Where words are gifted to me

Words – written or spoken, whispered or sung – can take you to some fantastic place. Celebrating the lovely writing of Chris Difford.

“Writing takes me to my happy place.” This is Squeeze songwriter Chris Difford, from his memoir Some Fantastic Place, writing about losing himself in words, finding himself through writing. “I feel at home dissolving myself in the many issues of the day, and in my imagination.”

Difford.Chris_Sept2013

Some Fantastic Place is the loveliest book. I read it this week while off sick with a horrible December cold. Difford’s voice as a writer is warm, friendly, charming. He presents an honest picture of himself. He is flawed, but his true gentle and loving nature shines through. He can be entirely happy inside the little world in his head. Stepping out into the wider world brought him such adventures, all stemming from investing 50p in a shop window advert to find bandmates. His book is wildly entertaining, full of the maddest stories. My favourite is the chapter on Difford’s strangest gig. For a while he was employed by Bryan Ferry – in not inconsiderable luxury – to help with lyrics, file papers and ensure that Mr F’s pencils were all sharpened to the same length. You could not make this stuff up.*

Sudden absence of cliff

WileECoyote

For much of the book, the pace is frenetic. During Difford’s description of Squeeze’s imperial phase, names, places, songs, events and drinks tumble endlessly over and into one another. He boils down enough incident and insight for thousands of pages into a few dozen. It is not easy to write with such sustained pace. As a reader, it can be tough to keep up, unless you pay the closest attention to the frantic unwinding of his words. I realised that this is exactly what my wife says it is like talking to me sometimes. My thoughts get ahead of me. While my mind races off into the distance like Road Runner, my mouth is left conscious of the sudden absence of cliff beneath it like Wile E Coyote.

As Difford’s book unfolds, it becomes clear that the narrative’s impressionistic hyper-acceleration through this part of his life and career is down to drink. Alcohol addiction meant these years truly were a blur. Rehab and recovery bring beauty, clarity, calm and – well – just plain loveliness to Difford’s life and to his writing. Rebirth.

Creativity and hope

DiffordSketchbook

Leaving the bottle behind, his love of the written word intensifies further:

“I was in my happy place; the place where words are gifted to me. […] My notebooks were brimming with words, colours and ideas. Sobriety offered so much creativity and hope.”

 

Leaving the bottle behind, his love of the written word intensifies further:

“I was in my happy place; the place where words are gifted to me. […] My notebooks were brimming with words, colours and ideas. Sobriety offered so much creativity and hope.”

Throughout the book, words and the writing thereof are a character as important as any other. Difford writes beautifully about writing. He captures perfectly the art and the joy of putting one word after another in the best possible order:

“It’s the writing that I enjoy – it opens me up and hopefully reveals something new every time I put finger to keyboard. I find it’s writing that connects me to my higher power. I feel plugged in, sparked up and nourished if I manage to hook something great. It’s a hobby more than anything.”

I love this idea of writing taking you to another place, one that is surprising. It captures something vital about creativity.

Carry on regardless

Whilst in London for the day a few weeks back, I had a great chat with Mike Collins about creativity. Mr Collins has an enviable facility with the spoken word. He is a former rapper and battle MC, now an accomplished conference speaker and podcaster. We talked about self-doubt and impostor syndrome, and how it is best to let your creativity speak, without hindrance or commentary.

I told Mr Collins about how different forms of expression work for me. When I write, I can come closest to saying what I want to say.** When I draw, I feel like I have very little control over the results. The picture that I draw will have virtually no relation to what is in my mind. The spoken word is a different story again. I’ve always loved these words from Vladimir Nabokov’s Strong Opinions:

“I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.”

Everybody experiences self-doubt to a greater or lesser degree. The secret is often to carry on regardless. I appreciate that this can be more easily said than done. But it must be done. There is so much to look forward to in the doing.

Difford’s outlook on the future is optimistic:

“I’m not afraid of what might happen in the future now. I’m grateful for everything I have. I have nothing to complain about, no real regrets. Life, I’ve realised, is about belonging and having dreams you’d still like to realise. I do. I’m just not sure what they are yet.”

In 2019, I want to continue to write and draw. I can’t wait to see the surprising, fantastic places that words and pictures will take me. I also want to explore podcasting. I wrote last month:

“The medium of podcasting is like no other. Podcasting enables longform, intimate and insightful conversations on any and every topic under the sun.”

My friend Charlie Eastabrook and I are planning to start recording a podcast in the very near future. Charlie is a delight to listen to. I’m hoping that I might slowly become more comfortable with my voice. Last weekend, I invested in a micro starter podcast kit.*** I am excited to see where these words will lead.

What I look forward to most is the unique feeling that creativity and expression give you. Difford captures this better than I could ever hope to.

“I do enjoy it, though. The pinnacle of 2016 was to play at the legendary Glastonbury festival on the Pyramid stage, a peak experience that took me to another place, a place somewhat spiritual and free. It’s not like walking on air, it’s like being air itself.”

FOOTNOTE:

* I urge one and all to read Chris Difford’s Some Fantastic Place. But if you would like first to have a taster of the wonderful stories therein, his appearance on the Word In Your Ear podcast is a delight.

** But not that close. As beautiful as words can be, they can never capture everything. Flaubert writes in Madame Bovary:

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

*** If it’s of the slightest interest to you, here is said micro podcast starter kit:

IMAGES

  • Chris Difford #sketchulence by mjcarty.
  • Chris Difford photo via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Wile E Coyote picture via Google Image Search. I make no claim to the copyright for this image, and will delete it from this post immediately, if required.

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