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.