The Early Bird

The red kites are out in force this morning. I got a good view of one just now as it careened over the bus and then pulled away towards a field, its rusty underbelly flashing, almost close enough to see the individual feathers. They’re an astonishingly good example of species rehabilitation – read about them here

Look! I got to sit in front this morning!

Whether or not I’m getting my own worm (or carrion, or baby rabbit, more probably, in the case of the kite) remains to be seen. I’ve been going into London early every day for so many days now I can’t even keep track of them anymore. There was an exception on Sunday night, when I stayed with a lovely mezzo friend near Waterloo for an early start the next morning after a 9pm finish on Sunday, but the other days have been a little hard. It’s amazing how travelling for five hours a day renders you barely capable of making dinner and maybe doing laundry when you get home. But not much else. I’ve started to understand the true horror of commuting, though I’ve only been taking the 7.40 bus every morning. If you have to be at work in London at 9.00, you’re on the 6.00 or 6.30 bus from Oxford, no exceptions, and you sit in traffic for Many Hours. 

There are fun things to do on commutes, though, and following the London Book Fair on Twitter in the mornings is one of them. I have two Twitter handles (public ones, anyway): one “writer” and one “singer”, and it’s refreshing to be able to curate incoming content based on what I want to read about. Don’t knock Twitter; among its many virtues (not least of which is that it isn’t Facenook), it allows you to inhabit different spheres and absorb whatever collection of information you want. I love this: I can catch up on what’s in The Bookseller  and who’s been hired as a new agent at DKW, and be a writer for the morning before I plunge into rehearsals. 

The rehearsals, if you were wondering, are for a tour of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the 1610 Vespers by the same composer. We fly to the US on Friday morning, which will give me a chance to see much-missed relatives and indulge in the single foodstuff whose absence in British life truly haunts me: breakfast sausage. I might even get its close cousin, biscuits and gravy, as we’ll be in Chapel Hill, NC at the beginning of the tour. 

I don’t talk about work online much, for Reasons, but I will say that the Orfeo part of this project has been a good chance to do a hefty amount of writing. Attention is a funny thing. I’ve been sitting in rehearsals where, 90% of the time, I haven’t been singing. I’m doing a small role and am second cover for two others, so I give my full and intense attention to the sopranos who are rehearsing those roles, but when there are seemingly dozens of tenors rehearsing for (seemingly) hours at a time, I begin to flag, and I feel incredibly unproductive just sitting there with my “mm, that ornament was different than the other guy’s” face on. I can’t learn music because there’s other music going on right in front of me, and I can’t openly read a book — there are rudeness limits. But I can work on Chapter 2 of the novel, whose tentative title is Magician’s Geometry. Scribbling in a notebook on my lap is unobtrusive, right? When my options for achievable goals are limited in such a specific way during rehearsals, it makes it surprisingly easy to just sit and write for a couple of hours, and I’ve made more progress on this chapter, more quickly, than I thought was possible. I’m going to try to have a rough draft done by Sunday to send to my mentor. There’s also the delicious spectre of the York Festival of Writing in September, and I want to have a good draft done by then so that I can give the first three chapters to agents ahead of the one-on-ones. 

But back to the present. Another problem/treat of being in rehearsals all day is the Foyles bookshop in Waterloo station. It’s just too easy… 


I know it’s an old trope, and every book lover has this problem, but my Shelf of Shame has now expanded into nearly an entire bookcase of Unread Things, and I still linger lustfully over the new releases section in Foyles — and end up buying four books in two days, one of which I bitterly regret: Amelia Freer’s Eat. Nourish. Glow. Its irritating title aside (the weird punctuation means you can’t put it at the beginning of a sentence), it promises a revolution in the way you think about food and nutritional self-care, and though I like a lot of the ideas in the book, the recipes are dull, the photographs are (mistakenly?) re-used on multiple pages and usually with no relation to the text, and the text itself… God help the copyeditor at Harper Thorsons, or whoever was tasked with making this thing cogent and presentable before it went to print. The book is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and so poorly written that it seems the text was plucked wholesale from a series of hastily-composed blog posts and stuck into the book, which was then rushed to print without being glanced at even once to check that it made sense. I’ve now had the singular experience of reading a freshly-purchased book on my commute home, only to immediately feel I should take it back to Foyles the next morning and ask for my money back. It’s awful. 


The other thing I bought that afternoon, though, was an utter delight: a tiny pamphlet by Lorrie Moore called How to Become a Writer. It’s an essay from a bigger collection, and has fulfilled its purpose in making me desperate to read more. See how I considerately avoided a pun there? 


Rather than go on about it, I’ll leave you to read it yourself (it takes about ten minutes at most, and is worth every one of the 199 pennies I paid for it). But let me say this: it’s gently satirical and impeccably written, with little twists of humour that make me uncomfortable because I’ve recognised myself, but make me snort with pleasure all the same. Highly recommended. 

And what do I take on bus journeys, when I have so much to read and so much guilt about it? The New Yorker. Though, to be fair, I’m also reading “Dear Committee Members” on my phone at the moment, and it’s glorious. We need more satire in this vein. 


And now, dear reader, I’m approaching Baker Street and must leave you. Here’s a picture of a red kite to improve your day. 


I’ve decided that they’re my temporary spirit animal. I’m pretty sure next month it’ll be a puffin, though. 




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