Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pitching the World: Part 1. Or 82.

In a way this is my first post. In another, more accurate way, it’s not my first post: it’s my eighty-second. But in yet another way (wow, this is going well) it feels like my first proper Pitching the World post. I feel like a pitching machine, a pitching orchestra. And it’s only taken 19 trouble-free months. Yes, earlier today I pitched 50 magazines. How do you like them apples? Because I like them apples, I like them apples a lot.

Not that it’s been easy. I’m officially homeless, officially of No Fixed Abode. Glamorous, aren’t I? How do I like them apples? Not loads. They’re rotten apples. Being homeless poses a series of problems and has wreaked havoc on my hairline, jawline and blood-to-alcohol levels. Homelessness, in case you’re wondering, also isn’t the best place to be if you want to conduct a thriving sexual relationship with someone. My relationships tend to be brief. Colourful, but brief.

Homelessness is also a royal pain if you want to conduct a thriving working relationship with an internet connection. My Nan doesn’t have an internet connection. My associates – and I do have a number of associates down here in Boscombe whom I stay with from time to time – don’t have internet connections. As such, I’ve felt corralled into using BTFON. Have you heard of it? Used it? Jesus, it really does make you want to end it all. From what I can gather, BTFON is something by British Telecom that is supposed to connect you to the internet but in fact does no such thing. Wireless? It’s about as wireless as I am. Connect to the internet? Fat chance. Go fuck yourself? Definitely. In fact, that should be their slogan: “BTFON – Go Fuck Yourselves”. They can have that one for free.

It seems to work like this: you pay £5 on your credit card (although I’m homeless I have a credit card. In fact I have three. They’re all ruined), then you enter an email address in the URL. Just before the page you want is about to come up, the connection cuts off. You try again. Same thing. You try again and you perhaps get to read one email and then click on another email to read that and the internet connection goes off again and you repeat this for what seems like years but is probably only minutes and by the end of it all you either curl up into a ball or threaten inanimate objects or chainsmoke. Personally, I plump for all three at the same time. You should see it. You should see them dramatic apples.

That said, being without a reliable internet connection is excellent for thinking. Oh, I’ve been thinking all right. You want ideas? Stare at the ceiling. You want more ideas? Stare at the sea. Stare at anything, in fact, other than a computer screen. Nothing good has ever come from staring at a computer screen*.

Who have I pitched? Well, a lot of sports magazines (Athletics Weekly, Golf Monthly, Rugby World etc.), a handful of publications that are keen on life (Dorset Life, Essex Life, Kent Life, Surrey Life and so on) and others that are keen on tits (Zoo, Nuts, Loaded). Plus plenty more. Pitches, replies, and emails telling me to go and make love to myself will be put up soon but after such a concentrated burst of work I’m feeling simultaneously elated, mad, sweaty and angry. I think I could do with a lie down. And a drink. And perhaps somewhere to live.

 

* This might not be true. It probably is, but it might not be. Please don’t write in.

 

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Code of Honour

About a month ago I was drunk in a pub in Wivenhoe, Essex, and I went to the toilet and stared at my face, a face that has begun to take on the look and texture of a washed-out red flannel. What a face. You wouldn’t want that face. I wouldn’t want that face. I’ve got that face. As I stood and stared I thought: “I’m going to drink myself to death.” I may have even said it. I wasn’t planning on drinking myself to death that night, but over a period of months and years, I thought, possibly said, I was going to increase my alcohol intake to the point where it would one day end up killing me.

Sometimes you have to make a decision and stick to it. That’s not a decision I’ll be sticking to, I don’t think. Nor, probably, is this: on Wednesday I applied to join the French Foreign Legion. I say applied, although that’s a slightly grand way of putting it. I made an enquiry though, and asked the administrators to clarify one or two of the enrolment guidelines. For an afternoon I was whisked away and seduced by the idea of joining up, of relinquishing my identity and emerging in five years fit and strong and, in name at least, a different man. That dream evaporated over the following evening and died yesterday when I received a reply. It was in French. I couldn’t understand it. There’s a lesson there, somewhere, and I don’t think it’s that I should learn French.

Adieu. Enjoy your weekends.

Write About What You Know

Write about what you know. That’s what fellow writers reckon. “Write about what you know” they say “Go on. It’ll be good, promise.” And if I’m ever unlucky enough to pick up a book on How to be a Writer or read something in the Guardian’s Review section about How to be a Writer it’s the same advice: Write about what you know. But it doesn’t stop there, it never does. “Write about what you know!” people shout at me in the street. At least I think they do. Yet when I go back and ask them: “Did you just tell me to write about what I know?” they go all quiet and claim they didn’t say anything.

Write about what you know. Problem is, I don’t know very much. I’m 35, an alcoholic, and I live in my Nan’s dining room. Unless Alcoholic, 35, And Living With Nan Magazine exists (and it doesn’t, I checked. If it did, I’d be a shoe-in for editor) then I’m a bit stumped.

But not that stumped. Recently I assembled and varnished a bird table for my Nan. This procedure began at the end of January and was completed yesterday. That’s a long time, you’re probably thinking, why did it take so long? The reason it took so long is that I had to attend to my job in Mayfair as a report writer where I spent a lot of time not writing reports and a lot of time smoking and working on my Daniel Plainview impression in the office toilets and practicing negative visualization. It was a heady month or two. Anyway, as I was applying my second coat of varnish yesterday it occurred to me that in my Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook there might well be some magazines about birds that I could pitch. So I checked and indeed there were: Bird Watching; Birding World; Birdwatch; and British Birds. What saucy titles, I thought, in a depressing 1970s kind of way.

Write about what you know, I thought, but then realized that just because I was varnishing a bird table, it didn’t really mean I knew about birds and the finer points of bird tables. A feature on “How to Assemble and Varnish a Bird Table Over a Seven Week Period” wouldn’t really cut it. Nor would “What is a Bird Table?” – I imagine the majority of readers would know that. Unless, perhaps, I went for “What is a Bird Table?” and approached the issue in a deeper, more philosophical sense. The thing is, I’ve never really approached anything in a deeper, more philosophical sense and if I were to ever begin approaching things in a deeper, more philosophical sense, my starting point wouldn’t be a bird table.

I do know about being nuts though. And I thought perhaps I could write about how this bird table (that I’m beginning to hate, beginning to hate more than writing ‘bird table’ all the time) has cured my alcoholism or night terrors or occasionally debilitating bouts of depression. Problem is, it hasn’t. Not yet anyway. But if it does then I thought I could adapt the below – something of mine published in the Guardian – and send it out to Bird Watching, Birding World, Birdwatch and British Birds. In fact, fuck it, I’m going to adapt it now.

Thanks for reading everyone.

I Convinced Myself I Was Going Mad

With hindsight, dosing my brain and liver with huge slugs of brandy or lighter fluid wasn’t the best way to deal with what I believed to be the onset of schizophrenia. But I had read that people suffering from psychotic illnesses tended to self-medicate, and anyway I was scared. Days spent in the pub – and later, as money became scarcer, the park – made me less scared.

The catalyst had been a panic attack one Sunday night two years earlier. Panic attacks were far less talked about back then, so I had no idea what was going on. Actually, that’s a lie: I had one idea about what was going on and that was I Am Going Mad. This one idea went mantra-like around my brain in the days after my first attack, so, perhaps predictably, I had my second, third and fourth attacks within a week of the first, which only reinforced the idea. Soon I found myself in a vicious circle.

Brief respite came from an unlikely source. Reading a discarded tabloid on the bus one evening, I came across a letter sent in to the medical expert, describing exactly the symptoms I had experienced: shortness of breath, palpitations, a feeling of losing control and losing my mind. I read the expert’s reply with relief: these feelings were quite possibly the result of a panic attack. They were harmless, common, could be treated easily and were not a sign of mental illness. This person was not to worry. I was not to worry.

I should have left it there, but I wanted to know more, so I turned to the family health encyclopedia. Again, I was comforted to read that these things were harmless and treatable, but then I came across the words that were to change my life for the next two years: “Less often [panic attacks] are part of schizophrenia.”

I flipped to schizophrenia. “Can begin insidiously,” I read. “Likely to occur in late teens or early 20s … individual becomes more withdrawn, loses motivation … outlook poor … relapse, neglect, vagrancy, prison.”

Had I been more withdrawn? What of the brighter colours and distorted appearance of people when I was in the throes of a panic attack; could these be the “visual distortions” mentioned? Of course they could.

Over an afternoon spent with the medical encyclopedia, I managed to convince myself I was suffering from schizophrenia. Now at least I had a new mantra: I Am Going Mad became I Am Schizophrenic.

Within a few months I had pretty much covered all the symptoms I’d read about: everything became drenched in meaning, I felt tingling sensations on my body, objects appeared larger or smaller than they were. Until I started hearing voices, though, there was still some hope.

This hope evaporated when, one grim night, I heard a voice in my head, whispering vague gibberish. Brandy shut it up for a while, but soon it became two voices (such third-person hallucination occurs “exclusively” in schizophrenia, apparently). I had the impression they were the two puppets on the balcony in the Muppet Show. Steadily they became nastier, less vague and more critical of my behaviour. Finally I found myself in A&E at five o’clock one morning and shortly after full of chlorpromazine (typically used for schizophrenia). I admitted myself to a psychiatric hospital.

Within hours I had checked myself out. Perhaps it was the relief of being able to share what had been going on without being labelled insane, perhaps it was seeing the far more serious condition of most of the people on my ward, or perhaps I was reacting particularly well to the pills that punctuated my days, but whatever the reason, I began to feel well. After a few months, I felt good enough to come off the medication.

Various diagnoses had been bandied about – depression, bipolar disorder, prolonged psychotic episode – but none stuck. I still don’t know what was wrong, but my favourite self-diagnosis is medical student syndrome: acute hypochondria affecting medical students or readers of health books. Basically, I tricked myself into having schizophrenia after reading about it. And telling myself hundreds of times a day I was going mad didn’t help.

Now, 10 years later, I am much better. I still have the occasional panic attack, but I have a new mantra now: I Am In Control. It seems to be working – except when I am doing too much and not sleeping enough. That’s when the two Muppets on the balcony come back.

At least they did come back until I erected a bird table and was cured by the sight of sparrows, blue tits, parrots – even the odd penguin or two – flocking to my back garden. Well, my Nan’s back garden.

A Man of Means. Of Slender Means.

Not sure if any of you have noticed but I’m now officially a £3 a word man. I say officially, but I don’t think it’s official at all. I’d like to make it official though, but don’t know how. Any ideas? Perhaps this counts. Anyway, the copy has been filed, pronounced “Brilliant!” and paid for. Who’d have thought that writing forewords to architecture books would be so illuminating, lucrative and trouble-free?  Not me, and probably not you either. But it is, and perhaps I’ve found my forte.

There are, however, problems with finding my forte. Regular readers will know that there are always problems with finding my forte. First, there’s not a lot of it about. The work, that is. There aren’t an awful amount of architecture books being published and those that are published usually have forewords written by other famous architects, people who are well known for writing about architecture, or famous people who have a relationship with either architecture or the architect. I am none of those things: none. Second, I have Pitching the World to write and after 18 or 19 glorious, carefree months I’ve finally set about pitching with some sort of discipline. Crazy, isn’t it? Yes, after writing this (not at all award-winning) post I’m pitching 25 magazines. Nuts, isn’t it? An update will be waiting for your lovely eyes tomorrow. Probably.

But, Jesus, have you seen how much some of these animals pay? Or rather, how little some of these animals pay? Take the D’s. Darts World (“Articles and stories with a darts theme”, unsurprisingly) offers a far-from-attractive £40-50 per 1,000 words. Now, as a £3 a word man (which I am, I definitely am) I would struggle to write for that amount. I’ve never written for such a low fee but my love of all things darts coupled with my new found enthusiasm for the beast that is Pitching the World could see me – assuming I could think of, write, and get commissioned a suitable idea – working for (wait for this bit, it’ll knock you out) up to a bullseye per thousand. I could do it, just.

After Darts World however, things take a dip, financially speaking. You’d think that after 4-5 pence a word that things couldn’t take a dip, financially speaking, but you’d be wrong. Oh, you have no idea. Hanging out below Darts World looking all ashamed sits Day by Day. Although Day by Day offers a wonderfully barmy mixture of features – “Articles and news on non-violence and social justice. Reviews of art, books, films, plays, musicals and opera; cricket reports” – the rates stink. How much do they stink? They stink to the tune of £2 per 1,000 words, that’s how much. Now, I may not live the rest of my life as a £3 a word man, but I’m certainly not a 0.2 pence a word man. Not yet at least. That said I’m going to give Day by Day a whirl. I love all things cricket and love the idea of getting a cheque for £2. I’m assuming Day by Day pays by cheque.

Finally, and as I seem intent on beating up the D’s, The Dickensian; a publication that “Welcomes articles on all aspects of Dickens’s life, work and character. Payment: none.” Love that, and love the brutality of that colon*. No doubt those brutes at The Dickensian do indeed welcome guff on Dickens’s character at payment:none per word. In fact, I’d welcome articles on all aspects of Pitching the World’s life, work and character if anyone feels up to it. Payment: Booze and Fags per word.

 

* Please excuse me writing how I “love the brutality of that colon”. It was entirely out of character and I can only assume that I must have watched the Late Review  by mistake one evening when drunk and something has seeped in. If I’m not careful I’m going to start chucking words like Dickensian about and then where will we be? Fucked, that’s where.

 

Forewords & Forearms

Remember when I said I was going to be paid £3 a word for writing the foreword to a book on architecture? If you don’t remember, perhaps you’ll want to have a look at A Walk in the Park where I go into thrilling detail about it. If you do remember, do you also remember when you thought ‘There’s no way this is going to happen. No way is this fool going to get £3 a word. He’s off his chump’?

Well, off my chump I may be, but writing for £3 a word I most certainly am. I’ve already been paid. I’ve started my research. I’ve read countless (four) introductions to other architecture books for inspiration. I’ve been walking into rooms and staring at pillars like I’m subnormal. Oh, I’ve been up to stuff all right.

Mainly, I’ve been up to being terrified. What if I fuck it up? Not that I’ve ever fucked up anything before, not even remotely, but what if now was the time when I started to fuck things up? I’ve only got 400 words to write but each one has to sing. Or at list hum. Making words sing – or at least hum – sometimes isn’t easy.

But today it’s easier than most days. This is partly, I think, because I’ve adopted a new exercise/morning routine. Have you adopted a new exercise/morning routine recently? You must. Mine is simple. Rather than wake up and grunt and play with myself whilst chainsmoking then falling back to sleep for a few hours before resuming my punishing schedule all over again, I simply sit and meditate. This lasts for about an hour. When I’m done meditating, I do press-ups. I do as many press-ups as I can, then add one more. This adding-one-more eventually reaches the point when I really can’t do anymore and then I do one more then collapse. Post collapse, I do more press-ups. When I recover, I do some more. Next up, I take a block of wood and screw screws into it. Then I unscrew the screws and screw them back in. This screwing and unscrewing was inspired by my assembling a bird table for my Nan at the end of January (told you my life was glamorous) and I remember that when I was done I looked down at my forearm (which had been screwing in a lot of screws) and thought Jesus, who’s forearm is that? If I was the sort of person who made love to forearms, I’d have taken it out to dinner right there and then and then tried to have sex with it in a park on the way home. As it was, I simply stared at it for a long time. You should see my forearms now. They’re like hams. If you have a forearm fetish, I suggest you stay away from me for a while.

The final bit of my new exercise/morning routine sees me just bounding around eating fish and berries with my ham-like forearms, generally feeling good about the world. If you’re a 35 year old man living in your Nan’s dining room you need to feel good about the world. Pre Forearms-of-Ham I thought that quitting an illustrious job in Mayfair and going back to my Nan’s to live in her dining room whilst pitching pitches that probably weren’t going to get commissioned signaled me out as a failure. Not any more. Pre Forearms-of-Ham whenever I used to see a man or a woman my thoughts, respectively, would be “Could he beat me up?” and “Would she sleep with me?” My answers to these thoughts used to be “Yes, probably” and “No, probably not”. Thanks to my new exercise/morning routine however, I’m looking at a pair of maybes.

P-Day begins in less than a week. I’m feeling ready.

Frank McGrath’s forearm, earlier

Leisure

Someone once said:

This is very important – to take leisure time. Pace is the essence. Without stopping entirely and doing nothing at all for great periods, you’re gonna lose everything. Whether you’re an actor, anything, a housewife…there has to be great pauses between highs, where you do nothing at all. You just lay on the bed and stare at the ceiling. This is very, very important…just do nothing at all – very, very important. And how many people do this in modern society? Very few. That’s why they’re all totally mad, frustrated, angry and hateful.

Good, isn’t it? Well I think it’s good. And although I might be slightly mad and occasionally frustrated, I’m not angry or hateful and put this down to a lot of time staring at ceilings. I spent a lot of time staring at ceilings both recreationally, and for work. Once, whilst painting a ceiling in Spain several years ago I decided that I didn’t want to paint ceilings and walls for a living anymore and decided to become a writer. There were lots of reasons why I wanted to write for a living rather than paint people’s houses for a living, but I’ve forgotten them all. I think one of the reasons might have been that I thought more women would want to have sex with me if I were a writer rather than a house painter. So far this hasn’t been borne out, although I had a certain appeal when a house painter.

Why all this nonsense? God knows. I suppose I’m preparing for P-Day (regular readers will know what P-Day is; for those who don’t, it’s where I try and take a piss for a whole day) and trying to work out what I like about writing and, more specifically, about journalism. I’ve made a list. The list is composed of two parts: (1) “What I like about journalism”, and (2) “What I don’t”. Regular readers will know that I give good names to my lists.

Under (1) I’ve written:

– Unable to do anything else really

– Financial Times at the weekend

– Lifestyle

– Simon Hattenstone, mostly

– That, potentially, you could make a fortune/live comfortably & help change the world

What a pathetic list. It’s like it was written by some dickless piece of shit 16 year old*. Part (2) isn’t much better, “What I don’t” reads:

– Having opinions for money

– Outrage

– That Times writer on Mondays

– Lack of money

– Julie Burchill

– Writers who pick on Julie Burchill

– Tony Parsons

If P-Day and the aftermath of P-Day is going to be a success, I’m going to have to get equipped with better reasons. If anyone can help, please let me know. Why – the journalists among us – do we do this?

 

* This isn’t me being angry or hateful, by the way.

P-Day

I’ve been preparing for P-Day. Despite what you may be thinking, P-Day isn’t where I spend the whole day pissing (although this is precisely what I’d like P-Day to be) rather it’s the day when I knuckle down and start pitching like a mad thing.

Yes I’ve said this before, but two things are going in my favour. One, I’ve given it a name – names help. More importantly, in a breathtaking display of stupidity (bravery) I’ve quit my job, allowing me the necessary space to execute P-Day successfully. Actually, there’s a third reason: I’m stupidly (bravely) moving down to Boscombe for a month. Screw Paris, there’s too much to do there. Bar dodging the scallies there’s not much to do in Boscombe except to pitch and write. Oh, we’re all writers and pitchers down here. “But you’re broke, you’re always bloke, you’re nothing, where in Boscombe will you live?” I hear you cry. “In my Nan’s dining room” I cry back, then cry.

Sexy, aren’t I? As a 35 year old man, living in your Nan’s dining room is definitely the sexiest thing you can do. It’s especially sexy if you’re writing a book that’s unlikely to get published and you’ve stupidly, not bravely, quit your job. But sometimes you have to give up the good to go for the great as I (not John D Rockefeller) have always said. Besides, Dorset has a rich literary history: Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and John Fowles have all written their finest work here and all have done so – surprisingly – from their Nan’s dining rooms.

Expect P-Day to start in about a week. I’ve decided to pitch at least 40 magazines a day until I’m done. That the phenomenon that is Pitching the World is around 18 months old and I’ve probably pitched no more than 40 magazines in total is no way an indication that I’m going to fuck this up. There’s no way I’m going to regret this. No way.