Writing Under Pressure | Pushing the Wave

Writing Under Pressure

Writing, 18 February 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Stamford from the Meadows
Stamford from the Meadows
Over the past couple of weeks, we have been visiting family and friends. While that has been wonderful, I have not been able to entirely switch off from work, even though I have slowed down a little.

The consequence is that I have had to write and deliver projects on the road, away from my normal office set-up. That can be a blessing, as you are not surrounded by the trappings of daily life, and so can focus on the essentials rather than getting distracted all the time.

On the other hand, I am working on an iPad with a small notebook, rather than on my desktop computer with my large format Filofax diary. The result is that I am not able to do everything I would do normally.

The other potential issue is that of the working environment. At home, I have a proper desk, and work standing up, with everything tailored to my needs. I can also shut the door when I need some peace and quiet, whether for a call or merely to help arrange my thoughts around a rather tricky topic.

At other people’s houses, I am reliant on them giving me a space to work, which is not always easy, and certainly there is no guarantee that I will not be disturbed, if not by my hosts then by their children.

But a real writer, surely, can shrug off most distractions, and indeed must if he or she is to consider themselves a professional.

When I report from conferences, usually in a venue tucked away in a corner of a foreign city, the provision for me to be able to do my job is so varied that I have come to expect the unexpected.

Sometimes I have the luxury of a relatively quiet press room, with good wifi, half decent chairs and tea and coffee on tap. But most of the time I am left to fend for myself, occasionally forced to write my copy while balancing my iPad on my lap and blocking out the din of thousands of delegates as they move from lecture hall to refreshment spot, and back again.

But that’s all part of the job. I think it was the redoubtable journalist Paul Johnson who said that a true writer should be able to have his or her desk in the middle of a roundabout (or other some such roadworthy example) and still file their copy. It is the ability to block out extraneous noise and focus on producing line after line of decent prose that is fundamental, and it is a skill that we all have to learn.

Occasionally it amazes me how much I have been able to enter ‘the tunnel’, as I call it, and emerge perhaps an hour later to find that I have missed an entire symphony that was playing in the background, the banging of a neighbour renovating a nearby apartment and several conversations, some or all of which required my input.

It is the reason, I suppose, why I have produced so many articles, maybe more than 17,000 of varying lengths and importance, over the years, as well as many short stories, several books, everything on this site, and many more pieces that have yet to see the light of day. And all that as well the rest of my professional and personal life.

I have thought about that aspect of my work many times over the past few days, as we have upped sticks and gone to yet another house, and I have had to switch my mind into reporter- or producer-mode in an instant, grabbing whatever time slot is available so I can still meet my deadlines, while spending as much quality time with my hosts as possible.

It is lucky that they are all both: a) understanding; and b) patient. It can be stressful for me to try to juggle so many plates, but the alternative is that I don’t see my friends and family for another six months. And that, frankly, won’t do.
A joy of travel apart from the thrill of seeing new places is, of course, the warm, cosy pleasure that we experience when we come home.

Home, for me, was always a rather nebulous term, however, not identified with a particular place or town, but rather an idea.

I always felt most at home when I was surrounded by my books and my music collection, wherever they may be, as they served as a sort of mirror for the different facets of my character, as well as the myriad experiences that led to their acquisition.

I imagine that that rootless sense of home came about because we moved around a lot as a family. Before I was 11, I attended five different schools and we lived in numerous houses, largely dotted around the Lincolnshire area. When I left home, the peripatetic lifestyle continued, with my eighteen years in London spent in almost as many addresses. I think that there was not one flat in which I lived more than two years, some as few as three months.

But there is a place that has felt more and more like home as the years have passed. It is not just because I seem to have circled around it for most of my adult life, sometimes living there, sometimes simply visiting, but also because it chimes with me. It is both the architecture and layout of the town, which is extremely appealing, and the people, who are friendly and laidback, unfussy and quietly industrious.

Stamford was once deemed the best place to live in the UK, when everything was put together, but that was not a source of pride to its inhabitants. You see, they already knew that. In fact, the title was viewed with horror: they didn’t want the secret to get out and spoil the place.

For now at least, it remains a hidden gem, and I hope that may long continue.
I watched a film recently that I hadn’t remembered seeing before.

There is a vague memory rolling around my mind of me having watched The Wolf of Wall Street on a plane, rather than in a home environment. But on which journey, I have no idea.

No matter, I realised why I had forgotten about it. It is brilliant in places, and has Scorsese’s characteristic flair and wit. Leonardo do Caprio is so fabulous in it that one can easily forget that he is acting at all, despite the extremes to which his character goes.

But it is, in some ways, a genre piece, conforming to a set of ideas and tropes that have been turned over several times. Wall Street, with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, wasn’t the first film to explore the idea of excess in moneyland, but it perhaps crystallised a way of looking at that topic that has remained a template ever since, a template that Scorsese rather blindly follows.

There are also the ever-present niggles with Scorsese that slightly hamper all of his later work, which seem to stem from an inability to let the audience do some of the guesswork for themselves. In this film, it is being able to hear the characters’ thoughts. It is always clunky and never necessary. Why can’t the actors just act and we read their expressions?

But I am nitpicking in the way I always do when something approaches, but doesn’t quite achieve, greatness. I am always left with the feeling that Scorsese has a film in him that’s as good as The Godfather, but he never manages it. I think it may because the supporting characters are not well enough delineated, or because he can’t stop himself indulging in old school Hollywood trickery.

Whatever it is, it remains a very good film, just not entirely memorable.
This week, I added another recipe to the site: French Mushroom and Tomato Pasta. Once again created to order, it was my attempt to meld a lovely Italian saucy base with a more French way of cooking mushrooms, and giving each their distinct character.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Writing Under Pressure | Pushing the Wave