she was encouraging, she was critical, but in a positive way, and she was talking about my future and the direction of my career. The horror movie thing is interesting, as horror features are often the best way for a commercial writer to get a film made: they can be produced for a low budget and can be very profitable, thus giving your career a great start. The very next thing I wrote was a horror film and it very nearly got made, introduced me to some very influential folk, and definitely took me up a notch.

The junior associate literary agent also had some ideas about my career, but they didn’t tally with the direction I wanted to go in and so it was an uncomfortable relationship. Like dating someone you know isn’t right for you, but you’re so desperate to cling on to a girlfriend/boyfriend that you’ll put up with the unhappiness, but we all know that can never end well. If you’re dreading an email or a phone call from your agent then something is seriously wrong.

I stayed with the literary agent until they eventually dropped me in 2010, but it became an increasingly distant relationship. I wanted to make films, and 2006 would be the year where this once-fantastic dream very nearly became a reality…

 

 

Paranoia and delusion – the writer’s friends and how to cope with them…

I saw Florence Foster Jenkins last night, a fine and enjoyable film based on the true story of a socialite who sang opera in New York in the ’40s, eventually playing Carnegie Hall, despite the fact that she had something of a tin ear…

It also reminded me of the incredibly twisted film Windy City Heat, which Jon Wright gleefully introduced me to while we were in pre-production on Robot Overlords. This faux-documentary is an elaborate prank whereby Bobcat Goldthwait and friends fool comedian and wannabe actor Perry Caravello into thinking that he has the lead role in a crime drama called Windy City Heat and they do everything they can to sabotage his dream…

Intriguingly, even after she had heard herself sing on a record, Jenkins still couldn’t discern that there was a problem with her singing, and Perry doesn’t think that he’s a bad actor. And what’s really fascinating is that both of them have just enough talent, the tiniest sliver of ability, to make them think that they can actually achieve their ambitious dreams.

Making Robot Overlords was a dream come true. A British science fiction family epic, with huge stars, a great cast, a decent budget, and a fantastic crew. But I have to confess that while watching Windy City Heat there came a point where I wondered if this was Jon’s way of breaking it to me that the whole project was an elaborate prank, that it really was too good to be true… Thankfully, it wasn’t, and I’m an idiot to think so, but that was just me entertaining the poisonous friend of artist’s everywhere: paranoia.

I’ve yet to meet an artist or creative type who hasn’t feel like a fraud at some point, usually when the rejections, failures and doubts feed the paranoia to a degree where they think they’re a talentless hack. I get it on a regular basis.

Paranoia’s evil twin is delusion. ‘I can do that!’ is my default answer to any challenge, but there comes a time when confidence becomes hubris and you fall flat on your face.

Both can be crippling if you surrender to them, but I encounter them so often now that I think I can cope with both their peaks and troughs, and I’ve found the best way to do this is to use them as creative fuel:

Hubris and delusion are great when I’m faced with a challenge. Can I write this pitch/script/book/comic? Hell, yeah! I can do anything! I hitch a ride on that boost of confidence and get it all on the page and screw the consequences.

Paranoia and self-doubt are useful when it comes to editing. That awesome piece of work I did yesterday? Dear God, it’s a piece of crap. You’re hopeless. Do better! Instead of wallowing in pity, I try and use the critical faculties of paranoia to improve what’s already on the page.

I try to step back and see my work as objectively as possible, but it’s simply impossible to be certain, and I’ve had strangers tell me that they love my work, and I’ve had two-star reviews where they found it dull. Who can ever really know?

But, like Florence and Perry, I enjoy what I do. I write every single day and I love it. Florence sums it up perfectly, ‘People may say I can’t sing,’ she said, ‘but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.’

Lottie and Dottie Grow Pumpkins

Claire’s new Early Readers book is out this week!

Clairesallotment's Blog

Well, book number 3 in the Lottie and Dottie series is out this week on Thursday 5th May!! I’m so excited!! You can pre order it now from Amazon, or your local book sellers should have a copy. If they don’t ask them “Why?”. It’s perfect for all ages. Now is the time to sow your Pumpkins seeds and Lottie and Dottie will tell you everything you need to know.

Join Lottie and Dottie in the great Pumpkin grow!! Join Lottie and Dottie in the great Pumpkin grow!!

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