Sunday, August 17, 2008

Being on the Radio
It's all been a bit strange this last couple of days. On Thursday night I was at the Broca Cafe, round the back of Brockley Station for a meeting of a writers circle I joined recently. It was formed two or three years ago by members of a a writing class at Goldsmiths - the same one I did last year. So we had an ex-teacher in common even if I was a new member. Anyway, before we started on a writing exercise someone asked me if I'd done any talks on China with Olympics making it so topical.
I was surprised, because it hadn't really occurred to me; I'd submitted a couple of articles about my year in Tonghua to the Dimsum Website as well as covering some cultural events but hadn't thought specially about anything to do with the Beijing events.
So I as surprised by a phone call next morning. An Irish voice said ' I 'd like to talk to Sheila Cornelius' and 'Do you have time to talk? I assumed it was someone trying to sell me something so I said 'I'm about to go out', which was true because R had proposed a drive to Whitstable. We needed to go early as we were meeting friends for drinks in the evening.
'I'm from Talkradio in Dublin and we wondered if you'd agree to contribute to a programme tomorrow night. It's called Culture shock and it's about China. You've written a book about Chinese cinema?' Of course, I had, and I would be willing if she could let me something more about the topic. Would the evening be convenient for me if she rang back? No, it wouldn't but I'd be in in the morning.
I'd forgotten that next morning, Saturday, I was due at the local library for a crime reading group, starting at 10.30am. Never mind, maybe they'd ring before 10am when I needed to leave,and after that R could field the call. I'd struggled to finish Val Mc Dermid's 'Beneath the Bleeding', specially for the meeting.
When I got back, no phone call. Disappointing, but after all I hadn't made myself available the night before. I assumed they 'd found someone else.
We went to the cinema at West India Quay in the afternoon. It was 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' which I'd been eager to see for a while. Coming back, R suggested we go for a walk. I'd better be in at 7pm for the start of the programme because I'd agreed in theory to be on it.
Unlikely, said R - as they hadn't rung back. So at 6.30pm he went off for a walk on his own and I listened to a message on the answer phone. It gave a number to ring and I was told I'd be part of a panel of four people and I'd be asked about how the Chinese were represented on film.
I was in a quandary because I'd put a chicken to slow cook and I could imagine R would arrive back when I was already on the phone to Dublin, doing his usaal of coming in and calling upstairs to me if I wasn't in sight. So I wrote a note in big letters so he'd see it straight away, and sure enough they rang at 7.05pm when he was still out. I thought I'd use the plug-in phone in the bedroom, as the others are on stands and tend to lose their charge after twenty minutes or so.
'Hello this is Talkradio, and I will now transfer you to the programme desk'. I listened to some Irish sporting news for about five minutes, except I wasn't really listening because I was so nervous. Eventually, when Fionn Davenport introduced the programme and said they were going to kick off with an item about China I felt a bit calmer. The other three panel members were in the studio in Dublin and I was a 'on the line from London, Sheila Cornelius, visiting Lecturer in Film at Morley College.' That was a while back, and taken from the blurb on the back of my book, but I wasn't about to interrupt him. For one thing he was speaking very quickly and was already putting a question to the first panellist, a Mr Wang, who was head of a Chinese school in Dublin.
He was asked about how he's adjusted to cultural differences in Ireland and the part that traditional Chinese beliefs played in his adjustment. He gave a typically diplomatic response about being open and accepting to everything. He mentioned Buddhism and although the wasn't himself a practising Buddhist he'd been influenced by the the Confucian emphasis on on harmonious living . Another Chinese panellist, this time a woman, and a Catholic, responded to a question about religious tolerance in China and a man called Connor Cleary, who'd been a correspondent in Beijing for five years talked about media censorship. I was asked how far filmmakers could work inside the strict censorship rules and I was able to say they got roundit to an extent, citing Zhang Yimou as an example of someone who'd had his films banned. He's often been able to fool the censors.
The others came in again, talking about freedom of expression in the arts. I was thinking I'd said my piece when Fion said they'd just received a text message which asked wasn't it true that Zhang Yimou's films showed that if you messed with authority you would always come out badly and what did I think? It was unexpected but I gabbled on a bit about how the films showed that authorities had responsibilities too and how it all went wrong when power was abused. The caller had mentioned 'Curse of the Golden Flower' and I knew it quite well, having reveiwed it for Dimsum. Phew!
'So, openness, harmony and individual expression' said Fion Davenport in a voice dripping with irony, and went on to introduce the next part of the programme. A voice thanked me for taking part.
To my surprise I'd enjoyed it. I hadn't dried up, and I'd been more or less coherent. R said I'd spoken rather quickly, but I'd been taking my cue from the others.
R had come up for a nap as soon as he came up, so was lying on the bed beside me. Fortunately, I noticed in time that he'd set the timer alarm to wake him up after fifteen minutes - the seconds were counting down - and I turned it off. It's not all plain sailing for us 'on the line from London' pundits.
Dimsum extract about Curse of the Golden Flower:
About my book:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Index Cards Versus a Computer Database
'Ha! Ha! Bit of a Dickensian scene this!' says Adam (not his real name) , when he spots me updating my short story cards.
I haven't used them before because it's only recently I've been submitting enough. The stories were just a list of titles in a computer file and (I'm glad to say) had grown in number to the extent where I couldn't remember what they were about and how many words long they were. Apart from tracking submissions I thought it might be a good idea to be able to flick through cards that had these details. Competitions are advertised from time to time and it would be good to be able to find one already written to fit the purpose. Well, that's the theory.
I was a bit taken aback by Adam's comment because I do like gadgetry. I was an early computer user because R was a salesman for BT. Adam was a colleague of R's. I quite like Adam - he has more about him than some of R's friends. R seems to pick them for how kind-hearted they are instead of for interest or novelty value. (He says my friends are far too eccentric.)
R didn't want a computer cluttering his desk at work when he had no plans to master it. Hence I was able to use it for my film dissertation in 1997. When I'd done an earlier education one in 1986 it was literally a cut and paste job, with glue and scissors and an electric typewriter, so the Tonto was a big improvement. Later I discovered 'tonto' is Spanish for crazy, and that's what you had to be to use it because it was so erratic. No mouse, so you had to have a list of key combinations to perform the word-processing functions. You also had to ring up the help desk a lot.
Now I've got a whole novel on five and a half inch floppy disks and a dot-matrix printed copy. I did that in 1987 and an still transcribing it chapter by chapter.
Adam, unlike R, is an IT enthusiast. I remember he once came to lecture to my A Level Media students on the subject of 'Future Technology' . I don't suppose the content would seem so far-fetched now.
Anyway, there I am copying up records from the back of my notebook, a good task whilst I'm waiting for R to be picked up and taken to Hever Castle. As it's the school holidays Adam is free to venture further than their usual city-centre gallery or cinema. He's not a teacher. At R's 65th birthday dinner, when he'd already been retired for 13 years, Adam's journalist wife said in her ringing Scottish voice: 'Adam, I hope that you don't think you're going to spend your early retirement doing nothing , like your friend R! I'm not going off to my work every day while you lie in your bed.' So Adam is a technician at a school.
Well, I explain to Adam that it may look Dickensian but it's very useful to have this data about the stories on cards. We had a brief chat about dedicated programmes that might be suitable but the main point was it wouldn't really be so convenient or accessible. Maybe I need to look into it, though.
I haven't got much further than titles so far. I've started a separate set for magazines that take short fiction.