Monday, October 09, 2006

Links to other sites

I don't know if this will work, but I am trying to build in some links. The URL below should take you to some reviews I've posted to a newly-established website called My Cultural Life. Members can publish reviews of London events.

Wow! Success! It has taken me lots of sessions of puzzling over the instructions to be able to do this, and yet it isn't really difficult. I hope I can remember what I did so I can do it again.

Here's a link to the BBC Collective Site where I have posted other reviews:

and here's a link to my photojournal website:

I think I need to be able to put links in the side bar. I seem to recall it took me ages to work out how to put in photos.

I'm feeling quite dazed by the number of films I went to see last week, partly because I saw some press screenings courtesy of the London Film Festival, so I didn't have time to write them up, and partly because there were two extra films I saw anyway. One filmed on location in Tibet, was called Kekqitili: Mountain Patrol and one set in Los Angeles was called Qinceaneros (UK title Echo Park, LA) . The first was a fantastically engaging film about a group of tough characters guarding antelopes from the threat of extinction, and the second an entertaining, funny and moving slice-of-life portrait of a Mexican immigrant commmunity.

Monday, September 04, 2006

September is my favourite month and not just because of my birthday. It seems to be the start of 'real' life again - new courses as well as continuing ones, the weather turning chillier and the air more bracing; it feels cosier to be holed up with a computer instead of moving to try to find cooler spots in the flat. In the old days, of course, I'd be having the anxiety dreams about starting to teach again. The most frequent was the one where I couldn't find the classroom.

The holiday season is past and I'm glad it's over. All that driving up and down motorways,was very tedious, although listening to audio tapes of the Goon Show helped. It rained all the way back from Southport on Saturday, so we were slowed by surface spray- quite romantic, in it's own way. I was in some discomfort having bruised my rear on the Pleasure Beach Logflume ride. 'You should just accept you are getting too old for funfairs' said Roy. I could just about manage to do my share of the driving by half standing over the wheel to relieve the pressure.

I don't write much on holiday, except to keep up my diary, but usually manage a half-hour stint of writing Chinese characters and perhaps a bit of Bridge bidding. We didn't manage to play in Southport although Roy seems to think I've improved enough to partner him on holiday. What an honour. Now that I'm back I shall revert to my gentleman partner on Monday night and a female friend on Wednesdays. Geoff, my Monday partner is very courteous and an experienced player. He doesn't raise his eyebrows at my inexpert bidding, but takes me aside later and explains what went wrong. My Wednesday afternoon partner is also a good player, but too polite in mmy opinion. I have a bad reputation for standing up for myself. My next novel, a murder mystery in a country house setting, will include some Bridge players, as they are so devious. Bridge brings out the worst in people - or perhaps it attracts bad characters. Of course people are for the most part kind and helpful.

The very first thing I did on my return was to apply for accreditation to the London Film Festival. Last year I only managed to get daily accreditation, that is permission to see films and use the press room in the NFT for some Chinese films, because I applied so late but this year I'm on their list so they sent me an application form. I am really looking forward to it as the Film Festival atmosphere is exciting, plus the films are (usually) exceptional . I hope, after the rigours of the Film Journalism course, with all those killing deadlines, that I'll be able to write some good reviews. I'm got my invitation to the Press Launch on September 14th, when they'll announce the programme, so then I'll decide what to see and start some background research.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a derelict property near to our rented country cottage had been owned by a novelist. I had heard the name, but it wasn't until I reurned that I was able to find out more about the writer Sheila Kaye-Smith. She wrote a number of 'well-received' novels set in her native 'Kentish Weald' setting, an area which crosses the borders of Kent and East Sussex. I don't like country novels, which I blame on having to read the whole of Hardy for my degree, but it's partly all that in-fighting over the vicar that puts me off, that and the Agas. As they out of print I probably won't come across one, except in a charity shop.

I saw 'Run for your Life' , my sister's theatre treat, just before we left for Northiam, a farce set in a village in war-time, with a spinster spitting venom at the vicar's wife, an ex-actress. I still shudder when I think of the three years I lived in Lincolnshire with the children small, marooned amongst the cabbages.

It is a pleasant landscape of green-hedged fields and copse-like woodland dotted with white-cowled oast houses .The old house, in whose overgrown gardens we rambled, peering through windows at rusty chandeliers and faded carpets, reminded me of a French chateau on account of the rounded turrets at the back. However, it had been made from extending a pair of conjoined oast-houses. The photo above doesn't show both of them but gives a good general sense of the atmoshere of faded grandeur, including the swimming pool, which added a decadent touch. I found out from the web that the house and grounds were for sale at a £1 million.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

'It's so nice to go travelling...'

Now I have two weeks before my sister comes and we go off on holiday again. Time off in a different place, for me is really more about reading than writing, but also about researching locations. I'm always on the look-out for possible settings, like this sinister Cornish wood where the trees blot out the light, and the deep two-mile lane which led to the nearest pub. It was lined with ferns, foxgloves and a red flower I used to know as ragged robin.

Here's a link to some of the places I've been to :

When I opened the post I was disappointed to see the heavy brown self-addressed envelope I'd sent with my three competition entries to Senior Moments. There was a letter to say I shouldn't be disappointed that none of my stories had been short-listed because there had been over 200 entries. It's not many, I know, for a writing competition, but that's the main reason I'd chosen it - entrants had to be over 50.

Another reason was the rules said anyone who sent an SAE would receive an evaluation, and that part is really useful. Although it's only a check-list of categories with five levels of satisfactoriness to tick against 'Title' 'Plot', 'Dialogue', etc. , it does allow some insight into where the weaknesses might be in particular stories, so is potentially extremely useful for redrafting . There were accompanying comments which I will also note - none of them, at any rate, was bad.

There was a copy of the Morley newsletter with my tribute to Ann Gold, my ex Chinese Literature teacher who died recently, so that was good to see, and a copy of 'The Author' with a notification of a future discussion ' How to get the best out of agents and publishers'.

As well as the redrafting one of the the stories for another competition, I will make an effort this week to interest a publisher in my China book and forge ahead with it and the novel.

It's so good to be home again. I got up early and spent a couple of hours on emails this morning. We walked over to Greenwich and I bought a writing book at Ottakars called 'Write Away' by Elizabeth George as well as finding a better title for one of my stories in a book of quotations. I wasn't tempted to buy because it cost £35 and the cheque for the £225 writing course starting in September had been presented.

I've given Roy a severe warning about not interrupting me for the next couple of weeks when I'm in my writing room. We've even worked out a system in case it gets too hot and I have to work in the living room - some kind of object placed on the table that signals 'Don't talk to me!'. There was an article in 'The Author' about writing places, and a picture of GB Shaw's revolving hut, which looks like a small garden shed such as you could buy in kit form at B&Q. Strange, because they wouldn't have had B&Qs then...

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jane Austen on Film

For my last assignment of the BFI Film Journalism course I chose to write about Jane Austen on film. I'd read there was to be an ITV series of newly-commissioned works in the Autumn. They'll be adaptations of the the lesser-known novels: Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. The picture alongside shows fanciable Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, hero of the last mentioned. I wouldn't fancy being at sea in one of those eighteenth century galleons, though - Anne Elliot's choice when she marries him.

As usual I enjoyed the research and did a ridiculous amount, much more than a 600 word piece required. The best bit was watching just about the only version available of 'Northanger Abbey', made in 1957, in a private viewing room in the BFI. I paid £8.50 for the privilege and thought only afterwards that maybe I could have watched it at Goldsmiths for free. They have a good collection of tapes and DVDs and it's just the sort of thing they would have on their shelves. Never mind. After all, it all helps to swell the coffers of a very worthwhile institution.

It was funny, too, to read the letters in the Radio Times, one complaining about the ladies being shown entering the spa pool at Bath, albeit fully clothed, and another from an elderly woman saying that the screening time, 10.30pm, was past her bedtime. What a boon the video recorder turned out to be.

I'm so relieved the courses are over. I learned a lot in a short time but never again do I want to face with all those deadlines . The Film Journalism had the most content and I certainly learned about feature writing as distinct from the review writing I'd done before, but I enjoyed the Goldsmiths classes. The main thing I learned there was that journalists are extremely badly paid in a very insecure profession. One student told me the excitements of meeting celebrities and the sheer variety made up for it.

Now I'm free to get back to writing what I like and I've made a start on revising some short stories with the idea of entering them in competitions and sending them to magazines. Oh dear, yesterday' s impulse buy of The Lady was a disappointment. I was attracted by a front cover which said 'Short Story Competition: £1,000 Prize.' The judges looked promising, one Alexander McCall Smith who writes the funny detective stories set in Botswana and the other Adele Geras whom I don't know but she read languages at Oxford and has written some prize-winning stuff herself. There was only one story in the magazine, and what a letdown that was. It was a tale about a widow who turns down an invitation to spend Christmas in Portugal with a lively old school friend because her pregnant daughter goes into early labour and her grandson gets chicken pox. I'm hardly a model mother myself, but really!

Roy and I are off to my home town in the north tomorrow and then on to Scotland on a coach trip with my sister and her husband. By coincidence we are going to be staying at what was once a leading spa resort, called Strathpeffer.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I called in at West- minster Library on Charing Cross Road to reserve a copy of the new John Osborne biography and the librarian cautioned me, 'That will cost you £1.50.!' I told her it was still cheaper than buying the book and she had to agree; she could see from the compute screen that it costs £25.

I don't usually reserve books here. In fact they have a very good selection of new books, inlcuding lots of thrillers, my favourite genre. I almost daren't go in there when I have a big pile of unread books and newspapers beside the bed.

As it was, I came away with a book called 'The Unfinished Novel and other stories' by Valerie Martin. Well, I couldn't resist the title and the blurb promised a collection of soul-searching stories about artists. The first of the collection was a first-person-narrator story about a about a painter with a very good twist at the end. I read it, fittingly, in the National Gallery after I'd left my Chinese class and found the timing was all wrong for films at the Haymarket Cineworld.

I've been revising a couple of my own stories to enter in the Senior Moments competition, closing date 15th June, so it's good to be reminded of successful examples. I try not to get too discouraged by comparisons. I was astonished to read that Annie Proulx revised Brokeback Mountain 60 times!

I actually bought a book at Ottakars at the weekend -Creative Writing, in the Teach Yourself series. I'm enjoying it as its is very readable and practically inclined, and I was sure that the author's name must be a made-up one, as it's Diana Doubtfire. However, in the acknowledgements she refers to a husband and on with the same surname, so it must be real.

I am pleased because I think I've found a suitable writers' circle which meets fairly near to where I live. I found it on the Internet and contacted a woman who gave me quite vague directions to a cafe at Crofton Park. There's a park and a railway station of that name but no road that I can see. Still, there can't be all that many cafes. I've asked for more precise directions.

I'd been to the BFI Library earlier today to research for my Jane-Austen-on-film feature, but hadbeen destracted by a book called 'From Screenplay to Film: Brokeback Mountain' with essays by Annie Proulx, and the scriptwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana - fascinating and very useful for the redraft of my Ang Lee piece.

Brokeback Mountain is one in a collection of short stories set in Wyoming and is in of my bedside pile . Never mind - less than two weeks now before I get a chance to catch up.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'm almost sad to think that soon I'll pass no more through this doorway on a Saturday morning. Deptford Town Hall, built in 1904 in 'Edwarian Gothic' style, is round the corner from Godsmiths College and is used as an annexe for teaching purposes. These two characters are called Tritons, some kind of mythological sea-gods.

It also houses the PACE offices - I think that stands for professional and community education. It's where I've been doing my Practical Journalism course since September and where I at last delivered my portfolio on Saturday. Apart from a get-together for a class party, that will be it, and I can't say I'm sorry, because although I've enjoyed the course and learned a lot I really want to get back to fiction writing.

One thing I have learned is that Journalism pays badly and is a very insecure form of employment. Whilst I've been attending the classes the tutor, Carole Woddis, lost the Glasgow Herald theatre-critic post she's had for fifteen years. I'm glad to say she's been successful in having a couple of articles posted on a theatre-related website called 'Rogues and Vagabonds' but she says the pay is diabolical.

It's a small class, only half a dozen of us left. Two people were already working as journalists; Carol, a forty-something freelance is currently writing minutes for the council on a two-month contract after being unemployed for a month. Another is an aspiring fashion writer, suitably pretty, who makes ends meet by living in a basement flat in her parents home and works with her boyfriend, who is a photographer. She's currently on a short-term contract with 'Eve' magazine and says her desk is right next t the fashion editor's, so she is pleased.

Apparently the best way to break into journalism is to work in however lowly a capacity in a magazine or newspaper office. One young woman works in the Goldsmiths press office and edited the 2006 prospectus, so at least she can count on a regular salary. There's a young man temping for an office agency who wants to write freelance articles for music magazines. When we did restaurant reviews he wrote a very funny piece about his local kebab shop.

A lot of the time in class was spent reading and critiquing one another's work, which was interesting, and I'm looking forward to the same in the Advanced Fiction class which starts in September. That's if I'm successful in signing on for it.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The view from the living room window is particularly pleasant at this time of year, when the Horse Chestnut is in bloom.

I've completed my portfolio of work for the Goldsmiths Journalism course, althugh there are still a couple of Saturday morning sessions to go before the end of term. I cheated a bit on the last feature because I used my piece on Ang Lee, which I wrote for the Film Journalism course. Now I just have to concentrate on the last unit of the BFI Film Journalism, which is about pitching and then writing a feature. Today was the deadline for the pitching - emails to three different target publications related to a topic of our choice that has to be relevant to some current or future release. I have chosen to write about Jane Austen on film after I read an article in The Stage. It said Channel 4 is about to do remakes of the Jane Austen novels. A few months back I did some research on the topic as I was intending to teach a combined text and film course with my daughter but it never got off the ground. There was some mix-up over the proposal deadline. Anyway, I've still got the notes as a starting point. The deadline isn't until the 27th so there's plenty of time.

I don't want to restart on my other projects, the China book and the novel until next month, after I come back from the coach trip to Scotland on June 7th. In the meantime I think I can usefully practise writing film reviews. I've just posted a review of 16 Blocks to the WriteWords site, and I went to see Mission Impossible III with Roy yesterday. I really enjoy all the gadgets in the film, so I'll make that the focus of my review, I think.

I've also found a couple of short story competitions I can enter, one of them run by a new magazine called Senior Moments. That sounds promising. You have to be aged over 50 to enter, so that should cut down on the competition.

I've also been looking at the Goldsmiths Prospectus for next year and am tempted by an 'Advanced Fiction' course. It will be good to get back to writing fiction after all this journalistic stuff, although I think I've learned a lot. I've enjoyed the writing about film more than the news stories and other features, 'though, so that's where I'll continue. I'm thinking of embarking on a Woody Allen retrospective to tie in with the release of his next London-located film, or the one after.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The BFI Library

I have been spending quite a lot of time at the BFI Film library lately, researching for a piece on Ang Lee. It's a quiet place to work in the morning (although it gets a bit busy later on) and I can plug in my laptop so type notes directly. There's a back room with windows overlooking Stephen Street, just off the bottom of Tottenham Court Road. The best thing about it is they have a vast archives of film magazines.
When I was putting my bag in one of the lockers I encountered a famous film actor whose name I couldn't remember - it wasn't anyone obvious, like Tony Curtis, whom I once met when I was stewarding a Film Societies' event at the NFT. I looked him up and name is John Lithgow. He's tall with white hair and had to move because the space between the two banks of lockers is so small. I'm always surprised by how tall some actors are when you see them in the flesh. I once saw that chap in Men Behaving Badly once - not the once called Neil, but the one who played the doctor in Cornwall on Sunday nights - Martin Clunes. It was on Waterloo Station and he seemed to tower above the crowd, which must be a great disadvantage when you probably don't want to be recognised.

It's a wonder I get into the reading room, really. They always have some DVD showing on a small screen in the foyer, opposite a bank of seating. One day earlier in the week I got there before the reading room was open and watched part of a film called 'Journey to Italy' starring Ingrid Bergman, with George Raft as her husband. They seemed to be staying in Sorrento but weren't getting on very well, in fact she was reading a note on the hotel balcony which said he'd gone over to join some freinds in Capri. It was a beautiful black and white print.

Today I noticed they had a tinted Jacques Tati film called 'Jour de Fete' but as well as colour it had dialogue which made it less funny than I remember. The French are keen on mime, which just goes to show their language is not as good as English for comedy.

The only thing wrong with the library as far as I'm concerned is its location. It's OK to get there on the bus from Charing Cross but as the buses only go one way up Tottenham Court Road I had to go on a bus to Victoria, which took an age to crawl down Oxford Street and then I had to wait 40 minutes for a train to Lewisham. Next time I'll just grit my teeth and take the tube, which I find very depressing.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Last Day in Salamanca

This place certainly makes a change from chilly London. I will miss the sunshine when I go back, but a week of wandering around looking at churches and facades is enough for me.

I´ve managed to do quite a bit of reading, I´m glad to say, and we joined a local video club as our house exchanger had only two DVDs on the premises. I meant to do more work for my Film Journalism course but forgot to bring the right papers. Never mind, it will all add to the excitement if I have to make a deadline of 5pm on Monday and don´t get back to London until late on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sam Mendes Profile

The next assignment on my Film Journalism course is to write profile of director Sam Mendes, director of Jarhead, which I saw fairly recently, about some recruits who go out to fight in the gulf - all men's stuff, really violent but quite picturesque with shots of oil wells on fire in the desert. I have an interview on disc for the main material, but want to watch as much of his other films as I can. I also saw American Beauty when it came out, but couldn't see what all the fuss was about.

Roy said we'd seen Road to Perdition but it must have been one he saw on his own. Luckily, it was among the DVDs we brought back from China so I had the pleasure of watching it with Chinese subtitles. It was about set in 1931, mainly in Chicago, about a gangster on the run with his son. Again, a film with lots of moody shots with some stars in it - Tom Hanks, Jude Law, Craig Doulglas and no women except toen wife Jennifer Jason Leigh who gets bumed off quite soon on. The rest is all peripatetic motoring punctuated by shoot-outs and sentimental bonding scenes. Oh, Paul Newman was the head gangster.

Fortunately the director hasn't made many films - just the ones I mentioned plus one called Loser about an American college boy.

Sam Mendes went from public school and Oxford into theatre directing. Like his wife Kate Winslett he was born in Reading. She has an Independent School background. Loads of loot on both sides.

I was pleased I figured out how to download a photo from the Internet.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

BFI Seminar

The seminar for the Film Journalism course was held over Thursday and Friday this week in Stephen Street at the BFI. It was a bit nerve-wracking as all the other students - there were 40 of us - were aged around 25-30. I was surprised to learn some people had come from the US and Canada just to attend the seminar, which is a compulsory part of the five month distance-learning course. On Thursday we had talks from the Sight & Sound editor Nick James and some of the people who write for the magazine who described how they got into fim journalism. The only woman on the panel of four writers said he had spent three years working for nothing in the offices of places like Time Out, and the others all said not to expect to earn much.

On Friday we assembled for a screening, of which we'd had advance warning about writing a synopsis, review and commentary. We had to take notes in pitch darkness and despite bearing in mind what one speaker advised about using my thumb as a guide I still had to decipher some writing which had overlapped.

Anyway, I made a start when I got home and did some more yesterday, so I've finished the synopsis and made a good start on the review. I am glad to say I have decided on the 'argument' I will take. It was quite a difficult film but after 24 hours of mulling it over I realised what the main theme was and from there it has fallen into place. It's not due in until Wednesday but I hope to finish before then.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Although I have at least learned how to upload a photo from my own files, I can't understand why it has duplicated itself ,so it needs sorting out at some time. Perhaps I'll learn to upload other pictures from the web and even build in some links - who knows.

This week I'm likely to be held up as far as progress with my book is concerned. I have a two day seminar for my BFI Film Journalism course on Thurs/Fri and I have to prepare for that. We are going to view a film called 'Time to Leave' directed by Francois Ozon and write a 700 word review, 300 word synopsis and 300 word commentary with a deadline of March 22nd. I can make a start on the synopsis and commentary in advance of the screening and I've already done some research and hired a DVD called 'Under the Sand' (2001) It starred Charlotte Rampling as a Parisian in denial when her husband goes missing, almost certainly drowned, from a beach in Les Landes. I recognised the Atlantic breakers from when we used to take the children camping there in the early seventies. I liked the film very much, and what a change from all these 'state of the nation' films I've been seeing lately, but Roy said it was depressing.

In fact, he insisted on watching an episode of Rowan Atkinson in 'The Thin Blue Line' before we went to bed, and we were late up next day. I really had to hustle him to get him out on Sunday in time to arrive at David's place in Wimbledon and go out to lunch. David drove us to a pub in Cobham which had low ceilings and beams, called The Running Mare. I ate scallops, which were very good.

I've only seen one of this director's films before, something called '8 Women'(2003) which had these eight ageing French stars holed up in a big country house. I couldn't see the point, really. I think I have time to see another of his films before Thursday. I'm going to play bridge as usual at Blackheath tonight, then drive over to pick up Roy from a game in Beckenham which starts much later. Tomorrow I will go to my Chinese class in town and then swim in the afternoon, so I can watch the DVD in the evening. On Wednesday I have agreed to go to play bridge with Yvonne at Blackheath and in the evening I will be attending a talk about China at the British Library.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Relief at Last!

By dint of staying in all day and working at it on and off I've managed to finish the piece on unemployment in China. I was intending to go to the cinema, but was put off by the relentless rain and the need to get this issue settled. I feel now that I can start the 'backpacking teachers' chapter, to be written in tandem with the almost-completed 'language issues' one. I think I can use the 'backpacking teachers' to turn into a feature for my Goldsmiths Course, a kind of 'What to Expect and Precautions to Take if you go to teach in China' article.

I finally got my unemployment piece off to a good start after a brainwave about including a suitable quotation from Mao about what he intended to do for the peasants in 1949. I'd given the biography I had away, but I found a whole lot of Mao quotations divided into categorises on the Internet. It is really useful to be able to check things on the Internet as I'm writing, too.

I received an email from Ed, a colleague who worked with me as a 'foreign editor' in China. I was really pleased to hear he is writing a play, based on an idea which I'm sure will be popular.

I feel I deserve a good tuck in at Roy's birthday celebration dinner at the Curry Club tonight, although I haven't had any exercise today. Maybe I'll pass on the poppadums !

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tricky Chapters.

I'm troubled by the slow progress of my China book, having hit a couple of really difficult chapters. The themes seem promising: a) comparing poverty and prosperity in Tonghua, sparked by a Chinese teacher's writing on unemployment, and b)language mistakes thrown up during my work as an editor. The latter should be funny as well as informative but isn't, and the former has a lot of evidence resistant to my best wrangling efforts. Maybe the problem is that I'm trying to tackle two difficult pieces at once or maybe I'm just not getting enough time, what with my Chinese and film studies. No, it's not that. Other chapters have been relatively easy, although the 'monkeys, typewriters and Shakespeare theory' is something I believe in. If I just stick at them they'll come right in the end.

I think I'll make a start on my piece on backpacking teachers. It's so much easier to write a descriptive piece than one where I have to marshall arguments, and I can do it alongside each of the problem ones in turn. At least then I will have the satisfaction of another piece completed!

Monday, February 27, 2006

I finished my review of ‘Capote’, which I saw on Saturday with Roy and enjoyed very much, and spent quite a bit of time today answering a Writewords rebuttal of my review of ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, which really stopped me making headway with my China book ‘Silkworms and Snow’ . Monday, after all, is a day which I have clear for writing, so I intended to make up for last week's setbacks.

Tonight I went to a really useful talk about publicising oneself as writer online. Delivered by a man who described himself as a computer geek, one Sean McManus, to an audience of about 200 Society of Authors members, it was really useful. I had half thought he would be representing some company charging a fortune to set up websites, but it seems that my blog is good enough, at least to start with. I must make an effort to use links and photos to brighten things up a bit.

Tomorrow, too, I’ll register for a domain name. That’s the first step. The second , getting a blog, I’ve already done- in fact I’ve got two, counting my photojournal –

The talk was at a posh venue – the Overseas Club in St James’s Street, and although I could have hung about and ‘networked’ with other belabelled authors whilst drinking white wine I wasn’t in the mood. - I wanted to get home. Another thing I must do is order some cards - they are free from a company called vistaprint, at an address on the back of Sean's card.

I had a very pleasant, slightly spooky walk along Pall Mall towards Trafalgar Square. There weren’t many people around until I was passing the ICA and approaching Admiralty Arch, although there were plenty of taxis swishing past. I was looking at the imposing buildings on my left, with high sash windows and cream-painted pillars and a huge pediment with a Prince of Wales feather in bas relief. It would be handy to have a flat there. To my right, the dark recesses of St James’s Park, the outlines of trees and illuminated roofs and domes beyond, and a circle of lights that was the London Eye.

I looked in Smiths when I got to Charing Cross, hoping to get a TLS, but they didn't have any- the Waterloo branch is much bigger. Instead I bought The New Yorker Magazine and read a very well-written piece on the train by John Updike. Well, it would be well-written, wouldn't it, like all his stuff. It was called My Father's Tears and I thought it was going to be all sentimental patriarchy stuff, but I read it anyway. It reminded me that I must finish a memoir piece of my own that I'm in the middle of - about when my grammar school headmistress called me into her study and told me to take off my skirt.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Reviews Finished!

I was quite pleased today because I mangaged to write a review of 'Good Night and Good Luck', directed by George Clooney, which I saw last night,and posted it to the Writwords website, and I also managed the opening paragraphs, in three different styles, for the Film Journalism course. Oh, and not to mention a proposal letter to take to my Goldsmith class tomorrow. No Chinese, and no book-writing, but I can't have everything. Maybe swimming will help my knees, which I notice are a bit creaky from non-stop sitting in front of the computer.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Films Unlimited

After spending only an hour or so on my film reviews I went off to my Chinese class, which I enjoyed as much as ever but renewed my vow to study between classes- in theory I'm committed to an hour a day but in practice I seldom manage much more than half an hour, so I try to make up for it by listening to tapes on my Walkman when I go to sleep or when I wake up in the night. My Sinophile chum Canadian Barbara thinks this practice is shocking for someone who is married, but Roy doesn't mind, except when he can hear the whirring of the spools. I stifle the sound with a pillow if he complains.

On the way there I took my books back to Charing Cross Library and was pleasantly surprised at being able to renew Paul Auster's 'New York Trilogy', which I've renewed twice already. 'You can renew up to six times' said the kindly girl at the desk. I didn't know that, but it is just as well because by the time I've read the newspapers, 'Sight and Sound' and 'Time Out' that's it- there's hardly any time for reading books. Oh, 'The Oldie' arrived today, too.

It was a really miserable grey wet day but I was cheered up when I went to get an Unlimited Cinema ticket from the Haymarket Cineworld cinema on the way back. It was the notice in the Time Out this morning about an upcoming French film festival that finally decided me. It costs £13.99 to go as often as I like to all the Cineworld cinemas in England, and they seem to get all the decent mainstream films as well as some foreign ones. I had to have my photo taken against a pull-down screen in a corner of the foyer and the elderly gent wielding the camera took the photo from a low angle, so it looks as if I'm an extra for 'The Night of the Lving Dead'. 'You can keep these', he said, as he clipped two off the nine or so copies he made.

I would have had to hang about until 4pm to see the only film on offer that I hadn't seen already - 'Good Night and Good Luck.' As tonight is one of Roy's Bridge evenings and I'm not playing myself, I think I'll make an inaugural trip to West India Quay, despite the weather.Otherwise I'll be slumped in front of the TV drinking wine.

I had another go at the film research when I got home, and there's not much more to do now so I am more hopeful of getting the reviews finished. I even made a start on the paragraphs in different styles this morning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Making a plan

Because I was feeling anxious about my film reviews - whether or not I had enough time to do the research and the writing and meet the deadline - I drew up an action plan in the poolside cafe. It's full of chatty little kids and the kind of mums who take the trouble to talk to them; a six year old girl at the next table was asking loud questions about my vaccuum flask, as if she's never seen one before.It had tea left over from the morning, because the Chinese class was even livelier than usual, so there was no chance to drink it.

I thought I'd go to the film library tomorrow because my first Google trawl hadn't thrown up much info on the film I've decided to write about, 'Hidden' (Cache) directed by Michel Haneke. I decided it was best to do one I'd already written a review for, but the more scholarly of the three reviews will need some background. There's supposed to be one in tabloid style, one for a specialist mag or broadsheet and one for a trade mag. Anyway, this afternoon I found a website which was much better, including some in-depth analysis from worthy journals, so I took notes and am feeling more cheerful. I'll also find more info about the lead stars, Denis Auteuil and Juliet Binoche, but that'll be easier. I always read the trade mag 'Variety' anyway, in an online format, and I don't think the lowbrow one will be a problem.

In fact, there was an email from the BBC Collective site today to say I'd won a free DVD for the review. It's better than the two previous prizes which were both pop music CDs, one by a black rapper called Kano and a band called Babyshambles with Kate Moss's druggy boyfriend as a leader. The DVD is called 'The Mysterians', not one I've heard of. I think they just send out as prizes the free copies they are sent to review. Quite a good idea!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I have too many things needing attention this week, including my first real deadline for the Film Journalism course and the need to write a feature proposal for my Goldsmiths Journalism class. I resume my twice-weekly trips to Soho after a welcome half-term break, and I am really struggling with my piece on unemployment for 'Silkworms and Snow' The language issues which bedevilled my days in the office and which should make for a funny piece seems not only ponderous and flat but really difficult to organise. In fact, I'm going to print it off so I can see it more clearly in print than just scrolling down the screen.

The Film Journalism task is quite difficult - to write three opening paragraphs of a review on the same film but in different styles, depending on which publication it is meant for. The materials pack provides some examples which don't really seem varied enough, although two are quite distinctive - a rambling account full of personal anecdote, for a website, and a piece of short headings and one-sentence paragraphs for the Daily Mirror. The others seem very similar.

I got up early this morning and started on a new review, of 'Lady Vengeance', but I think it will save time to use a film for which I have already written a review - 'Hidden' (Cache) directed by Michel Haneke. I've already posted this to the Writewords Review Page and to the BBC Collective. The deadline is next Monday but I can see it is going to take a lot of thought to define characteristics of style and then write the pieces. That's what makes me think I'd better choose a film I'm familiar with already - then I can go sraight into the writing, with a little extra research on the director for the more scholarly piece. I'll take another look at the examples first, I think.

I'm tempted to say I won't go swimming with Roy this afternoon - I usually drive over to the baths at Beckenham and by the time we get back we've only just got time for dinner before catching up on two episodes of Coronation Street,recorded whilst we were out playing Bridge last night. I will go swimming, becase I feel so sluggish. It's odd - I was optimistic about the book only a week ago and now I'm dragging it along like a big iron ball on a chain, trying to kick it into something more attractive and thinking it's hardly worth it. Still, this is the time for resolution and gritted teeth.

I also sent off a query to Central Lancashire University in my home town because my next project will be based on researching life in cotton factories from c.1938- 1978. That about covers the span my mother worked in the mills. I was thinking of moving to Southport for a year, despite Roy's protsts, because as well as being near the research area I can also see more of my sister, who is now retired in Preston, but maybe just a few weeks at a time will be enough. It could be costly to rent a place, although relatively cheap compared with the summer.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I have these days when the muse deserts me, or when it is particularly hard to write, in the sense of composing sentences and paragraphs. I usually revert to doing research for a future episode of my China book, and after a while I’m OK.

One of the planned chapters will be about Chinese DVDs, the mainstay of our evening entertainment in Tonghua during my recent spell in a remote part of China, and almost an item of currency, like cigarettes in prison, except, unlike cigarettes, they could be swapped around for re-use.

They were very cheap - about 60p in English money , but also very unreliable. The failure rate was about one in every six or seven, with the frame freezing at one of the most suspenseful parts of the plot. I was probably the only one who also appreciated the opportunity to obtain a collection of Chinese DVDs, which I also brought back, although not in such great numbers. Mostly they were in slip covers but before we came back I remember we spent a whole morning taking the some jewel-box DVDs from their cases and repackaging them inside the inserts using rubber bands to hold together the double disks and cover.

This morning I went through the collection in search of those with badly-translated covers for inclusion in the articles. Just occasionally the title on the cover was misleading, and instead of the expected film it would be a totally different one.

Unsurprisingly, given the quiet tenor of our days amongst the foothills of the Changbaishan, our tastes tended to the more sensational thrillers – ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Blackhawk Down’ and ‘Gangs of New York’ and other lesser-known movies of the straight-to-DVD kind. Romantic comedies like ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ were popular with Katharine, my only female UK colleague, and me, and musicals, like ‘Chicago’

Most episodes I can write using the source material I already have; I’ve been reorganising a chapter on the sometimes hilarious sometimes vexing problems I had with subediting language for the magazines, for instance and for which I kept lots of examples, but some pieces need beefing up with statistics. I saw a useful article in the Guardian this morning about the difficulty the Chinese government have in controlling piracy, not just with DVDs but with books and music. I can use of the info in my articles, which will probably one of the more journalistic chapters, like the one on laid-off workers I’m preparing. I already found a very useful academic essay on the Internet about that.

I wonder what novelists do when they get struck by an uncreative phase?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Film Journalism Icebreaker

My Film Journalism course started officially yesterday and the first task, called Icebreaker, was to post something about ourselves and something about our reactions to film reviews of films recently seen. I looked at some already posted and was not surprised to find they were mainly from people about half my age. This is what I wrote to introduce myself in terms of my film interests:

Hi everyone!

I live in southeast London, but was born in the north in the pre-TV era . My parents took me to the cinema twice a week in the 50s. My favourite films are Woody Allen’s ‘Play it Again, Sam’, and the Cohen Brothers’ ‘Fargo’, but I love foreign language films

I did an English degree and PGCE at Goldsmiths (1969-73). I used film in my teaching, thanks to the ILEA film library, which sent the reels in a van. I took a course in how to use a 16mm projector then a three-year part-time BFI Film Certificate. In the 80s the government decided media should be part of the school curriculum so I went to more classes. In the 90s I taught three years in Singapore where they are film-mad, and decided to learn Chinese. I bought a video camera and home equipment and filmed my student drama group for parents’ evening.

In 1997 I started writing. I was doing a part-time Media Studies MA and had put together a course on Chinese film, which I taught at evening classes. I saw a notice in the BFI library asking for directors’ profiles. A newly-formed media book company- they had a mattress and an Applemac in Camden - asked me to write an introductory book on Chinese film. I went on to write more articles on censorship and Chinese film.

In 2003 I stopped teaching and worked as subeditor in China for ten months. I’ve been writing a book about it since, as well as film reviews for the BBC Collective website - I won a Kano and a Babyshambles CD. Since September I’ve been attending a Saturday course in Journalism at Goldsmiths and I belong to Writewords, an online writers’ group.

I read Sight &Sound, especially the synopses because I like to know film plots in advance, also Time Out, especially the ‘Top 10 critics choices’ to help me decide what to see. I still go twice a week. I love to read Derek Elley in Variety and like Cosmo Landesman in the Sunday Times, also audience reviews on websites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes

Two films I saw recently both had a revenge theme – ‘Munich’ and ‘Lady Vengeance’ The first, tipped for festival awards, I found poorly acted, overlong and blatantly misogynist. I liked the suspense of the lead-in to explosions but found the meal-time chats tedious It also looked cheap, which is unforgivable, given Spielberg’s resources. I agreed with TO’s Mike Hodges that to represent London, by a few shots of mail boxes and double-decker buses under a deluge was silly. ‘Lady Vengeance’, also praised by critics, was beautifully designed and directed and kept the audience engaged right to the end. The way the strands of the story unfolded to show, not just to tell, how the revenge and the form it took was justified, was worth so much more than all the blether in ‘Munich’.

I’m thrilled to be on this course and look forward to discussions, on-line and at the seminar.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to my Journalism class on Saturday.

I was waiting at the bus stop in Lewisham way, juggling with a rucsack and a plastic bag with three newspapers - they all contained free DVDs and they all had loads of supplements, so it made for an unwieldly parcel, especially as I'd bought them from the kiosk in front of the DLR station. They don't normally issue plastic bags so this one wasn't big enough.

I think I was digging out the DVDs when I noticed this boy, who couldn't have been more than twelve years old, sitting on one of those hard-shelled suitcases. I remembered he was the same one who'd been behind me at the kiosk, the woman telling him she didn't need his help today, thank you. I noticed him because he was making loud noises by continually snapping the handle up and letting it spring back onto the suitcase.

I was moving away from the noise when the bus arrived and in my hurry I dropped a £1 coin, which I picked up. '£1 down!' said the boy, in a loud voice, and as I got on behind him I saw he was about to slip a £1 coin into his wallet.

'Hey, did you pick that up just now?'

'So what'

'Well, it's mine.'

'It's mine now'. He put the case on the rack beside the driver and sat down. Meantime I was putting down my bag, finding my bus pass and telling him off all at the same time. He took no notice at all and the bus passengers looked on, bemused. I was feeling quite annoyed by this time, so started really scolding the boy as I sat on the seat behind him.

'You know, I would really feel ashamed if I were you -picking up money dropped by little old ladies ( I exaggerated a little) If you do that now, what will you do when you get older...' I was really giving him some verbal, everyone on the bus listening in and the woman sitting next to the boy turning round to smile at me admiringly. He was a burly boy, and probably a bit of a bully at school, obviously used to toughing things out. At this point he just got up and climbed the stairs to the upper deck.

I was having a discussion with the woman of the ' young kids today, what are they like' kind when he came down again, collected his suitcase and got off at the next stop. By way of a parting shot I called after him to say I would ask the kiosk woman where he lived and come round to see his mother. The woman in front thought that wouldn't do much good, and I had to agree. Meanwhile the boy, having got off the bus, was swearing loudly.

When I arrived at the class and told my classmate all about it she said I was lucky, really, that I had got away without being injured. 'They go in for all this happy-slapping nowadays and you wouldn't have stood a chance.'

I explained that with a bus load of passengers and the boy only about twelve years old I'd felt safe.

Maybe she was right. I suppose I could have ended up in a heap on the floor, instead of pleased that at least I'd had some kind of reward for my £1, even if it had only been his discomfort.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Don't Take No For an Answer

So embarrassing on Thursday, when I got into a sold-out screening on the coat-tails of two much more assertive companions. It was 'Shanghai Story', at the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square, on Thursday.

I arrived half an hour before the film was due to start and saw it had already sold out. I joined the queue all the same, because Susie Wong the organiser was supposed to send me tickets for several films, including the night before's gala, and they hadn't arrived.

The young woman at the box office looked through the envelopes, with no luck - all Chinese names. She even made a phone call to an office somewhere in the building. I had taken out my press card, only received only the week before on the strength of my Goldsmiths course, and a thin woman with a German accent who was standing nearby saw the card and heard the assistant tell me I could wait in the foyer untilt 'the organisers' arrived. From then on she stuck to me like a limpet, relating her backpacking adventures and asking me could I get her a ticket.

Next came Eva the French woman from my Chinese class, whom I'd arranged to meet. She stood in the foyer declaiming loudly about how much she wanted to see the film, why didn't they screen it more than once, she had come a long way, etc.. She also waylaid a couple of passing employees, one young man in particular to whom she gave several arguments as to why she should be let in. 'Oh, you see, it's a sell-out and it would be illegal to sell teh seats again', he explained.

Eva is tall and slender and has long hair with blonde streaks, despite being in her mid sixties. She was dressed in a long black coat and beret and with her French accent and imperious manner could well be mistaken for a former film star - Brigitte Bardot's less nubile sister, perhaps. She has the manner of someone who is used to getting her own way.

Then the troup of 'organisers; arrived, headed by Susie Wong, who is a little old lady now although I am told she is the original character on whom the Shirley MacLaine film was based. She look startled when I stopped her and told me I hadn't even asked for a ticket for this particular show. Meanwhile Eva was accosting a good-looking mid-thirties man whom I suspect ws Chris Berry, Susie's film consultant, who was escorting the pretty young female director. She was due to give a talk session at the end. He soon came back from the screen to say the auditorium had plenty of seats. At the start time the young employee escorted us, now twelve in number, to the audotorium. Not only did we get in, but it was free.

When I told Eva that I would never have been so pressing, she said 'Ah, but sometimes when you really want something you have to go all out to try!' Just to think, I usually just slink away with a shrug!

It wasn't a particularly good film - too much money put in by Shanghai companies, I expect, so there were some extraneous outdoor scenes which slowed the narrative, and it was too sentimental, in parts. I wasn't too sympathetic to a family who although they had been persecuted under the Communists seemed to have done quite well, still living in their original house in the French Concession district, albeit it sharing the kitchen now with an elderly couple. The old matriarch whose last illness had caused her children to gather had even managed to conceal some valuables from the Red Guards, although her husband had been killed.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I completed a chapter of 'Silkworms and Snow' yesterday morning and posted it to the Write Words website, the online writers' group I subscribe to.

In the afternoon I went to the Dockland Museum for a screening of a 1959 film called 'The Lin Family Shop'. This is the first of several films I'll be seeing as part of a series in an event called 'Shanghai on Screen', organised by the Chinese Cultural Centre. I was associated with this in the past, having introduced a couple of screenings when a film festival was held at The Barbican in, I think, 2000.

Here's a review of the film I wrote this morning:

The Lin Family Shop Dir: Shui Hua 1959

This story of social melt-down begins in 1931 just after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. In a small southern town to a spoilt shopkeeper’s daughter is criticised in the street by her classmates for her father’s selling of Japanese goods. More concerned with her appearance than any larger social or family obligations, the girl throws a kitten off the bed, in an act which prefigures the small family’s fate in the ensuing story. An intimate mise-en-scene is created by mid-shots of characters in cramped domestic spaces and views of narrow streets and busy canals, drawing us into the web of credit and debit relationships which underpin Mr Lin’s business. He is in debt to bank, his landlady and his supplier, as well as neighbours who have invested their pittances in return for interest. In this world people pay late and demand early. With a wife and teenage daughter as well as three shop workers relying on him for their livelihood, distant political events force Lin into desperate measures; when a local bigwig takes a shine to his daughter it only compounds his problems. The narrow alleyways and decaying canal side dwellings of a small town in Zhejiang Province in 1931, provides a claustrophobic backdrop to events, with falling snow adding ironically pretty detail to the dog-eat-dog world of competitors, demanding landlords and stone-faced bankers. Reassurances are quickly followed by betrayal and no-one can be trusted. Whilst her husband lives to the constant clack of the abacus, the mother relies on prayers and offerings to the goddess of good fortune. Meantime tension is ratcheted by reports of the ever advancing army and the threat of collapse of the social order. Adapted from a novel by a well-known supporter of Mao’s socialism, the film was criticised at the time of its release in 1959 for a too sympathetic representation of the lead character, whose anxiety is given much depth by Xie Tan’s subtle playing. However, the film’s focus is less on human failings than on a flawed economic system. The histrionics of the ending seem contrived, with victims trampled in a police dispersal charge in an otherwise compelling portrait of a doomed social milieu.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Chinese Poetry Evening at the BL was more varied than I expected. There was music and a fifteen minute lecture with slides about calligraphy, delivered by the man who did the characters for the current Chinese poems on the London Underground. He was modest and self-deprecating in his manner, which endeared him to the audience.

Six poems, translated by Arthur Waley, were set to music 'for guitar and high voice' by Benjamin Britten, played by a very gifted female Chinese guitarist and sung by an English man with light curly hair and a satin waist-coat. He didn't have as high a voice as James Bowman, the counter-tenor I admire, but he sang very well, with a precise enunciation.

The poems were written between 1,000 - 600 B.C. One that made an impression me was 'The Big Chariot':

Don't help-on the big chariot;
You will only make yourself dusty.
Don't think about the sorrows of the world;
You will only make yourself wretched.

Don't help-on the big chariot;
You won't be able to see for dust.
Don't think about the sorrows of the world;
Or you will never escape from your despair.

Don't help-on the big chariot;
You will be stifled with dust.
Don't think about the sorrows of the world;
You will only load yourself with care.

A major theme of the Book of Songs, from which this was taken, was the burden of office for the educated men or literati who made up the civil service of the day and their wish to retire from the intrigues of court life. Here the big chariot seems to symbolise the machinery of bureacracy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I was thrilled yesterday afternoon to collect my Film Journalism package from the BFI offices in Stephen Street. I was on my way to the British Library and had half an hour or so before the Chinese Poetry Evening so I took the plastic folder from the envelope and had a look at the course materials. I'd already taken out the introductory letter on the bus.

There seem to be many more small seating areas than I remember from before, dotted all around the BL first floor, outside the reading rooms per se. Most seem to be equipped with lamps and plug-n facilities for laptops, which lots of people were making use of. I noticed a stand-up area of what look like tilted-back coffin lids grouped around a high table. I wonder if this is one of the hot-spots for accessing an Internet connection. I'll have to find out.

I discovered from my BFI package I am in a group of ten assigned to one of four tutors. There was also a website user name and password as it's a distance learning course, apart from a two-day seminar in London.

I'll really have my work cut out now to juggle my writing commitments. First priority must be to my book about China 'Silkworms & Snow', but what with my Saturday morning Journalism course at Goldsmiths to write for and my twice-weekly Chinese classes in Frith Street it will be a bit pressured at times.

I go to Chinese class today but can fit in a couple of hours on the book. Then another hour before I meet Roy at Beckenham for swimming, in which I'll proably work on my restaurant reviews for the Goldsmiths class . As soon as I get back from swimming, with a stop off at Waitrose on the way, it will be time to go to play bridge at Gisela's house.