Welcome to a dive into the Sharing things archive and a selection of 5 episodes that explore transformation, self-discovery and change. Where are you now and where do you want to be? In our first episode of this collection we revisit the conversation between Doug Johnstone and Nikki Moran who discuss paradiddles and flams, the pitfalls of perfectionism, and weird left turns.
This episode is hosted by Richenda Rae, who joined us in the summer of 2020. After her summer with us she returned to her final year of medical school.
Doug is a Scottish crime writer, musician and journalist based in Edinburgh. He spent four years designing radar and missile guidance systems for planes and helicopters, before deciding to pursue his ambition of becoming a writer. After taking a diploma in journalism, he now writes and reviews for a number of newspapers and magazines, primarily covering music and literature. His twelfth novel, 'The Big Chill', was published by Orenda Books in August 2020. His previous novel, 'A Dark Matter', was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.
Nikki is Senior Lecturer in Music at Edinburgh College of Art. She joined the University of Edinburgh in 2007 after receiving her Master’s degree from Cambridge and her PhD from the Open University. During her undergrad, Nikki studied classical viola and North Indian sitar performance. Much of Nikki's research focusses on the cognition of music performance, stemming from her fascination between musical performance and social interaction. She is the presenting lecturer and co-author of the free online course ‘Fundamentals of Music Theory’.
Each episode of Sharing things is a conversation between two members of our university community. It could be a student, a member of staff or a graduate, the only thing they have in common at the beginning is Edinburgh. We start with an object. A special, treasured or significant item that we have asked each guest to bring to the conversation. What happens next is sometimes funny, sometimes moving and always unexpected.
Find out more at www.ed.ac.uk/sharing-things-podcast
This episode of Sharing things was recorded during the Covid thing.
Images designed by Chris Behr. They are part of his Nice Things icon set.
[Theme music] Welcome to Sharing things, the podcast that takes a closer look at the people who make up our University of Edinburgh community. Each episode starts with two invited guests and an object, which can be something personal, treasured or significant. It's something that unlocks a story and starts a conversation. We take it from there. I'm Richenda your new host, conversational guide, and a final year medical student. Today as with all this season's recordings, I'm sat at my kitchen table in central Edinburgh. In this episode, I've invited along for a chat, music lecturer Nikki Moran and Doug Johnstone, a crime author and journalist. Let's take a listen. [Theme music] Welcome to sharing things, so I'm Richenda and today we have Doug and Nikki in our virtual studio with us today. And I think that we'll start with asking where abouts you guys are recording from?
I am at home in Marchmont. I'm in my, in my home, my home flat in Marchmont that I share with my husband, who is a physicist, actually, Doug look, we've got connections already. [Laughter] And my two children who are 8 and 6 and who have gone back to school last Thursday. So my life has just got a little bit of, a little bit of space in it again.
Hi and I'm living in Portobello, where I have now been for too, a long time, 15, 17 years, something like that. And I am in my loft, which is where my office is, just where I write, which is why it's kind of gloomy and really bad sort of cladding on the wall. People can't see that if they are listening, but because it's never been done up, and it's the only place I get peace, cause it's got a hatch, up a ladder, and it's got a hatch and I can close it. So I get some peace and quiet. And my kids are back at school as well. They're a bit older, 15 and 11. But yes, it's been a long time. I felt really bad, it was the first day, full day back, both of them, yesterday, and they had to go outside for the whole of lunchtime [sigh] and it was absolutely chucking down with rain because of COVID and everything else. So, so the whole school had like 1,200 soaking wet miserable kids for the whole afternoon which must have been great.
Oh, well you know what? Mine came home grumbling because they hadn't had, they hadn't been allowed to go out for, for playtime, for lunch, you just can't win.
No you can't win.
[Theme music] I'm just gonna start with our first main sort of sharing things question, which is what object did you guys bring along today?
I want you to go first Doug, will you go first?
Ok, well, my object is a pair of drumsticks.
And you do music Nikki right? So
I got a pair of drumsticks here. [drumsticks click] That's the proof. And these are specifically Promark Hickory TX 5AW's, which I've changed recently, I used to, for a long long time I use Promark 747 because that's what Neil Peart from Rush used. And when I, when I read that as a kid in Modern Drummer magazine, that was enough for me, so I brought them because I have been a drummer all my life. It's the longest relationship I've had with anything, I think, is with playing the drums. And it's not always stayed constant throughout my years, but I am back to playing drums now more than I have in a long time. For various reasons, which I'm sure we'll get into. But em, yeah, it was my first love drumming and probably will be my last.
Oh, wow. I, I used to play percussion for a bit and did try to play a drum kit for a bit, when I was much younger. But it didn't, I don't know, maybe it was that I never actually got a drum kit at home to practice on. I don't know. I don't know. It didn't fly for me, I was doing some other stuff instead. But I did, I do remember enough drumming to think about some, some weird words that I learned when I was trying to play drums. Doug, could you give us a triple paradiddle?
[Laughs] A triple paradiddle. [Laugh] I could do a single one. The thing is this doesn't work very well with sound because it doesn't sound that different from a normal drum roll. But [drumming]. That's a single paradiddle. [Laughs]
Yeh, yeh. Okay, what about a flam? Give us, ok give us a flam.
A flam [drumming] It's that isn't it? Or you can get Swiss triplets, I'm not very good at Swiss triplets.
I don't know them?
It's near cat terminology isn't there?
Oh yeh. Its like a different world. I didn't even understand the description of the drumsticks you were given us there either. So why did you change?
They used to be, I mean they're just, they turned out to be a bit heavy. I'm not sure if Promark have kept them consistent over the years and when we're talking about forty years now, if not longer. I remember reading Neil Peart in Rush, in that interview he said Promark 747s and he, he shaved the varnish off the handle parts because they were too slippery. So when you're sweating all this, I say can be, it can make them a bit slippery. So that's what I do as well, I got the, got the little blade out of a pencil sharpener, and unscrewed out of the pencil sharpener, and basically shaved away and to get the, to get the varnish off the handles. Nowadays, they don't put varnish on the handles because I think there was a problem with them being slippy. So they turn out to be a bit heavy, or maybe I'm just become slightly different kind of drummer, I don't know. But these ones that I've got are slightly lighter sticks now, but I go through loads of them, because you know, I hit the drums pretty hard. So it's not the drums that are the problem, but it's the cymbals if you hit the edge of the cymbals tends to, I mean, these ones are getting a bit, getting a bit ratty. I can't really show you very well on this camera, but starting to sort of crumble a little bit and they eventually go, and the last thing you want is for them to go in the middle of a gig. So you want to always have a fairly new set when you're playing live. But yeah, but em, so I kind of used anything I can over the, over the years, but I've, I've gotten back into trying to do it properly again. So get proper sticks.
Who do you, who are you playing with? Do you play with lots of different people Doug?
Well, at the moment, it's really interesting because I, I'm a, I'm a crime writer, I write crime novels. So my, let me get this right, my 12th novel is coming out this week, actually, and, but I've been in bands kind of on and off all the way from school. And kind of most, most seriously around the time that I was at University, at Edinburgh University actually. I was in umpteen bands who kind of almost got signed and were gigging regularly and all that kind of stuff. But nothing ever really happened. And then I kind of fell out with it a little bit. When I had kids, the drums were just sort of stuck up, you know, in a cupboard, you know, stacked up so I didn't really play them. Em, but I got them out and in the house we're in now, there's just, I'm in the loft in my office. And there's just enough room to have the drum kit, its set over right here. So if I get a bit of writer's block, I can just go over and bash the kit. But I am in a band now of crime writers. I'm in a band called 'The fun loving crime writers', which is myself, and Val McDermid, sings, Mark Billingham sings and plays guitar, Chris Brookmyre, sings and plays guitar, Stuart Neville is our brilliant lead guitarist, and Luca Veste from Liverpool is our bassist. And it kind of started as a, not a joke, it's that we were all at a conference in America, or some of us were, a few years ago, three or four years ago. And they had an open mic night and a house band play. And during their interval, we went up and just jammed a few songs, and it went down quite well. And I remember coming off, coming off the stage and saying you know we could do this back home, we know enough people, because I had done, I also sing and play guitar, I had done acoustic things with Chris Brookmyre and Val McDermid and stuff at various festivals. So we kind of got a band together and our first gig was at the Edinburgh Book Festival three years ago now. And I think people came along thinking we were going to be terrible. [Laughter] Understandably I think, and were pleasantly surprised. We do, we only play, we play songs or like cover versions songs, related to murder and death and crime. [Laughter] As it turns out there's absolutely hundreds of them.
Have you got a good example, I can't give any off the top of my.
No me neither, I'm just racking my brains.
Em 'Watching the Detectives', 'Chain Gang', anything by Johnny Cash, and Scottish murder violence. There's like loads of this stuff. So it's kind of, it's kind of snowballed. And we played Glastonbury last year, which was kind of crazy. And we had a whole bunch of gigs lined up for spring this year, which we had to cancel cause of, because of lockdown, including the Queen's Hall. We sold out the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh, so that was absolutely gutting. But we're looking to get back into it again but in the meantime, I'm just drumming away in my loft.
Magic, that is stunning. Yeah, your your performance experiences and what you've done there completely surpass the performances and performing experiences that I've managed to acquire in my life as a professional music academic, but I don't suppose that's a surprise. I mean, I've em, well you know you made me remember that I actually did at a time in my life used to hold drumsticks and play drums with drumsticks and then that kind of gets, you know, superseded with something else. And I think, for me, there's, I've always been happy. There's some things that are continuous. I've played violin or viola for a long time. And that's sort of a bit continuous, but the actual, the types of music that I've played and the people that I've played with always, wherever I've lived, or whatever's going on. I've always found that the crucial thing for me is is finding some sort of vibrant like music ecosystem. I want to, I want to play music with the people that I want to spend time with. And I started playing the sitar when I was when I was studying in London for my for my first, my undergraduate music degree. And that, then at that point in time, like that became the most sort of, I found it the most sort of real authentic context that I got to play music with the people that I wanted to play with were doing that I got introduced to.
What was it like to learn the sitar? Was it not hard?
It was wonderful, really very difficult. It's a really, really demanding instrument. And as I actually really quite physically a bit brutal on you, you know, there's lots of, there's lots of stories of people slicing the top of their finger off while they're practising. It's, it's yeah, and then having to carry on because it's a bit macho and butch, but you just keep playing. I just, I love the way that the opportunities that are around you, like, in music, to me, they come from the people you're, you're with and the people you want to be with. And as much as, as much as some, for me as much as some particular sort of tradition or culture of music making.
Yeah, it's sort of weirdly, sorry we haven't even talked about your object yet, but I just want to talk about music. [Laughs] The music thing is a real something, I've come to learn, I think when I was a kid, when I was just in sort of rock bands mainly. I just took that entirely for granted that sort of communal experience of it. And I didn't consider it at all really consciously. And you know, like any bands, we used to, like fight and fall out all the time and all that kind of stuff. But it has really brought it home to me, I think with this, the current band, I think because we're all a lot older. I mean, I'm, you know, I'm sort of in the middle of the age range, you know, Val's considerably older me and Lucas quite a lot younger, but we're sort but still kind of in our 30s and upwards, 40s, 50s, and because we're all writers, you know, that's a very solitary existence. You can sit in my dingy office, and basically makeup up fictional worlds all day. And we all do that. And so, so that getting that ability to get together and rehearse and play, has been has been absolutely transformative in the last few years. And not just, and folks say the gigs must be great, but actually, the sitting about doing nothing is brilliant as well. Like sound checking, and sitting around, and loading up and getting the gear out, and going out for a meal, and having a couple of beers. I mean, that whole thing is like, easily as good as the, you know, 90 minutes or 2 hours or whatever you play on stage. And it's really, really come to, what's been fascinating is that, because of lockdown, as well, it's really driven home, how much of my social life is book festivals and book events and the band, which is a band of writers. That's about the only time I ever see anyone face to face or until lockdown. And so it's been, its's been really, it's been a real eye opener actually, for me, I think for everyone in the band, we all like a little gang now. You're right Nikki about that. That real sense of community that you get through just sharing that experience of playing. [Theme music]
Nikki will we ask about what your object is as well.
Yeah. Okay, so this is my object, it's, if I start talking about it before I tell you what it is it's gonna, I'm gonna get really long winded, but my object oddly does have it is on my mind. And it connects me right back to the, to my improvisation practice, actually, but it's not a musical instrument. And it doesn't even appear to have anything to do with music. So here goes. What this is, this object is a big cardboard postage box. And the post date on it is 20 something of October 1986. And this is a box of, it still is, a box of craft gear of, a box of colour, a box of pot, of just magic stuff. When it first arrived with me, when I got for my 8th birthday in 1986. It was full of coloured felts, and some paints, and some paper, some beads, some modelling clay, what else did it have in it, thought some of the original stuff is still in it, safety pins, rubber bands, stuff for making things with, and it was one of the most, it's the one of the most special, and exciting gifts I ever received. It was from my uncle and aunt for that 8th birthday. And I just, I remember the, just this the sheer sort of Aladdin's cave treasure trove joy of opening it, and the permission that it sort of gave me to create. I will, I'll never forget it and obviously I've kept the box. Now the reason it's back with me now is that this kind of, it's turned up and been relevant again since the start of lockdown. I through a recommendation from a friend got, I got in touch with a group of women who, whoever, it's called, like creative journaling, a creative journaling practice. And when someone told me about this, I just I didn't even know what that is. And then my sister who does this as well, as she was strongly recommending it to me, she said, Nik, it is, you just need to join in, because you will, you will love this. And I said, but what is it, I don't really know what you're talking about. And she said it, she said it's if you work with blank pages, and you work together, but you just make things and you draw things, and you, you paint, and you're guided in it, and I still don't know what you're talking about, but I'm going to give it a shot. And it's turned into something so significant for me that has really, that has taken me through a really, really challenging last few months. And the weird connection that brings us back to music is that through, since lockdown, of course, it's not been possible to go and do regular get together, regularly play music with the people I normally would. And to have that part of my life which, because we you know, I think it would be it would apply in all music contexts, but for me, there's something special about free, freely improvised collective music making. Where we'd get together and sit and switch off the talk. And just let comes out, what comes out. Let your hands do some stuff, listen and follow to you know, pay attention to what you've produced, be listening to what's being created around you, and just responding to that. And that is such, its incredibly special experience. For me, it's always been tied to music making and I wasn't getting, I couldn't access in lockdown. And weirdly, this sort of, this creative journaling, as I've discovered it, is a place where I can get some, a lot of that same experience back. Just working with materials. And there's something extraordinary I found in this this, this virtual setting, it was the most productive, and exciting, and inspiring sort of use of remote digital formats. And I was sort of discovering that at a time when I think how, I've got to confer, we've got to do all our teaching, I've got to change, you know, I've got to make my courses work online only. I've got to find ways of doing my, doing my job now, which is hugely about communicating ideas and with people how am I going to convert this? How am I going to put this online and not have this sort of dry two dimensional space. And then just found through these weekly journaling sessions with this amazing group of women, that it was richer than many in person, events side or experiences.
Can I, I'm still like you, I'm still struggling to get pictures, so what, how does it actually, what are the logistics of it then, this online creative learning thing? It sounds fascinating but I can't really picture it.
It's just so, its magic. And even after putting in many hours in sessions now, I'm gonna still struggle to explain it. Let's see, so this is the group that I work with is actually, is a group, which has got various sort of little subgroups called maternal journal. So it's been devised as a particular way of bringing communities of women together who have, in common, the experience of motherhood in some way, and that's a, it is a particular life experience that with its own demands and its own, you know, its own patterns. And it's characterised by a lack of space to reflect its character motherhood, generally, I'd say is characterised by a bit of a lot of oneself, because everything that you do becomes, is channelled towards supporting the people around you. Obviously, I've gone right off the point from your question now, which is but what do you do on paper? But what, what you do, what happens in these sessions is, you know, you might be given a prompt to pick up and to choose like, ok, you've got a box of materials of anything goes in front of you, you might have some crayons, felt tip pens, paints, oil, pastels, bits of paper, you know, a magazine that you can rip up. It's a question of for a protected amount of time with a beautiful clean, blank page in front of you, what, what what will your hand pick up? What will you put on that piece of paper? If you pick up a pen, where will it go? So a dedicated time in that spent in excess, you know, a chance to externalise and create something that immediately becomes beautiful because it's colourful, and something that reflects what's going on in your life right now. I'm still not explaining it very well. The guide, the fantastic woman who runs the sessions that she'll sort of start with, to prompt people is to take your hand for a walk, so you can pick up any pen, any colour, you start, you put your pen on the page, and then you let it go. And every time you sort of find yourself having a little thought, you might either write down a word, or you try and keep the pen connected, or you do a little, I do a little node, I do a little scribble, and you let it carry on again, and you say, like, do that for three minutes. It's incredibly sort of mindful, meditative practice. And it's just a way of, hopefully sort of permitting, permitting a bit of space.
Totally related to that, it's really interesting, I am, you know, because writers obviously, you know, famously have the fear of the blank page, you know, and writer's block and stuff. I was a journalist, before I was an author, so I never really suffered writer's block, because as a journalist, you know, you don't have that luxury because you just basically get fired. If you don't write, you know, your 800 words on Bob Dylan by the end of the hour. But what's really interesting is that I do some a little bit of teaching for the Royal Literary Fund on academic writing. And so often, it's usually post grad sometimes undergrads, but we do sessions on, you know, trying to, because people get really hung up on, things have to be perfect first time, and just not knowing, you know, the kind of paralysed by fear, I mean, you must see this all the time Nikki, you know, in academic writing, or people are just petrified of getting it right, and just never do anything or, and so we run sessions on free writing and journaling. And so where people just exactly like, you know, it's, it's not for public consumption, it's for them to just try and work out some of their own thoughts. And it's about exactly what you have been talking about, about reconnecting with their own creativity. In a way I do whole day long, you know, workshops on, you know, how to add creativity to academic writing, or how to think like a creative writer, because it is a creative writing, I think people forget that completely. But that that, that thing, the thing you mentioned Nikki about, about giving yourself permission or space, that those things, and just carving out a little bit of, all I can be is a tiny bit of time and a prompt and a bit of paper, you know, really, and it can be so helpful for people. And I was kind of dubious about it to begin with, but then even some of the results and students were coming to us going, oh my god, that was incredible, like I you know, I've written two chapters on my thesis since we did that workshop and stuff like that. So it's been really, it's fascinating how, how so many people in their lives don't think of themselves as creative, when of course, they are creative, and they have to bring that into what they're doing. I think it's really fascinating.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I could not agree more. And I think it's, to be honest, I think that kind of, the sort of self-flagellation and perfectionism, that is the scourge of academia. You know, I think this is a really, that the blocks that, that are there that's that will stop people feeling that what they, not just, not just sort of academic researchers, and like the most sort of elite level, international research that Edinburgh University produces, for example, I mean, it's done by people who have an expertise in a specialism, which is, you know, absolutely top of the game, they, they need these people, generally who are, have achieved an exceptional level of understanding and finesse in their field through a sort of personality of, of driven perfectionism. But that same characteristic is, it can be crippling, actually, it can be crippling in terms of, in terms of mental health, it can be really bad. It can also be, I think, pretty difficult in, I think it can sometimes produce difficult relationships, you know, among people who are always striving to, to defend and to critique and defend simultaneously what they're doing to critique and defend, critique and defend. I mean, where does that, doesn't leave a huge amount of space for permission to go wrong, it doesn't leave a huge amount of space to make, to be okay with making mistakes. And yet, that is, that's got to be as teachers, that, that whole, that whole side of, of University, the University profession, as teachers. We, the first thing we have to do is give our students permission to make mistakes. How on earth do you learn without that? So I think, yeah, I think it's this, this this, this whole process of rediscovering for me this, this summer that this this box, this craft box, it's, it's been really important for me because it's just helped me. I've been thinking about this a lot. And I've been thinking about that, what do I want to keep in the conversion of, the conversion of my teaching into a totally new format. For me, this is an opportunity. [Theme music]
You do use or have used creative day in sort of traditionally non art areas.
What was really interested is that, when I am at book events that, you know, for years and years, you get a little introduction at the start of book events. And they'll very often mention oh and, you know, do all the sort of he's had X number of books or whatever else, he's done all these other things. Oh and he's got a PhD in nuclear physics, and like, people generally burst out laughing. Because it's just seems so unexpected to people. And I used to get asked all the time about, you know, how come you ended up writing books if you have this physics background? And, and that's predicated on this idea that, you know, science and the arts are, like, opposite ends of the spectrum, which I think is a completely false dichotomy. Absolutely. I mean, I just rubbish that every opportunity, it's, it's such garbage to think that writing books is 100%, creative, and doing science of any kind, or something like that is 100%, logical, whatever. And that's just not how it, it's just not the reality of, of my experience at all. And, you know, writing something like a novel is 60/80/100,000 words, whatever it is, you know, it's a very, it's a very famous cliche about writing books, and it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. You know, it's about, it's about getting the words on the page, like we talked about that creative thing. But it's also, the vast majority of it is to, is about rewriting, about shaping the material, about making it make more sense. I see it like a puzzle, almost, like getting the bits of a puzzle together. And, and so I don't see it as very different from, you know, my scientific background at all, actually, I see it as like, kind of they kind of complement each other. Because I think, the way you're looking at logistics of plot, or character development, or things like that, all that stuff, I think is you have to sit down and think logically about it, which is something that stemmed from a scientific background. And I, and I still, the worst bits of creative writing in the world, to me are the ones that inverted commas don't make sense. Because it, because the person hasn't thought through the logistics of what it is, the story is doing or what it's trying to say. And so, so I think, yeah, I mean, I think the science background, it doesn't just doesn't seem odd to me that I would do physics and music and write, you know, fiction, because they're all just seems to be part of the same kind of creative impulse, I think.
Yeah, I agree entirely. I mean, I think, I mean, there's a lot of Edinburgh has, Edinburgh music has a history of aligning with, with scholarship, in, in, in physics, in acoustics. And, of course, you know, music as a, as a subject, as an academic, as an academic discipline, there's usually, you usually find in that particular degree type, you usually find components of, of study of acoustics, and, and science is in there as well. And I think, I don't know, to me, to me, the overlap is there's a type of conceptual thinking, you know, that what you're describing that the scientific process, and creative output, or especially musical output, that they sort of require, I mean, to, to perform and, and to listen to music, this is, this is like to live to dwell in a conceptual realm. We all do that. We think of yourself as doing that or not. That's what happens when we listen to music, what happens when we engage with music, we, we translating physical vibrations into meaningful patterns in our heads. I mean, I think that, you know, to me, to me that's not so dissimilar from a sort of a scientific interpretation, or development of thinking about the world, it's still extrapolating patterns and then being interested in the patterns for their own sake. But you know, we're all in everyday life, every single person, every individual is, is a, is a, is a magical mix, is a blend of, of will to express and pragmatism and skillfulness in different areas. I mean, when none of us is one thing or the other are we.
I mean, we're getting quite profound now, that was quick, wasn't it? [Theme music]
You both seem to be a very interesting mix, and now have both chosen to then go with the more, what the world would see as creative careers then, but what was it that made you, you must have taken at some point, that leap.
Well, yeah, I actually, I did literally take a leap at one point but I wasn't writing fiction, I was I was writing fiction for my kind of, just from my own ends at the time writing short stories, and not never showing them to anyone because you know, cause they were dreadful. But I, I saw after I finished my PhD, I did work for 4 years for Marconi, as was then, don't know what they are, know the various different changes of company. But in the aerospace industry designing, I was doing mathematical modelling, modelling of radars and missile guidance systems, did that for 4 years. And I hated that job, I really, I mean, I just didn't care about it, I just didn't care. I would go in and do it. And it was kind of, and it was a well paid and graduate office job. But I couldn't stand it. And at the same time, I was still in bands at that stage, and I started to, I was, I ran a fanzine for kind of underground bands, and writing some, doing sort of makeshift journalism. I mean, there's literally fanzines before, online. So we're like, you know, printing off my mate worked at print shop, and we print them off, and staple them together, and hand them out in pubs and clubs. And, and I started to get things like pieces of journalism published in like the Edinburgh Evening News and the List Magazine and stuff like that. And I just thought, look, I'm never, I'm never going to make a go of it, if I still have this, you know, day job. So I just quit, I quit my, quit my high paid graduate office job and became a freelance music journalist, much to my mum's disgust at the time. [Laughs] I'm sure she's still waiting for me to get a real job again. But em, but I, but what was interesting about that was, I mean, I was busier than ever, this is, I mean, back in 1999, so a while ago, and you could just about make a living but I was a freelance arts journalist, basically, for a few years. I was busier than ever, because I was hustling for work, you know, all the time, 24/7, instead of just doing 9 to 5, and switching off. But I was loving it, I absolutely loved it, and I was writing for a living. And, and I was, you know, interviewing bands and authors and reviewing gigs in shows and all sorts of other stuff. And, and I started to take my own fiction writing more seriously at that point. And because I just, even though I was busier than ever, I just somehow found time to do that creative stuff as well. So that's really, I mean, it's again, it was a few, it was now 7 years, between when I started as a journalist, and when I got my first book published, so it was still a lot to, a lot to do, a lot to learn, a lot to, a lot to be rubbish at. But I'd start to give myself the permission to be rubbish at writing books, and hopefully I've got a bit better over the space of f14 years and 12 books or whatever it is.
Something's going right, isn't it Doug.
No one, no one's found me out yet. [Laughs] I'm pretty sure someone's going to find me out.
Yeah, yeah. Well, we will live there don't we. My first job, I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to University. I had a disappoint, we can call it a disappointing A-level outcome. In fact, I have been, it's been quite a triggering week for me, hearing about everybody on the news talking about devastated by their A-level results, god, I remember that! And I took a took a turn around the block. And my first job was for Lloyds Bank Investments Division. I worked for a year for Lloyds Bank, and yeah, that's showed me that I didn't want to work for Lloyds Bank. And within that, and I, I was still, I was playing, you know, I was playing music and thinking about music all the time. And thinking now I want, where am I? Like, where can I find a space in the world now that I'm not protected by, by being, you know, a school aged person anymore? Where can I find a place in the world where I can just keep being allowed to think about this. And just, and just keep keep kind of doing what I'm doing without knowing where that's going to take me and in a way and the music degree was, was, was important to me. And the one I found at City University where I knew I'd be, I'd have the chance to learn some different types of music was fantastic. And, and I wrote some letters and persuaded them that I should be allowed to come to do their degree. And they said, ok, yeah, you can come. And so I had that, that time. Since then, it's always like my sort of my pattern, it's always been more a, it's always been more a of how can I, I'm not finished thinking about this yet. I'm not finished one thing just to play or keep being in this world where I could just keep contemplating music and people, music and people, music and people, and it just sort of just kept going through. So I finished my undergrad and then, and met somebody who turned out to be a supervisor who, who supervised my post grad studies who, and he said you come and work, come and work with me, come, come to Cambridge and work with me. And I was like ooh, can I? So I had an amazing, amazing time then. I carried on playing the sitar, and alongside that then, I was still studying, just having this chance still to dwell in this, just like you know, we did have ivory towers, but to dwell in this space of just thinking about, an observing people and humans and their musical practices and keep studying that, and I just loved doing that. But at the same time I was having been playing this sitar for some time I got on the books are a few different agencies that the basic sort of community music type projects, and they would, this agency would give me, would find me gigs and I would go into schools and do education sessions and about Indian musical forms and structures. And I would sort of teach some that part that happened to be on the school curriculum at that time. For which covered that very problematically, but basically, we sort of cover world music in a couple of weeks, in a, you know, all world music. So we can cover all world music's in a space of two weeks and put that in the curriculum. But that was kind of what was what was there at the time. Now, I just found myself in a position that I could actually get paid really quite well to, to go and deliver these workshops in schools and for community projects. I didn't expect that that would be a way of keeping sort of paying my rent, but it it was for some time, I did sort of off, you know, random gigs, I do a lot of wedding gigs with quartet work. I used to busk with my viola and play, usually the solo Bach cello suites, and they worked really well on viola, so and I found that was very portable with that I didn't need to take any, you know, I was playing, would play by ear or by memory, I wouldn't have to take any music paraphernalia. And importantly, with busking, I wouldn't have to split the profits, because there was just me. So the hourly rate was much higher than if I was playing with a group for that. But it was always just sort of patching, patching together somehow, but not wanting to stop, not just not being willing to stop that. So yeah, definitely wasn't, you know, one year at Lloyds was enough.
I think we've both got that experience of that, that idea of you know, having a career path is just like nonsensical. The idea that, you know, you see this every year I mean, I mean, it's a it's a kind of cliche now about you know, oh I didn't get my A-levels, but you know, I've done all right for myself sort of thing. The idea of like you get certain grades, you got University, you get a job. I hardly know anyone actually in real life that's ended up doing that, less and less these days, I think that's how, that's how people's lives pan out. And there's always weird left turns or, or like you say Nikki, it's just kind of that way of all I've got another, another couple of years where I'm allowed to do this. And that's, that's always the kind of way of like, how can I make ends meat doing something that isn't going to kind of destroy me? That's basically what you end up doing? I think very often. [Theme music]
What one word would you use to sort of summarise and encapsulate your object that you brought along?
Ok, mine would be rhythm.
I feel like yeah, those are quite easily explained as well, why you've chosen them. Right, fab, well, thank you for coming along to talk to us today. I think we'll wrap up there. And I think we've gotten to a few very interesting, interesting places today.
Well, thank you so much. Thanks.
Yeah, thanks so much.
I want to talk so much more about music theory and creativity.
Well, we can, let's chat. [Laughter] [Theme music]
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