Skip to content


15 minutes per review

Have just written review of Dave Pelzer’s new book. Realised I quite liked it. He’s not just a wittering, over-analysing American. Or is he? I can’t make up my mind. Apparently the Mail on Sunday accused him of inventing his troubled past a while back and carried the headline ‘Is He Making “It” All Up?’

I keep thinking how little time it takes to review stuff. Maybe 15 minutes just then to do 300 words. And that’s Pelzer’s life. No wonder there are so many f**k ups in reviews. Shouldn’t think my book review will make any difference to sales of The Privilege of Youth. But what about that theatre criticism? Months of writing, weeks of rehearsal, lots of sweat, pressure on the box office to succeed. And I have half an hour to file my review. No time for agonising over getting it right, not offending the (mis-spelt) cast or the director. No wonder they’re a travesty. Don’t read your notices, drama queens.


Mum reckons Dad paid her a visit. With the dog curled up in front of the fire, she had nodded off on the sofa. She woke up with a start to see Dad in the room. Quite good, considering “I don’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo”. I’d love to walk in their house and find him at work on one of his posters. It’d be a chance to say all that stuff I never got round to – even though I knew he was dying, the timing was never right. I guess it’s just the same three words I’d want to repeat and to shake his hand and tell him he did a good job. And I’d want him to pat me on the head, like Dad’s do, and tell me everything was going to be alright. Sometimes, it doesn’t always feel like it will be. Crikey, he may not have ever said a lot but I miss him.


An altercation with a heroin addict. Was walking down the street after lunch when a gaunt, sunken-eyed woman barged past, shouting “excuse me!” as she went, promptly falling flat on her face. I walked on. Two minutes later she caught up with me, calling me ignorant for not moving out of the way and telling me “that nice fucking woman helped me up. You never.” I called her a fool, she threatened me, so I stared at her long enough to make her think I might be a nasty piece of work. A little less smack would help her to not fall over so often. She was last seen running into a shoe shop at great speed, no doubt to knock over all the displays and blame the ignorant staff. Look around yourself when you’re walking through Hull and you realise that there are more heroin addicts than not.

Overheard mobile phone conversation in Jacksons: “I’d rather be a pillock that a tosser”. Who can argue with such logic?

Duncan, the press officer from York Theatre Royal, called. “Have I thought of doing anything with Phoenix Dance?” I can’t even remember how to do a quickstep, never mind all that contemporary rubbish.


Ah. Monday. Have had to write another piece on Life’s A Beach. That makes four. I don’t want to think about it anymore after today as am close to murdering Alison Watt.

Nipped for a Guardian

Followed a 50-something woman with a massive parcel destined for delivery into the petrol station today, where I’d nipped for a Guardian. Noticed she picked up a Daily Telegraph before I started feeling up the bread for freshness. She’d left by the time I was paying for the goods, but noticed the parcel sitting atop a pile of lager. So I ran after her to tell her. After doing the good deed I said, smugly and with a left-wing grin, “And they said Guardian and Telegraph readers could never get on!” We know who the more intelligent beings are now, eh? Grauniad readers would never lose sight of their parcels. I now worry that the contents might have been right wing propaganda. Julie Burchill’s second replacement in Weekend is someone called Julie Bindel, which strikes me as funny in a “but for the odd vowel and consonant” kind of way.

Worst member of the audience

Danielle enjoyed Life’s A Beach. She is, however, quite possibly the worst member of the audience ever to have taken a seat up at Hull Truck. Her persistent rasping cough annoyed many a theatreogoer, who fought back by tutting. The constant intake of fluids to shut her up played havoc with her bladder – halfway through the first act, at a particularly quiet moment, she decided to head to the toilet and exited with all the grace of an elephant (some achievement for one so thin). A similar re-entry made the people sat behind and next to us have a rethink at the interval. Save for a deaf couple who couldn’t care less, they moved en masse to those oft-empty seats at the side. Danielle continued to bark, and so popular was her previous toilet soiree that she repeated the exercise. 

Her return, for me, was the highlight of the evening. She tripped up the stairs and made a god-awful racket, almost falling into the laps of the deaf people. One elderly woman was heard gasping. During the half-time press drinks freebie, noticed Phil, the Teletext reviewer, staring daggers at Danielle, no doubt due to the cough. Bloody cynical critics, they spend too much time in the theatre and should stay in more. For once, I felt sympathy for all those people that leave their phones on and unwrap boiled sweets for two hours. It strikes me that, if the dialogue being muttered on stage fails to hold your attention, then there’s something wrong with the play and it’s not the fault of the coughing child in seat C20. Real life isn’t carried out in hushed tones, with people ssssshhhhing all the time. We have to make sense of it through all kinds of racket. Beach wasn’t great but had a few redeeming moments and shall emphasise the positives in my review. Wonder if the other reviewers will be so kind?

ID pass

Remembered my work ID pass for the first time in two weeks, which meant that I could walk past the security guard with smug satisfaction. He told me a while back that there was now ‘zero tolerance’ on anyone that turned up without a pass. Very odd. Locking your employees out the building because they don’t carry the correct paperwork – what’s that all about? I can’t ever imagine a time when I would argue to be let in to work. “Nevermind. I’ll come back tomorrow.” Without the pass. It’s better that way.

Britain is now warming up, although Mayfield Grove is still looking like the perfect venue for the Sheffield Steelers should they move the franchise to York. Last night I passed an unwelcome amount of military vehicles on the A1079. I’m sure they were all being deployed on some snow clearing manoeuvre but still unnerving. Whenever I see more than one personnel carrier I assume that something is going on that they’re not telling us about. Perhaps Etton has been invaded. As I drove out of Mayfield Grove I passed a woman sliding around like a cartoon character. And laughed, thinking that ice is so much better than banana skins. If she is still laid in a prone position tonight when I slide back down I shall stop and help her up.

Am hoping that today will not result in any interviews with obnoxious people. Spoke yesterday to some horrible woman who is in charge of a ‘project’ at Skidby Mill aimed at letting people know that it’s there, with some ‘end-of-research’ performance piece in May. She is from Manchester. The young people involved will, mainly, be from Cottingham and Beverley. I think they will know more about Skidby Mill than she ever will. Knowing I worked for The Stage, she was fishing for contacts that she could exploit. “You know what you media boys are like,” she said, “You all drink together.” That’s right. All lads, together. Slapping each others backs, indulging in anal sex with the editor and congratulating each other on keeping women out of it. I pointed out that women worked in the media too, and increasingly so. “I was only joking,” she faux laughed. Only she wasn’t. It’s odd when you realise that you’re more of a feminist than a woman. And such arrogance. Why is it that mediocre people in the arts world have a horrible air about them, when writers like Alan Ayckbourn and David Hare are so approachable and humble?

Later, am off to Life’s A Beach at Hull Truck with Danielle. I feel an uncomfortable weight for once about being a reviewer, having met Alison, the writer, who is a very nice person. Unusually, for a new work, I have read the script in advance so will know what’s coming. I hope its good. Will ask Danielle’s opinion and base everything on that and leave the cynicism to one side. Am hoping that taking Danielle to the theatre might even get her writing a play. She didn’t, I should point out, pick up the pen after seeing Black Tie & Tales, which is understandable. I am sure that she is more than capable of penning four interlinked plays that run in real time performed in the same venue at the same time with the same cast inbetween listening to Busted.

Funny comment, overheard

Funny comment overheard on leaving the office. A cleaner, entering the building, was saying to her nodding friend “We have a history of cancer and heart attacks in our family”. Who doesn’t? It’s almost like saying we have a history of death in our family. An hour later, I overheard an angry woman telling a man trailing behind her “I’ve never spilt anything on that carpet”. I wonder what he did? The carpet, no doubt, is ruined. Maybe they could get the cleaner who made the first comment in to do a bit of stain removal? And why are cleaners – all lovely people nevertheless – always the most unhygienic looking folk? They’re a filthy lot and no mistake.

Two writers living together. Can it work? Sylvia and Ted, Halliwell and Orton and Verlaine and Rimbaud would probably say no. M’s great fun and we laugh a lot. But when we both have our writer’s heads on get out of the way. Both of us want access to the best computer, the best room to write in while the other has to tend to the cat and feed the washing machine. And when one of us is writing and the other isn’t, it’s even worse. The idle one will bug the hell out of the other one. “What are you doing? I’m bored!” And, weird for two people that can talk others into submission, we’re both so inarticulate when it comes to discussing our own work. M does things that I can’t even dream of when she’s writing and on top of her game. She can craft the most perfect plays, come up with real, dazzling stories about stuff I’d never touch. Smoke Screen is an amazing piece of work. Together, if we were one person, we’d be the greatest playwright that ever lived. I’ve got quite high hopes for us both individually so the genetic engineering might not be necessary.

Well, I’m Back

Ah. That went well. I set up a blog to help the creative process and then don’t make any further entries. Well, I’m back. Almost one year later. But I’m back. Thankyou for your patience. Who am I talking to? I’m insane.

Things have changed quite dramatically since then. I have moved to York. My dad died. The BBC have been blamed for the Iraq conflict. Apparently, Tony Blair speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but… But nevermind all that.

Death’s Door did, indeed, get completed. It now languishes on my own slush pile and is gathering dust. Originally, I envisaged ten minutes of it making an appearance at last year’s Hull Literature Festival (re-christened, by some arts genius aware of the importance of waterways around these parts, Humber Mouth 2003. Well done.) But it proved a difficult blighter to take a ten minute excerpt from. And it was so ridiculously stylised that, when it came to rewriting parts of it, I couldn’t capture the original mood I was in. I’m glad dad got to read it and approved, and recognised that all his best lines were in there. I shall return to it one day.

A short piece called Store Me Whether made the Humber Mouth. It was directed by Gareth Tudor Price, no less, a man whose work I have reviewed (favourably, mostly, once calling him a ‘thrusting lothario’ – he now has this on his CV) over the years. He did a good job, as did the cast, considering the material they were working with!

Store Me Whether is about megalomaniacal company-obsessed supermarket managers and, for good measure, prostitution. And the fact – it’s obvious to me but probably noone else – that there is very little separating a prostitute and a shelf-stacker. Only after the fact do I realise that this, too, is about dad. He worked tirelessly for the same supermarket company for several decades with little in the way of thanks, apart from a nice man in a tie turning up at his funeral and a small payout to secure his early retirement. I do hope I can, one day, write about something that has nothing to do with that man. Dad, that is, not the bloke in the tie. Or maybe he will always be there, sitting on my shoulder.

Store Me Whether is now being worked into a longer piece called Off Their Trolleys. It’s currently with Hull Truck, where the same GTP keeps forgetting to read it. I re-read it myself the other day and, as ever, was surprised to find that it’s quite dark. But there are lots of daft bits. I wish to dispense with the daft and increase the darkness (or decrease the lightness?) in my future work, without getting all pretentious.

Anyway, Trolleys should make this year’s Hull Literature Festival Humber Mouth 2004. Although I do have a couple of other pieces up my sleeve. We’ll have to see.

I’m crying out to be commissioned. But how does a struggling writer get one of those? I keep thinking back to how the 20-something bricklayer in me would have dealt with this one. I imagine that he’d have marched straight into a theatre brandishing a lump hammer and started swinging it until a commission was forthcoming. But then, he wouldn’t have had the confidence to walk into a theatre back then. Maybe I don’t make enough of the transition I’ve made from being a brain-dead navvy laying 1,000 each cold fucking day and getting through 8 hour stints by talking shite non-stop to superstar graduate and theatre critic. Maybe I could write Educating Rita? Damn you, Willy Russell. Sean Smith reckons I should tell every pretentious twat I interview that I used to work on building sites. I do, every now and then, and it usually results in a stony silence. Had a nice chat about bricks with Melvin Burgess the other day, who also used to work as a bricky. We both got bored quickly, realising that, as interesting as flemish bond and wall ties are, the building trade is shit. Maybe Melvin and myself could co-write an Auf Weidersehn Pet-style drama aimed at a disaffected youth audience? Anyway, I want a commission and I want it now. Keep reminding myself that George Bernard Shaw didn’t write for the stage till he was 40 and I still have a couple of years to go. But maybe I made that up and will have to look it up later.

I am reading Alan Bennett’s auto-biographical rag bag Writing Home at the moment. I can’t pretend not to love it. I notice that AB has lots of huge gaps between diary entries. I imagine that this blog will be very similar!

Death’s Door

The play Death’s Door is underway. In fact, I started it two weeks ago. But it’s stalled at 17 pages and I’m struggling. But hell, I am a struggling writer. So I’m using this blog as a tool to get my juices flowing. Anyway, here’s a synopsis so you know what I’m failing to get anywhere with…

Death’s Door

DAD is on his death bed. MAM is keeping herself occupied with an ever-increasing array of hobbies and activities. Meanwhile, the vultures are circling overhead.

Daughter JENNY and son MATTY turn up to see their dad off in style, although he doesn’t quite depart this mortal coil as quickly as everyone planned.

Production note: Throughout the play DAD should get progressively greyer. During his lengthy monologues he should be bathed in a swathe of glorious, technicolor lighting.

Today I managed three pages. Three pages of trite dialogue. Although I am rather proud of myself for turning out the following: 

MAM: Quick, Jen, action stations. We need to get him to the lavvy.

DAD: Quick as you like. Quick as you like. I’m practically touching cloth.

Not that that will mean anything out of context. I’m toying with the idea of scrapping the play and turning to another idea, although that would mean scrapping a goal I set myself to get the damn thing finished within, shock horror, the next 48 hours. I’m realistic to know that’s not gonna happen anyway…