Monthly Archives: August 2011

Dude, Where’s My Column?

When I began this ill-fated adventure back in September 2009, I thought it would lead to all sorts of things. Happiness was one of those things. Increased knowledge another. I also thought it would turn me into a better writer and journalist. Perhaps, if we want to get all schmaltzy – and let’s face it, we do – I thought it might even turn me into a better man. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if this has happened. More than any of that, however, I thought Pitching the World might have led to me getting a column in a national newspaper.

It hasn’t. Of course it hasn’t. But at one point I thought it nearly might. Within a couple of weeks of starting this ill-fated adventure I sent an email to Jason Deans, editor of Media Guardian, suggesting that I write a weekly column about pitching all of these 642 magazines. At the time I was incredibly excited about the whole thing, and my enthusiasm and determination must have come through in my pitch because he wrote back almost immediately and said:

steven – it is an intriguing idea. let me talk to a couple of people here & get back to you. 

regards,

Jason

Oh how splendid, I thought when I received that email, I’ve got a regular column in Media Guardian. I quickly became very fond of Jason.

Over the next few weeks I would periodically send Jason emails checking if my column in Media Guardian had been officially approved or whatever the process is, but Jason ignored the few emails I sent. I became very unfond of Jason. After two months I sent him an email just saying “No?” and he sent one back saying, “Sorry, Steven, not one for us after all, I’m afraid” to which I childishly replied, “Thanks very much for letting me know, albeit two months later” and there ended my career as a columnist for Media Guardian.

It wasn’t my first experience of writing/not writing a column. I’ve not written columns loads of times. I’ve become quite good at not writing columns, excellent in fact. And although I’m better at not writing columns than I am at writing columns, I did actually have a (sort of) column for a while. It was about estate agents and estate agencies. Actually it wasn’t really a column at all, more of a review slot but I’ve written about 400 words so far about writing columns and I’m going to put some stuff down there that isn’t going to be that good but is about the sorts of columns I want to be writing so I’m afraid you’ll just have to live with it.

Some people reading a column of mine, earlier.

So, columns. I may be sticking my neck out here, but I suspect the majority of journalists would like a regular, well paid column in a quality national newspaper. They’re tough to land though and if you go looking for advice on how to get a regular column, this is the sort of stuff you’ll come across. (This, bear in mind, is from the top hit if you google “how to become a newspaper columnist”)

1. Find a willing newspaper who needs a columnist. It would be easier if you already worked for that newspaper or freelanced for it. If you don’t already have a job as a reporter, freelance writer or editor for a newspaper you must send out your resume to secure the job. In most cases, newspaper companies require a journalism or English degree.

2. Brainstorm some catchy ideas. Take in account the region your newspaper is for and its main readers. Make sure you can fully relate to your ideas as well. For an example the newspaper is the main newspaper for a very small town. I though of small town ideas and it helped that I also resided in that town so I knew first hand what to write. Also come up with a catchy title for your column. It has to be short and will grab the reader immediately. Mine is “Making It After All.”

I didn’t get much further than that. I know, sickening. Here is another picture of someone reading one of my columns.

Someone reading a column of mine, earlier. 

Against my better judgement, I took the advice above and brainstormed some “catchy ideas” of columns I may want to write in the future and have put them down there. If Jason Deans or someone who commissions at FT Weekend wants to get in touch, then please do. But please don’t break my heart again.

1. The Man Who Can’t Go On Holiday Properly. Most travel writers are smart, knowledgeable, authoritative and always have a good time when they go away. I am none of those things and never have a good time when I go away. My first idea for a column, then, would be about a man who can’t go on holiday properly. An alternative title could be Holiday Prick.

2. My Name is Steve. Based on the possibly award-winning series that I haven’t even seen, I realise that the reason my life is so dull, ill-fated and Novemberish is because of karma. I resolve to go around correcting previous mistakes in my life and write about the results. I actually pitched this idea to the documentary strand of Channel 4 when My Name is Earl first aired but they turned me and my idea down and referred to me as Robert whilst doing so. I think it’s an excellent idea, albeit about six years too late. The column, I mean, not being called Robert.

Fucking hell this post is almost a thousand words long and feels like it’s taken about four afternoons to write. Let’s have another picture of someone reading one of my columns.

Someone reading a column of mine, earlier.

3. Being Danny Wallace. I discover a secret portal into Danny Wallace’s mind and each week go in there whilst he’s writing his regular column for Shortlist and document how much of it he makes up. There will also be a weekly exclamation count.

4. College Bear. I dress up as a bear, go back to college and write about my experiences.

5. What a Writer Does When a Writer Stops Being a Writer. Clearly I’m going to have to stop writing for a living very soon and this column will be a wry look at my attempts to assimilate back into the working world. That I’ll be writing an award-winning column about not writing anymore can be overlooked.

6. Cricket

7. What Would Henry VIII Do? When I find myself in scary, unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations I often wonder if I would be better served by behaving how I imagine Henry VIII would have responded in such situations. This column, which will definitely be commissioned the minute I hit ‘Publish’ will be – actually I can’t be fucked with this. I’m not going to get a column. Ever. Here is someone not reading one of my columns.

Someone not reading a column of mine, earlier. 

Fuck You, Memory. Again.

So, I’m in Mallorca. I’ve fled Paris, thinking that I’ll go back in the Autumn. Paris in August is no place for a writer, but I think we all knew that. Mallorca, on the other hand, is the perfect place for a writer in August. At least it’s the perfect place for this writer. For a start, there aren’t many other writers here. That’s good. In Paris you can’t move for writers and I can’t bear them. Second, it’s hot, stupidly hot. This sounds bad but it’s actually pretty good: the blades of the helicopter that brought me over here turned into the blades of the fan in my room and I spend all my time inside in the half-light staring at said blades. Sometimes I do press ups. If I had to describe myself in one word I would plump for “withdrawn”. If I had to describe in two words how I wanted to be, it would be “not withdrawn”. Getting out of yourself – once in – is no cakewalk.

I’m still pitching the world of course. Oh of course, why would I not? It’s nearly two years down the line now and everything has worked out perfectly. I suspect that a tiny part of me thinks that this project has done me no favours and has led to divorce, increased alcohol consumption, baldness, a lack of boldness, eczema on my right hand, a deterioration in writing ability and night terrors. I also suspect that that tiny part of me suggested to a larger part of me that leaving the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook back in the UK was a good idea. So that’s what I’ve done. I’m now trying to pitch these 642 magazines from memory (fuck you, memory), and, as regular readers will know, my memory is weak. It’s almost non-existent. Seriously. I was in my room the other day and turned my head to look at something on the wall and in the time it took to turn my head towards the wall, I forgot what it was I was supposed to be looking at. That’s how bad my memory is.

Yet I can remember whole strings of magazines listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. And I’m thinking I could pitch with a more international flavour. More accurately, I could make my pitches Mallorca-specific. Rather than simply pitch Cat World with an idea about cats, I can now pitch Cat World with an idea about cats in Mallorca. Thrilling, isn’t it? And Practical Boat Owner – I could be all “Yes, you own a practical boat in the UK but imagine – just IMAGINE – what it would be like being a practical boat owner in Mallorca.” And there are a whole load of magazines on electricity, farming, running and architecture that I have to pitch and we have electricity, farming, running and architecture over here. I just need to think of angles. What could be simpler?

Well, lots of things. Going back and working on the bins, for one. And the simplicity has been further compromised because I’m reading Dispatches and have decided I want to become a war correspondent. I wish there was a war happening over here, that would make things easier for me. Can’t the western forces who orchestrated an uprising in Libya and elsewhere just do the same thing here? Can we get the proud, spirited Mallorcan people to rise up against their oppressive regime, whoever that might be? Ooh dear, look at me, getting all political.

That’s enough for today. I’m going back to stare at my fan to think about cats, farming, electricity, architecture and running. Ideally I need to find a cat that likes running, is a farmer, uses electricity and likes buildings. If said cat owns a practical boat, even better. If anyone knows of such an animal, please drop me a line. Thanks.

A cat in a boat, earlier. 

Paris

So, I’m in Paris. Paris hates me already, Paris wants to beat me up. I suspect Paris hates me because I’ve spent the last day or so walking around in some fizzy, angular fog due to a lack of sleep, a waking hangover, and an excess of coffee that somehow seems to have both negated and intensified the lack of sleep and waking hangover. Yesterday I arrived at 6:00 am having not slept and spent the day still not sleeping whilst looking and behaving liking a maniac.

It hasn’t been fun. In fact, it’s been disastrous. For a start I can’t speak French. In order to make up for this I’ve embarked on some English-Spanish-French hybrid language, the likes of which hasn’t been heard on the streets of Paris before, perhaps hasn’t been heard anywhere. I keep saying “Si” when I mean “Oui” and blurting out “No parlez vous Francais! No French! I’m English. J’Englais! Hablas Espanol?!” when anyone asks me anything which seems to be all the time. Seriously. I’ll be sitting there minding my own business in a park or outside a cafe and strings of people will come up to me and ask me things. What things I don’t know, so I’ll just bark at them in my mixture of French and Spanish and English or otherwise just sit grinning at them like a maniac until they leave.

I don’t think I like travelling to foreign countries. I don’t like it because I’m pretty terrible at it. I hate those travel writers – or any writers – who write stuff like: “This hip, easy to miss gem is tucked down some obscure side street but make an effort to find it and hang out with the beautiful people.” I don’t think I’d ever like to visit a hip, easy to miss gem and if I ever did want to, wouldn’t have the patience to find it. Wherever I am I like to know – or at least look as if I know – where I’m going. I also hate consulting maps and so I’ve spent the last day or so just careering round Paris, pounding the streets as if I’m on my way to an important business meeting and am already late but this acting means that I keep getting lost and having to walk much further than I should and so spend all my time thirsty and tired and covered in blisters. If I were to ever write a city guide book my advice would be along the lines of: “Just fucking bowl around the streets chain smoking like a maniac until you collapse.” It’s actually quite good fun, in a way.

But as regular readers will know I didn’t come to Paris to simply pound the streets and have some kind of irregular holiday. I came to Paris to write, to work on the three books I feel I should be working on.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that that hasn’t happened. Nor is it going to. Shakespeare and Company – the bookshop I was hoping to stay in for free – is full of writers at the moment. They can’t house anymore. They told me as much this morning.

“We’re full,” said the girl behind the counter. “We’re always full. And the owner’s not here. All I can suggest is coming back at the weekend and trying again when she is here.”

“But you’ll be full still?”

“Probably, we’re always full.”

“Okay. But if you weren’t full – if I came back at some point and found out you weren’t full – what are the criteria for staying?”

“You have to be a writer,” she said and then looked at me for a while. “And young.”

I wanted to say, “Is 35 young for a writer?” or, “I thought this was a refuge for penniless writers, not a place for young rich American college girls to hang out in the summer and pretend to be writers” but I didn’t, I probably said something like, “Cool, I might pop back then” and walked out.

When I walked out Paris was still there, still hating me, still sucking what little money I have out of my pockets and I thought about buying a raft of wine and sitting in a park and drinking until I passed out but instead I just pounded business-like through the streets until I found a cheap hostal where I am now. I’m a little concerned that I have hardly any money, only one pair of clean underpants and no clue what to do next.

I need a plan, and fast.

 

Shakespeare and Company

Want to hear something stupid? I’m going to Paris next Tuesday. Want to hear something more stupid – even stupider? I’m going there with the intention of staying for free in a bookshop called Shakespeare and Company which houses young (and otherwise) writers. Apparently August is the worst time to try and stay there because it gets very full and the worst time to visit Paris in general as everyone is on holiday and those who aren’t on holiday are moody and hate you and spit at you. I don’t know where I’ve picked this information up from. It’s quite possible I made up.

The reasoning that lies (more cowers) behind my decision to go to Shakespeare and Company at the worst time of the year is that I intend to work on three books. Not one book – one book would be more than enough – but three books. One of those books is the book that I was working on in Dubai and the dog-end of last year. The other book is a book based on Pitching the World. The final book is a novella. A fucking novella.

Why I thought booking a coach – a coach! – to Paris to stay in a bookshop to write three books was a good idea is currently beyond me. I’ve had 35 years to write one book and failed. What are my chances of writing three books in a week or two whilst sleeping in a bookshop? Slim, would be my guess. And that’s assuming that they have room and like me. I might have to write three books whilst sleeping in a park in Paris. Perhaps that’s what I need. Perhaps my life has become both too unbearable and too comfortable at the same time. Who knows? Not me.

I could perhaps do with your help. Do YOU live in Paris? If you do and would like to take me out for cocktails on my birthday in a couple of weeks then please let me know. Otherwise I’ll be spending my birthday in a park alone trying to write three books at the same time.

In other news, I met a friend last night who is the deputy editor of a fitness magazine and he wants me to train for a triathlon and write about my experiences. This I like. This is the sort of stuff I should be doing. I might have to fit the training around my writing of three books – oh, and an article for a magazine about the bookshop – in two weeks in a bookshop in Paris, but I’m sure I’ll manage.

My Hundredth Hangover of the Year

Oh Jesus, I thought when I woke up this morning, not again. Not another hangover. Please not another hangover. How many has it been this year: 60? 70?100? Some people don’t manage 100 hangovers in a lifetime. I asked my Nan recently how many hangovers she’d had in her life and she said one. Wish I’d only had one. Wish I was my Nan.

None of that’s true. Well, some of that’s true: I do want to be my Nan and I probably have had somewhere in the region of 100 hangovers this year but I didn’t wake up this morning and think ‘Jesus not another hangover’. For a start, I don’t wake up anymore. Something happens to me in the morning but it certainly isn’t waking up; more moving from one petrified state to another. Second, I didn’t have the cognitive ability to think ‘Jesus not another etc.’ so probably just thought ‘erk’ or ‘uhhhng’ or ‘neerrff’ – I’ve given up thinking in nicely constructed formations of words and prefer to think in grunts these days. Much less taxing. Try it, please, it’ll change your life.

Where were we? Ah yes, we were hungover except we weren’t hungover. I’ve had a period of sobriety you see (since Sunday – doesn’t really qualify as a period) and so there was no way I could have been hungover. Except that I was. So it seems that I get hangovers even when I haven’t been drinking. Where’s the justice in that? Up my ass, that’s where.

I think this morning’s hangover was a stress hangover. I’m currently working on my proposal for a book based on Pitching the World and that proposal is being sent off to my award-winning agent tomorrow and he in turn is going to send the proposal round to a bunch of publishers who in turn are going to tell me go fuck myself, to perhaps stick my proposal up my ass along with the justice. Oh please don’t let that happen. Please, publishers, don’t tell me to stick things up my ass.

The reason for them potentially wanting me to stick my proposal up my ass is because I have no idea on this retarded planet what Pitching the World is about. None. Do you? How do I make it attractive to publishers? My approach at the moment is all “In 2009 Steven decided to pitch all 642 magazines in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. Now, some two years later he’s pitched very few of them, hardly been commissioned at all, has lost his hair and his looks and his confidence and learnt nothing. Seriously, nothing. If anything he’s unlearnt stuff. He also suspects he has been blacklisted by the entire UK media industry. If he has, he’s fucked. If he hasn’t, then he’s genuinely paranoid, and fucked. He did, however, have a football trial and drew some good pictures and wrote for the British Journalism Review. Thanks. Can I have a £45,000 advance please.”

That’s my approach so far. I know: not good. But what’s it all about, this whole Pitching the World business? This is half rhetorical/half please help me out because otherwise I’ve a lifetime of hangovers and hangovers that aren’t even hangovers to look forward to.

Thoughts welcome. Thanks.

Write About What You Want

Me to my brother the other day:

“Men shouldn’t work like this. We should be fixing cars” – I don’t have a driving licence, a car, or any interest in cars or fixing cars – “or building houses” – unbelievably, I can sort of do this – “or, you know, just getting out there.”

Where is out there? What should I – we – be doing when we get there? Who cares – the point is men shouldn’t be huddled over their prissy little Macs in their Nan’s dining room all day and calling it work. They should be working on cars (trucks better) or getting out there.

That’s not really my point. In fact, that’s not point at all. The point is that I’ve had a sea change in my thinking. Rather than spend day after nerve-jangingly day looking at the details of these 642 (Jesus) magazines and wondering what I can write for them, I’ve decided to do it the other way around: decide what I want to write about and approach these magazines accordingly. Here then, slightly long-windedly, is some of the stuff I’ve come up with that I would like to write about.

1. Have we Created Our Own Universe? Assuming that time doesn’t exist in the way that we imagine and assuming that in some point in the future we are scientifically literate enough to create an embryonic universe and let it grow does that mean that we are indeed living right now in a universe that we have created in the future? (Note to commissioning eds: further details sketchy at this stage. The above was based on a conversation my (scientist) brother had with me recently and it led to me having a panic attack which led to me having to drink four whiskys. If interested, I can go back to him armed with questions.)

2. Where Have All the Proper Dogs Gone? It struck me the other day that all the dogs hanging out these days are squat, muscley, man-eating fucks. What’s happened to Labradors and Golden Retrievers and just ordinary dogs? Exactly, they’ve disappeared. If I had been in a coma for the last 20 years – and I wish that I had been in a coma for the last 20 years – then the dog landscape of today would be completely foreign to me. With that in mind, imagine what the dog landscape will be like 20 years in the future. Go on: imagine it.

3. Can I Eat Myself Clever? I spend a month eating food and drinking drinks that are supposedly good for the brain: oily fish, certain fruits and vegetables, other stuff that I’m not aware of yet. At the beginning and the end of the month I have an IQ test to see if I can eat myself clever.

4. Can I Fuck Myself Clever? I spend a month sleeping with very brainy women. At the beginning and the end of the month I have an IQ test to see if I can fuck myself clever.

5. Can I Drug Myself Clever? As above, but with drugs.

6. How Many Old People Look Like Vince Cable? I’m writing this in a cafe and a man just strolled past who looked EXACTLY like Vince Cable. Maybe it was him. But then I looked across the road and saw someone else who looked EXACTLY like Vince Cable and it got me thinking: as men age, many of them begin to resemble Vince Cable. How many? Fuck knows, that’s what I’m going to find out.

7. Can Thinking Like Marcus Aurelius Cure Depression? Answer: yes, probably.

8. The No Man. I say no to everything for a bit. Probably for a month. Can make a lot of it up. Might be a problem accepting the commission.

9. Can I Think Myself Fit? There is some evidence to suggest simply thinking about certain muscles promotes growth. I spend a month (it’s always a month) in a room thinking about my triceps, then another month thinking about my calves, and then another month trying to grow a massive neck.

10. Why I Love Cricket.

Any takers? Come on you miserable fucks. You know what to do: pitchingtheworld*at*hotmail.com