I’m always fascinated by other writers’ creative processes, whether they are early birds or night owls, whether they write every day (some don’t!) and what kind of word count they expect at the end of a day’s work. I suppose because writing is such a solitary occupation  it’s interesting to see how other people approach it.

I have the four volumes of The Paris Review Interviews and regularly dip into them for inspiration, but I’m always on the lookout for similar resources. Over the last couple of months The Guardian has been publishing a series in the Saturday Review entitled ‘My Writing Day’, and Rose Tremain, William Boyd, Ian Rankin, Hilary Mantel and Anne Enright are some of the writers featured thus far.

Anne Enright’s day starts at 9am, finishes at 11pm and is filled with the kind of faffing that every writer is familiar with. ‘I never manage to write fiction in the morning. This is why I think mornings are wasted, and panic every afternoon.’

Hilary Mantel describes a long day filled with intense concentration, focussed work and a huge output. On a good day she can produce ‘thousands of words across half a dozen projects – and perhaps new projects.’

Ian Rankin was working on a new book when he was interviewed, and he had written the first draft in twenty-seven days. My heart sank when I read this (my first draft took me a year!) but thankfully he says, ‘It’s rough – really just me checking the plot works. The second draft sees me polish the prose, fix faults in chronology and geography, and add meat to the bones of my characters.’

It’s an interesting series for anyone interested in how the writing process works. I have also done some writer interviews on The Multiverse and you can take a look at how Peter Murphy, Kevin Barry and Declan Burke approach their writing day.

Ever fancied your heavy metal with a side of Hello Kitty? Thought that Metallica should really consider dance routines in their live shows? Secretly believed that Slayer could be improved if they just coordinated their outfits and smiled a bit more? Well, your demented bizarre dreams have been answered in the form of BABYMETAL, a Japanese kawaii-metal girl group.

To be more exact, BABYMETAL are an idol group. ‘Idol’ music is a Japanese phenomenon: a manufactured artist or band adored for being cute or ‘kawaii‘, and held up as good role models for young people. The idol component of BABYMETAL are the three teenage female singers –  Suimetal, Yuimetal, Moametal – and the metal component is provided by the Kami Band. It makes for a strange mix of saccharine catchy pop vocals over speed metal riffs, with the occasional arena-pleasing power ballad thrown in.

BABYMETAL started in 2010, when the band members were aged between 11 and 13 and by their own admission had never even heard heavy metal, and by 2014 were making waves internationally. In 2015 they played at Wembley Arena, a gig for which the Guardian awarded them five out of five stars. In Hannah Ewans review she said, ‘This isn’t another metal gimmick: it’s a legitimate phenomenon.’

BABYMETAL are clearly not the kind of band that I’ll buy an entire album from, but they do have their moments. Two of my favourites below:

 

 

 

Back in 2014 David Mitchell used Twitter to tell a short story, and in 280 tweets over the course of a week he showed the right way for an author to engage with social media. The story that emerged from this process was called The Right Sort and it’s the first chapter of Mitchell’s seventh novel, Slade House, published last year.

Slade House is Mitchell’s take on the classic haunted house story. Every nine years a tiny door appears on Slade Alley, behind which is a huge house surrounded by a beautiful garden. The house is only accessible for a day, and when it vanishes it takes someone with it, leading to unexplained disappearances. The novel is told in five chapters by five different narrators, from 1979 to 2015, and through their eyes we come to understand that Slade House is an illusion, set up as bait to lure in victims for the house’s owners.

In true Mitchell style, characters and references from his other novels appear throughout, and the book is widely seen to be a companion piece to 2014’s The Bone Clocks, featuring the Anchorites and Horologists from that fantasy world.

A very dear friend of mine bought me the most gorgeous hardback US first edition and I raced through the 238 pages in a couple of hours. It’s a creepy little book which reminded me at times of The Turn of the Screw and Les Enfants Terribles, but with a lot more humour.

 

Michael Shannon has unfairly gotten a reputation as the go-to guy for intense unstable and often violent characters, but he has far greater range than that as his filmography and theatre credits demonstrate. In Midnight Special he plays Roy, a loving and protective father who is on the run with his young son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), having escaped from a cult where Alton was seen as a prophet due to his supernatural powers.

Roy and his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are racing to get Alton to an unspecified location, where Alton believes that he will perhaps find out why he possesses his powers. On the way they collect Roy’s wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) who was excommunicated and hasn’t seen her son for years. NSA agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) has interviewed members of the cult who attest to Alton’s abilities and believing Alton to be a potential threat to national security, the FBI pursue Roy with the aim of separating him from his son and imprisoning Alton.

Midnight Special is both a sci-fi thriller and a meditation on what it means to be a parent. When Alton tells Roy that he needn’t worry about him, Roy’s response is ‘I like worrying about you’, a simple answer that sums up parenthood beautifully. Shannon’s performance has already been much praised, but the rest of the cast deserve accolades too. Nichols’ script is restrained and intelligent, trusting the viewer to fill in the blanks which makes a welcome change from the usual Hollywood spoon-feeding.

Shannon has appeared in all of writer-director Nichols’ films: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, and now Midnight Special. They are great collaborators and all four films are worth seeing, so head to Midnight Special in the cinema now and then if you haven’t seen Take Shelter rent it. Shannon won armloads of awards for his performance as a man haunted by visions of the apocalypse, and again he was a loving husband and father. See? He doesn’t just play cold-hearted crazy villains!

 

My version of reading the Sunday papers is browsing through the latest posts on both Longreads and Longform, sites which feature long-form journalism or creative writing from around the web. I’ve often discovered writers that I now follow and publications I’ve never heard of before.

Over the weekend I discovered Narratively. In their own words: ‘Created in September 2012, Narratively is a digital publication and storytelling studio that prides itself on looking beyond the news headlines and clickbait, focusing instead on ordinary people with extraordinary stories.’ The site features video, photography, comics, and writing, and has received numerous awards and accolades.

I spent an hour browsing and found some gems:

‘Keeping New York Weird’ by Grace Bello – A profile of New York ‘comedic punks’, performance artists Tobly and Bob McSmith, which also explores the gentrification of Manhattan and what it means for artists.

‘My Acerbic Aerobics Class with O.J. Simpson’ by Robert Kerbeck – An account of being an extra in O.J. Simpson’s workout video which was filmed one week before the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

‘Secret Life of a Fashion Week Peon’ by Lacy Warner – A look inside a buyer’s showroom, where the real business of New York fashion week is done.

‘A Super Strange True Love Story: My Disappearing Fiancé’ by AnnaLisa Merelli – A first-person account of love gone wrong.

and

‘A Second Super Strange Love Story: I was the other woman’ by Riol Dankó – The follow-up to the above, where love goes horribly terribly wrong.

The best place to start on Narratively are the collections which group together different stories with similar themes, but be warned, once you start browsing you may lose an hour or so!

Donald Trumbo is a screenwriter whose most well known novel I reviewed on the blog a few weeks ago, and who is now synonymous with the Hollywood Ten; movie industry professionals blacklisted for refusing to answer questions in Congress related to their support of communism.

It’s a shame that the blacklist is what he’s most known for as it overshadows a huge talent, as evidenced by his prolific output including screenplays, essays, novels and non-fiction pieces. When blacklisted he wrote Roman Holiday and submitted it under a friend’s name and when the screenplay won the Academy Award, Trumbo watched the ceremony with his family at home, unable to take credit for his work. The same thing happened with his screenplay for The Brave One and it was only when he was publicly credited for his scripts for Spartacus and Exodus, released in the same year, that the blacklist crumbled.

Trumbo was a deeply moral and honourable man, which at times made him a nightmare for his family to live with. He questioned and challenged friends and enemies, didn’t shy away from conflict, and lived by his own code no matter what the cost. He was prepared to sacrifice everything for his beliefs, including an eleven-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress, and he expected his family to support him without question.

In a way, it seems ridiculous that a group of artists could have been witch-hunted, unable to make a living in a country where the right to free speech has been enshrined in the constitution since 1791. But take a minute and imagine Donald Trump as President of the United States and perhaps it doesn’t seem quite so implausible.

There are many things to admire about Trumbo: the period perfect costume and set design, the cinematography, and the performances above all. Diane Lane who plays Trumbo’s wife Cleo is always a pleasure to watch, and Helen Mirren is brilliant as Hedda Hopper, a racist bigoted gossip columnist, much more powerful than the TMZs and Enquirers of today as she had exclusive access to Hollywood’s elite. Bryan Cranston is magnificent as Trumbo, making him admirable, sympathetic and infuriating all at the same time. Having now seen all the performances in the category for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, Cranston would have been my pick for his performance.

 

I used to describe myself as an atheist but a while ago I realised how incredibly arrogant that was and so like Sir David Attenborough (and many others) I now think that agnostic is a better description of my spiritual inclinations.

A few years ago I came across this video of Sir David interviewed by Laurie Taylor talking about divine design, mythology, and religion, of which he says ‘I shrink from the word’. When asked in the interview why he was agnostic rather than atheist, he made a comparison involving termites.

He uses the analogy of taking off the top of a termite hill and watching the termites go about their busy lives: looking after the queen, building walls, clearing the nest, caring for the pupae. They haven’t the faintest idea that he is there watching them because they do not have the ability to see him. Therefore he feels as if he may be similarly lacking the sense organs to appreciate some sort of greater influence in our lives.

Atheism is a confidence that Attenborough feels he doesn’t have while his friend Richard Dawkins would say that he was ‘rather feeble’. I admire his humility and open-mindedness and his termite analogy is one I have often used as it’s very simple yet very effective. Enjoy and have a lovely weekend!

 

In 1937 F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s days as a successful novelist synonymous with the glamour of the roaring 20s were lost to the past. He was broke and in poor health, his wife Zelda was in a psychiatric institution, and his daughter, Scottie, was in a very expensive boarding school. When he was offered a lucrative contract by MGM studios, he decamped to Hollywood along with many of his New York contemporaries including Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, forming a commune in the famous Garden of Allah Hotel.

West of Sunset is Stewart O’Nan‘s imagining of this period in Fitzgerald’s life, and it’s well researched and a compelling read, recounting his desperation, loneliness and financial stress, and his constant struggle with alcohol; good days when he would abstain and instead drink numerous Cokes, and the inevitability of a bender, starting with a double gin and tonic and ending with a blackout.

It also depicts his relationship with Sheilah Graham, who was as reserved and controlled as Zelda was hedonistic and abandoned. Sheilah was much younger than Fitzgerald, an ambitious independent gossip-columnist who entered into a relationship with him despite the fact that he was still married to Zelda. No matter Fitzgerald’s attraction to Sheilah, he had an inescapable bond with Zelda. In a letter to a friend dated in 1920 he said that he ‘fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect…Zelda’s the only God I have left now’.

Fitzgerald died at age forty-four from a heart condition, presumably exacerbated by his lifelong love of partying and his struggle with alcohol. His observation that ‘There are no second acts in American lives’ was eerily prescient. When he died many of his books were out of print and there were no signs that he would become one of the most influential American authors of the 20th century.

A novel written from Fitzgerald’s point of view will of course draw comparisons with his own prose, and as he was a rare talent this is where the risk is for the author. O’Nan’s writing is lyrical and emotionally complex as befits the subject. I wished that I had read something of O’Nan’s before this, so that I would have a better understanding of his work and could place West of Sunset in a proper context, but it’s a great introduction to O’Nan and I’m interest to read more.

Here’s an interview with the author which is illuminating and interesting, and which thankfully doesn’t give too much away so you can watch it without spoiling your enjoyment of West of Sunset.

 

 

There are some songs that transcend genres, decades, and fashions, and end up being an inspiration for the ages. ‘Under Pressure’ is, as the staff in Whelan’s will tell you, one of my favourite songs to end a DJ set, and one of my favourite songs of all time.

Two geniuses on one track is rare. Freddie Mercury ranks among the superlative singers in any genre of the last century, and Bowie’s style and influence is inimitable; together they created magic. ‘Under Pressure’ is twenty-five years old this year but has the true hallmark of a classic: it sounds just as contemporary as the day it was recorded.

And the lyrics are pretty powerful:

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure’

This version has been doing the social-media rounds recently, I suppose due to Bowie’s death and a renewed interest in every detail of his career. It’s the vocal track from the song, just Mercury and Bowie, no other instruments, no autotune, no bullshit, just two gifted singers at the top of their game. Do yourself a favour and check it out. It sends shivers up my spine.

 

Amongst the plethora of high profile Irish nominees at this year’s Academy Awards, a little-hyped Irish film won Best Live Action Short: Stutterer, written, directed and edited by thirty-two-year old Dubliner, Benjamin Cleary.

The titular stutter, Greenwood (Matthew Needham), describes himself as ‘a reclusive typographer, invisible to the naked eye, communication skills of an infant, excels in the art of self-pity’. Greenwood is a bookworm who is sharply intelligent and deeply frustrated by his inability to speak fluently. He has been messaging Ellie (Chloe Pirrie) for six months and their correspondence verbose and witty, but when Ellie suggests meeting face-to-face, Greenwood is understandably hesitant.

Stutterer is a wonderful film, touching and funny, with quietly beautiful cinematography by Michael Paleodimos and a lovely piano score by Nico Casal.

Stutterer is now available to view on the RTEPlayer and I highly recommend it. A huge congrats to Mr. Cleary who will no doubt have Hollywood knocking on his door and a very promising film career ahead.

 

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

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All the craic at @zilbyrne's birthday tonight. It was 80s themed and Liz made amazing posters for the venue. (Read the footnote!) #LizFest #80s #girlsjustwannahavefun #feminism Whoever said diamonds are a girl's best friend didn't know women like these two. #bestmates #Dublin #birthday 'There were never such devoted sisters...' @scorchfox @hazelwoods83 Because clearly the person washing your car in Stoneybatter will look like this. #sexycarwash #asif With my dear friend @jimfitzpatrick. It's been too long. I do love a pink sky. #Dublin #pinksky #nofilter #nicechangefromhailstones #pinkclouds

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