speilberg

I’ve been reading Steven Spielberg: A Biography. Talk about 10,000 hours. He started making films at 10. And here’s why his names suits him so well:

‘The original roots of the Spielberg family may have been in Austria/Hungary, where some of his ancestors before immigrating to Russia may have lived in an area controlled by the Duke of Spielberg.  The Spielberg family name means ‘play mountain,’ a fittingly theatrical name for a playful adult who works in show business and ever since childhood has loved to build and film miniature mountains.

‘Play mountain’ appears as an essential plot device in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a film production company Steven Spielberg formed early on when he was a college student in Long Beach California was called ‘Playmount Productions.’

bill-murray
facebook-exchange-thumbs-down-hed-2016

facebook-exchange-thumbs-down-hed-2016

I don’t have shares in Stayfocusd but I wish I did. It’s a Chrome app. Here’s how they sell it. ‘StayFocusd increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.’

I downloaded it because I was addicted, mostly to Twitter and Facebook. I’d jump in first thing in the morning and before I knew it I was stuck to the newsfeed like chewing gum on a car seat. Here I was trying to write a treatment for a doco, or trying to finish a scene in a novel, but instead I chose to effectively work for Facebook and Twitter. For free. I was their slave – but I had shit to do.

Since downloading the Stayfocusd app, life is far cheerier, thank you very much. I have limited myself to ten minutes of social media per day. Sounds pathetic, right? Na, come on. It just means I need to get a hurry on. It’s a quick hit. Like getting served in the pub when you’re 15. In those ten minutes I can see all I need to see, check notifications and even upload a status.

Perhaps not this piece.

Most importantly, I get shit done. The app will tell me when I have 60 seconds left. There is no aimless wandering. It also tricks your brain into having to think of another sentence or thought over the typical reaction of heading to the URL bar and typing www.fac….

If you want to get really gnarly, turn the wifi off at the source. I know, crazy, right? I’ve told myself I’m only allowed another hit once I’ve reached 1000 words on whatever project I’m working on. No email, no web, cold turkey. Please note, this technique is not for the faint of heart, but trust me, make it through to the other side and the feeling is akin to that well-deserved first cold beer after mowing the lawns.

Damn, I’d love to devour those little red notifications right now but that bloody app won’t let me back in.

 

Pixar movie Up

The team at Pixar often spend years on a single script. This is heartening for any writer who has wondered whether their story carries any weight. Here are my top 5 picks from their 22 storytelling tips which I refer to when diving into a new plot for a children’s novel. Essential reading, I reckon.

#5: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#4: Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer.

#3: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#2: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#1: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Happy Monday.

Justin/

engelbert-humperdi-2624

Back in the day I used to be a stand-up comic. The love affair lasted seven years. I performed around my home country of New Zealand, in London, and Johannesburg when I was backing packing and ran out of money.

Talk to any comic and the topic of worst gigs always comes up. Mine? Engelbert Humperdink at The Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. It was so dire I wrote about it in my book UK on a G String.

Three of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do:

1. Do the opening act for Engelbert Humperdinck.
2. Sell my Mini even though I knew the lights weren’t working.
3. Door-to-door busk my way around the UK in the middle of winter.

THE FIRST HAPPENED on a cold night in Wellington, New Zealand. I had been asked to do 15 minutes of stand-up comedy before the great Engelbert came out on stage. This is my break, I thought. This is the big time. Just me and Engelbert. I’m even staying in the same hotel; only he’s on the eleventh floor and I’m on the first, looking at the back of a butcher’s shop.

But that doesn’t matter. I’ve got a mini bar and nice little chocolates on the bed, just like Engelbert. And I’ve got a room-service menu and Sky TV in my room, just like Engelbert.

Then the panic set in. All the material I normally use on stage is targeted at young, drunk people on a Thursday night. As I looked around the Michael Fowler Centre there wouldn’t have been a human under the age of 86; this was to be my downfall.

I was devastated when I found out they were sober.

Most were ladies with purple hair, their sons by their sides looking at me as if to say, ‘You’d better be funny and you better not offend my mum. I paid $80 for this ticket.’ After singing my first song, entitled ‘Kentucky Fried Kitten’, I could see that I had indeed offended his mum and most of the audience. I’m sure if they weren’t asleep the complaints desk would have been inundated.

Before the gig started I had great visions of Engelbert and me touring the country together, playing golf, drinking, and singing songs other than ‘Please Release Me’. Instead, I never met him. The next morning I was just glad to be alive. It was as if I had been thrown into the comedy equivalent of going over the top of the trenches. I lay in the bath, eating chocolates and watching ‘The Karate Kid’.

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[Englerbert Humperdink. Without the author. Who he never met. Nor played golf with.]

My sister used to have Magnum PI on her wall. I had Martin Crowe.

For years I watched New Zealand’s greatest batsman fascinate fan and opponent. I was 12 when I met Martin and his brother Jeff at the Basin Reserve. They were promoting their book ‘The Crowe Style.’ I drove with dad from our home in Raumati.

Seeing my sporting hero in the flesh was unforgettable. Even more so, Martin’s light pink Miami Vice-styled jacket. Sleeves rolled up. No one could mould him. No one would. It’s why we loved him.

marty25 years later my dream of bowling to Martin Crowe came true. Location: Indoor nets at Papatotoetoe Cricket Club during his attempted comeback. It was a highlights reel. I bowled pie after pie as the master repeatedly hooked me through mid-wicket. After all these years he still had it.

‘Come on, Brownie,’ he yelled. ‘Pitch it up!’

But he knew I was shit.

Fast forward a year and we shared this lunch on Ponsonby Road. Present: Pam Corkery, Tim Roxburgh, Martin and myself. We shared wine and talked a lot. Two ladies at the next table ordered a pizza the size of a wheel cover and barely touched it. ‘No, Pam!’ Martin laughed, knowing what was coming. ‘Don’t you dare. Pam, no.’

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Pam did not do as she was told. We got pizza. Martin buried his head in his hands and sighed.

During the Cricket World Cup I heard Martin speak many times. At Auckland Grammar for his book launch. A celebrity match at Clifton Cricket Club in Hawkes Bay. On our radio show. Each time he spoke he was lucid, insightful, gracious and funny. He knew time was short.

In the coming weeks there will be many things written about Martin: his sporting heroics, mentoring prowess and invention of T20 cricket. But I remember him differently. I remember him as someone who disproves the theory ‘Never meet your heroes.’

RIP, mate.

The shearing shed is quiet, dark and lifeless.

There is a faint whiff of sheep dung and human sweat. A few hours ago this wasn’t the case. Four men arrive at the office prepared for banter, repetition and savouries. Each begins a routine befit of a first-five about to kick a penalty.

Clive, a bear of a man with a whale of a belly, smiles a toothless grin and sharpens his blades. Thommo, born looking seventy, glances at the penned-up Merinos and pushes back his mop of grey hair. Stirling, surely the only shearer on the planet with such a regal handle, rummages through his bag and swaps new brown sneakers for well-worn moccasins. Randell, the gang’s raconteur and King Pin, asks how the fuck everyone is and isn’t it about time we got on with business.

The buzzing starts and stops only when the jug is boiled. Randell grabs his first victim as if it were he were a policeman breaking up a fight. The sheep struggles briefly, though realises his captive is a pro. Within minutes Randell is on the board. He flicks his counter and shoves the Merino outside, who scurries down the ramp with the conviction of a gorilla in a swimming pool.

Clive is not far behind, his first sheep now through his legs and free from blades and blood. No one is more grateful than Clive who, despite having arms like fence posts, looks no fitter for it. Once upright his routine begins: wipe face with towel, pull up trousers, whack counter with thumb, spit and wrangle new prey.

At smoko Clive tells us his sister puts tomato sauce on tomato sandwiches. Stirling used to shear in Scotland, don’t you know. The savouries are the first to go, followed by banana cake.

The wool classer tells everyone they’re behind schedule. No one seems bothered. No one likes the wool classer. People call him the Colonel behind his back.

Ricky the rousie sweeps around the men and flays their efforts, clean side down on the table. Randell tells Thommo he’s supposed to be shearing that thing, not rooting it. The clattering of hooves echo on the barn floor. Stirling finds the only Jaffa in the room. Surprised you’re not dead, he says. Doesn’t everyone get murdered up there? Been to Auckland, adds Clive. Went on the rollercoaster and McDonald’s in Manakau.

Randell uses his towel as a pillow against the shed wall. Sweat drips from noses.

Day done. The lack of buzzing is a blessing.

The shearing shed is quiet, dark and lifeless.

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12573959_991414104250694_7273918897820521226_n

It’s the age old question. Neil Gaiman says he finds his down the back of the garden in a box in a shed. I find if I cram my head with weird books, songs and conversation an idea will eventually arrive, often fully formed. [Tip: PANIC is never good, but not altogether bad as it forces you to think.]

This past Saturday I was about to go for a run. Instead I opted for a long, long walk. I was about to listen to my typical playlist: Bowie, The Arcs, Tony Allen. Instead I went for Mothership by Led Zepp, something I never listen to. I walked and walked, across Auckland’s new pink cycle bridge and through a cemetery. Sunlight hit the gravestones. ‘Black Dog’ burned my ears.

Ideas spilled out. 90 minutes later I had plot, character, title and all.

So. Switch up the norm. Amble inside that creepy shop. Drive a different route. Watch good movies. Watch shitty movies. Read that Norwegian thriller. Then relax. Empty your head. Fill it again. Repeat. Don’t force the issue. You’re a creative.

Your brain is ready. Give it a chance.

David_Bowie_-_ChangesOneBowie

David_Bowie_-_ChangesOneBowieMy daughter Sophie was 2 months old when my Ellerslie neighbour said, ‘Fuck it, let’s go to the Cake Tin and see Bowie’ On that night it rained so much the Manawatu was flooded for weeks after. Bowie was the only band member who stepped out into the storm and sang. ‘Thanks for coming out on such a shitty night you crazy mothers.’

We stood metres from the man with two different coloured eyes who was my soundtrack to growing up in Raumati South. I always wondered how I’d feel when one of my heroes (we could be) died – and it feels pretty shit.

Thank you Mr. Jones.

 

Graham-article

Graham-article

I last saw Graham at his second home, Brazier’s Books on Dominion Road in Auckland. I wanted to show my girls a real bookshop. Graham was at the counter, sitting down with his guitar. He asked if he could sing us his new song. We obliged. It was an honour to hear him sing. If you’ve heard Billy Bold you’ll know this guy can write a tune. He could also quote poetry by almost anyone. Did the store have a copy of Under the Mountain, I asked. He did, a first edition. He told my daughter to honour it and treasure it. Tis a Kiwi classic, he said. As he was. RIP Graham.