My reading life is in a minor slump. I’m enjoying Frankenstein Unbound, but not enough to feel compelled to pick it up each day and finish it. Today I read an interview with the actor Rafe Spall that I’d missed when it was published back in May. I wouldn’t have had the same response to it back then, mind you. It was one of those serendipitous stumblings that spoke to me in a particular moment.
It’s a funny, self-deprecating and at the same time egotistical interview. I enjoyed his anecdote about dancing with (for?) Madonna. But it was this quote that struck me today.
I did Death of England, which was a big thing for me – 140 minutes, 16,000 words, very physical and every night a standing ovation. But it sent me a bit loopy. A standing ovation eight times a week. That’s not natural. That’s not good for you … it’s like a bottle of wine. One, lovely. Eight, pushing it. So that took a period of recalibration. How do I go out, get all these people clapping at me, then go home to normal life?
I’m not an actor. I will never get up on a stage and have hundreds of people watch me perform. However, over the last fortnight I’ve had a small taste of this transitory, abnormal showering of adulation that Spall captures here. The exhibition that I’ve been working on for two years finally opened last Saturday. It was delayed by the pandemic for 11 months.
The exhibition is on a popular subject, and a subject that I am passionate about. Some of my reading over the past two years has been fuelled by the research I did for it. New books like Record Play Pause and This Searing Light. Re-reads, not reviewed on here, like Touching From a Distance, Who Killed Martin Hannett?, 24 Hour Party People, I Swear I Was There and From Joy Division to New Order.
Because of the popularity of the subject matter, the weeks before and after the exhibition opening have been filled with interviews with the press. So far at the museum, I’ve curated three exhibitions, and this one is the biggest in terms of its media reach. Nationally, I’ve been interviewed by The Guardian (twice), The FT, the Press Association, Radio 4, BBC Breakfast and 6 Music, plus specialist music media such as Louder Than War and Northern Soul. Locally, I’ve been on Granada Reports and BBC North West Tonight, as well as interviewed by local radio for the weekend news bulletin, which ended up being syndicated across other local BBC radio stations and Radio 2.
I’ve read everything, listened back to the radio interviews and watched the tv interviews. There has been nothing but positivity about the exhibition, and about my work in putting the exhibition together. Some of the journalists I showed round the exhibition commented on how my passion for the subject shines through. Friends and colleagues have said incredibly lovely things about how the wider world has seen how good I am at my job, how likeable I am as a person, how proud of me they are. I suppose I’ve had a glimpse of myself as the world outside my head sees me, which is a bit surreal.
It’s been rewarding. I’ve worked hard on this exhibition. It means a lot to me personally, and I’m over the moon and a little overwhelmed by all the positive press that it has received. Praise is nice. As well as the external media coverage, the past fortnight has been different for the way it has raised my profile across the museum group that my museum is a part of. In the normal run of things, I sometimes get praise within the organisation for the work I do, but most of the time I’m just doing my job and my work is largely unremarked upon – as it should be. Like Spall intimates in his interview, a bit of praise now and then, when you’ve made a particularly good fist of what you’re paid for, is a good thing, but not to be expected on a daily basis.
Crikey, but it’s addictive, though. That wine analogy is a good one (apart from my ability to drink a full bottle of wine is long gone, like my 30s). I like the buzz that one, maybe two drinks gives you, but that buzz also has that edge to it that tells you it’s going to fade and you need to have another drink to keep it going. Except that next drink and the one after it kills the buzz and turns you into someone different. Gives you a headache. Makes you want to shout and then, suddenly, lie down.
I think part of my current reading slump is because my brain has been switched over to a very different mode to the one it usually operates in. I’m an introvert, and doing press involves me adopting a particular persona. I’m not shy, but I am reserved, and this sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I can do it, I quite like doing it, but being ‘on’ for two full weeks and being unable to switch back off each evening because of the adrenaline, has left my brain a bit soggy when it comes to reading.
Next week, I’ll be going back to normality. The spotlight will be off me again. This weekend, I feel like hibernating, but have chosen to socialise with friends. I can feel the slump starting, the climbing down from the temporary high, the need to adjust back to my work being largely unremarked upon. My introvert self is looking forward to the recalibration. My ambitious self is worrying about how to maintain the momentum, how to keep my profile out there. Introvert me not so secretly despises ambitious me. Have I, like Spall, gone a bit loopy? I don’t think so. Perhaps the friends I see over the weekend will tell me differently.