At some point it all has to stop. At some point you have to be grand and say to yourself, “My work is far too important to me. Tonight, on a Saturday night, I will stay in. I will work. I will drink camomile tea and weak beer and read Peter Beaumont’s The Secret Life of War. I may smoke, if I choose to smoke. Actually, I will smoke. Lots. But I will work. I shall work. Later, I shall watch that second-hand Columbo DVD I bought from a charity shop earlier in the year. Why am I talking to myself like this? Have I become chronically insane? What was wrong with being mildly insane? That worked. How did things – how did I – turn out like this? I used to be full of pluck and ambition. Now, this. Now, Peter Beaumont and camomile tea. Did I think things would turn out like this – that the only thing I have to look forward to in my life is watching old Columbo episodes? Or are they films? Yes, probably. ‘Yes, probably,’ what? That they are films or that I thought my life would turn out like this? Answer me, you fool.”
Sometimes you have to be grand and say that to yourself. Sometimes you have to hallucinate, too. For example, just outside of my window where I type this, I can see a ghost. But… what’s it doing? It seem to have a pen and it’s…it’s writing something down on a bit of paper. How strange. I’ve no idea what it could mean.
Which leads us neatly on to ghostwriting. On Wednesday, a book that I was involved with (not sexually, of course, but when it comes out I’m going to put it in a bin and fuck it to bits) goes on sale. I wrote parts of it. I’d like to get my hands on a copy, take it round to my family and bathe in their acclaim.
“Come! Gather round!” I’d say. (I’d probably be wearing a cape for this bit.) “Here is my book. Feast your eyes on it. Good, isn’t it? Of course it’s good, it’s my book.”
“But your name isn’t on it,” my family would say.
“Here is my book. Feast away. Specifically, take a look at the mini-chapters on Kosovo, Bosnia and Lebanon. I wrote most of that. It’s about the role of strategic communication in modern-day conflict.”
“That’s nice dear,” my family would say. “I’m sure you did write the chapters, the mini-chapters, on Kosovo, Bosnia and Lebanon. You do seem to know a lot about those places. You go on about them all the time. And about your expertise as a strategic communications practitioner. Oh, you’re doing it all the time. Of course you are dear. You’re doing very well. Have you taken your pill?”
So I then have to take my pill and lie in the corner like a sick dog whilst my family laugh and point and throw coins at me. The life of a ghostwriter, dear readers, is not an easy one. On Friday, my agent rang. We talked about some writers who we think are dicks. He laughed a lot at my jokes. It was brilliant. He talked me out of self-publishing my book. It was brilliant. We talked about me doing some ghost writing. It was brilliant.
“Now there’s an idea,” he said, when I brought it up. “I hadn’t thought about that. Definitely worth considering.”
It must have been worth considering, because during our first meeting around eleven months ago he said the same thing. Actually, he said a bit more. “You have a style,” he said then. “And a voice. You’re personable. Have you considered ghostwriting?”
My agent, Matthew Hamilton, earlier.
You won’t believe this (and it isn’t true) but there’s another ghost outside my window and he keeps looking at the roof of the house and the walls and the buttresses and then scribbles stuff down on a bit of paper. How strange.
Which leads us seamlessly into my other bit of ghostwriting work which was about architecture. Regular readers will remember that earlier on in the year I was being paid £3 a word to ghostwrite the foreword to a famous architect‘s book. In the end, I wrote the foreword in 25 minutes on the train from London to Bournemouth and only really wrote it then because I was trying to show off to a woman who may or may not have been staring at me. Here it is below. I’m not sure of the legalities involved, so to protect all parties I’ve named all identifying people and places after members of Liverpool’s 1987-88 title winning squad. Other than that, all words are as filed and published.
[Name redacted] Foreword
Sir David Chipperfield once told me: “Beauty in architecture is about the synthesis of function and form.” To say that Barry Venison appreciates this is an understatement; in his work, the sentiment is gloriously apparent. His designs are beautiful, yes, but aesthetics are perfectly synched with functionality. Over the years he’s become increasingly celebrated as an architect, having been labelled by various style bibles as both a ‘design master’ and a ‘design wunderkind’ – yet whilst such tags are no doubt pleasant to be on the receiving end of, I get the impression that he isn’t terribly bothered by such accolades. Nor is he interested in creating egotistical monuments. Rather, his interest lies in simply creating extraordinary environments for people to work, sleep and eat in.
I say simply, although the process is anything but. I’ve had the pleasure – and I don’t use the term lightly – of working with the man. Both of us relish a challenge, and so it was fortuitous that we came together over John Wark’s Kitchen – a new venture of mine in Hong Kong. The space was tricky: rectangular, but unusually long and narrow with structural columns punctuated throughout. One evening we talked and sat and thought about the problem and at three am the solution appeared: an extra column, Barry Venison suggested, would give the room the extra space and gravitas that was necessary.
This neatly illustrates the way he works: long periods of contemplation and consideration, followed by sketches, inspiration and sharp bursts of insight. Where does such insight come from? Almost everywhere. “Everything has a way to inspire, it just depends how you see it,” he once said. Not to say that his influences are opaque. There are resounding echoes of Ray Houghton in his work (under whom Venison studied at Cambridge), yet Houghton tends to scorn embellishment and luxurious decoration where-as Venison often embraces it, being unafraid to use colour and texture to create intimacy. Perhaps nowhere is this sense of intimacy more apparent than in the Steve Nicol Hotel, Hong Kong, where he deftly managed to create a serenity and balance in one of the loudest playgrounds in the world.
Barry Venison could thrive anywhere, but it seems that Hong Kong is both his physical and spiritual home. “Without an understanding of the old, you cannot create something new,” he is quoted as saying, and what better place to put such wise words into practice, where the traditional and ultra-modern exist side by side. Such a sound ideology and grounding, coupled with no small degree of talent, mean that he’s certain to be at the forefront of creating new spaces for some time to come.