Films in Ghana and Liberia in Production

We have started producing the series 'A day in the life of' - the films for The School of Life. The first film will be about Juliana, a dressmaker in Accra, Ghana. And the second film will be about a female biker taxi in Liberia. We are still looking for proposals from all over the world. Please get in touch with your proposal and check out the guidelines in my previous blog post.

Sahhara - teaser tape

Earlier this week, I filmed a teaser tape with Sahhara, a Nigerian living in London, who used to work at Madame Jojo's. Sahhara has had cope with a lot in her life but seems pretty happy now. She scoots around in an American sports car and has scarily long nails. 

In a vintage shop in Soho

In a vintage shop in Soho

Outside her work place for 11 years, Madame Jojo's on Brewer street.

Outside her work place for 11 years, Madame Jojo's on Brewer street.

Film signed off and delivered for the Cabinet Office

I started working recently on a new short film for the Cabinet Office - the film was used to launch the Arts Impact Fund, a new fund set up for Arts organisations across the UK. The film was well received and we are now working on a second film for this new client. Was wonderful to discover the Company of Elders at Sadler's Wells, a dance troupe for those who are 70 plus, as well as the excellent Circus school in an old power station in Shoreditch.

Exploring the Burmese Delta

I recently returned from an intense trip to the delta in Burma. I was filming for an NGO - Helping the Burmese Delta - and we were based in a remote village about a day's travel (car + boat) from the capital Yangon. It's an unusual place - completely cut off in every way- where the only real way to get around is by boat. The people live mostly day to day fishing, working in paddy fields or doing whatever they can to earn 1-2 USD per day. They live in a swamp land which becomes permanently flooded during the rainy season. The main problem is that access to primary and secondary schools is very limited - it also costs money for the parents to send their children to school. Young people tend to have limited opportunities and soon find themselves doing exactly what their parents do. After Cyclone Nargis, the rivers have changed. Fishing has become more difficult and it's even harder to make a living.


Grandmother, Mother and Cafe Owner

Grandmother, Mother and Cafe Owner

The boatman

The boatman

Our base

Our base

A quick trip to Nablus, Palestine

Earlier in September I went to Israel and Palestine, filming for the Christian charity Embrace the Middle East. It was an intense trip, driving around the West Bank at speed and meeting many different people, all facing their own challenges in difficult living conditions. I interviewed farmers who had lost their land and villagers who were hemmed in, unable to go beyond the checkpoint and consequently unable to find work.  In East Jerusalem we met children who were severely visually impaired and relied on an amazing school to help them read and write. We also witnessed the work of a mobile health team from St Luke's hospital in Nablus, who offer essential healthcare to a local village that is cut off from the main town by a road block.

Shop Life and a new novel by Sathnam

Sathnam and the Virdee Brothers in Stourbridge

Sathnam and the Virdee Brothers in Stourbridge

I made a film with Sathnam about his first book, ‘The boy with the top knot’. It’s a deeply moving brilliant memoir about his childhood in Wolverhampton and his relationships with different members of his family – but most of all his mother. It deals with the strange dual life of being a successful metropolitan journalist and feeling the pull of family back home in Wolverhampton. It deals with many things but mostly it’s funny, moving and honest. You should read it, not because it won tons of awards or that all of the London literati  think it’s fab – you should read it because it might help you see things more clearly. Right, let’s move on.

Fast forward a few years later and Sathnam starts writing his first novel buried away in the British Library. It’s a family saga set in Wolverhampton and it’s epic and ambitious. It also takes place in a corner shop and focuses on different generations as they struggle to keep their lives and the family business going. We’re making a short film about the book and a Costcutter corner shop run by the Virdee brothers in Stourbridge just outside Wolverhampton. In the meantime, I conducted a brief interview with the Hampstead living and working Times Columnist via the internet. Watch out for our new short film in the Spring.

Why write a novel after your critically acclaimed memoir ‘The boy with the topknot’?

The problem with writing a memoir like my last book, quite an intimate one in my case, is that you end up invading your own privacy. I was very careful about what I said about my family – nothing appeared without their permission. But I didn’t think enough about what I revealed about myself. And I probably revealed too much. In a way, writing this new book, a piece of fiction, was a way of changing the subject, to stop people asking me personal questions. But there was also a lot of research I did into life in the Midlands in the 60s and 70s for the first book, which I didn’t use, and which in part inspired this book.

What were you most surprised by when doing your research shifts in a corner shop?

As a customer, the thing that used to mystify me most about corner shops was why the person behind the counter was always on the phone. Whether it was in London, or in the countryside, an establishment run by Asians or Kurds, the scene was always the same: a monosyllabic shop assistant lurking behind the counter, barely breaking off from the handset against their ear to offer change from a fiver. But I managed to solved the mystery after a few shop shifts. Basically, the phone is the corner shop worker’s means of escape. Literally: with some shops opening 24 hours a day, and many being run by families, more often than not the person is simply calling their brother/mother/father/sister to beg them to take over. But also psychologically.

You see, such is the torture of dealing with customers who insist on patronising you (“Bet you’d be a surgeon back in India”), mutilating your name (“Satnav, is it?”), turning up half naked (slippers and pyjamas are common, but I recently worked in a Costcutter where a lady basically turned up in her lingerie), assuming you are related to every other Asian in a radius of 20 miles (“surprised you’re not at the wedding down the road”), and engaging you in tedious small talk (the weather and the price of beans is all customers over a certain age want to talk about), that anything, up to and including being on hold to a call centre, is preferable to engaging with them…

Who if anyone are you influenced by?

Jonathan Coe, Nick Hornby, David Nicholls, David Lodge…

Any rituals as a novelist? Special pen, special time of day you work?

God, millions of rituals, so many that I can’t confess them at risk of coming across as totally insane. But one thing is my laptop. I have a theory that the more swish your computer, the worse your writing. Based entirely on the fact that the students in the British Library doing the least work are always on wonderful brand new Apples. I have been using the same old battered Dell for more than five years now.

Do you have a favourite novel or writer?

It changes. But The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is pretty perfect.

Are any of the characters based on real people and can you talk about it?

I think the legal position is: no. And I’m sticking to that line.

Favourite restaurant in Wolverhampton?

You know Jeremy, because I took you there. The Bilash is a great Indian restaurant.

You missed out on the Costa. Are you gutted?

Missed out for a second time too! I know from experience that books can make it without prizes.

Favourite food item you’ve bought from a corner shop?

I’m a big fan of the Drifter bar, the king of chocolate snacks. But the all-in-one breakfast in a can is a kind of miracle.

Best burger in London and a relic of the past - Video City

The Honest Burger, actually very delicious

The Honest Burger, actually very delicious

I've been a fan of Byron's burgers, but feel they've gone downhill recently. And after tasting this Honest burger, I'm anointing this the new King of London burgers. It's perfectly sized - round and fitting neatly in your hand (the size of a baseball), has a good mix of sweet onions/gherkins and the brioche bun is light and scrunchy. Only downer is no puddings served. But who needs anything after this feast...

It's 2014 and Video City could still give Quentin Tarantino his job back

It's 2014 and Video City could still give Quentin Tarantino his job back

Amazing. It's still there. It's 2014 for god's sake. Blockbuster went down years ago. Sale and Rental? No one's buying dvds any more and no one rents them from an actual physical shop. Personally I miss those lazy days of going to the video store and spending 45 minutes deciding which film to watch. Talking about random films no longer happens. Let's hope Video City bucks the trend. But for how long? Will it be there in 2020?

A short film with Sathnam Sanghera and the Virdee Brothers

Here we are in Stourbridge, in a Costcutter convenience store that looks like it might once have been a petrol station. I'm with the author, journalist and executive car reviewer Sathnam Sanghera. We're here to meet and spend the day with the Virdee brothers who've run the store for years and retirement now looms large. But brother Pete's son has defected to the mighty Tesco.  The future is uncertain for this family business...

Why are we here? Simple - Sathnam has written his first novel (after the very good memoir 'The boy with the top knot') - it's published in paperback today and it's an epic family tale set mostly in a convenience store in the Black country.

Here's the film we made in a few hours, hanging out with the brothers...

If you'd like to find out more about 'Marriage Material' (Windmill Books), you'll find it on Amazon released on June 8th or in book shops from today.