Stiles and Drewe blog number 2

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Talking serious Zombie business over pea risotto

Day 1 (technically you could call it day 2, but since we only arrived in the late afternoon yesterday, I think we can reasonably regard everything up until this morning as “settling in” and thereby manage expectations).

But if yesterday was only a picturesque low-stakes introduction, today was the real thing.  I woke up quite early (I still haven’t quite adjusted to French time, not helped by the lack of mobile phone signal at our Gite  – and a lack of watch on my wrist – so it may have been 630 or 730) and felt I ought to try and achieve something immediately if at all possible.  I went into the garden and walked around purposefully in the early morning mist.  Nothing.  I sat down with my new green notebook on the green leatherette couch, with a couple of ideas for a lyric I had penned optimistically on the plane.  Nothing.

No matter. When Susanna woke up my muse would surely arrive yawning on her heels.  But no, Susie and I just yawned together and wondered where we’d left our brains.  By the time Ants arrived to pick us up on his return from the croissant run, we’d worked it out: our Gite, while well-appointed, as yet contained no coffee.

Back up at Ants’ house the coffee-shaped hole in our mornings was warmly filled (along with some fig-jam-shaped holes I hadn’t even been aware of) and the day began to dawn in earnest.  With the breakfast things cleared, we took out our fresh synopsis for a read-through.  George and Ants had only received this a day or two before and until that point the only ideas they’d had in writing were the synopsis and first draft from my original competition submission.  Since the new story and characters bore only the slenderest relation to the old, they understandably were a little unsure about the directions we had taken and we could see we were going to do some serious work to convince them of the merits of the new ideas.  We read the new plot-line taking it in turns to read a paragraph each and had much energetic discussion about it all.  One of the main sticking points was that we’d turned one of the main characters into an egregious poseur who (while offering comic opportunities in abundance) wasn’t really convincing our mentors in the way that Lovecraft’s original Herbert West had.  And nor was the chest of Ancient Tibetan magic scrolls he had acquired from somewhere.  One option was to re-cast this character as properly dark and dangerous, possessing real scientific knowledge and a woman.

After much discussion Susie and I decided to give ourselves a strictly limited hour to come up with a new story-line based around this newly conceived character, who at some point Ants had dubbed “Nicole Kidman.”

After an hour’s intense work (and a quick dip in the swimming pool) we presented our latest synopsis to George and Ants.  It was a version of the story with no more ancient magic, but instead a lot of cutting-edge technology which seemed to cunningly allow us to create classic human-flesh-eating zombies but by purely technologically explicable means.  Brilliant, I thought.  No need for magic or radiation or far-fetched viruses, I thought.

But another hour’s intense discussion made apparent that we might be opening more cans of worms than the Doctor of musical theatre would readily prescribe.

Soon after this, it became apparent that all of our brains had now melted and we needed a break.  We went into town to buy a few necessaries and George dropped us at our Gite where we tried valiantly to get enough phone signal to informed our loved ones of our continued (if questionable) existence.  We then poured ourselves two half-glasses of our Gite host’s redoubtable peach wine and began afresh. Hair was torn, patience was tested and circles were walked around in for another hour, after which we set off up the hill again.

This stiff walk was (I felt at the time at least) one of our most creative and productive yet.  We arrived at Ants place feeling a bit less stupid and a bit more hopeful – and ready for risotto.  As we sat down to eat I made noises about telling them the latest version of our story, but was wisely overruled by all present.  Instead we ate, drank and talked into the night.  The stars came out, we shared some of the utterly extraordinary stories of our friends, families (and indeed selves) and reflected on how much we all carry  – and let go of – in our long life journeys.

So where does this leave me and my great ambitions?  I must have written about 27 songs so far for this alleged Zombie Musical, of which about one (or maybe half) is potentially still included in this current (117th?) storyline.   Am I confused and frustrated?  Yes.  Do I remain hopeful? Yes.  Ants and George are wonderful mentors: sharp, probing, utterly generous and warm.  Susanna is a brilliant and unique sparring partner.  I am in the hands of these gifted and faithful human beings.  Eventually, it’s got to work.

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