A hand has come out and taken yours

I wrote someone a letter today. An electronic one, obviously. And that reminded me of a moment – must have been a couple of years ago – when just for a second, the world caved in.

The letter was about depression. Something I have had in a number of guises and severity levels, and something which I generally live with today, unbothered except for a few dark hours. Though aware that it could change at any moment.

I don’t know the person at all who I wrote to, beyond a few basic facts about her life, and that we share a few common interests. One of those interests is BBC quiz shows and we chat sometimes about their interconnected hosts and guests. Victoria Coren (Mitchell), for example.

As I wrote to – let’s call her Julia – I recalled something Victoria Coren wrote in the Observer a few years back. It’s to do, slightly, with depression and it completely took the wind out of me. Here it is:

“Should I wait until I stop waking up in the night in tears for everything I might be screwing up in my own life, holding on to heartfelt faith but doubting my own hopeful actions and inactions, staring my errors and fears and faults and massive life-gambles in the face, praying daily that this risky, bumpy and winding path leads home, before I start judging other people?”

Those words, appearing in stark contrast to the otherwise light-hearted commentary on drugs and the Olympics spoke so instantly and deeply into the state of my own soul, that is, the state of my own wakeful nights, that even though I was in the middle of an office during a busy working day, I simply sat at my monitor and cried. Not just through sadness, but through… recognition?

Now, this blog has lain fallow for a few months, partly due to life taking over, but mostly because I’ve been having far too much fun on Tumblr. Fun laughing and fangirling and -new word coming up- shipping various combinations of fictional people who seem real and real people from whom we’ve extrapolated so much they’ve basically become fiction. I love tumblr, life ruiner though it is.

Shall I tell you who I talk about most? It’s, in no particular order: Stephen Fry; Manic Street Preachers; Victoria Coren/David Mitchell; the BBC in general; Brideshead Revisited; Sherlock; Cabin Pressure; Monty Python… A collection of smart funny people whose public work I enjoy and whose private life I probably pay a bit too much attention to. And writing, music and books.

But, and here’s the point (FINALLY, you all cry), although I collect comedians, it’s not because they’re funny. Funny, I like. But things to knit my soul to… They come in the deeper moments, born when the darkness seems to sparkle. Moments, like the one above, when it feels as someone has been staring right into my very being, and shown me the reflection.

Here’s another one of those moments, which had the same flooring effect, and also makes the point far better than I can. From Alan Bennett’s diaries:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”.

That’s when I fangirl the most. Except in those moments I’m not fangirling or shipping, I’m holding onto something, anything, for dear life because it feels as if someone has simultaneously given me the world and snatched the rug from under my feet.

And, back to depression, it’s these moments that in part – I would not wish to do disservice to the friends, family, faith and prayers that also carry me daily – that get me through. The knowledge that I am not alone, and the wider narrative of their lives which indicates that this black dog is neither all nor everything. A reminder that the sun does come. So when I say ‘I like Victoria Coren’ or ‘Alan Bennett’s a really great writer’, I do mean it, but what I also mean is: thank you.

Eyes wide shut

I’ve written a book. Past tense.

It’s a novel about split identities and what happens when they collide. It’s about how the internet may or may not be ruining your life. It’s about faith and love and other Big Things that plague us to the grave.

It’s currently resting in my draw. I’ve read it so many times I can’t bare to look at it for a while.

So maybe you’d like to look instead?

I’m after a few people to read it and give feedback. Honest feedback.

If you’re interested I’ll send you a copy if you think you can
a) read it within the next few weeks, couple of months.
b) tell me what works and what doesn’t, and be specific.
c) not laugh at me for too long afterwards.

I’ll send anyone who does a little thank you in the form of a book token so you can buy something decent to read.
(If I get bazillions I may not send it to everyone, but on the basis that that’s not at all likely to happen, don’t let that put you off.)

Comment below, email me on mail@kathrynhegarty.info or find me on various social networks.


This one’s for the freaks

Version A
In an attempt to evaluate the user experience of the popular blogging platform Tumblr, I have undertaken to publish a work of my own devising, thus experimenting with its user, admin and customisation features. Because, apparently, we’re all so short of spannable attention, I’m going to publish it scene-by-scene three times a week, till the end. I will attempt to gain followers (gasp). The result of this experiment will also influence when and how I publish my novel Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland.

Version B
Because of reasons I am uploading Star Cross-dressed Lovers a spoof jukebox show, a Manic Street Musical, if you will. (It’s built around Manics songs. Of course it is.) It’s got James eating pies, Nicky nearly destroying the world, Sean being evil and best of all, Richey isn’t dead (much).

If Tumblr and I get on, I’ll use it to publish my completed (in the sense that I’m not bloody doing it again) typo-ridden novel which is NOT called Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland, but it probably should be.

You can visit the Manic Street Musical site any time you like.

Stalking tour of Camden

I do not know Stephen Ryder personally but I know where he lives. I know that he is married and has a young family. I know what he does for a living, where he likes to go at weekends and what his tastes in television are.

He didn’t tell me any of this directly; I read it in the papers and online. Stephen writes for a national newspaper, as do many of his friends and family. He’s not what you’d call famous but he is well known to the middle-aged middle classes. And me. Because I know where he lives.

Stephen, I should add, is not his real name. I’ve given him a new one to protect his privacy. Sort of. See, all that stuff about his job and his tastes he wrote himself and let it be published. His frank, open style is part of what makes his submissions entertaining. He’s written about his family, friends, holidays and working habits. But the one thing he categorically did not give out what his address. Yet I know it.

Here’s how. Stephen’s style is not only open, but detailed. He’s not shy of describing a pub as his ‘local’ or mentioning an ammenities centre ‘at the end of [his] road’. Over the weeks and months I read his contributions, I built up a pretty good mental map of his local area. More than once I’ve visited these same roads and shops, always half-excited in case I bumped into the illustrious man. How cool would that be?

Not cool at all, is the correct answer. I’m not that kind of nutjob and I don’t wish to be. Here’s the crucial thing: it’s my local area too. (Or was before I moved to Latvia.) I recognise all those shop and pub names because I walk past them each day, down the same roads that he does. The only reason I know where he lives is because I live there too. So that’s OK right?

Well, maybe. First off there’s Google Search, Maps and Street View. I don’t really want to dwell on the great privacy panic of the 2010s but it is worth noting that in previous times one would have to know an area to – like me – recognise its shop names from a newspaper article. Nowadays one can plug the names into the all-knowing fact machine up pops an address, complete with handy instructions on how to get there. You can do that from Canada, sure, but you’re unlikely to cross the Altanic to visit Stephen’s favourite pub. He’s not that famous.

The cross-referencing isn’t always deliberate though. Here’s another thing I know about Stephen: he’s related by marriage to a famous comedian. It was an accidental discovery made by reading two articles by two different people. One mentioned a circumstance but no name, and another mentioned a related circumstance and a name. Together, I could make the match. I didn’t want or need to know this, and I feel a little bit awkward that I do, as to my knowledge it’s never been mentioned publically. I know I have my heroes but I hate to intrude. Not a stalker.

I have an odd relationship with fame and the famous these days. I used to think I was ‘above’ the gossip-mongering of Now! magazine and the like, but I’ve realised recently that I’m not. I have people I hold in esteem and I quietly enjoy their twitter feeds and the FYtumblr streams dedicated to them. I get excited about their lives and like to watch them through my collection of little glass screens. Just because Victoria Coren isn’t as ubiquituous as Victoria Beckam, doesn’t mean that my interest is any more appropriate.

But it is OK as long as there’s a distance. Other people are not my property. Only, when I like things, I like them lots (cf. Manic Street Preachers, Sherlock etc). So I try to be principled: only know what’s public, only ask what’s relevant. The distance can be through space (I will not go to Newport to hunt down Nicky Wire, because it’s inconvenient. And wude.), metaphysics (Sherlock Holmes was not real so I can happily visit his fake address and buy branded pens), or time (Michael Palin’s diary were written in the 1970s so walking down the same road now is fine). So while I like what Stephen writes, while he lives just around the corner from me, now, in real life, it would not be OK to persue that.

Knowing about Stephen’s half-hidden comedy connection isn’t really bad, it’s just a bit weird. While it does make me feel uncomfortable, it’s still just a piece of information. I imagine that all the people involved know about it – of course they do – and to anyone else it’s meaningless if good gossip.

What is seriously not OK what happened the other day. I was walking in the Camden area, having been for a stroll on the heath, and took the route back to my house, which happens to run along the street where Stephen lives. It’s a long road, but as I passed one of the houses, I immediately knew he lived there (or if not there then next door). Some tell-tale recent building work, also mentioned in his regular output gave me the final clue. Now I know not just where abouts he lives, but his actual address. And then, presumably, post code, phone number whatever – should I want to.

I really do not want to. I’m angry that I even know this much. Suddenly, without even trying, I’m one of those weird people that the police know about. All because I read newspaers. Screw Stephen and his compromised privacy. I feel violated.

Beauty is duty and duty beauty. So there.

I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to know that I’ve written some poetry in Latvian. You might wonder how, being here less than two months, I’ve grasped enough of the subtleties of the Latvian tongue to delve into the true depths of love and life that poetry requires, but let me assure you that it’s all here: time, beauty, and a very real sense of hunger all permeate my early work.

As anyone who’s thrashed their way through GSCE English will know, it’s not just about the overarching themes but the personal context in which the poems are placed. Here I am in this far flung land – so cut off I can’t watch the 6 o’clock news in English, never mind Scotish dialect – perhaps it’s only natural I should find those very English reflections on the weather and the decline of aristocratic classes creeping into my work. For they have, as you will see when you enage with my lines:

1. Skatās Debesīs
Laiks ir skaists,
Bet skaistums ir laiks.

1. I stare at the sky
The weather is beautiful,
But beauty is time.

I think this speaks entirely for itself. No explanation required. If you don’t grasp its multi-layered sensations as they ripple past one another, you are heartless indeed.

2. Čau Ģīvs!
Man ir viens piens
Tev ir divi zivi
Mums ir trīs pilis
Bet mēs esam izsalcis.

2. What ho, Jeeves!
I have one milk
You have two fish
We have three castles
But we are hungry.

What better way to express distate at our worship of property at the expense of proper financial management than by invoking an image of a lonely breadline existence against a backdrop of comparative wealth?

I await my Nobel Prize.

The sitemap falls apart, the breadcrumbs cannot hold

Talent borrows. Genius steals. I greatly enjoying messing with great works for comic effect.

Past works include: What have the NHS ever done for us; In a flash, Jeeves; IA the musical; Henry V in V minutes; and Star Crossed-Dressed Lovers (a Manic Street Musical). All these lie in various states of completion on my desk.

The lastest then twitter hashtag #uxpoetry (of which I have sole use, hmm), sparked by Keats as an introduction to a UX link.

This seemed like great fun, and crucially didn’t involve annotating wireframes. So for my own posterity more than anything, here’s my timeline of #uxpoetry nonsense. Very sorry.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, its loveliness increases it will never pass into nothingness till it’s deleted to reduce costs
~ Keats, Lines from Endymion

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro sales targets mori
~ Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum est

On the ning nang nong where the cows go bong and the monkeys all say ‘boo!’ there’s a ironic gif farm from 1995
~ Spike Milligan, On The Ning Nang Nong

I am an architect, they call me obstructrive. I am a pioneer, they call me a luxury
~ Manic Street Preachers, Faster. Not technically poetry, I know.

And the two I am most pleased with:

There’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever Advanced Search […] In that rich earth a richer content concealed
~ Rupert Brooke, The Solider

Follow your spirit, and upon this whim, Cry ‘God for JQuery, Standards, and Saint Tim!’
Shakespeare, Henry V ‘Once more into the breach’.

And so, dear friends, the end.

Still so in love with you

It’s that time of year again, when everything kicks into gear. Not because it’s autumn or anything, but when I open my diary and it’s a mess of train times and confirmation numbers. My head, to match, is a mess of organisation, revelation and glitterly disintergration. Time, in short, for a Manics tour.

A new album too, to add to the adventures of my imagination this month. I’ve been seeing the world through a mixture of Sherlock, Phill Jupitus, Chalet School, Edwyn Collins, Fry & Laurie, Bret Easton Ellis, Edingburgh Fringe, and Patrick Wolf, plus all my usual temptations.

Now’re we’re in September and things are kicking up a gear.

Exhibit A. On Monday we see Stephen Fry read from his biography part 2. I’m re-reading volume one, Moab is my Washpot in anticipation. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how close to the bone it was. Not in circumstance but in sentiment. I keep having to come up for air during passages. Sometimes I can’t process a whole sentence at a time, the feeling is so thick. I adore it, but it feels like I’m being turned inside out in the process. I remember when I first read it I knew it would change me. That was about three years ago and I was right. The next link in the chain, the next big touchstone for all I’d pick up, read, frame my thoughts through. You’ll either get that or you won’t but either way, it started in Moab.

Exhibit B. I was in York this weekend gone and with two hours free shopping, hit the charity shops to stock up. Very succesfull – Mark Gatiss, Alan and Victoria Coren, a previously un-owned edition of Moab, Grahame Green and Miles Kington all showed themselves. So did a Billy Ray Cyrus CD and a horrible book titled ‘The Smarties Guide to the Galaxy: Space, the universe and everything’. I did not buy these last two monstrosities; I put Billy to the back of the rack and hit the Smarties one against the bookshelf because I am mature like that.

Exhibit C. There’s lots to write at the moment, so I must take notes properly as I go pootle along so I don’t forget all the things I’ll put to page when I get the bloody time. I must keep hold of the Edingburgh spirit when I stayed up all night discussing sketch craft with the UCL Comedie crew. Sketches are where I started. I still have a Monty Python-esque fear of punchlines.

These things might sound like diversion but they’re all the same thing really. Swimming deep in inspiration, infatuation and validation. I love it. It makes we want to work, to create, to design and write.

So after Fry there’s a couple of weeks respite until the Manics tour, which takes up most of October. In between all this introspection, I must organise trains, hotels and myself. I must attempt to remember which of the hundreds of editions of the album/single I’ve ordered.

And then I’ll hit the road. I’ll be working, travelling, and singing, but probably not eating or sleeping. No doubt I’ll come back with a million new in-jokes and a whole host of new favourite lines. Let’s end on another one, Jarvis this time. Why live in the world when you can live in your head – and cringe at the number of hours you’ll spend waiting in Birmingham New Street wondering where the hell you’re headed next?

Manic Street Musical

So, I did it. I spent the summer writing and the autumn editing and correcting endless typos.

Here is Star Cross-dressed Lovers (A Manic Street Musical) [Linked updated May 2012]. A time-travelling political rom-com of a show in two acts, neither of which are credible.

I’m weirdly proud of this. I know I said it was a joke but I did actually try to make this entertaining trash, if not high-level. I suspect if you don’t know the Manics it will make no sense at all. And if you do know them I suspect you’ll be horrifed I placed such firey, jealous, all-consuming songs into a musical at all. But that’s why it’s funny. It’s all a joke.

Feel free to download and use as you will. I only ask for credit (and protection if you send it to James).

The good, the bad and the deliberate

When you create something, or even do anything with constructive intentions, you want it to be good… right? For example, it surely goes without saying that when I write something here I hope that you, the reader, find it enjoyable, resonant, witty, engaging and ultimately entertaining? Or if I am trying to persuade and convince you of something, I’d hope that you find my argument sound, compelling and constructive? On the face of it, the thought of anyone hoping the opposite for their creation must seem absurd. Yet, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.

Putting aside the numerous and often wonderful examples of those who set out to confront, annoy, and unseat us with their creations – they still have aspirations for their work – is there ever a case when one creates with the intent of it being ‘bad’? That is, it fails in whatever aim the artist sets for the work. For some that might be boring, others poorly (or even well) received. I know ‘bad’ is not the right word, just as ‘good’ is not the right term for the successful opposite, but I hope you see what I mean.

Whatever form it comes in, does anyone ever aim for failure? And if they do and they succeed in meeting that subjective measure of failure, have they succeeded in an objective sense too? If the aim is to fail, and you fail, you succeed, thereby negating your failure. A paradox caused by language or philosophy, I’m not sure, but let’s leave all that and meander to the point.

I didn’t start writing this to solve an ongoing philosophical argument, fun as that would be. A good thing too, as anyone half competent in the discipline could rip the above three paragraphs to shreds. No, all this pondering is merely me wondering aloud about a couple of projects I’ve got going at the moment.

The first is this website. At present, it remains largely unwritten – just a few headings, a couple of blog posts and lashings of lipsum. If I’m honest, the initial reason for this was ineptitude (so very sorry if you’re trying to read this Firefox, but let’s face it, you gave up long ago) and a lack of time. But now I wonder if a website documenting its own stuttering conception might be quite a neat thing in itself. A few screen shots here, a few frustrated blog posts there and suddenly the shoddiness of it – the failure element – becomes the success. Do I now have a rubbish website or an interesting experiment?

The thing is though, I eventually hope it will become ‘good’. That is, it will have some content, some colour and it’ll work. in. bloody. Firefox. The second project I’m working on doesn’t have quite such a simple path.

I am, for my sins, a recovering Queen fan – the monolithic rock group, not the head of state. I never had much time for her. I loved them as a teenager – not a cool thing in the mid 90s – and was overjoyed when We Will Rock You the musical, with a script by Ben Elton appeared in the West End. I also love The Young Ones, Saturday Live and Blackadder, three more Elton creations. But the difference in quality between these last three and the script to WWRY is staggering. WWRY is bad, so bad (whichever definition one uses). So bad that the last time I saw it in July 2009, something broke inside me and I decided I’d write my own pop music vehicle musical. And it wouldn’t be so sodding awful as We Will Rock You.

No. It’d be worse. I think. Or maybe better. Here’s where I get stuck. On the one hand, I want to write something which satirises WWRY and all its ilk, that shows up the genre in all its awfulness. The band I picked, Manic Street Preachers, I picked because I know their music better than they do, and I knew that their output – obtuse, verbose and short of love songs – was entirely unsuited to the genre. I wanted it to be cack, to take the piss out of the whole idea.

But in doing so, I’ve got to be clever and creative. I’ve got to twist a set of angry songs aimed at specific targets into a meaningful plot and dialogue. I’ve got to create characters that interest a wider audience as well as meet all the exacting expectations of excitable/lunatic Manics fans. And even though I’m doing it with the intention of making it bad, I don’t want it to be unwatchable (face facts, girl, unreadable). It can’t be just plain awful, but deliberately constructed to look awful.

So back to the failing to fail. I take pride in my work and I want it to be knowing and humorous as well as unquestionably awful. I don’t want to create something ‘so bad it’s good’, but something that’s simultaneously bad and good. Then at least it’ll be bad for a reason, which We Will Rock You isn’t.