Monday 11th May 2009

Added on 11 May 2009

A Dementor At My Table

Friday afternoon was a normal sort of afternoon. The kids were in school; the sun was shining; the birds of spring were singing melancholic songs lamenting the passing of winter (Polish birds like to complain about everything); a gentle wind blew, softly caressing the last of the blossom petals from the fruit trees; along the dual carriageway which lies twenty yards from our house, people were driving as ridiculously fast as ever, and the air was filled with the sound of car horns, screeching brakes and the siren of the occasional ambulance.

It was at this point, on a regular sun-filled, bird-singing, ambulance-wailing, blossom-death kind of an afternoon, that an e-mail from an acting agency landed in my in-box. You’re thinking, hey, we know you as this giant of the literary world, this crime writing behemoth, this internationally famous authorial supergenius, but we didn’t know you could act. And in fact, I’m none of those things. And no matter how much I’m not a behemoth of anything, it’s not a patch on how much I’m not an actor.

There’s a Polish TV show, on TVP1 - they’re the BBC1 equivalent - called Londynczycy. The Londoners. It’s about Polish immigrants in London. The agent said they were looking for native English speakers for the show, so that the accents of the locals would sound natural. I took it that they were looking for extras, people to sit in the background of pubs talking loudly about how Chelsea ought to be expelled from European competition forever, and why Gordon Brown ought to be dragged screaming through the mud in his best suit, and then not be allowed to claim the dry cleaning expenses. I could do that, I thought. I think, as I stood in the bathroom later, I might even have rehearsed a bit of background pub chatter. True love, you say? That indeed is the final frontier... that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, The Parent Currently Known As Mum (TPCKAM) had read the e-mail and picked up on the part where the agent had written or anyone else you know who would be interested... She called me and begged me in a frankly embarrassing manner to include her. So I wrote back to the agent and said that both myself and my wife would be delighted to sit at the back of an English pub talking about football and Nietszche and the decline in moral standards.

The agent called about ten minutes later and asked if we could go for an audition that afternoon. I thought, uh-oh. I’m not good with no notice. I generally need a good few days warning of anything. It’s all part of my condition, the one that includes sullenness, mood swings and a complete inability to talk to strangers, or even people who aren’t that strange. (TPCKAM claims that I don’t have a condition and that I’m just miserable.)

I said no to the instant notice, and she said that was ok, and how about next week some time, and I said that yes, that would be fine, and was able to forget about it for a while. She then called back an hour later and asked if we could audition the following day. That still wasn’t nearly enough notice, but I thought, well, TPCKAM is keen and we might miss the chance to get paid for sitting at the back of a pub on a tv set talking about Wittgenstein and Tom Brady’s knee and the night that Meadowbank Thistle beat Raith Rovers 6-0 after it had been 0-0 at half time. (We talk about that a lot.) The agent seemed pleased and said she would e-mail directions to the casting director’s place along with an outline of what we’d have to do. I still really hadn’t cottoned on the the true horror of what was coming.

The e-mail came in on Friday evening. The whole thing was going fast; too fast. And this was an e-mail with an attachment. Two pages of script. We had to learn the Mr Brown character...

I was thinking, hang on a second, I thought I would be sitting in the back of a pub talking about Adam Smith and the Maginot Line and the Visigoth defeat of the Roman army. But then, looking back over the day and all my exchanges with the acting agent, I realised that I had come to that conclusion myself, drawing on assumption, supposition and conjecture. They weren’t looking for people to sit in the back of pubs talking about life; they were looking for ACTORS.

I immediately plunged into a sullen mood, born of panic, desperation and discomfort. TPCKAM immediately went to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and started practicing being Brian Blessed. (They didn’t have a female part to hand - which seems odd, even to this day - so TPCKAM would also reading the Mr Brown part.)

Now, if Mr Brown had been a guy who sat in a pub talking about rendition, and the formulaic nature of romantic comedies and the new Star Trek movie, or if he’d been a guy who shouted at his kids every morning before school, then there’s an outside chance I would have been fine. However, the character of Mr Brown was a government lawyer who said things like: In the United Kingdom it is the law that such discriminative arguments alone may not be used to reject anyone’s job application. Please be warned, that this complaint will be processed.

I spent the next sixteen hours trying to learn the lines. Apart from the fact that actors need to act, there are two other aspects of acting that are crucial. 1. An ability to learn lines. 2. If you’re not so hot at learning lines, an ability to verbally improvise comes in handy.

Well, I proved to myself that my line-learning ability is tragic. I can’t learn lines, not at sixteen hours notice anyway. And I never for a second thought that I would have any competence at the other thing.

We arrived at the casting studio on a warm, late spring afternoon. The birds were singing melancholic etc etc. TPCKAM was quite excited by the whole thing, I had descended into a dark brooding mood, that might have been ok if I’d been auditioning for the part of one of the grumpy old men in the Muppets. We had the kids with us, because we couldn’t think what else we could do with them.

We sat in front of a camera and some very bright lights and played our parts. We did the scene as a two-hander. I was terrible beyond words. Can’t act, can’t remember lines, can’t improvise. I sat there thinking, I was supposed to be sitting at the back of a pub drinking cider and talking about football... There aren’t words in the English language for just how much I couldn’t do this. TPCKAM, on the other hand, was a lot more accomplished. She forever claims to be wasted in government service, and that she should be on the stage. She had a decent stab at giving some depth and feeling to the Mr Brown character, but sadly she was dragged down by me. I probably killed it for both of us. If I had been auditioning with my old drinking buddy Bobby De Niro, I would have blown it for him, I was that tragic.

(See how I just threw in that line about being drinking buddies with Robert De Niro... That’s not actually true.)

The kids were supposed to be sitting quietly in the back, but they kept giggling every time I forgot a line and said shit very loudly. And then, eventually, after about fifteen of the most tragic acting minutes every committed to film - coming to a YouTube video near you - the casting director suddenly claimed to have run out of film and brought the whole sorry business to an end.

I disintegrated into a pile of gelatinous mush with relief. I felt bad for TPCKAM. I had ruined her chance at worldwide fame and stardom. We left, we went home, we drank large amounts of wine. Finally, I relaxed, my mood returned to normal, (albeit that’s not exactly great), and I was able to forget about this whole acting shambles.

The agent called later that night. I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone, so I passed it over to TPCKAM. They were on the phone for a while, TPCKAM was laughing and obviously have a nice chat. She returned several minutes later to say that the casting director had told the agent that we were fine, and that he would be sending the film over to the show’s director for him to match up with specific roles...

No, no, no, no, no, no... What were they thinking? No. Just no! Suddenly, as if I was in a Hitchcock movie, the world started to spin out of control and I began the descent into complete madness...

Barney Thomson Report

This week I wrote a short story to enter in the UK Short Story competition. First prize £15,000. Barney’s not in it, I just mention it here because it’s one reason why I didn’t do as much Barney work as intended. Should I not win the short story competition (first prize £15,000), I’ll put the story up on the website. There are no jokes, but someone does get murdered...

This week’s report. Changes in red.

Proof read Book number 2: complete
Re-write Book number 3: not done. (Not even started)
Proof read numbers 4,5 & 6: not even started
Start final draft of number 7: not even started.
Speak to bank about massive corporate financing package to relaunch the series: not done
Launch Barney Series as ebooks: made first contact with ebook distribution company

Strange Case Update

The mastered version of the songs from Strange Case’s debut album are being delivered today. Ten of the twelve songs from the album have now been posted on the MySpace page. Take a listen. Affected is going to be the annoyingly catchy hit of the summer. You’ll come to hate this song, you’ll hear it so much, but for the moment just enjoy it. It’s got kind of Fairground Attraction’s Perfect vibe to it. You can tell from the song’s natural jouisance and bounce that I didn’t write it. It belongs to the other half of the band, Richard. I wrote the ones about how moral standards are declining and how awful the government is, that kind of thing.

In a few weeks, the album will be officially released. Then, of course, rather than hearing the music for free, which you can do now, we’ll ask you to pay for it.

I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to work...

Sandy Lyle Watch

It’s nice that since I started the Sandy Lyle Watch, that Sandy has hardly played. I thought that maybe after his relative success at the Masters, he might have been looking for a tournament or two. He is playing this week, however, in the Regions Charity Classic in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s a tournament for Old Men. Next week is the US Old Man’s Open, one of the few Old Men’s tournaments where there’s a cut. Sandy missed it last year.

Sandy’s world ranking this morning is 615. Last week it was 752. That's a jump of one hundred and thirty-seven places without hitting a ball. If he kept on not playing, at this rate he would be world number one in five weeks.

It probably won't work like that.

20 Reasons Why The Last Fish Supper is A Better Book Than The Da Vinci Code

# 3 A friend of ours called Tim once told us a story about spending the night in his parent’s old house Somewhere in England.

The place was a bit creepy. The parents weren’t there at the time, and although Tim was alone in the house he knew his brothers were around and were due back at some point. In the middle of the night he was awoken by the sound of someone padding along to the bathroom, then flushing the toilet. He fell back to sleep, knowing that one of his brothers was back.

The next morning he got up, went down for breakfast. As he was sitting there tucking into his porridge and coffee, in walk his brothers. ‘You were up early,’ he says casually. ‘That’s us just back,’ say the brothers, with no hint of disingenuousness. The hairs began to rise on the back of Tim’s neck... And the brothers weren’t lying. Tim had spent the night alone in the house, and yet someone else had used the toilet.

Imagine. A ghost, Somewhere in England, trapped for all time needing to pee.

This ghost is in The Last Fish Supper. And he’s not in the Da Vinci Code.

Follow this link to buy the most entertaining Holy Grail novel this millennium.

Next week, Reason #4...