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June 10, 2011 10:03 pm

The Diary: Lucy Prebble

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This week and for what seems like ever more I am on a deadline writing my new play for Headlong Theatre. This means that officially I do nothing but write, but of course that means I do everything but write. I just feel too guilty to enjoy any of it. Here is some of my procrastination.

I read Anya Reiss’s new play The Acid Test , which is a witty, impressive piece of work running Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre. Reiss is a really good writer and I’ve been following the press coverage of her work, which I found depressingly focused on age (she is 19). Although gender in writing can elicit the sort of facile debate that flourishes when fingers on a keyboard meet bitterness between the legs, it is age (or rather, youth) that I think most worryingly defines coverage of certain writers. Unfairly so, since often their work is what’s interesting about them. We seem to value talent more when it comes from someone young, but why? We’re in awe of a small boy on Britain’s Got Talent because he can sing as well as a slightly older, equally talented boy. To be good when you’re young shouldn’t be perceived as incredible.

To be good when your knees ache, you’ve got children and grandchildren pestering you and the world is so familiar that you wish it would tip off its axis and career madly towards the sun – now that’s worthy of respect.

Youth may be wasted on the young (and only the young would have the temerity to complain about it!) but there is an odd imprisonment this celebration of an author’s age casts over its subject. I remember a critic saying of me a few years ago: “Her play Enron is good. But what’s really amazing is that she’s only 28!” It was a lovely thing to hear, of course. But the needling, neurotic part of me immediately wondered, “Oh God, is that what’s amazing? Being 28? Cos I only have that for three more months!” Youth is a cruel thing to praise an artist for. It is the one thing they can take no credit for and know they are destined to lose.

. . .

The play I am writing deals with the brain and with memory. I was fascinated to discover this week that the way we remember things does not work as I had supposed. I had lazily assumed that memory worked like a sort of muscle, that the more you used it, the better the recollection of a memory would be. The familiar image of a file in a cabinet that the brain locates, blows the dust off, and then recounts, is far from the truth. Apparently, the more we remember an event, the less and less accurate it becomes. We all know what it is to wish we had said something that we didn’t think of at the time. But in the act of remembering we quite often believe that we did. We change the words, we change the outfits, we may even alter who was there. And the more we relish that memory – that meeting, that holiday, that kiss – the further and further it gets from what actually happened. This makes a great deal of sense to me; this notion that a memory is not a dusty file in an old filing cabinet to be preserved and relived in all its tattered accuracy. No, every time we remember something it is created anew. And this helps me answer that slippery question that writers are often faced with: “Where do you get your ideas from?” Well, it always felt a naughty admission to suggest it was from my memory. Both lazy and indiscreet. But the truth is it does sort of operate that way. If I want to write a scene I do recall something that happened to me somewhere with someone. Then I rub out the somewhere and replace it with somewhere else. Then I rub out the someone and replace it with someone else. And then I have something different happen. Creativity is just where memory meets taste.

. . .

This week I have been playing a PlayStation 3 game called LA Noire a lot. It’s a high-profile adventure game set in LA where you go round solving murders of starlets in the 1940s. I have to admit I’ve found it a little disappointing, but I’m loath to admit that because I really want the games industry to continue developing games like it, rather than the more lucrative, adolescent shooting games (some of which are still very good, just a bit repetitive).

I wait so patiently and passionately for the defining video game to come out that reveals gamers aren’t the lonely, procrastinating losers we clearly are, but creative visionaries camping on the front line of the next great artistic medium.

Though I wish more women and older people would embrace games, I really only want that so that the companies will cater for a larger market and produce more and better games; it’s a selfish whim. But maybe the role of the gamer is to be a little on the outside. At its best it’s a solitary, imaginative comfort, like writing. I sort of relish the nerdish hours I spent playing games growing up. Even now, on that rare, rare occasion I meet someone who also spent their spotty youth alone completing Zork, The Secret of Monkey Island or the original SimCity I want to hug them and say, “We were right though, weren’t we? Look at LA Noire. We were right ...?”

. . .

I watched the film Blue Valentine , which has recently come out on Blu-ray. It is my second viewing and yet I cried as much as I did the first – throughout. It is an astonishing, quite brilliant film with the simple conceit of telling the story of a couple by intercutting their meeting with their separating. It says what it says about the heart with such honesty and clarity that I cannot bear it when it is over.

I immediately put it on again, like a child would with a Disney film. I could not bear for it not to be on. I wandered the house, teary, wondering if I was truly moved or just putting off writing. No, I say, that is perhaps one of the best films of all time. My sterner side disagrees: “Come on, it’s not The Godfather, is it?” Then I decide the only way to remember if The Godfather was really that good is to re-watch it.

This is certainly beginning to seem like procrastination. I search shelves for The Godfather. I watch it. Then I listen to a Radio 5 Live phone-in about the distracting perils of working from home. I do not even enjoy the irony.

My computer shines at me across the room. A cursor blinking accusingly. I sigh. I go over. But wait! There’s an e-mail from the Financial Times, asking me to write something for their “Diary” feature! That is something I should do, I think. That would be a good warm-up for writing the play. Yes, I think. Then I will get back to it.

The writer hopes her next play, ‘The Effect’, will be staged next year (should she ever manage to finish it.)

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