Once upon a time, journalists would pitch their ideas for articles in a nicely written letter and send it to the editor of the most appropriate organ for consideration. Most newspaper editors wouldn't bother to write back if they didn't want it, but some would phone, or, in the case of The Daily Telegraph, send a nicely written letter back, detailing why it didn't fit. It was a genteel affair, far from the streets of shame and the myths of newspaper hackery.
That was about 10 years ago.
Since the internet ramped up the speed at which we all work, journos now tend to forward press releases to our super-stressed editors with a 'fancy a feature?' in the subject box and are then gutted with what seems like the cruelest of blows; 'no thanks!' How could he/she be so callous? Does he/she not realise how sensitive (read 'paranoid') we journos are?
'More haste, less speed', my mother would advise from her celestial position, and I think she may be right.
So I'm waiting for the kids to emerge from Saturday morning pictures, just as kids should, and I'm writing this on my iPhone and marvelling at 21st century comms. They'll be in with Selena Gomez and chums for another two hours and there's nothing to do other than read 'Eat, Pray, Love' and wonder how come someone else wrote my story.
From the breakdown in a relationship to the hedonistic freedom of newly single life (although in London rather than Rome) to an ashram - and spookily, that exact same roof scene - the flagellation over the monkey mind, and then to Skyros (my Bali of 1994) for the final permission to love again, 'Eat, Pray, Love' is my (and probably 10 million other women's) story. Mine would probably be called 'Drink, Pray, Love' though. Yes, there's a bit of envy as I read Liz Gilbert's observations of so many of the exact same things as I went through in so many of the same places, and for the same reasons. I too met Texan Richard, although he had a different name and nationality, but Swiss Philippe did the same pushing and prodding, just as thousands of Texan Richards/Swiss Philippes have done and will do with newly single woman in search of everything. I too sat on a metaphorical beach afterwards, spending time with medicine men with no teeth and wisdom and compassion to burn. I too turned down the perfect man while he waited patiently until I ran out of reasons to make myself unhappy.
Why I didn't push to write what I wanted to write back in 1995 instead of extracting only the tantric sex bits that the publisher was interested in is part of my story too. That brief window of opportunity, which only the very few stop to look through, takes a long old time to clear, and I wasn't anywhere near a new view back then. What amazes me about Liz Gilbert is that she was, armed with a few books, gurus and a hell of a lot more time that most of us will ever have. Oh, and an advance from the Gods. But hats off to her; the act of writing is often what speeds the process, and the weaving together of her story no doubt wove her together faster than any meditation could. Yes, I wish I'd done it, both for me and for my bank account, but instead I shall dream of going back to Bali one day where I too first spotted perfection.
One of the smiley Wayans who played host to me and my backpack in 1985 told me that God had taken a while to create the perfect human being. When he baked his first batch, he left it in the oven too long and the humans came out burnt. He tried again. This time, they were pale and undercooked. The third time, he got it and presented the world with the golden, smiling Balinese.
Finding Jeff Olson, Steiner mentor and former class teacher at Brighton Steiner was easier than I thought. I hadn't been looking for him specifically, but when I saw that Paul Levy's Critical Incident event as part of the Brighton Festival included a session on storytelling, I was thrilled to find that Jeff was the man. And that it was all about Steiner.
I went to see him last week and, over a bowl of nachos and salsa and gin and tonic (at 5pm? Don't you love these alternatives?), he told me how rhythm is entrenched in Steiner teaching.
Steiner teachers take their class from Class 1 (age 6) all the way through to Year 8, and some even further. Jeff explained how in Class 1, he would tell the same Grimm's fairy tale over and over again - telling, not reading - until the children knew it by heart. Sometimes one story would take a week to read through, but the kids would be rapt, and each time it was told, it was identical, word for word. Jeff told me that sometimes he would change a conjunction (how hard must it be to remember if you'd originally used 'so' instead of 'then'?) and immediately there would be a sharp intake of breath from the children. If a wrong word or one that's out of place causes them to flinch, would they then understand the rhythm of a sentence better than a child who hadn't experienced such riches?
After a year of telling, the children would be asked to copy the story they'd been told, punctuation and all. As they inhaled the words and watched them come to life at the end of their pencils, did the placing of the comma mean more to them than it might to a child who hadn't had this experience? The problem is how can I know? No-one, as far as I know, has measured this in Steiner kids. Jeff told me that about 1/3 of the class by Year 8 were writing with perfect grammar, 1/3 so so and 1/3 were having difficulties. I bet any teacher could say that. I wonder if Jeff is still in contact with his class.
The question is; do those who do grasp it quickly now use it effortlessly (Jeff's class would now be 20), or are they just as likely to drop a capital and use a comma instead of a full stop as the school kids who I filmed in March? Does grammar reach deeper into the subconscious through Steiner -style storytelling or are traditional lessons just as good?
Or..... is language evolving so quickly that a new form is emerging which is bypassing punctuation. (I need to find Lynn Truss, hold hands and SCREAM.....)
There's life for those of us for whom the last minute text invite to a secret party in the middle of nowhere has lost its allure. Last night in, well a secret location, we danced with pixie-pretty women and gypsy-handsome men in what felt like a Midsummer Night's dream despite the cold April downpour outside. Artists, writers and film-makers were draped over old sofas swathed in exotic throws while fire dancers and singers took to the 'stage'. Love Punch replaced pints of lager and raw chocolate was the deepest of the sins as people talked about real stuff and danced with their eyes closed to the Polka, Tango & Gypsy Swing of The Bohemianauts…
I can't tell you more. It's a secret, passed on in whispers but I like to think of Zu as the love child of the Love Lounge, Brighton's finest party nights (and Lady Love herself was there last night, older, wiser and more beautiful than ever). Maybe it was conceived in one of those Love Lounge boudoirs that used to scare me as much as they thrilled me. I also like to think it's the wayward cousin of The Sussex House Party, just as Bohemian but maybe a little naughtier.
Now I remember why we do author dinners. It was worth getting soaked as I cut the spinach from the allotment, still just tender enough despite the snows, and why I ran, head down against the driving rain to Bill's for the best mixed leaves in town - only to find that they'd run out. I must have looked as crestfallen as I was drenched because someone was despatched to the kitchen to get me my leaves. Heaven is a kitchen on a Saurday afternoon, and with the organic beef from Colbrans slow cooking in red wine and roots all day and infusing the house with the smell of Sussex, I almost forgot about the guests.
It's been a few months since the last author dinner, but the words spilled along with the wine, and jaws dropped as beautiful thoughts and imaginary characters became as real as the guests who created them. Vanessa Gebbie was as practical as she was inspiring, mixing top tips with the alchemy of imagination, practice and confidence, and the smiles broadened as the evening eased into night.
Look out for Michael Gould's 'Filfy O'Durr' (http://www.filfyodurr.co.uk/), and thanks Vanessa for kicking off the winter season with a wonderful feast of ideas for our little community of writers.
Isabel Losada has confirmed her place at the Sussex House Party dinner table on Feb 20th. Her books include: 'The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment' (which explores our personal happiness by looking at a wide range of new age beliefs and practices), 'A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World; For Tibet, With Love' (which looks at how one person can make a difference outside themselves for any cause about which they may be passionate) and 'Men! : Where the **** are they?' (which examines the growing social phenomenon of the lack of straight single males). Should be a good night. The Sussex House Party for more....
I write, I teach writing at the University of Brighton and I run a writers' retreat called The Sussex House Party in the ancient woods of deepest Sussex. I've had 15 books published and I hope I'll be writing forever.