I don’t know if I’m retired, semi-retired, unemployed or a crazed workaholic. A few years ago, when it seemed that every project I became excited about ended in a non-commission, I decided that the fickle spotlight of the TV world had moved on and left me in the shadows. That was fine by me, and it seemed inevitable when you’ve been in the business for over 30 years. Even I am bored by me.
I’ve spent the last three years saying that I’m not working in TV any more, and instead I’ve written for radio, an autobiography, a dozen stories for children, a few blogs… I’ve compiled a local magazine…. somehow I just can’t stop writing. I want to. I would love to. But the truth is that I can think only when I’m writing. The rest of the time my brain is grey cotton wool.
I wonder if this is normal for a writer? Or did I have a stroke back in the 90’s and somehow we all missed the symptoms? My daughter jokingly (I hope) says that when I slide into the mental decline of old age she won’t be able to tell the difference. She’s not far wrong. I simply cannot think rationally, constructively, deliberately, unless I’m writing. When I read the Bible, thoughts skitter past me and I grab at them, but unless I can hurry to the keyboard and tap them in pronto, they’re gone. Never to reappear. When I’m in the middle of a conversation and want to delve deeper, I need to be at the computer, or to flip open a notebook, to record the conversation on my phone, anything to get the thoughts down, to retain them.
And time, my dumplings! Time slips past me when I’m writing, so that ten minutes turns out to have been two hours. I stagger up from my desk, wondering if I’ve missed the 10pm news to discover that I’m just in time for the World Service 2am bulletin. When I’m not writing, the days are weeks long. An hour is a vast moorland of really boring heather and grey featureless sky. When I’m not writing I’m no one and nothing in a mist of more nothingness. When I’m writing, I am out of time and space, soaring.
And fellow writers! I love ’em! Even the really bad, mean, disgusting mysogynists. Even the pre-pubescent guffawing sniggering scatalogically-minded male writers who stay on the same soap for 30 years, just to gang up on new writers and sneer at women. Even them. And as for good writers, man, I’m bloomin’ passionate about them. I love them with a sacrificial passion. Honest.
Three years ago, after 30 years of commercial writing, TV series and films and plays , I felt that I had to do something new and different, because I had turned back to God after a lifetime away from Him. Maybe there was something else for me to do now.
I have to report that there isn’t. Writing is all I can do. I may not write well, but I write, and when I write I am complete and happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5 minute talk for the children on a Sunday morning, or a blog, or a radio play, I am happy. My thoughts have clarity.
This week two producers have contacted me with interesting ideas for TV drama. One of them is an idea I had a few years ago, and which has never quite left the producer’s imagination, so she wants to pursue it again. I had forgotten it (the cotton wool brain, remember?) but when I re-read it, I was amazed. It’s good. My agent, who I’ve tried to release from the onerous task of representing such a nitwit, has never given up on me. Wouldn’t it be really funny and wonderful if I ended up back in telly? Just for one more project?
And then the doubts crowd in. I live in West Wales. To get to a meeting in London I have to drive for 90 minutes, park the car, get the train for three hours, arrive in London, get lost… swear a bit, hail a taxi… Last year, when I’d given myself sciatica and bursitis delivering all those local magazines, I was so immobile that the only way I could get out of the London black cab was on my bum, like a huge very cross toddler. And don’t tell me to get the team to come here; Imagine a read-through, consisting of maybe 20 actors, a script editor, two producers, an exec, all HOD’s, continuity, runner, etc etc etc…. ‘Erm, Luce lives in West Wales so we’re all going to head off there for this two hour meeting.”
I find myself excited and appalled at the idea that I might pursue one of these interesting drama projects. Exhausted and invigorated by the thought of it. TV drama is a dodgy old business now – once upon a time you went to one of the four or five broadcasters and if they liked the idea, it was made. Simple. You had your ‘yes’ or ‘no’ within weeks of meeting and sharing the idea. Now there are so many broadcasters, so many Indies, so many Studios, so much expense, so many funding options… and they all have their own agendas, their own ‘demographic’ to pander to, and it can take a couple of years to get a ‘No, thank you.’ by which time you hate the project with all your heart and soul. You’ve written the first episode a dozen times. The people who head the production company have left and newcomers are in their place. The head of drama at the broadcaster has changed. The only constant seems to be the poor bloody writer. On one project I was getting notes from six different organisations, and they were often – very often – contrary. What does the writer do when that happens? One option is to walk away. Do I want to spend a year or two getting a project off the starting blocks only to walk away?
In this last confusing period, I’ve discovered that I love script editing. I’ve been working with two great young writers and it’s been a really good experience, but I have to remember at every stage in the process that the world they are in now, is not the world I knew as a writer. It’s tempting to say ‘Those were the days’ and in some ways of course my world was much more exciting and accessible than theirs, but I don’t want to be a sour old when-we*. Truth is, TV drama is better than it was, production values are pretty good, there are less star-vehicles and more story led dramas, and with the BBC, ITV, Sky, Netflix , HBO, Channel 5 etc there are so many more outlets and therefore so much more variety…. yep, if you’re a young or new writer today, things aren’t so bad!
There’s fabulous verse in the Bible, a prayer, and I find myself going to it over and over again from Psalm 90: May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.
I look back on all the years of Peak Practice and Soldier,Soldier, and all the other stuff I’ve written and I know it wasn’t written for God. Whatever I write from now on, has to be for Him. And the thoughts I have, they have to be at one with Him. And the love I have, it has to be from Him. It all has to be about Him.
So, will I pursue these two projects or will I let them lie? I suppose I’d better ask Him. If I should get involved, He will take me through, He will establish the work of my hands.
- “when-we” was the name given to ex Rhodesians who fled Zimbabwe and then tried to tell South Africa how to conduct its affairs, “When we were in Rhodesia… when we lived in Salisbury… when we…”