The reinvention test

“THE artistic director of the English National Opera is quitting,” I say, glancing up from the newspaper in my lap. The television is on and my wife is playing with her phone in that way she does. I am half-reading the lap-located newspaper in that way I do.

It is fair to say that the comings and goings of opera directors is not the normal stuff of conversation on the sofa of an evening. Man On Ledge doesn’t know a lot about opera. Years ago, there was a visit once to the ENO in Covent Garden to see Orpheus In The Underworld. The production was designed by the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. Other than that I don’t remember a lot, except that the can-can was in there somewhere.

I let my eyes skitter over the report. It seems John Berry might have jumped or might have been eased out. Either way something at the end catches my eye. “I am looking forward to spending the summer deciding on my next role,” Berry says.

This is the bit I read out to my wife. Until then she has been puzzled, clearly wondering why I am chuntering on about a departing opera director she’s never heard of. Then the penny drops and she says: “And is he also telling people that he is reinventing himself?”

Ah, yes. That is the line I have been using. Well, you have to say something, don’t you? On the TV series Masterchef, a great cause of time wasting in this house, the budding chefs have to do an invention test. Being made redundant a few weeks ago has left me facing the reinvention test.

How does a man go about reinventing himself or are those just words put out there as a screen to deflect the inevitable questions that squash there like flies on a summer road trip? This man is writing lots of words. That isn’t so much a reinvention as a renovation. Shuffling words around has always been what I’ve done, only now far more are being produced in the name of something or other. Keeping busy and keeping hopeful. A spot of freelance work is coming up this week, allowing me to step away from the ledge for a day or so.

The first draft of the thriller is almost there. Some days it is looking good; some days it isn’t. Further drafts and redrafts will follow, more words being shuffled around, added to and taken away. Somewhere in the middle of all that editing and scrawling and thinking there is a book, or so I hope, fingers crossed, although not while typing.

If you write words, you have to read as well. Writers should always read. Otherwise you’d be like a baker who only ever toiled over a hot oven and never got round to eating any baked goods. And it has to be other people’s baked goods, other people’s words. Other writers, other columnists, just to see how they knead those words.

Lately I have been re-reading Saul Bellow, the great American novelist and a hero of mine years ago. First up was the wonderful Humbolt’s Gift and now I have plunged back into The Adventures Of Augie March, Bellow’s picaresque outing from 1953, a great billowing novel packed with words. In the novel Bellow explores the immigrant Jewish avenues of his Chicago, as March is buffeted from catastrophe to catastrophe, woman to woman, while managing to live off his wits and good looks.

Years later, Bellow was asked what the book was about. “About 200 pages too long,” he replied.

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