Sunday, 11 December 2011

City Olympic Heroes

I've been pretty happy this week.  Getting your name on the cover of a magazine will do that for you (it's the small stuff you can't read in the red ink).  It feels like another step in the right direction - if someone had told me that I'd get a cover byline a couple of years ago when I started writing it would certainly have instilled some belief. 

The feature came to me the way I hope all commissions come my way in the future.  Square Mile's Editor emailed me with the idea and asked me if I'd like to write it.  Wouldn't that be good, if you didn't actually have to pitch ideas to Editors and they came to you to put the feature together?  That's happened twice to me recently so karmically, I need to get some ideas to people.  Can't see them continuing to give me work if I'm not giving something back.

One of the most stimulating things about writing is the people it introduces you to.  The two people I interviewed for the City Olympic Heroes feature had very different personalities but they both exuded a clarity of purpose that, if I'm honest, I don't think I have.  As potential competitors at the London 2012 Olympics, both Phil Wicks (marathon) and Nick Brothers (hockey) know that a unique achievement is within their grasp and that they have the talent to get it.  The only difference between them is that Nick, as part of a team, is dependent on his team mates to perform as well as he no doubt will; Phil, as a marathon runner, only has to rely on himself.  A place in the history books, not to mention the love of a nation, awaits them.  You can read the feature here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

140 Characters

I've written before about Chris Floyd's '140 Characters' but that was before it had that title.  Previously it was his 'Portwit' project.  Chris social life had shrunk as the technological advances in his profession progressed.  Before he knew it, he was conversing more with people on Twitter than with some of his oldest friends.  So he set out to meet them, photograph them and find out what they thought of Twitter. 

The number of subjects soon racked up and an obvious number to stop at cropped up.  It was a brilliant idea that seems to have reinvigorated Chris.  It also inspired me to start thinking about how friendships were changing - pretty sure I've banged on about it on here before.  I was also inspired to tell the story of the 140 and it ended up being my first entry for the Huffington Post here.

The shot on the right is of Miranda Sawyer, one of the best writers around.  If you want something brilliant to read, particularly if you ever wondered what existence is all about,  you should find something thought provoking here.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

What Kind of Writer Should You Be?

The answer to this is, of course, whatever kind of writer you want to be.  When I started, I didn't really have much interest in news.  I looked at headlines, without thinking about them very much and then decided I wasn't interested.  Take today's BBC home page for example.  'Armed guards to protect UK ships'.  Ok, there are pirates off the coast of Mogadishu - I know that and I don't care.  Let people wealthy enough to own yachts get mugged.  Trade ships?  What do I care if the pirates put a dent in some company's profits?  'Syrian President warns off Western intervention'.  Seems fair enough.  Would England like it if Syria meddled in their home affairs?

Behind the soundbite headlines, there are of course, people.  Who knows even where to start with Somalia?  Perhaps at Wikipedia, which tells you that it has no central government, is characterized as 'a failed state and is one of the most poorest and violent countries in the world.'  Imagine what it's like to live there - it must be absolutely desperate.  So then you start thinking about the people behind the headlines and you realise that maybe you are interested, out of sympathy for those less well off than yourself.  It also serves to bring welcome perspective to your own life.  We all think about how our lives could be better, but it's rarer that we consider how they could be worse.

I only wanted to write about the things I was interested in.  Travel, food, music, cycling...I could go on but basically, the things that make me happy.  I'm not sure I have the courage or the skill to report on subjects that need bringing to the wider attention of the world.  However, I'm grateful that those journalists are out there and I've even been privileged to meet one or two of them.  I recently got an email from a photojournalist called Robin Hammond that left me feeling humbled and in truth, a little ashamed of my own writing efforts.  Robin took the picture you're looking at on this page, of a mentally ill Somali man chained to his bed.  If you've read this far, I urge you to take 6 minutes out of your day to watch his film here.  I can't think of many worse forms of existence than being mentally ill in an impoverished country.  Give what you can and help Robin reach his goal.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

It's OK to say 'No'

In order to write for a living, you'd better be writing, which is something I haven't been doing a whole lot of recently.  Worse, I've been turning down opportunities to write.  'Why, you doughnut?' you might entirely reasonably ask.  There are two reasons; the first is I don't have the time and the second is that I don't have the interest.  The first reason is the most galling.  Travel writing has scored me some good bylines recently, both in this month's Sunday Times Travel magazine ('Lone Star' about Texas - no weblink because of the Times paywall) and also at MailOnline.  As a result I've been offered trips to Thailand, North Carolina and Texas recently but haven't been able to do them as keeping the 9-5 (and it's oh so important regular money) has had to take priority.  I can see a time when I can give that up (when I've paid for a wedding for one), but it ain't now.

I learned something about myself with the second reason.  About a year ago I would have taken any writing opportunity, so keen was I to garner bylines and contacts.  What I've learned is it doesn't do anybody any favours if you say yes to something that you don't have any interest in.  The first time it happened to me, I was so flattered that someone had wanted me (ME!) to write something for them, I said yes right away.  It was the blog for Square Mile .  No money in it, just writing something for someone who had a bit of faith in me.  After struggling to write about 400 words for each of them and then leaving a period of about six weeks in which I dreaded an email asking why I hadn't filed the next installment, I bit the bullet and wrote to them explaining why I couldn't continue.  Thankfully, the Editor was very understanding but if I'd have said no in the first place it would have saved all concerned a lot of time.  It's OK to say 'No'.  Probably better to miss out on one byline than have people think you're unreliable.

I really admire people like copy writers and business writers who can be given a project, let's say 'washing machines' and fulfill a brief, making the client happy and getting paid.  If it was me, I'd be sat in front of the laptop, probably having sat in front of one sentence that went something like 'Washing machines are the greatest invention of the 20th Century' for 20 minutes before getting onto Twitter and any number of subsequent websites that all the people I follow had posted links to.  I got into writing because I like to write, but also because I really like writing about all the good, interesting stuff of life: food, travel, movies, theatre, achievers, believers, deceivers...many, many topics.  But the point is that I have to write about stuff that is interesting to me.  Can't do it if my heart's not in it. Life's too short for that.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Reasons to Write - Luxury, Challenge and Freedom

It's happy week here at CIWFAL as my cup has been somewhat overflowing of late.  If you're looking for reasons to write, this is the post for you.  Writing has brought many new experiences (not least interviewing Jazzie B) but the last month has been something of a succession of gifts.  It's been like being courted.  First up there was the press trip to Costa Navarino in Greece for the Daily Mail.  If I hadn't pursued writing, it's unlikely that I'd ever have experienced 5 Star - my room had its own pool for God's sake.  Throw in 7 course tasting menus, picnics under the olive groves and a beach with the clearest water I'd ever seen and it was like all the chips thrown in on the karmic craps table had at last come home to roost.  The cherry on top was getting a commission from the Sunday Times Travel Magazine while I was there.  Not only will the money and byline be useful, but it's interesting to see how different Commissioning Editors work.

Firstly, it was cool how they found me.  The Commissioning Editor, Katie Bowman, contacted the Texas Tourist Board and they mentioned me going last year for Square Mile.  Then she checked out my website - so if you write and you haven't got one, why not?  Katie got in touch having checked out some of my work and the result was me getting the commission.  Getting my original copy sent back with strike throughs and suggestions for tweaks always leaves me wondering if the recipient thinks it was a pile of crap, even thought I'm assured this is pretty normal practice.  Luckily for my ego, Katie was encouraging and flattering in equal measure, which left me very open to her suggestions for improvements.  They made sense and I learnt that a good Editor will help you to up your game and improve your writing.  Not only was the commission a stimulating and challenging experience, it's another new title in my portfolio.  Bonus!

Writing has also brought me a new bike, albeit a loan for two months.   The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are pushing cycling, maybe because most of the residents hare round in stupidly big 4x4s.  Blue plaque tours were the borough's first attempt at getting the posho's to try two wheels and because I went along to that I got asked if I wanted to be a 'bike hero'.  Disappointingly this did not come with a superhero outfit, not even a blimming cape or mask.  On the plus side, we now have a racing green Brompton (in its folded form) as the new centre piece in our living room. It's the kind of ingenious invention that makes you come over all patriotic in these times when the haters keep going on about Britain not producing anything anymore.  Though she's a bit nervous of London drivers, I'm hoping the Mrs will get the cycling bug so we can traverse the city together.  If the smile on her face as she road tested it around the manor is anything to go by, it won't be long before she's seen the light.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Great Twitter Portwit Project

The photographer Chris Floyd has made a great film about his Twitter Portwit project.  I think I've written before on here about how the nature of friendship is changing due to Facebook and Twitter.  Chris is very articulate on the subject - if you click the headline above you can read about his reasons for investigating. Whether you think Twitter is 'A huge free-flowing endless conversation with lots of witty, intelligent people' or just a lot of people posting inanities about their daily life, you should find something that will interest you.  You can find the video here.  And if you get to about 8 minutes in, you'll hear me talking about 'false electronic intimacy'.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be a part of the project and Chris' portwit (portraits of wits? I don't know) of me is here.  Never had my photo taken by a pro before don't think, bar the odd candid taken by Stephen Perry.  I've got my favourite shirt on and I've got no idea what I was talking about that made me put my hands up by my head like that.  I honestly wasn't doing the Steps dance to 'Tragedy'.  Honest.  In other news, Square Mile commissioned me to write about Microfinance Institutions.  They're not charity in the traditional sense.  They loan small amounts to businesses in the developing world so that people can make a living for themselves.  Loaning to some of the poorest people globally is not without its controversies of course.  You can read the feature here.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Hamster Wheel of Procrastination

The truth is, I'm nowhere near writing for a living.  As much as I'd like it to finance my life, writing is more like a hobby for the time being.  I've got financial commitments; I've got rent to pay, I've got a wedding to save for and London is an expensive city.  Even going out for a pint these days burns a hole in your pocket.  So what I do for the sake of a regular wage, five days a week, is get up and go to work on one of the photo desks at Associated Newspapers.  Phew, that's a weight off.  Maybe I'll become Catholic - the confessing sure feels good.  I don't feel alone either.  My suspicion is that quite a few of us are doing something for money while wishing we were doing something else.  Not that that makes it alright.

Bar the occasional self loathing of working for one of Fleet Street's more dubious organs, there are some advantages to the day job.  I can connect with people who might be able to give me work.  In the last couple of weeks I've met the Commissioning Editors for print and online travel sections and also someone in the book reviewing section who might be able to help me out if I ever pull my finger out and get a 2nd draft of the book together.  There are other advantages too.  I can walk to work, the day rate is pretty good and the hours are 10-6.  So, plenty of time to write around the day job, you might think.  But here's the thing - I've discovered that I have no self discipline. 

Post waking up and ablutions, there's at least an hour there in the morning to write but I can easily eat that up by taking more time over breakfast (see what I did there?) and/or making sandwiches for lunch.  Then there's the sports news (8.35am) and the weather (8.45am) that it seems absolutely crucial to watch.  It's also important to keep a clean inbox right?  That way you're more organised.  No problem: I can easily piss thirty minutes up the wall deleting spam and writing replies I meant to send a week ago.  Not to mention Twitter and Facebook.  It's obviously of vital importance to keep up with social media.

But even if I've somehow wasted the morning, I'm usually home around 7pm so there's some spare hours to get creative.  That is, if I didn't have to feed myself - can't be imaginative on an empty stomach can ya?  Post cooking, eating and washing up, there's the food coma to contend with, so while I'm digesting I might hit the remote.  You would not believe how many great things there are to watch on TV.  Sometimes there's a film on that I've only seen maybe six or seven times but it's a classic right?  I couldn't not watch it really.  I can do some writing after.  But then there's 'Family Guy'.  Oh, go on then, I won't watch both episodes, just one and then, then, God you know what, I'm real sleepy all of a sudden.  I might have to hit the hay.  I'll do some writing in the morning...

Before you know it I'm back at my desk at the Mail cursing myself for not getting some writing done.  But there's always tomorrow, right?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Out of My Box

Before I started writing, my inbox only ever contained two types of emails: those from friends and junk. No I didn't want to apply for Dogshit University in the States, no I didn't think a credit card with 27% APR was an attractive proposal and no I didn't want to buy some super erection guaranteeing blue pills that couldn't be called Viagra because of copyright infringement. Ok, maybe I thought about the last one.

There are now less emails from friends, mainly due to Skype, Messenger and Facebook chat, not to mention dwindling attention spans that make it easier to text or tweet.  Plus kids - very time consuming, those little critters, it would seem.  The junk is of a very different nature.  It's my own fault really.  You stick your contact details out there in the hope that someone will give you a writing gig and before long you're on the mailing list of every Tomasina, Richard and Harriet.  I've had press releases recently about a drug that helps with Tinnitus and an art trail in Walthamstow.  Proper random or what?

The trouble is, given that I'm interested in a lot of different stuff, I get hooked into a lot and keep the emails, thinking 'Yeah, I'll RSVP to that later, that sounds really interesting' and all that ever happens is a week later I've got an inbox full of crap and I've missed all the good stuff because I didn't take note of the date.  Right now I've got a Techmeetups Mobile App Expo thats looking pretty good to me.  I'll never end up going. 

But here's the good bit.  As well as all the mindless distraction, there's a wealth of wonderful things.  In the last two weeks I've had invites to press trips to New Mexico, Greece and Montenegro.  I know why I get these things: I've done some travel writing.  But I also get things like free albums to download (hello Autokratz - haven't listened to it yet but will get around to it, honest), free listen links to other music (cheers Hed Kandi) and the occasional gem that I really love.  I've no idea why PRs send me these things but I see them as a kind of reward for sifting through and deleting all the other crap that I get sent.  Definitely worth 79p on Itunes if it was an option is the Telemachus track, the video for which is above.  Not only a great tune but also made me very nostalgic for stoned sunny days in my first London neighbourhood - Brixton.  Telemachus got in touch as he knows a rapper I wrote about a while back called Skandal.

As one of the Editors who I've written for wrote to me recently 'There's no money in this game anymore, it's all about the perks.'  One of the nicer ones I've had the pleasure to experience recently is here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Bad Mood Rising

A couple of sunny Saturdays ago, the Mrs and I caught up with some friends who we hadn't seen for a while.  The sun was out and we were heading for Syon Park for a picnic and this is usually the sort of thing that makes me happy; some good conversation with people I love, the chance to pig out on food, some booze and the sun warm on my skin.  The only problem was that I was in a funk.  Down days are rare for me (you only have to switch on the news to see get a sense of perspective) but when they come, they're hard to shake.  My usual solution is to be on my own.  That way I can skulk around feeling gloomy and I don't have to risk snapping at anyone and pissing them off too.  Not having this option as the four of us sat in a traffic jam trying to get out of town, I eventually started bitching.
The gist of it was that I didn't really feel like I was living.  Forty hours a week in an office with no natural light moving things around on a screen was doing nobody any good apart from the people who appreciated their TV guide coming out on a Saturday (I'm working on the picture desk at Weekend, the Saturday Mail supplement).  There had been a lot of sunny weather that week and while the blossoms were erupting to soften hard London streets and deliver their lovely scent over the usual smell of exhausts and rubbish, I was inside.  That wasn't living.  I'd been reading Tom Hodgkinson's 'How to be Free' at the time as well and I don't think that helped (though it's a great read).

Your friends have a habit of supporting you, or when necessary, telling you to stop being such a bloody miserable bastard.  In this case, my friend Ali reminded me of something that I'd said to her a couple of years previous when I started thinking about writing for a living. Somehow, the Costa Rica commission had come up in conversation.
'You what?' she said, incredulous, in her no-nonsense Manchester accent (she gets more Manc when she's being forthright about something).
'So, do you remember a couple of years ago when I asked you what kind of writing you wanted to do and you said to me that you'd like to be in the position where you were doing travel writing and that people were asking you to go to a certain country and write about it for them?'
She arched an eyebrow and didn't need to say more.  I got it: she was telling me that I wasn't doing too badly.  It did the trick.  I got over myself and all concerned were able to get on and enjoy the day.


In other news, the Texas travel piece finally got printed.  You can read it here.  I also got asked to start writing a blog for the Square Mile people which is here.  Lastly Pass Me On continues here.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Pass Me On (and other news)

It's very difficult to write around a 40 hour week job.   What with trying to spend quality time with the love of your life, the gym (for the knee - nearly there now), seeing friends and the temptations of Twitter, the pub and TV, you really have to fight hard to be imaginative and creative.  A blunt person might say that my priorities demonstrate how much I actually do want to write for a living.  If I wanted it more, I'd cut out some of that other shit and just get on with it.  There's a lot of stuff out there written about writers and procrastination and that particular truth does indeed hurt.

But when I can, I'm still doing the writing.  Not for a living so much (although there is a pretty delicious travel commission coming up - more of that in a minute) but hopefully planting some seeds for the future.  Namely, a new blog.  It's called Pass Me On and you can find it here. It's a simple idea - I interview someone and they pass me on to someone else that is famous and hopefully interesting to talk to.  15 minutes on the phone (maybe in person at some point), Q&A.  I like the idea of it because there is such a lot of untrue bollocks that ends up in magazines, so this is all straight from the horses mouth.  I'm hoping that the interviewees will like it for that reason too.  And I'm also hoping that some Commissioning Editor sees it, thinks it's a good idea and wants to pay me to publish it.  It's part inspired by those 'in their own words pieces' you see in supplements.  Pretty sure that 'This Much I Know' in the Observer was the first one, now there is 'What I've Learnt' in the Saturday Times mag and I think the Mail on Sunday mag Live has ripped the idea off too.

Apart from that I've been asked to write a blog for the Square Mile people and I'm off to Costa Rica in the first week of May to write a piece on voluntourism for The Express.  If you're ever in doubt that a blog can be a good idea, that trip came as a result of Pass Me On.  I mailed an alert to every contact I've made to date and Duncan at the Express came back, said he liked the idea and did I want to go to Honduras (later changed to Costa Rica after safety worries)?  Which means I've got Gary Lineker to thank for a trip to Central America.  Bet that's a sentence that's never been written before.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Writing and Not Writing

Stretch before working out.
Even when I'm not really writing, I'm writing.  Twittering, emailing, commenting on other blogs.  Every day my fingers are on the keys in some respect.  And even though I'm trying to hold down a non-writing 9-5 in order to pay for a few things (like a wedding), I'm trying to keep the writing going.  The first thing is a new project for a not so new year.  It sprang out of the interview with Danielle Lineker that was on here last week.  'I've got hold of one celebrity', I thought 'People are interested in celebrities - so what if I could get hold of another one?'  So Pass Me On was born.  I asked Danielle if she would pass me on to someone famous, she passed me on to her old man and now Gary has said that he'll pass me on to someone else.  So I'm hoping the idea is going to have legs, that someone in publishing will also think it's a great idea and that it might, just might lead to a few more commissions. Hey I can dream can't I?

Three people have already said it's a good idea.  Admittedly two of them were friends on Facebook, but the third was an actual commissioning Editor.  If you're ever in doubt that keeping a blog is a good idea, here's an argument in favour.  I've said before on here that a regular reminder that I still exist and am keen to write can be no bad thing.  Well, an email went out to everyone on the CIWFAL mailing list about Pass Me On yesterday and by the end of the day I had an offer to go to Central America to write a travel piece.  Funny sort of a day yesterday - nearly got killed on my bike in the morning, had the opportunity to go to Botswana taken out of my hands, got a bollocking of sorts at work and then had that opportunity land in my inbox.  Maybe that's karma (man).

Thursday, 10 February 2011

15 minutes with Danielle Lineker

Calm down it's not that kind of 15 minutes - she's a married woman for God's sake.  I met Danielle at a photo shoot a few weeks ago and I thought she was cool - friendly and unaffected.  So I asked her PR if I could interview her.  For those of you who don't read the tabloids, Danielle's surname was once Bux and she was a model.  Then she met and married Gary Lineker, who, before he was on Match of the Day, used to score the odd goal for England and mopped up Gazza's tears when he cried.  Now it has to be said, Danielle is pretty easy on the eye.  The paparazzi, noticing this, started training their long lenses on Gary and Danielle when they went on holiday.  From there it was only a hop and a skip to coming third in 'Hell's Kitchen', presenting a show on step-families for the Beeb and apparently guesting on 'Loose Women' (although I never get to see that as I'm always at work).    Now she's jumped into acting, currently touring in 'Calendar Girls', the stage play about the Yorkshire WI women who stripped off for a charity calendar.  She gave me a ring on a Friday night and we ended up talking about the buzz of acting, fame, booby dresses and Shakespeare.

-So how's it going?
I don't think my first night was the finest performance I've ever done in my life but...Gary's looking at me as if to say 'Dont talk shit'!

-When we met before I asked you how you would feel about speaking in front of a crowd.
I was nervous but the girls have been great. Jennifer Ellison, Lisa Riley and Bernie Nolan have been like sisters to me throughout the tour. They've been looking after me and suggesting that I try this or try that. You worry when you walk into a group of girls and you're the new girl but they've been really welcoming.  We were all nervous - even these girls who have been out there doing it for 10 years were nervous as well. Lisa gave me some Kalms for the nerves but I think you've just got to get out there and get through your first night.  Performing in front of an audience was a real buzz and I think that's what people get addicted to.

-So a lot of adrenalin going on?
Absolutely. It's very intoxicating.

-In the Calendar Girls film there's a lot of trepidation about stripping off in front of the photographer. Do you have to do that onstage?
My part is the only character who keeps her clothes on. I don't think I could have dealt with that, being naked on my stage debut, no way.

-What made you want to act?
Its been a feeling since I was six years old. I was always performing as a kid and then I got to my teenage years and I got alopecia and completely lost my confidence, got very introverted and shy and that's what held me back.  I loved all the musicals, Mary Poppins, the Wizard of Oz, Annie. One of my fondest memories is dancing round my living room with my brothers and sisters and then I always loved Drama and English literature as a teenager. I was 16 when I lost my hair and it was about a year before it grew back. I got to about 28 and so many people had said to me that I should do it..(stops to talk to Joe McGann, who's walked into her dressing room)

-Do you have a favourite actor?
I tell you who I think is really good, Vincent Cassell who is in Black Swan at the moment. I think he's fantastic.

-I saw it the other night, it scared the bejesus out of me.
I know everybody's going on about that but I thought it got a bit ridiculous when she was growing feathers. It's great but when she looked in the mirror and the feathers started growing out of her arms I just thought 'Oh come on!' I thought it got a bit ridiculous then. It's shot beautifully though. Natalie Portman is one of my favourites too. She plays it well.

-You haven't had any freaky hallucinations while appearing in Calendar Girls?
No, I've had dreams where I forget my lines and can't speak on stage. It wakes me up. For about a week I kept dreaming I was stood on the stage and couldn't speak.

-You've been in the show for a couple of weeks now so is it becoming easier?
The first couple of shows I just wasn't present on stage and now there are times when I'm really enjoying it and I'm, oh I hate to say 'In the Moment' because it sound actor-y and wanky but there are times when I know I'm completely in the moment and that's when you get the buzz of performing live. I'm hoping that the more I perform that'll happen for more than a moment or a minute and it'll be for the whole time I'm on stage.

-The WI ladies had a taste of fame so I wondered how you felt about it.
For me, its weird, I don't see myself as a famous person, I'm just married to someone who is very famous. There are obviously lots of advantages. I know I wouldn't be in this play if I wasn't Gary's wife. There are lots of things I'm thankful for. The modelling contract with La Senza came as a result of me being photographed in Barbados with Gary. I find it hard to look on the bad side. You get the press intrusion but you learn how to deal with it.

-Is it scary when you come out of restaurant and you've got a bunch of photographers waiting for you?
Completely and I was very naïve. People might believe me or not but when I first met I knew he was a footballer so because of the celebrity side to it, I wasn't sure about dating him.

-Had you thought about the level of press intrusion there might be?
Absolutely not. Once we'd got pictured together it was like 'Oh My God what's happened to my life?' The intrusion was everywhere, people I went to school were approached by journalists, people tried to see my brother in hospital saying they work for the Mirror or the Mail – they didn't, they were just freelancers trying it on, trying to talk to nurses to get stories. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat and went to the doctors in the end to give me something to help me out. I knew he was a footballer, I knew there would be some interest but nothing like the interest that there was.

-Did it ever make you think 'Is it worth it'?
I remember Gary coming to see me just after we'd been pictured in the News of the World and I told him 'I can't understand this, its not like you're Brad Pitt or anything'! I knew he was really special but there were times when I thought I couldn't handle the celebrity side of it.   He's had it for a long time so he just helped me through it. If the relationship hadn't had been as strong as it is, you probably would split up in that early stage because its really difficult.

-So in a way it reaffirmed that the relationship was a good one?
It did yeah.

-When you went out in 'that dress' did you think that you might see yourself in a few of the papers?
No. We were getting ready to go out. The dress was really draped and you couldn't see much. I asked Gary if it was ok, it wasn't booby - I wasn't going to go out with my boobs out with his son and all his best friends! We drank so much as it was his 50th birthday and I think throughout the night the corset underneath had slipped and the drape of the dress had gone down. I remember I was so concerned about not appearing drunk I hadn't even thought about the dress.

-You looked pretty together but Mr Lineker looked like he'd had a few.
Well it was his 50th...

-Do you hope being in 'Calendar Girls' might lead to other things?
I'd love to do some more theatre, some Shakespeare, like Portia in Julius Caesar.

-That sounds like quite a heavyweight role.
It is. I've had two years of training and my coach was very classical.  My Director in Calendar Girls has said to me 'You're so serious Danielle, you need to lighten up.' It's the way I've been taught, Stanislavski method, so I'd love to put some of that training into practice.
(In Stanislavski's system, actors deeply analyse the motivations and emotions of their characters in order to personify them with psychological realism and emotional authenticity). It's very difficult in the acting world. I think people would look at me and say 'Oh she's a bit commercial'.

-It would be a very unexpected move for you and in a way, the knives would be out – you'd be up for that kind of challenge would you?
Yeah. The part that I'm doing at the moment is comedy and I think making people laugh is harder. I would love to do a Shakespeare part.

-You should get your PR to have a word in someone's ear.
They'd say (adopts luvvie type voice) 'I don't bloody think so! DANIELLE BLOODY LINEKER!'

And with that, I left her to it. The usual tabloid story for celebrities in this country is, if you can't find any dirt on them at the beginning (and with Danielle, the hacks came up short), build them up, then knock 'em down.  Pretty sure that Danielle has that sussed, which is why it was surprising when she said she wanted to do Shakespeare - it proves she's ready for whatever criticism comes her way and I liked her for that. 

Saturday, 29 January 2011

New Adventures in Sound

One of the advantages of the Itunes supermarket (other download sites are available, as Shaun Keaveny might say) is that we're no longer tied to purchasing whole albums in the hope of musical satisfaction.  So many times in the past I'd invested hopefully, willing an album to be another 'Blue Lines' 'Stone Roses' or 'Stories From the City', good from start to finish.  It rarely happened, too many fillers in amongst the songs I'd play to death.  Although there is no doubt that 'Limit to Your Love' is a standout on James Blake's self-titled new album, with it's spooky atmosphere and hard truthfulness, the other ten songs are much more than supporting acts.  Deservedly included in the Beeb's 'Sound of 2011' list, he lives up to the hype.   It is such an interesting album to listen to, especially through earphones.  I've been spending time with it on tube journeys, the grey gloom of January and the worn out commuter faces in urban settings providing the perfect filmscape for this soulful electronica.

Truly avant-garde and forward looking, it might initially flummox ears more used to verse-chorus-verse.  Simple phrases are used as a starting point to build around and Blake obviously sees the studio as of much of an instrument as a piano.  The songs, no doubt extremely carefully put together, often sound a bit broken, abstract or dissonant. Occasionally, on tracks like 'I Never Learnt to Share', which builds to a maelstrom of whirring angry sounds, the structure seems to allude to underlying neuroses.  Lyrics are often masked with distortion and vocoder, sometimes revealed like land through a mist only after repeated listens; how much to expose, both sonically and emotionally, is a theme that runs right through the 11 tracks.  In amongst all the experimentation there is soul - snatches of piano sound gospelly and the harmonies in Blake's voice often sound similar to John Legend or Antony Hegarty.

Like the more notable of dubsteppers and those influenced by it, melancholy abounds.  Burial had 'U Hurt Me' and 'Broken Home' and the XX panicked against the fear of disappointment (those 'Can I make it better...?' lyrics).  James Blake reveals doubt ('I don't know about my love') and pain ('My brother and my sister don't speak to me, but I don't blame them').  The space in the production lets this soul baring stand proud and its all the more affecting for it.  It is Blake's voice above all, that cuts through all the technological wizardry to shine.  He makes a virtue of all the slight quivers and cracks in his voice in the same way that Chris Martin did at first - it was this open vulnerability that first drew people to 'Parachutes'.  In doing so, he is more effortlessly able to convey emotion more tangibly, making the caterwauling histrionics of the X-Factor mob seem all the more fraudulent by comparison.

Cerebral, moving and a must-have if you're at all into your electronic music, 'James Blake' might yet be one of those albums that, in time, is considered a classic.

Monday, 10 January 2011

CIWFAL v 40before30

 Does someone who writes a blog usually interview one of their followers? Once we were both on Twitter, I noticed that Jayne was always tweeting from glamorous foreign locations and I wondered how, a little jealously, she could afford to be gallivanting around so much. We met up on a freezing night in Islington in a coffee bar, having had to abandon the pub we'd initially planned to meet in due to exuberant pre-Christmas noise levels. There was no way the Iphone recorder was going to pick her up in that din.

It turns out that she's an Event Manager for a company called Red Hot Locations, organising international financial conferences - Governmental bodies will employ her company to organise a conference designed to attract foreign investment. As she says 'I always wanted to see the world and nothing less' so she made the job work for her. Having previously worked in events management, she sought out an international events job.
Red Hot pays for the speakers to travel, pitching it as prestigious to be invited. 'We pay for their flight, hotel and food. We sell it as a good PR for them to come and get their name known in, say, Eastern Europe. It's my job to make sure they get there; I organise the flights, hotel, the events on the day, the AV. It takes about six months to organise each one and the week or two before an event I'm flat out.'

The good bit comes next. She also has to keep an eye on what the competition is doing, which involves some work but a lot of play.
'I went to China and Argentina this year to attend other peoples events to get some more contacts. You can't go that far just for a couple of days so I'll fly for a week, attend an event for two days then do what I want for a few days, which is mainly sightseeing. I'm in the office about half the year but the rest of the year I'm travelling'.
Her face lights up as she says it. But if you think that her job sounds too good to be true, rest assured she's working her cojones off when a conference is on.
'Just before a South African conference this year I was in the office on Monday, flew that night, arrived Tuesday morning, went straight to the printers to check brochures and then went to check the venue. After that I had to meet the speakers and took some clients to dinner The next day I got up at 6am, went to the venue at 7, got everything set up, then ran the day. I have the seating plans on me and a timetable to stick to, in order that we can get through all the presentations. I do find it stressful. All the delegates need hand holding to a certain degree.'
When the conference finishes though, it's payback for the work she's put in.
'Our events are generally two days mid week and I wont be due back in the office until Monday. So no matter where I am I try to fly back Sunday night so that I have maximum time to see something of the country I'm in. If I've gone straight into the office from a flight, I'll be running on adrenalin, but usually crash on Tuesday, am a bit grumpy and want people to stay away from me! My boss is also passionate about travelling so she likes me to make the most of the opportunity. She's lived abroad a lot and she knows I love the travel so, to a certain degree, she lets me do what I want.'

Since starting the job 18 months ago she's been to Lithuania, Cannes, Estonia, Argentina, China, and South Africa but she doesn't let up when it comes to her own holiday allowance.
'I went to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore in my last Christmas break. I never tire of it. A big bonus is that I never suffer from jet-lag because I can sleep anywhere. I do get to the point where I will tell my friends that I'm not going to be around for a week, that I'm just going to sleep. That's my way of relaxing. Watch TV, in bed by 8pm. I do a lot of writing to relax as well - I keep a blog to share my experiences.'

It seems this kind of life comes with only one drawback.
'I'm single, I have been for a long time and relationships are a problem. I met a guy who's studying to be a Doctor at the beginning of September but what with my schedule and his studying we are yet to have our first date. Obviously there are a lot of men at the conferences but I don't like to get involved with them; that's work. Hopefully travel will stop being a priority at some point. I'm happy for now because I want to enjoy my 20s. I think 30 will be the cut off point.'
Which is handy, given that her blog is called 40before30 (40 countries before she's 30 years old). Jayne is 26 currently so it's a given she'll hit her target. She tells me she had that aim before her job accelerated to the point it's at now. So what's with the travel fixation?
'I enjoy seeing or doing something new every day, the discovery element. I find it liberating. There is always an adventure to have. Im a pretty robust traveller, I've never got ill, never been robbed. The worst it got for me was an awful night in Fiji where I got conned – after being promised accommodation I ended up staying in a chicken shed. There were still chickens in it, a wasp nest in the corner and no lock on the door. Or maybe the time I got bitten 46 times by sandflies in Peru and people thought I was a leper'.

Nice. With over 600 followers on Twitter, Jayne has become a bit of an authority on travel, so much so that TravelZoo have advertised on her site and she's received free flights. So if I wanted to escape the remains of the British winter where should I head to?
'My favourite country is Brazil because of the scenery in Rio and the party atmosphere. If you're after a beach, Thailand's are just amazing and I haven't seen any better .'
Unsurprisingly, she's also been pondering where she to go to next.
'I love South East Asia, I'd love to go the Philippines and also Antarctica, because then I would have been to all seven continents.'

I met Jayne for three reasons. I like interviewing and believe that non-famous people can be as interesting as celebrities. Jayne emailed me to say she thought I'd have to work hard to make her sound interesting but I hope she thinks differently after reading this. Lastly, but most importantly, one of my fixations (and major gripes) last year was the amount of time we are spending looking at screens and not actually physically socialising anymore. If nothing else, I proved to myself that all this social networking can actually lead to meeting someone in the flesh and having a decent conversation. More of that in 2011 hopefully.