Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Banksy and the street artists

Originally published in Radia magazine...

“I wouldn’t Banksy on it.”
(quote from Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop)

I won’t say that Banksy’s pop-up shop on
Berwick Street
was teeming with people breathing down each other’s necks on a Monday afternoon, but there was a steady in-flow of young women with slanting razor-cut fringes and trendy trainers, and bearded, bohemian arty types, despite the Winter Wonderland that is London this December. If you’ve had enough happy-sappy Marks and Spencer’s ads that are more an advertisement for Christmas than for clothes or food, and incessant reruns of the Nutcracker at every theatrical venue just make you want to scream, then street art may be just the right medicine.
This autumn, the pop-up shop featured works by Toulouse-born artist Dran, bringing with it the usual features of Banksy’s art: a dry, subversive, hand-on-the-crotch kind of humour, and beautiful, lonely characters that do what you’re thinking but are too afraid to say. The shop, called Marks and Stencils, was home to an exhibition of pictures, installations, postcards and objects and it was organized by Pictures on Walls, an independent collective, founded in 2001, of self-proclaimed “disaffected (meaning failed) young artists unimpressed by the art world’s obsession with pretentious waffle and warm wine.” Hmm, I don’t know about you, but I have nothing against a seasonal glass or two of glogg…
Earlier this year, rumour had it that one of the Turner prize judges, Andrew Nairne, had been heard to offer praise for Banksy’s art. He said he found it “twee” (he should watch Larkrise to Candleford if he finds Banksy twee) but also “funny” and “original.” Of course, it’s a long cry from praise to actual nomination, and as the spring-time nominations revealed, despite Banksy’s successful Bristol show and his self-deprecating film Exit Through the Gift Shop, there was no Banksy in the mix. But the question is, if ever nominated for the Turner prize, would Banksy still be Banksy? Would Banksy maintain his power to be the anonymous, dissident voice in British art, or would the art world appropriate him and make of him the prodigal son?   
There is nothing of the prodigal son about Dran, or at least, his characters. His pictures feature Scribouille, a homeless puppet who lives only for his art. Dran’s characters look forlorn and fragile, living on the margins of society, picking pockets or making art for a living – two careers that perhaps figure as one and the same in Dran’s caustic view of capitalist society. One picture, called Tame the Fear, is of a little girl offering sheaves of grass to a wooden horse suspended on a spring. Camouflage, a picture and an installation, oddly features a polar bear that looks like the sinister animal in the Birds Eye advert, that is always watching you to see if you’re eating the right kind of frozen peas. Unlike street artists such as UK-based Dan Baldwin, or the Graffiti Kings, whose art often looks like a hallucinogenic flashback with whirling stabs of colour, Dran’s art shows a person caught in a moment of discovery or longing.

Dran has been making art since 1995, and in that time he has published six books about his art, and featured his murals and pictures in many exhibitions – thereby becoming an oxymoron, a successful counter-culture artist. Dran calls his work “My Everyday Life,” the name given to the first of his exhibitions with Pictures on Walls. And as Pictures on Walls reveals, Dran’s work is not only his everyday life, it is something he does practically twenty-four hours a day. His pictures are oddly endearing, beautifully drawn, and full of wit. Street art or not, he is considered one of the most important artists of the century and he is being drawn from the margins and placed bang in the centre by galleries keen to capitalize on the growing celebrity of kooky, non-mainstream artists.
To get your regular dose of street art, pop-art, graffiti and counter-art, visit London’s non-mainstream galleries such as Elm Lesters Painting Rooms, Brick Lane Gallery, and Paintings on Walls in the new year, or just hang out in the East End and wait for a skinny, shifty, matted-hair guy or gal in a hoody to walk by with a spray can. 

Monday, 20 December 2010

I, Me, My Clothes

Red Lace Dress Covering Head, from 'Joan,' by Alexander McQueen

Check out my new article in Radia magazine, a cool new fashion and art magazine that - as it will tell you - combines beauty and brains.,-me,-my-clothes.html

"I, Me, My Clothes"
I don’t know if we have Foucault or Ugly Betty to thank for this, but the idea that clothes reveal our personal and social identities seems kind of obvious. What, then, would this exhibition have to say that was so original, I cogitated, as I walked through Burlington Arcade to the back entrance of the Royal Academy, past the quaint cashmere shops and the even more archaic city gentleman getting his shoes polished (Was I back in Victorian times? Would a ten-year-old chimney sweep try to steal my muff next?) Admittedly, some of the exhibits in this contemporary showcase of thirty artists are very forgettable, while others are more interesting to read about than look at. But a few striking images linger in your imagination.
Helen Storey’s Say Goodbye is a dress made of what look like slivers of black and white plastic, and trails of sea weed around the hem (think Corpse Bride…), suspended over a large glass bowl. Made of an enzyme-based material that dissolves over time in water, the dress is about creating eco-kind fashion, and a sustainable future. Of course, what could be a better excuse to go clothes shopping than a disappearing wardrobe? Then there is Susie MacMurray’s Widow that tells a story of overwhelming grief. It looks like a gothic-Christmas tree, with black, ticklish tinsel that cascades all the way from the waist to the hem, but appearances are deceptive. As you move closer, you see that what appear to be fluttery little spindles are actually pins stuck savagely in leather to create a rather morbid wedding-like gown. Wilkie Collins would have bundled his female protagonists into it before you could blink and say moonstone.
The exhibition has four themes: Storytelling, Building, Belonging and Confrontation, and Performance. It is a mix of exhibits that actually look like clothes (if you must be fashion-backward enough to want clothes that are wearable, well, then, there isn’t a lot of that), odd bits and pieces that look like meat hanging from a butcher’s block, people walking around in kaleidoscopic bubbles, and videos of performance art created around the world. Several of the pieces speak of national belonging, migration, travel, fragmentation, and unsettling. Like Sharif Waked’s Chic Point, which is a catwalk inspired by Palestinian men being body-searched at Israeli check-points. Damaged-looking men strut down the catwalk with holes cut in their clothing, and shirt collars embracing their navels, one of them ironically in a I Heart New York t-shirt, with the heart cut out.
A striking image is Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Son’ of Sonzai Suru. A mannequin in a flowing, flowery, filmy white dress stands surrounded by three sinister figures, dressed all in black, faces and heads covered in black hoods as they lift pieces of the mannequin’s clothing and leave her helpless. Inspired by Bunraku theatre, the exhibit is about the fashion industry as a manipulative and all-engulfing beast.
Keeping with the theme of body invasion, there is Yoko Ono’s famous Cut Piece, first performed in Japan in 1964, where she invited the audience to cut up her clothing. This piece is a Happening, started by the 1960’s avant garde, and is instigated by Ono’s one instructional verb: Cut. Audience members cut off her clothing until Ono is naked. In the video, Ono gradually takes on a look of existential sadness as her clothes are stripped from her body. The inspiration of the piece is the suffering experienced by artists. I admit I find a slight contradiction in it. Ono has, at other times in her life, spoken of the naked body as natural, instead of puerile or taboo, so, it is interesting that in this piece she uses the gradual stripping away of her outer layers to signify suffering.
The exhibition, more or less successfully, explores the expression of personal and social identity through clothes. But it is speaking more about what clothes reveal rather than what they hide and often misses the complexity of clothing, and therefore, of identity. While the exhibition explores what it would be like to wear our inner life on our shirtsleeves, it speaks less of the idea that often clothes can be used to blend in rather than stand out. Clothes have multiple significations. People use them to be anonymous, to hide behind, just as much as they use them to express their personality. Ah, wait a minute, getting your shoes polished in the market, wait, that wasn’t just about clean shoes, it was performative! Now I understand…

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

My Clothes and I

I was writing an article for Radia magazine on the exhibition Aware: Art Fashion Identity, showing at the Royal Academy of Art, and it made me think about the lies we tell with the clothes we wear.

The clothes in the exhibition tell tales of grief and loss, nationalism, migration, an artist's journey to make a piece of art, and the journey of a piece of clothing as it decays over time. Fewer exhibits, though, uncover the role of clothing in hiding, masking, disguising identity, in mingling with the crowd, in telling lies. We choose clothes not only to express and to stand out, but also to not stand out. When we want to be 'different,' we do it in tediously unoriginal ways, we choose out of the acceptably chic in-season options concocted by Vogue and marked down by Primark. We use clothing to hide cultural affiliations, class belonging, an expanding bottom, a disastrous trip to Supercuts, unshaved legs, one too many G and T's the previous night, the wrong accent, unwashed hair, evening plans or lack thereof, feelings of inadequacy, and a suntan gone horribly, horribly wrong...

Denim jeans have to be one of the biggest inventions of the post-industrial revolution era. And jeans hide a multitude of sins. When Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss first came out with denim jeans in 1873, I bet they weren't thinking that it would be the one article of clothing that would be worn by everyone from the future king and queen of England (I mean William and Kate, not Charles and Camilla, or David and Posh), to a drunken miner in Wales emerging from the local public house and staggering over to spend the night with the village sheep before they sacrifice their coat for angora, to little Ayesha performing a Bollywood recital for the Miss Asian-Leicester beauty pageant. I would even say, if I didn't mind sounding maudlin, that despite the gargantuan different in price between various labels, denim jeans must be the one consumer product that levels the playing field, homogenizes the classes. It's like the public house of the clothing world. It's the community-unifying national environmental disaster of the fashion arena. It's like football, or fish and chips, or Christmas.

One of the exhibits in Aware, called 100 Ways to Wear a Flag, by Alicia Framis, shows the Chinese flag worn in sixteen different ways, as a skirt, a toga, a sarong, a hat. I don't know about you, but to me no matter how many different ways you wear it, you can't escape it - it is still the Chinese flag. (I mean, you can make a McBurger look like food, but it's still a McBurger, right?) It may sometimes be about spectacular Olympic engineering, but the flag is also about coercion, colonialism, and brutal homogenization. 

Talking of colonialism and globalization, Yinka Shonibare's Little Rich Girls is a collection of dresses for girls, in traditional African colourful batik. The history and migration of batik, though, as Shonibare will remind you, is complex. While batik has a rich past in countries like Indonesia and India, history suggests that it was Dutch colonizers that contributed to the movement of batik from South Asia, through Europe where it didn't find enough of a market, all the way to the Yoruba in Nigeria. Who knew...
Gillian Wearing's Sixty Minute Silence is a video of what looks like a standard-issue group photograph of a police precinct. Bobbies stand and sit in dignified silence for a group picture, but gradually they start to fidget, scowl, yawn and scratch, revealing individual personalities.

We wear uniforms all the time, everyday - school uniforms, policeman's blues, doctor's coats, military fatigues, black suits worn by 99.9% of the people that get off at Canary Wharf in morning rush hour, goths, people in clubs doing their ninth tequila shot, Christmas shoppers with prams in their beige skirts and gray woollies, PTA mums, can-can dancers, MSN Lifestyle fashion-advice wearers... We make judgements of the 'right' kind of clothing to wear, and most of us who choose to live in society shudder in shame at the memory of turning up to the right event in the wrong gear (and wet dreams about carrying it off and being the ONLY person in the gig dressed EXACTLY right, thereby setting overnight fashion trends and making history).

Do we choose clothing that expresses our inner truth, or just stuff that says I'm normal and I'm not fat...?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

the thing about oslo...

Having spent two weeks in Oslo recently, performing and teaching dance workshops, I couldn't help but compare the city to London. Here are some points of comparison...

In Oslo, it takes twenty minutes to cycle from one end of the main city to another, not including the suburbs. The city is on the sea, and it takes twenty minutes on the tube to be out of the city and into pine forests and trails. In London, when the tubes are running on time (so, not that often) it takes an hour or two hours to get from anywhere to anywhere. It takes longer if you're driving in London traffic. When an Oslo local warned us that if we drove out at eight in the morning we would likely hit a lot of traffic, they meant that we would move at three-quarters of our usual speed. Not, as it would be in London, that we would come to a complete stand still and be able to pop in and out of our stationary car and do our grocery shopping and our manicures and our bikini waxes en route to the office. It has its advantages, does London traffic, and its best use is that when you are running anything from twenty minutes to three hours late for something you can run in looking dishevelled and panicky (but with a fresh Braizilian) and pant "traffic, traffic..." and people will look at you with sympathy instead of telling you that you are chronically incompetant. (I don't drive, but I've seen it work for others.)

The main city in Oslo has a population of about 500, 000 people. So, about the average of a London tube in rush hour? You don't see a whole lot of people out on the streets of Oslo at any time, except for any music event and in the local pub, and then people tend to throng there since, as a local informed me, drinking is the national pastime (wait, was I talking about Oslo there or London?) I did one time bump into a little boy in the tube who had seen us perform at his school. He kept glancing sideways at me for twenty minutes, then just as he was getting ready to jump out at his stop, he quickly turned to me and said, "Bollywood?" Is it on my face now, I thought?! But, no, he'd seen us perform.

A main in an Indian or Thai restaurant in Oslo costs approximately three or four times what it would in London. Grocery shopping costs a little bit more, too, but not nearly as much more. The portions tend to be smaller, though that could help explain why people in Oslo generally tend to look thinner and sportier than people in London. While women in London wouldn't be see dead without their six-inch heels, their dirty-teenager look full with ripped tights, black boots, and thick and runny eyeliner, women in Oslo tend to either be sporty-chic in their coordinated lycra ski-wear, or they wear lovely knitted skirts and ponchos and things. Very urban and colourful.

London is an older city, and walking through London you see as many bourgeoius, refurbished, very expensive Victorians as you do skanky council estates and run down streets lined with garbage. The main city in Oslo is full of colourful apartment buildings (pink, yellow, orange, chequered), and the city is very, very, super clean. Out in the suburbs there are wood-panelled houses, similar to the States.

You don't get brown goats cheese in London. Or at least, not quite as easily...On the other hand, you get barely any veggie food in Oslo, no veggie protein supplements, one veggie main in a restaurant if you're lucky, and it was next to impossible to track down hummus...

being local...

I knew I'd become more or less a local in Oslo when, after ten days of being there, I was sitting in a tube station at ten in the night and explaining with great panache the tube schedule to a local man. The thing is, the electronic notice board said 'Instituttet' next to the name of the tube that was due in five minutes. The same thing had happened the day before. Not knowing any Norwegian, except for the words for thank you (tak) and hi (hi), I was blissfully unaware that instututtet meant off or cancelled. Though being from London and inured to disruptions in the tube schedule - in fact, I expect them, and start to worry if things are running on time and are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, I might have ignored such a message anyway. In any case, there I was sitting on a bench, dangling my legs back and forth, when a Norwegian man asked me if I knew anything about the next tube.

"What does instittutet mean?" I said.

"Cancelled," he said.

"Oh, that's okay," I said, with a gentle, and gently-amused, flick of the hand. "It said that yesterday, too, and the tube came anyway. In fact, they say that all the time, it doesn't mean anything."

Sure enough, the tube came five minutes later, and all was well, and I smugly got on it with a floating arabesque, feeling very good about myself and my knowledge of local trivialities.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Favourite Restaurants in London: Food For Thought

The only thing that the food at this restaurant makes me think about is how delicious the food is...Really, all other thought is suspended, and I get that red-cheeked, flushed, eyes-glazed-over look that only comes with good, good food.

The menu is different every day, with a few regulars, the banana scrunchy dessert thing, thankfully, being one of them. This dessert is made of layers of soft whipped cream, oats and honey. Oh, and bananas and strawberries and things (if you're lucky, also peaches). You get a rather generous helping (if you're nice, and follow the FFT etiquette strictly) and in itself this is enough for lunch. You get into trouble when you first order a ridiculously large plate of food (say their heavenly quiche and three-salad combo, or their evening specials that often come with chunks of bread the size of double-decker buses) and then realize that that funny feeling of longing and desperation you're getting is a craving for their scrunchy dessert. It all goes wrong from there. You eat and you eat and you eat. A stunned look and an inability to move are some of the symptoms that follow.

They make quiche everyday. If you're the kind of person that thinks quiche should be delicious - I mean, you can't go wrong with flour, butter, cheese, right? - but somehow it always sounds and smells better than it actually tastes (the same goes for pasties...), then try the quiche at FFT. I will say no more.

Now about FFT etiquette. At peak hours the line to order food extends from outside the front door, and all the way down the stairs up to the basement reception (is that what they call it?) The thing is - and this is a cardinal rule, try to break it at your peril - you have to order before you find a seat and sit down to eat. You HAVE to. Please don't ignore this rule, or you will be (not too politely) explained the rules/escorted either to the line or back to the front door or to prison...

Then, having patiently waited in line and changed your mind several hundred times (the quiche, the japanese stew special thingy, the quiche, the scrunchy dessert, the rice and stir fry, the quiche AND the scrunchy dessert, the stew...) you arrive at the ordering post (no, seriously, what do they call it?) If you dither at this point, you are doomed. Any sign of hesitation or - much, much worse - of not having looked at the menu at all up to this point are taken as serious faux pas. So, order quickly. Don't pause for breath in between items, in fact don't pause between words either. quichesaladscrunchydessertthing...

Then - and only then - try and find a seat, which may have to be next to a kindly hippie complete stranger person who will sometimes try and talk to you, and other times will simply read their novel/newspaper/hippie pamphlet, or gaze into the distance...

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, this is a veggie restaurant! It is on Neal's Street in Covent Garden and open lunch to dinner.

Friday, 26 November 2010

creativity and other animals...

Creativity is one of those things like love that we all rant about, but whose meaning is always just a little bit out of our wingspan. I read books and blogs about creativity and about other people's creative processes like I read about love stories and celebrity weddings (we're not going to hear of anything other than Will and Kate for the next hundred and two years, are we, really?) - poaching into the book or article surreptitiously, in case I'm caught in the act. With hunger and a guilty pleasure, like I'm peeking into something a little too intimate.

Julia Cameron talks about creativity as play. Put loony pictures and random word thoughts together, throw them up in the air or blend them in a power blender/smoothie maker, and see what falls in your lap. Hugh Macleod (he's very, very funny) talks of it in a very American, I-am-a-brillaint-CEO, look at my big...success, kind of way. Other authors, depending on the hippie content in their daily vitamin supplements, talk about it as a soul-calling, a vocation, or simply the career path that you love the most or that is the least soul destroying.

Is creativity about seeing new things, seeing things that are already there in a new way, or perhaps making things that have the perfect blend of newness and empathy for the audience? That make the viewer/reader/consumer think, wow, that's new and cool, at the same time as they think, damn, I feel like that all the time...

Or maybe it isn't about the consumer at all, as long as it makes you happy...? I'm not sure I've ever bought into the Parisian starving artist picture, though, quite. How very un-bohemian, almost, I am sorry to say, somewhat, slightly capitalism-oriented of me! Shriek!

But maybe it's about routinely and regularly asking yourself the question, what would I create if no one were watching....

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thursday, 23 September 2010

So, what's the big deal about reality TV?

I hate reality TV, I can't stop watching it...

Okay, I hate shows like Big Brother, and Wife Swap, etc. I don't watch those. That genre is a killer. I mean, watching it makes you think the world is all about bitchy gossip and petty back-stabbing competitiveness, and oh, that it's full of people with very low IQ who cry a lot and say racist things (it's very 1990s, people).

No. It's the other kind of reality TV that I watch with guilty pleasure. Like Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars if you're American, but you don't have eighty-five-year-old Brucie hosting your show...), or the X-Factor, or even (yes, I admit it, with shame) all those Top Model shows.

Everyone is always crying on these shows, and saying how this experience is the single most important thing that's ever happened to them, how they'd rather die than go back home (makes you wonder what's going on at home), and being on this show is more important than world peace, and losing would be as catastrophic as the Iraq war (my words, not theirs), how they've made so many amazing friends on this show, and how finally, after a lifetime of being derided and laughed at in school, they've finally realized their true destiny... But I find myself watching with a hand over my eyes as the contestents get slated by the judges, or some ageing gentleman who looks like a garden gnome dressed as a plump dracula (John Sergeant doing the paso doble) keeps getting voted in by the viewers, or anorexic women dressed in Barbie's clothes start throwing chicken breasts and plastic bottles at each other...

I may be an elitist about education and being clever and artistic and creative and witty and all that new-agey twaddle. But, my god, I love it when they start throwing things and calling each other names....

Monday, 20 September 2010

Brick Lane

Talking of markets in London, Spitalfields market on Sundays, and just the long, long list of curry houses in Banglatown are worth a visit. Though not the best Indian food in town - it's a little bit greasy, and somewhat fast-foody, Tooting is better for food - Brick Lane does have a variety of Bangladeshi cafes that serve fish curry and biryani, cuisine that is not easily available elsewhere.

Spitalfields though is another thing altogether. On Sundays the market is bulging with locals and tourists walking around the stalls selling vintage and homemade clothing (think florals, fifties swing skirts, faux-fur and polka-dot), beads, chunky jewelry, LPs (though beware, sometimes the LP covers are just for show, to attract customers to buy second-hand CDs!) and pottery. Food stalls serve fudge and brownies, pies and Greek salads.

I danced in a street gig up and down the length of Brick Lane this weekend, as part of an Indian festival. Within minutes there was an interesting assortment of tourists, local hippies, as many people from the Indian sub-continent as you're likely to see on a street in Delhi, and a boat-installation with two people rowing on stilts following the band through the street!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Best Markets in London

Borough Market

If you're on a diet, don't go to Borough market. The place is addictive and not for the fainthearted. But if you take every meal as a new challenge, if you attack your food like you're an avatar in Alien vs Predator, or when asked "If you could only have one for the rest of your life, food or sex, what would you choose?" you actually stop and think, then Borough market in London Bridge is the place for you.

You start at one end with the Cumberland pies, the chicken-and-sea-food Thai curry, and the fish and chips. I've now been vegetarian for about six years, but friends say the traditional pork pies are delicious, and I don't think I've eaten better battered cod anywhere in London. Try the battered haddock, if you like fishy fish!

Then undo a button or two and walk through to the fruit and veg stalls (warning: this is not a cheap market!), inhaling the scent of the figs and the melon juice, through to the veggie food section, with veggie pies, falafel, fajitas, strawberries and cream in the summer, and glassfulls of Pims! One of my favourites is the cake stall, with about seven hundred varieties of cheese cakes. My dream is to go early one Saturday and dive into their banoffie pie...

The market is open Thursdays (11am-5pm), Fridays (12-6pm) and Saturdays (8am-5pm).

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Poetry accepted!

A poem I wrote recently called "Returning to Delhi" has been accepted for publication in an anthology from the Asian Writer website for their anniversary issue!

Doing things As If you're doing them, Or Awakening your inner diva

I was writing in my previous post about marketing yourself and it got me thinking about the truly envious ability to have a bit of diva in you. Trouble is when I think of the people I've met in real life who deserve to be called diva, they don't actually seem to have all that much talent. No. Their real talent lies in being able to market themselves all the time. Not just through facebook or myspace or blogs or whatever. They are actually just walking, talking advertisements of themselves, whether they've just come out of the loo, or adopted a child from Darfur. So, what qualities do they have that make them so good at marketing themselves?

Doing things as if you're doing them
Let's start with Russell Brand. Now that guy is genuinely funny, and not a bad comedic actor. But what makes him an A-list celebrity?  It's not his funniness but his ability to perform himself. (Though it may have a little something to do with his SA - no, I don't mean his sex appeal, I mean his sex addiction.) He does what Simon Doonan would call, Doing things as if you're doing them. When Russell Brand walks into a room, he is always making an entrance. In fact, he doesn't walk, he sashays down a catwalk. When he flicks his hair out of his eyes he is saying, Look at me!!!!!!! It's like when he takes a crap, it's a Crap! with sparkles and drum rolls and disney characters dancing all around it. So, if we're trying to get a soupcon of a quality from a diva, from Russel Brand, I would like the ability to put my life in inverted commas and exclamation points! 

Knowing you're just simply brilliant
Another enromously successful diva is Vogue editor Anna Wintour. If you haven't watched the documentary that follows the Vogue team as they put together their September Issue for 2009, watch it today. Now, there is nothing in my life that would make me want to be more like Anna Wintour. I mean, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada doesn't hold a candle to the real article. If you want a dictionary definition of the term "cold bitch" it would likely have a picture of Wintour under it. But I would like a tiny little element of one of her qualities. The ability not to second guess myself all the time. I find myself thinking - yes, pretty much all the time, "Oh no, does doing this make me a Bad Person?" or "Did I do that to Hurt Someone?!" There is altogether too much of does this mean and does that mean in my life. So, to invoke a little bit of Wintour, I would like to have the kind of belief in myself now and again - just to know what it feels like - that doesn't really and truly give a crap about what anyone else feels or thinks. Heaven!

Being a rude bitch
A quality that both Wintour and another diva called Gordon Ramsay share is the ability to say whatever is on their mind, even if it is what normal people would consider very, very, extremely rude. Now, I don't know about you, but I was taught not to be rude to people. To be nice and polite and not hurt their feelings. Basically, to be deadly boring. In fact, I've realized that when confronted with people I don't like, I actually get nicer and more polite! What is that about? While I don't like Ramsay, and I don't really get apoplexy when my soup has too much salt, I do admire the ability to say whatever you like to whoever you don't like, and not be riddled with guilt. It is an enviable quality immortalized by judges on reality TV, people like Simon Cowell and Craig Revel Horwood. If there's one quality I really want to adopt, it's that one. Give up on pathalogical guilt.

Making a fool of yourself
Then there's the ability to make a fool of yourself and not mind what everyone else thinks of you. Lots of celebrities do this on a regular basis. Britney Spears, for one, and Amy Winehouse for another. Believe me, I'm not advocating being more like these pop divas, in fact, I probably spend quite a lot of my time not being like them. But they truly look ridiculous pretty much every time you see them in the news, yet, they carry on doing exactly what they're doing! I mean, are they not haunted by past ridiculouness?! An enviable skill.

Telling people how dark and twisted you are inside
The fourth quality I'd like to call upon is the ability to not be quite so private. I saw an interview with Salman Rushdie a while ago, in which he talked a lot about his childhood, his emotions, his success and failures, in a very personal way. In fact, talk radio (and BBC Channel Four) thrive on exactly such celebrities who have no problems revealing dark and complex parts of their psyche at the drop of a hat, to pretty much anyone who wants to listen, without many qualms about being private. And it sells! It's like those contestants on reality TV who're always, always crying...

Saying what makes you quite so cool
The fifth quality I'd like to invoke is the ability to casually drop into the conversation with a V.I.P all the cool things you're doing or have done, or even ones that you haven't really done, but where you can make it sound like you have. Divas do this all the time. It's difficult to think of a celebrity that does that, because of course if they're a celebrity they don't need to do it anymore. But we all have colleagues who have turned this into a fine art. Yes, they are the same people who hang around the water fountain waiting to talk to the boss or the star of the organization, and they rarely say hello to people who're lower down the social heirarchy. They name drop, they say, "Oh, when I was talking to the senior editor of Cosmopolitan..." or "I said to Barack, really darling, you've got to do something about this little Middle-East problem." They talk about the things they've done, the people they've seen, and the places they've visited.
So here are the top five qualities I would like to borrow from divas...

Disclaimer: This is meant to be funny, so much better not to be rude, on the whole, and maybe the sex addiction thing is not a great idea either!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Common mistakes of first time writers

Many authors say that to get published in the world of fiction, the thing you need the most is Perseverance. But I think you can be a snail trying to move a mountain all you want, but unless you're a snail with power tools, it's going to be pointless. So, yes, perseverance counts, but also doing it the right way. What are the five most common mistakes first time writers make when trying to get published?

One, sending your work out before it's ready. When I am writing I keep obsessing about my sentences, and keep going back and reading earlier sections and editing them. But once I've done what looks like a decent draft, I just want to send it off there and then. I don't want to wait the usual two weeks that writers advise, before reading the draft again and doing a proper edit. I want to send it off at that point, because I think that's the best I can do. But wait two weeks - better still a month or two - and problems in the draft become glaringly obvious. As long as you are "inside" the writing, you won't be able to see the problems in it. Give yourself time to detach from your draft and go back to it as if you were just a reader.

Two, not listening to feedback. Find other writers, editors, former or current agents who'll give you the time of day (they are out there, despite what people say about the gruesomely cold and calculating market), friends who read a ton of novels, etc. Not everyone's feedback is valuable, but if people keep saying the same thing about your writing over and over again, and you keep bemoaning how no one understands your genius - well, either you need to keep quiet and listen more, or you really are a hidden prodigy, in which case you're really looking at posthomous fame. If a few people you trust read your work and say things like, "Um, not quite getting what the overall theme is, really," or "The main character seems a bit inconsistent/unbelievable/a bit too normal, don't you think?" or "Uh, these bits are really funny, but, uh, why are they here?", or "Um, so, why the compulsion to put seven adjectives before every noun, hmm?" or "Your grammar sucks. Is English really your first language?" then listen to them, get more training, get a proper editor.

Three, not marketing yourself and your writing. Here's the one that I find really tricky. Despite being a dancer, I don't have enough of a diva in me. And divas, though annoying, boring, ridiculous, really just annoying, do get attention, they're just so damn self-involved. They never worry about sounding like they're full of themselves, or like they don't have enough humility, or are over-confident about their work. I have to tell the truth - I find it next to impossible to say cool things about myself, or put up arty pictures of myself looking dark, cool, witty, and skinny at the same time. No, really, I force myself to do it. I want my work to speak for itself, and to be judged on its own merit. Hmm, yeah, okay then. You may have the privilege of being discovered, or of having the right contacts already (though why are you reading this page then?), but if not, then you have to market yourself. Publishers and agents want first time writers only if they already have a track record of attracting readers - see the problem in that sentence?

Four, not reading enough. If you can't really be bothered reading novels (or whatever type of writing you're interested in) then ask yourself if you really want to be a writer. No, really, if you're not really all that interested in the form, then why bother? Yes, there are depressingly mediocre writers out there who are very successful, and they probably wouldn't know literary or even half-way decent fiction if it bit them in their - neck, but please, READ. Nothing will give you better training. No creative writing class. No editor. Nothing.

Five, getting obsessed with the market. Yes, it's a good idea to know the market, but it's a very, very bad idea to be obsessed with it. Write what you love. Keep refining it. And then refine it some more. Look at the most successful authors. Look at J.K Rowling. She wasn't following a market, she created her own.