I recently read a book of letters by my hero, PG Wodehouse, which was packed with some of his funniest gems including this;
‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French’
To my mind, and to the many thousands of other Plum* devotees all over the world he is the undisputed comic genius of the 20th Century and the wonderful thing about the book (Performing Flea edited by William Townend) is that it reveals Wodehouse to be as modest and kind as he is talented. In the last of over 30 years of letters to Townend Wodehouse writes;
‘Though I sometimes wonder if I really am a writer. When I look back at the 60 odd books in the shelf with my name on them, and reflect that ten million of them have been sold, it amazes me that I can have done it. I don’t know anything, and I seem incapable of learning…I feel I’ve been fooling the public for fifty years.’
Frankly if this is how Plum felt after decades of being one of the world’s most celebrated writers what hope is there for the rest of us to ever feel less than the dust beneath his chariot wheels…
Over the last six months I’ve embarked on a change of direction in my own literary life, taking a break from poetry and devoting my attention to arts journalism instead. I’ve been writing theatre reviews and other bits n bobs for a few years but I’ve been focusing a lot more on this side of things ever since March when I got the opportunity to write for Londonist. I responded to a contributors call out which I never expected to hear back from and found myself pleasantly surprised to be commissioned to write an article on the Museums at Night festival. Before I knew it I was contacting press departments, chatting to curators and furtively typing up interviews during my ‘lunch hour’ to complete my first piece An Insider’s Guide to Museums at Night.
I enjoyed the experience immensely and my brain started fizzing with more ideas. My next piece 10 Best Bums of the Art World seemed like the most ingenious thing I’d ever come up with until I started trying to find museums and curators willing to contribute to it. The art world is snobby and inscrutable. Who knew? After what felt like hundreds of unanswered emails that made me feel about as sophisticated as a steaming turd it seemed to come off all right in the end. I learnt two important things from writing the bottoms piece 1. Never scroll down to the comments 2. I need to be less sensitive.
So onwards and upwards and whilst I’ve ceased to do the first one number two is slightly more on the tricky side (I am a poet after all…) The next piece I wrote was much more fun as I felt cosy in my comfort zone covering Roundhouse’s wonderful Last Word Festival of Spoken Word. I wrote another Insider’s Guide interviewing as many poets as I could get my hands on to give me their low down on the festival.
I am also a contributor to the fantastic performance poetry blog Sabotage Reviews and as I desperately wanted to see everything at Last Word I spent most of that fortnight in Camden seeing shows and bashing out reviews afterwards in the bar. I also took part myself by getting a gig writing poems on request for the Poetry Takeaway. The shift started sensibly enough but ended up with the worst hangover of recent years after those naughty poets persuaded me to mix port and lager in excessive quantities. I would have killed for one of Jeeves’s pick me ups the next day.
Covering Last Word got me thinking about doing more theatre reviews and so I spent an afternoon off happily researching loads of theatre review websites and sending them obsequious emails hoping they might respond and let me write for them. Inevitably only a handful even acknowledge my existence but a couple did come off and I’m now a regular contributor to Plays to See and Remotegoat. I’m also writing for South London Blog and local magazine Heart Streatham. I’m getting the hang of pitching ideas, crafting reviews so they aren’t just gushing love letters or hate filled diatribes but actually useful to the reader and I’m getting to see so much free theatre which is just wonderful…well most of the time. There was that one evening I spent in the dark listening to sex noises… but mostly the plays I’ve seen have been at least interesting and at most incredible, wonderful, inspiring, life changing experiences I want to repeat over and over again (If I can’t gush on my blog where can I gush?!)
On Thursday I’m heading off on another literary adventure, this time to Edinburgh where I’m writing for Broadway Baby reviewing over 30 shows in a week for the Fringe. The Royal Mile will be packed everyday with hundreds of performing fleas of all shapes and sizes. I can’t wait to be one of them.
*Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s nickname initially amongst his closest friends and latterly adopted by his most die-hard fans as represented by the PG Wodehouse Society.