“The title of this post was originally the ‘Top 10’ places I read, write and edit. But I realised it would be inaccurate because, I’m afraid, the one and only place I read ‘properly’ is in bed.
I suppose I should add that I will normally read in bed at least three times a day: once when I actually to bed at night: a second time at siesta time (my mum was Spanish so it comes naturally), and the third when I wake up in the middle of the night, have a cup of tea, and read before dropping back off to sleep. The middle-of-the night one is a real test of a book’s character as I will either read pages and pages (and stay awake until morning) or, if it badly written, drop off after a few paragraphs. I have just struggled through such a book by a well-known Professor of Middle Eastern Religions (who shall remain nameless in case I meet him.)
I get my fiction hit from films so I mainly read non-fiction, related to historical subjects. The only downside to reading in bed is that it can be restrictive. When a non-fiction book I’m reading has something that excites me or provides me with some inspiration, I tend to write handwritten notes in the back of it. Doing this in bed, in dim light, isn’t always easy as you’ll see from the state of my notes below. It’s the back page of my copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s autobiography ‘Ecce Homo’ (behold the man) – Pilate’s words when the flagellated Christ was brought before the rabble:
Julian’s scribbled, handwritten notes, above, were likely penned in the dead of night during one of his frequent ‘3am’ reads.
You see how bad my scribbles are. I was writing a play about the tumultuous relationship between Nietzsche and Richard Wagner. And as I read Ecce Homo I marked interesting statements or events. Then as I was writing the play I would perhaps insert a line like, “Wagner accusing Nietzsche of being rude” and, to corroborate it, look through my notes. In this example, I listed it here under point 14 – Rudeness (top right) – so all I had to do was turn to page 14 in Ecce Homo to find what I needed: “Rudeness should not be undervalued, it is the most humane form of contradiction.” The book also contains a statement where Nietzsche ‘attacks’ Wagner, -17 Attack (top right) – and my notes allowed me to wind the conversation round to it: “My friend you are applauded by a culture that confuses the artful with the rich and the late with the great.” The part in italics is his written words.
We put the play on in Edinburgh and the official Review wrote, ‘How anyone could write such an intelligent, seem-less script analyzing the complex ideas of the composer Richard Wagner and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is beyond me. “ But the thing is, it is beyond me too – I have shown you the mechanism but I still don’t quite know how it all came together, it just seemed to happen, thanks to all that preparatory reading in bed which maybe sank in to my subconscious as I fell asleep. Performing the play was both scary and exciting as it has a music section that synchs with the dialogue. The ending was tremendous as it used the 2001 theme that Straus wrote for Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Sprake Zarathustra” while Nietzsche goes mad on stage. As most of the play takes place in the Turin Lunatic asylum, we were able to film it cheaply. An American Philosophy magazine wrote glowingly saying it was ‘Masterful’ and now it is used in US Universities as a teaching aid.
I also take a book on aeroplanes but I only seem to manage a page or two. I think it might be that I hate flying, especially long haul. My friend says he loves long haul flights because he can just sit there and read without being disturbed. Not me, I’m like a caged animal. So for me it is off to bed to read.
The places I like to write have changed dramatically over the years.
In the old days I was tied to a desktop computer. This was also true for editing films. Originally, like on ‘Life of Brian’, we edited the actual film in an editing room. Then things changed to computer editing. Terry Jones and I bought one to edit his film, ‘Wind in the Willows’. It cost £65,000 excluding big and heavy 9 gigabyte drives which, can you believe it, cost £2,000 each. With 45 gigabytes, we thought we were the bees’ knees. Of course after two years we had to throw the whole thing in the bin as we couldn’t even give it away. Now with my trusty laptop I can write and even edit anywhere. I remember even editing my film ‘Chemical Wedding’ on an aeroplane. And strangely, although I can’t read on an aeroplane, I can write on them. In fact that is my second favourite place to write – on an aeroplane usually on my way to somewhere warm in winter. My first place that I like to write is the destination. Somewhere warm like Tenerife, just four hours away but under palm trees and dripping bougainvillea, with the sun glistening off the sea. I rarely stay long in the UK in winter, I think my Spanish blood demands heat so off I go. I remember the Python’s going to the Caribbean to write ‘Life of Brian’. I think it was a tax dodge but under those tropical skies they did a wonderful job. I used to travel to Paris quite a lot and I certainly prefer trains to planes. I always seemed to write a lot of good stuff on the Eurostar.
At home I have a study but I don’t write there. My bedroom is at the top of the house with a balcony overlooking London and I have put a desk up there and that is where I write. Perhaps I need to look up from my work and have a view. Perhaps it is one of my skills, having a good eye as I direct and light films. I can spot a good shot not intellectually but emotionally.
I love places where the sun sets over the sea. For instance, my favourite place in France is Biscarrosse Plage near Biarritz on the Atlantic coast, as you can sit and have your sardines with a glass of Bordeaux and watch that magical moment as the sun goes down over the sea. I was once in Goa, which also faces the sunset over the Arabian Sea. Nice place but you must take your mosquito tablets. On the first day I went down to the beach, got a beer, and sat watching the sunset. Nothing! I felt nothing at all. Must be the jet lag. But the second day the same. And there I was again on the third with my beer and feeling nothing. Something was wrong. I stopped taking the malaria pills. Next day the sun fell towards the sea, the beer in my hand glowed, my heart swelled, I was back to normal. Those bloody pills were dumbing down my senses. That is when I realised I was not reacting intellectually to visual beauty, but emotionally. This was weird for me as I am very, very left brained. I wondered how anyone could live like that without being inspired by visual beauty. In every place I go my family know I have a sunset bar. One of my favourite unspoilt villages in Tenerife is El Medano. Although it is actually on the east coast there is a projection into the sea and there is my Sunset bar where you will find me at around 6.30 with my glass of wine.
Working on the computer all day makes you feel a bit isolated so I tend to pop in the pub in the evenings, not to talk but just to be around people. I have some pretty rough pubs I like to go in as you get more animated people in them. But if there is a time limit on my work I will take the laptop with me and write there with a glass of wine and a sandwich. Posh pubs don’t let you eat your own food in them.
I was watching football on the TV in the Boston Arms, one of my “rougher” locals, and a film director friend, Sam Miller, came in and spotted me in the corner. I told him I was in the corner because I was having oysters with my wine and the locals would be a bit put off by me slipping live oysters down my throat. I play football with Sam and with a bunch of other celebs (Alan Davies, Mark Strong, etc.) and Sam told them with great glee how he found me in the corner of the rough old Boston, sipping wine and eating oysters.
I have been trying to hold off on this last bit of information, but I suppose I must be honest and tell you, that the one other place I might write is in the toilet. Sorry about that but you wouldn’t want me to lie by omission!
Filmmaker Julian Doyle has worked on some of the UK’s most cherished movies, including being a long-time collaborator on the films of Monty Python and Terry Gilliam. He has also written and directed a number of well-received films and music videos.
His books, including The Jericho Manuscript, pictured left, can all be found on Amazon.
For further information about Julian, his incredible legacy, and his books, visit JulianDoyle.info.