Welcome to my Green Room!
My own Seomra Glas is my personal Desert Island ‘oasis of creativity’ that I get to live in every day of the year – today the weather is not so great, but it’s nice and warm inside. and there’s lots to occupy my mind!
Guests will be able to choose their own version of the Green Room, and choose what they’ll take into it. In fact, it’s not so daunting – there’ll be a lot of conversation and imbibing of favourite fluids and foods, while we set the world to rights in ‘Desert Island Discs‘ style. The Seomra Glas is part of our New Year overhaul and replaces Friday Night Fantasy with two new alternative formats (Rockin’ the Rainbow’s going to be hosted by Jano and/or Telly and more about interactive character roleplay), which will probably be more based on characters created by myself and the writer friends that drop by…
Here’s a sample of what you can expect here in the Seomra Glas!
Siân: Today I’m, welcoming, my alter-ego and literary mentor, Jan Hawke, to my little oasis of creativity!
Let’s get right down to some desert island wool-gathering, Jan! Can we take a quick peek at your disc selection for your self-imposed sabbatical, please?
Jan: Hi Siân! Thanks for having me over for this interesting exercise in personality-splitting!
Siân: Yes, it’s a little odd, but I think we can work our way through it! 😉
Jan: Sure we can – I’m the sensible one after all! OK – let’s make this short and sweet before you start your probing…
Music first I think, then films I love. So, I’ve got –
- Life on Mars by David Bowie
- Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
- Search for the Hero by M People
- China in Your Hand by T’Pau
- The Dream I Dreamed sung by Susan Boyle
And the films are – these were really hard to shortlist by the way…
- Some Like It Hot
- Hotel Rwanda
Siân: I can tell we’re going to have a fabulous discussion about all of those! Before we get onto that, I’m very curious about what you’ve chosen to take as your luxury item – that usually reveals a lot about you!
Jan: Toothpaste? Or, if that’s too basic, then a pre-stocked solar-powered fridge!
Siân: Weeeell… toothpaste is taking the castaway thing a leetle too far methinks! Interesting that you’re trying to sneak a lot more luxury items in with that fridge I believe? Chocolates and/or ice cream in there, perhaps…?
Jan: Well, the toothpaste is kind of vital to me – it’s the one thing that reliably wakes me up in the morning! Anyway, if this is a 5 star desert island retreat, then the fridge is a must. And, yes I’d have chocolate and ice cream, naturally. Also some nice quaffing wine and lager if there’s a generous weight allowance?
Siân: Erm – OK. I’ll let you take a biggish fridge-freezer with you. None of those huge American-style ones, though! There’s a limit to how many solar panels you can have on the island, you know!
Right! Let’s get on with the music you’ve chosen. I think I can guess what you’ve done with these!
Jan: You know me so well, Siân. This is kind of in chronological order because Bowie was my first proper rock idol crush. I was too young to have been following him with his early work, and I only found him during his Ziggy Stardust phase when Starman burst on the scene. ‘Life on Mars’ was my absolute favourite from that incarnation. The video says it all about the cult concepts he was so great at.
I got into his earlier stuff afterwards and Hunky Dory is probably my favourite album of his from his real heyday.
Siân: You saw him in concert too, I believe?
Jan: Yes – at Milton Keynes Bowl for the Serious Moonlight Tour, and then at the old Wembley Stadium for The Glass Spider tour. He was really great live, both concerts were beautifully staged and presented – he was a good actor as well of course, so he always put on a brilliant show!
Siân: Then you’ve got your other great glam-rock love affair with Queen
Jan: Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor were absolute minor deities of mine! *Laughs*. I’ve gone for the obvious one for Queen of course, but really there’s so many brilliant songs of theirs – I love all their work.
I purposefully chose the Wayne’s World interpretation of ‘Bo Rhap’ because I love how it shows why it’s saturated so deeply into headbanger culture, even though it’s a borderline send-up. It has to be phenomenal, to have become an almost reverential comic reference. The song and the video were ground-breaking for all kinds of reasons, but for me, it’s the quirky juxtaposition of putting an operatic theme into such a great rock setting – the guitar instrumental is just perfection. I love it to death!
Siân: *drily* And you sneaked another movie in there on the sly, as well of course!
Jan: Oh – that wasn’t my intention – honestly!
Siân: Anyway – onwards in time for your next two pieces?
Jan: You’re right there. These two I played a lot on CD in my car when I was in the final year of a Graphic Design degree at Camberwell College. So, this was in my late thirties – during 1997.
With preparing for graduation and the end of course exhibition, I was drawing heavily on my creativity and aspirations, and both of these seems to fit in the way my mind was casting around and searching for a turn in my career path. It was also around the time that my mental life was very shaky, and I’d been going through a series of mini ‘walking’ breakdowns, trying to put some meaning back into my life.
They’re similar in a way, in that they’re about looking for heroes and the fulfilment of dreams – plus there’s brilliant saxophone segments on both…
Siân: I like that you chose a version of China in Your Hand with the lyrics – that’s a very powerful statement on the fragility of wishes and dreams.
Jan: You can infer a lot about my mental state in that one, yes. This last song as well, because it always moves me deeply, especially when it’s sung by someone who truly brings out the pain.
I chose the Susan Boyle audition version of this, mainly because it shook the judges up so much! I generally have a big aversion to talent shows, but there was so much online media buzz over this, I just had to watch it. I’ve seen Les Miz on the stage and own the 25-year live anniversary show on DVD and, quite honestly, this is the best version of the song I’ve heard, simply because it came from such an inauspicious source. Despite the lack of style (those falling petticoat straps and the horrible black tights with the beige shoes…) the passion and grace are so wonderful. It reaches into the wells of the soul, even, or maybe because, this is sung by such a plain and very workaday lady going for the big time, in pursuit of what seemed such a ludicrous dream of her own.
Siân: She’s got an amazing voice that’s for sure. Perfect for that song.
Now, turning to your movie choices – these are more ‘gut’ choices for you? Not so tied to events in your life?
Jan: Yes, I suppose it’s fair to say that.
I do like a good comedy and if that involves some sympathetic cross-dressing, then all the better. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are just totally stellar, and the movie also bears out a long-held theory of mine… Namely, that great-looking men look awful in drag, and that plainer ones make more convincing women! 😀 This illicit cocktail party scene is just wonderful! The whole film’s choc-a-bloc with great scenes though.
Marilyn Monroe’s talent for comedy is also very pleasing in this. She was always caste to stereotype of course, but this really brought out her personal vulnerability, so in this, her appeal to women is almost more pronounced than it was for men.
Siân: It really does echo out her personal life, warts and all. Tony Curtis looks pretty good in glasses as well!
Now Avatar would have been more of a visual highlight for you, I think?
Jan: Visually it’s stunning of course. This short documentary teaser shows off the astonishing depth of the cinematography. Totally awesome environments from start to finish.
I also liked the concept of the avatar providing a physical and intellectual escape route for wheelchair-bound Jake. The cultural development of the Na’vi and their symbionts is also compelling and believable – and it all looks so beautifully exotic and alien of course. My favourite things were the floating mountains and the little luminescent wood-sprites – just breath-taking!
Siân: And finally we come to Hotel Rwanda – this started out as research for your first novel, Milele Safari.
Jan: Yes, that’s how it started out for me. I’d done most of the research using news reportage, but that doesn’t go far enough in getting across the awful barbarity and terrible, dehumanising atrocities of genocide and war crimes, no matter where they happen.
This excerpt just stunned me with it’s raw, obliterating profundity: with the sexual degradation of the Tutsi women; the sheer scale of the slaughter; but most of all, the sensory and emotional tightrope walked by the people living through the obscenities. There were no survivors through that time. Nobody came out unscathed.
Sian: Grisly stuff indeed – I can see how you wanted to get under the skin of whole period. Is that where you got the idea of contrasting your two Zyandan characters, Verity, whose family was wiped out, and David, her son’s best friend, who gets caught up with the killers?
Jan: It was a question of finding a perspective that could be feasible at an ordinary, everyday level. Both Verity and David are partly based on an interview I read in the BBC archives about two neighbours, an ‘ordinary’ Hutu war criminal and a Tutsi who survived a church massacre, but was brain-damaged. They came back into contact when the prisoners had to be released back into their communities because the country was falling apart for lack of able-bodied workers.
It was the mental gymnastics arising from that rehabilitation programme that fascinated me. Also the PTSD aspects – how do people who’ve been through all that go back to a normal life? I wanted to get across the basic human devastation, not to assign blame, no matter which ‘side’ you were on.
Siân: It’s certainly a thought-provoking book and not easily absorbed. You call it a ‘marmite’ book.
Jan: Yep – you either love it or hate it. No in-betweens – I’ve been very pleased that there’s been so many positive reviews for it. Most people seem to ‘get’ the multiple viewpoints. Also, it’s not just about the genocide of course. Africa is such a kaleidoscope of sensations and cultures – and I love it.
Siân: I’m looking at the word count and, regrettably, it’s time for us to bow out. Thanks so much Jan for agreeing to be our guinea pig guest for the Seomra Glas!
Jan: Well, Sian – I could hardly refuse now, could I! 😉
Normally we’ll also have a chat about the books that our guests want with them on their desert island retreat – you can find out all about Jan’s on her own blog! 😉