Not much sun-bathing time ahead, as I begin a schedule of long-lead interviews for the Erebus book (which, incidentally, is looking very nice indeed, ) due for publication on September 20th. As the two North Korea shows for Channel Five are edited together I’ll be commentary recording and doing general publicity for those as well (transmission dates not yet finalised).
Then there are appearances at the Ledbury Poetry Festival on the 3rd July, reading Adrian Mitchell’s very funny, very angry, and occasionally very rude poems, The Idler Festival on the 14th July at Fenton House in Hampstead, and on the 28th two shows at The Great Yorkshire Fringe in York.
After a year or more reading, writing and researching the book it feels good to be getting away from the desk. Yesterday we filmed and recorded some promotional material for Erebus at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. A perfect afternoon of unblinking sunshine hopping from one side of the Greenwich Meridian to the other.
I see that the head of Comedy at the BBC has assured the world that he would not commission anything like Monty Python again. This is evidently nothing to do with the fact that we were dreadfully unfunny and wisely avoided by anyone with a sense of humour, but that, after careful analysis of photographs of the team, we have been found to have white skin colour and worse still, to have gone to two of the most useless universities in the world, Oxford and Cambridge. We can only plead guilty and apologise to the BBC for blatantly disregarding the fact that there is nothing funny at all about white skin pigment and a good education. We were lucky to get away with it for as long as we did.
Talking of Python, I do still go and visit my friend Terry J. Last time we walked up to the pub together. The symptoms of his dementia will not miraculously disappear, but I continue to go and see him because there is a real glimpse of the old Terry there. He says very little, but I feel that we make contact still. There’s a lot there in his eyes, and he smiles and takes my hand, and that’s worth the visit any day. And he’s still walking miles each day. He’s looked after very well – if his carers can keep up with him!
The Last Lap
As anyone whose ever had to write a book to a deadline will know, the closer it gets to that deadline the more reasons you find to make coffee, check your email, catch up on the last 15 minutes of that irresistible podcast, stare out of the window, or if you’re feeling really energetic, go to sleep. I’ve been fighting these psychological battles rather a lot recently, but thanks largely to the grumpy weather, I’ve never been tempted to stray far from my desktop, and I can report that after eight months of concentration, my book is just about complete.
It’s to be called Erebus The Story of a Ship and it’s my first foray into historical non-fiction. I think the reason I’ve been able to complete it at all is because I have grown more and more fascinated by the story. The more detail you unearth, the more you realise what exciting times those were in the 1840’s, when crews crowded onto small ships to explore the Great Unknown.
The story is about facing the unknown, and Erebus did that not once but twice. Her Antarctic journey was a triumph. Her Arctic journey was a disaster. And three and a half years ago, she turns up again, in pretty good shape, on the seabed in the Canadian Arctic. All the elements for a great tale. I cross my fingers that the eight months writing has not been wasted. I have a terrific editor who is helping me whip it into final shape, so as spring struggles through and our resident flock of house sparrows perform gymnastic mating feats outside my window, I’m feeling in upbeat mood. Watch this space!
The Death of Stalin is out there in the wider world, except if you’re in Russia, where it remains banned. The opening figures in the USA are promising, though I felt a bit like one of Stalin’s victims when I found they’d removed my face from the US poster. Still, maybe it’ll make it easier for me to get a Russian visa!
Hope you’re all well out there. Please keep in touch.
Erebus Sails on into the New Year
Shocked to see that my most recent post was in mid-October. Where has the time gone ? Well, it’s been mostly used up sitting in front of my desktop waiting for words of genius and brilliance to materialise on the screen in front of me. And waiting, and waiting. This writing books thing is unspectacular and very un-visual but, as they say, someone’s got to do it.
The good news is that I passed the halfway point on my Erebus book in early December and my editor has seen it and is still talking to me, which has spurred me on to return to the keyboard and finish the thing. I’m enjoying it. Especially the glass of wine with which I reward myself at the end of each day’s scribbling. Unlike a novel, which is all in your head, the story of the adventures of Erebus in the Polar wastes is in library archives and learned books, and digging out the facts is time-consuming, and seemingly endless. But very rewarding and often exciting.
The exhibition Death In The Ice, just finishing at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, has remarkable video footage of marine archaeologists exploring the sunken wreck of the Erebus, discovered in 2014, 30 feet below the surface of the Arctic waters, and I was lucky enough to meet and share a lunch with Ryan Harris, the leading diver and the first man to see Erebus for 170 years. Every now and then I do have to gasp with wonder, which I hope will transfer to the page ! All being well, it’s still on course for publication in September 2018.
I took a few days off in early December to accept an invitation to a literary festival at Viseu in Portugal. It’s a small but attractive old town about two hours drive from Porto (now there’s a place worth visiting. Rising steeply from the river and delightful to explore). Viseu endeared itself to me for two reasons. One is that the full title of their event was the Festival of Literature and Wine, and perhaps more importantly, because its football team are called the Academicals. Hamilton Academicals – you have a Portuguese rival! If only they could be drawn together in some European competition!
I’ve one of those “Life On Screen” things coming up – on Sunday night Jan 7th, BBC2 – which reminds me of how old I am and how much I’ve done and how I would like to do it all over again. Hope you’ll enjoy it.
Now, back to the book. Happy New Year to you all.