It’s been a long time as I got to the stage of so little time Ihad to use all available hours to write rather than write about the writing! But here I am with a spare moment, knowing that this will be an admin evening and by that I mean personal admin. Major family stuff has really eaten into my writing time. It’s frustrating but that’s life. I’m trying not to be superstitious about life events impinging on my relationship with all things Canterbury. I would be far less stressed if I could just put things on hold for the next month or so. But it would depress me to lose the momentum I’ve worked so hard to create. Painfully small amounts of writing are better than none at all. The Chatham residency, though taking up a day a week has given me the discipline to create a sonnet a day and I’ve noticed that when I work on the Knight’s tale I’m writing about sixteen lines per sitting. Not enough for a narrative to really flow but better than nothing. And it’s work I’m pleased with.
But this post was really a belated one to celebrate a couple of gigs I did at the end of last month. Gigs also take up time (and the energy of a gig is the antithesis of the energy for writing – it never used to be the case). But these gigs were really worth doing because they opened creative doors in my head. Whitstable Horsebridge was a real treat because I love the place but had never read there. It was nice reading with Maggie Harris who organised a gig in Ramsgate several years ago with the best backdrop ever, the sea. She had a new collection and was on fire. What really struck me was her reading a piece about Whistable she’d finished that morning. It was a dynamic piece and so brave and lovely to share something so fresh. Her taking that risk, and Dan also reading a new piece about party politics gave me much more confidence to share my unfinished knight’s tale as a work-in-progress. I NEVER do that. I pride myself on everything I read in public being polished. But I really wanted to share it in public because it’s good fun and will eventually be a long piece. I wanted to hear it out loud properly because sometimes, as I say in workshops, you can only truly edit a piece after hearing it read to a live audience. The clunky bits, the lines that don’t ring true, the errors stand out in neon. I went back to the computer that Monday rejuvenated. And, of course, the whole book is about a performance set up so I can’t spend the next two years solely writing, I must perform to make sense of the pieces.
I was also really really impressed by Holly McNish’s set. Sharp, witty and unafraid of in yer face politics yet retaining a love of language. She had a rawness that whetted my created appetite. So I’ll make a point of catching her again and seeing what she’s got on YouTube.
The other gig was at Stratford Circus. I didn’t read the slightly longer version of the tale. My own reading went well but the most relevant part of the evening (which starred the wonderful, Staci Makishi and John Hegley, hosted by Luke Wright) was Luke’s work. His ballads were great, a couple of them really dark and would have made perfect modern Canterbury Tales. He was sharp on the settings, suspense, dialogue, the whole lot. The one about the chip shop with part of the sign missing really hit the spot. I hope to keep up a dialogue with him to see what else he produces. So it was really inspiring, and having done my set, it felt like a nice evening out.
Gigs can be great. I realise that I often make them even more of an event by asking friends or family along (I stayed with Diane and Frankie at Whitstable and met up with my dad at Stratford). It adds to the pressure and the stress of organising it all beforehand: but it also makes it more of a social occasion. More special. So at the end of May I was on a real high. I’m not now. But in spite of all the stuff happening right now, which is so admin and emotionally challenging, I still feel confident I can produce something special. It just might take more than the two years I’ve allocated.
In the meantime, I’m so close to finishing the knight’s tale, it’s tantalising. I’ve written all of sections 1 to 3 with the odd line to fill in, a third of section four and a draft of section five. It’s a five-act piece. I tried to make it mirror Chaucer’s by being four but it was more Shakespearean in structure (and I haven’t yet read Two Noble Kinsmen which is based on The Knight’s Tale – I daren’t until I’ve finished mine). So realistically I’m looking to have something I’m proud of by the end of this month. Which means it’s taken me half a year to write two poems. But the research is far ahead of the writing. I just need to consolidate by re-reading the original text. This feels like the first year of a PhD, much more reading than putting pen to paper. But it’s great that the Canterbury cab residency is scheduled for October. A chance to write stuff not based on the authority of a text but the experience of contemporary cabbies. I don’t think I’ll be spending three months writing those poems!