Monthly Archives: November 2010

Oranges Are the Only Fruit

Some things have been troubling me lately*. First, that my 2010 edition of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is looking depressingly out of date. When I started this harebrained scheme back in September 2009, I was hoping to get the whole project wrapped up by that Christmas. Now, that Christmas has been and gone and this Christmas sits about four weeks away, gently mocking me. I have a feeling that by this Christmas I won’t have pitched the remainder of the 642 magazines I set out to pitch in September 2009.

How many remain? I’m not sure, but if I had to make an estimate I’d put it somewhere in the absolutely-fucking-loads region. When I thought I was pitching a lot earlier in the year, my records –  yes, I do keep records – suggest that I wasn’t really at all. More recently I’ve had a feeling that I haven’t pitched a thing for weeks and, frustratingly, this time my records back me up. So there’s lots to do – that’s one thing that’s troubling me. Perhaps I should stop keeping records. Or perhaps I should wrestle control of this project and start pitching ideas with a little more discipline. At the moment, I’m leaning towards not keeping records.

The other thing that’s troubling me is my diet. A few days ago I bought six kilograms of oranges. When I bought them I thought that buying six kilograms of oranges was a good thing to do and that if, over the following week, I was ever stuck for something to eat I could eat an orange. I congratulated myself on such fine, robust thinking. Now I realise that although at the time my thinking may have seemed fine and robust, there was nothing fine and robust about it at all. I’ve grown to hate oranges. There’s nothing to eat in my room in my big tower but oranges.  I’ve eaten seven today. I can’t face another one. What bothers me most about my heap of oranges in the fridge is their lack of versatility. There’s not a lot you can do with an orange: you can pretty much peel it and eat it or cut it up and eat it. It’s quite difficult to jazz up an orange – and, believe me, I’ve tried – and do something different with it. Unlike, say, a chicken. If I had six kilograms of chickens in my fridge I’d be having a ball right now.

Which brings us rather belatedly and extremely clumsily onto Square Meal. Earlier this year I was the north London section editor for their 2011 Restaurant & Bar Guide and had to review 130 places. The (I imagine heavily-edited) reviews will be available both in print and online next month. Anyway, I was looking through some records – I do keep records – earlier today and came across my original approach which got me the gig. It read:

Dear Editorial,

Love the magazine. Now, I understand I’m probably not the first or last person to express this, but I’d like to write for you. Really like to. Over the past few years I’ve written features for The Independent, The Guardian, Square Mile and a bunch of men’s magazines on all sorts of stuff, from illegal organ trading (I tried to sell bits of my body to strangers, it didn’t really work out) to anaphylactic shock. I don’t have a CV, but this piece for The Guardian about marrying someone within four weeks of meeting her, should tell you more than a CV ever could.

The bulk of my writing over the last couple of years has been about property and I’ve reviewed hundreds of agencies across the country for SoldOut magazine. I’ve attached a couple. My thinking is this: if you can make an estate agency review gripping and lively (debatable, but please read), then you can make a restaurant review, um, more gripping and more lively.

Best wishes Editorial,

Pitching the World

I dislike pretty much everything about that letter. I don’t like that I haven’t bothered to find out the name of the editor and address it accordingly. I don’t like the childish and desperate way I’ve written it. I don’t like my safe and half hearted attempts at humour. I don’t like that I’ve used a comma really badly in it. But what I do like is that it led to several thousand pounds worth of work and a fairly illustrious freelance job. And what I like even more is that if such a shit letter can lead to such work, then imagine – just imagine – what I can do when I come back from Dubai on Friday and start trying to get this ill-fated horror show of a project back on the right lines.

*Please note that the two things mentioned as THE things that are troubling me aren’t really troubling me at all and I’ve only included them to (a) remind readers that Pitching the World is, sometimes, about pitching and (b) serve as an excuse to actually include a pitch (even though it isn’t really a pitch). That said, there are some things that really are troubling me including (1) becoming more or less homeless (for the second time in three months) in less than a week (2) not having the money to get public transport out of Heathrow airport when I arrive there in less than a week (3) writing shopping lists that, if I didn’t know any better, could quite easily have been written by a serial killer. Today’s effort? ‘Tissues, fags, milk, TAPE!!!’ and (4) that one of my new readers was led to Pitching the World after he (at least I assume he’s a he) searched for ‘fuck my nan’. This troubles me and has unfortunately led me to spending an unhealthy amount of time speculating whether or not he was fantasising about a romantic encounter with his nan, was planning a romantic encounter with his nan or had gone as far as conducting a romantic encounter with his nan. Any scenario makes me feel queasy and – call me an old square – I feel the world would be a better place if there weren’t too many people out there who wanted to do that to their nans. Let’s hope there aren’t.

More Than Zero

“If my life was a fish,” I used to think, “I’d throw it back.” Note the used to. Note, also, that this used to doesn’t refer to some romantic bygone era, but in fact the dog-end of last week. I’ve less than two weeks left here and last week I was panicking. I’m going back to London homeless, penniless, wifeless, jobless, unfit, addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes over-reliant on prescription tranquilisers. Troubling stuff, it would seem.

But that was last week. This week things are different. “If my life was a fish”, I think this week, “I’d take it out for dinner, show it a good time, then try and have sex with it in a park on the way home.” Because although I might be penniless, jobless, homeless and so on, I’m not gutless. And I’m not spineless. I’ve got a spine and I’ve got guts. A better writer than I wrote: “The worst thing about regret is that it makes you duck the chance of suffering new regret just as you get a glimmer that nothing’s worth doing unless it has the potential to fuck up your whole life.” And Pitching the World at one point did look as if it could fuck up my whole life. Arguably it nearly did (see above paragraph. In fact, see practically any paragraph of the last fourteen months).

Yet it hasn’t. Over the last few days my whole opinion of Pitching the World has changed. If Pitching the World was a fish, I’d skip dinner and just take it to the park and bang the hell out of it. Why the sudden enthusiasm for this award-winning fucker? First, it’s afforded me the opportunity to work on this book in Dubai – a book that I think could be remarkable. Second, it’s got me an agent. I’ve always wanted an agent, and on Friday I got one. And not only do I have an agent, but I have an agent who is pretty much the best agent in the country working for what I reckon is about the best agency. He came on here after a copywriting friend of his told him, “This is the blog I wish I had written.” He told me that and I buckled. I wanted to kiss my agent. I wanted to hug my agent. I wanted to take my agent out for dinner, show him a good time, then – well, you can guess the rest.

So, some good news. But will my agent actually prompt me into pitching the world? Will – after 14 months – those 642 magazines get pitched? Will my readers learn something about journalism? Probably not, but you never know.

How to be a writer

When I was young and poor and having sex with women round the back of supermarkets in bins I used to harbour dreams of becoming a professional writer. Very occasionally, I’d try and do something about it. Once I tried to write a book, though at the time I didn’t – and still don’t – really know what it was about. Another time I wandered into a bookshop in Bournemouth and read a book called something like (and the title may well have been this pedestrian) ‘How to be a freelance journalist’.

After reading ‘How to be a freelance journalist’, I realised that being a freelance journalist was the last thing I wanted to be. That, frankly, is saying something. There were lots of things at the time that I didn’t want to be (skinny, bald, mad, poor, sexually frustrated, an alcoholic) which I was, so to put being a freelance journalist at the bottom of this pile must have meant that I really didn’t want to become a freelance journalist.

Yet I’ve become one. At least I think I have. I’m not sure if I’m a freelance journalist or a freelance writer but I’m certainly a freelance something. Whatever I am, it’s freelance. What I do isn’t normal work, I’m convinced of that much. What annoyed me at the time about ‘How to be a freelance journalist’ – and what continues to annoy me about it – is that the advice contained in it was largely meaningless and the whole thing seemed as if it was written by a fool. Which it was.

So I thought I’d like to write my own advice for writers. Barely a day goes by without the empire that is Pitching the World being asked: “How do you do it? Become a successful writer, I mean. You’re a success, although, if I’m being honest, you’ve gone downhill a bit since your wife left you – or did you leave her? You never did clear this up – but that aside you’re doing okay. How did you get to be relatively successful at this. Feel free to leave out the part where you became an almighty fuck up at this. Oh, and why is it that Pitching the World has turned into a blog that consistently fails to deliver any useful advice about pitching and has steadfastly strayed from the original objectives?”

To that, I say two things. First, if you don’t like my apples don’t go shaking my tree. Second, I’ve been working for some time now on my tips for becoming a successful – if arguably unbalanced – writer. Unfortunately I can’t put said tips up quite yet. This afternoon I’ve taken to spending an unhealthy amount of time in my big tower in Dubai drinking neat whisky, with the curtains closed and sunglasses on. This means both that I’m a bit heady and can’t write, and that I can’t really see too well. It also means that I want to get out of my big tower and bowl around Dubai harassing people, which I’m about to start doing. In the meantime, here is a glimpse of what you can expect from my ‘How to be a writer, part two’ post which will be up on this multi-award winning fucker in the next day or two:

Tip 1: Watch Fletch lots

Tip 2: Don’t write regularly, only when inspired

Tip 3: Be bold

Tip 4: Don’t familiarise yourself with the market. Or with anything else.

Tip 5: Don’t keep a journal of your ideas.

Tip 6: Do a succession of shitty jobs in your twenties.

Tip 7: And maybe in your thirties, too.

Tip 8: If you’re writing an important cover story for SoldOut magazine (a magazine aimed at estate agents; now defunct) and you have to interview the CEO of a company on a Monday morning, spend the whole weekend getting off your tits and then turn up on Monday without really sleeping for days and not knowing a single thing about the company, the CEO or yourself. You probably won’t know what words mean. In this situation your first question should be: “So, pretend I don’t know anything about you. What do you do?”

Expect all the above tips do be fleshed out in the next day or so. Bet you can’t wait.

Someone watching Fletch lots, earlier.


Yoghurt v. cigarettes

I sit in my big tower and watch people. This is what I do. And this is what everyone else does in Dubai: they sit in their big towers and watch people. At least I imagine they do, I could be wrong. Yesterday if you were in one of those big towers watching people you would have seen me. I was trying to find a supermarket, but in typical fashion I was trying to find a supermarket badly. Someone had told me that this supermarket was opposite the big tower I’m staying in, ‘it’s just there’ they told me, but when I crossed the busy road in front of my big tower and looked ‘just there’ I didn’t see a supermarket. I didn’t see anything. So I crossed back over the busy road and asked the man who works at the bottom of my big tower where the nearest supermarket is. He looked at me as if I was mad, as if I’d asked him to walk to the moon with me, and then told me it was there, just there, just across the road. So I crossed the road and didn’t see the supermarket so walked for a bit with my hangover up another road and stopped after a while and pretended to check my phone as people were beginning to look at me peculiarly. I thought if I stopped and checked my phone then I could turn back down the road and look like I suddenly had some important business to attend to, rather than look like a 35 year old man who is unable to adapt to the heat and unable to find a supermarket.

Eventually I found it. I crossed and recrossed the road several more times and pretended to check my phone lots and spent a lot of time wondering whether or not I should go back to the man who works at the bottom of my big tower and ask him again where – just tell me where – the fucking supermarket is, but in the end I found it. And there was nothing unusual about it, despite the 300 or so preceding words suggesting that there might have been. Actually, there was one thing that struck me: the price of cigarettes. Cigarettes cost about six dirhams a pack, roughly one pound. Everything else costs more then six dirhams. I saw a yoghurt – not, despite having an umlaut just thrown into the name somewhere, a particularly good yoghurt – that cost 18 dirhams. That’s three packs of cigarettes in my money, not 18 dirhams. I don’t see things in terms of money out here, just in cigarette terms. I went to buy a banana milkshake today (a rubbish one, one from a shop) that cost three packs of cigarettes and refused to buy it, reasoning – quite rightly – that I would rather smoke three packs of cigarettes than drink one banana milkshake. Last night I bought a friend a glass of wine that cost ten packs of cigarettes and I begrudged her every sip.

The point is, and there is a point to all of this, that I’m smoking lots. The other point, is that all this smoking has done wonders for my head. Made my lungs that little bit itchier, perhaps, but it’s sharpened me up no end and cleared my mind. And I’ve realised that it’s been a long time since I’ve done any journalism of the sort I used to enjoy – finding things out that not many people know about and writing about them. And here, in Dubai, there’s plenty going on that not a lot of people know about. I could go undercover, I think, and expose something. Anything. I could find the seedy underbelly of Dubai. I could go searching for the hidden Dubai that no one really knows about. This is what I think. Then I realise that it took me about an hour to find a supermarket across the road from me – a supermarket that I can see clearly as I type these words – and wonder if I should give it a day or two before I go searching for a Dubai that probably doesn’t exist. In the meantime, if anyone fancies dropping by to chainsmoke with me I’ll be sitting in my big tower writing a book.