The thing is, my little pattypans, I have no one else to talk to and I need to talk to someone. You’ll do.
This week I was talking with the Writer’s Club (just three mad women on Skype), discussing their script, and I found myself saying “You’re in this script, and you shouldn’t be. Good writing is not about the writer. Good writing is about the truth.”
I’m chuffed when I hear myself saying or writing something that I didn’t know I knew, because it doesn’t come from me, it comes from all my years and all the people I’ve met, all the hard lessons and knocks, all the scripts I’ve written… and all these things are allowed into my life by God. So, when something new and true reveals itself, and all that confusion makes a tiny nugget of sense, that’s exciting!
Where am I going with this?
There are tremendous freedoms in writing for radio; we can bring any era or location to life with no fear about the costs involved. Television drama just about doubles in cost when it’s historic, and imagine getting a whole film crew and cast and support team out to Hong Kong now, as we did for the second series of Soldier, Soldier. There just ain’t that much money in the world!
See this bee? I took this photo in a garden in West London, on a blazing hot summer’s day, as we recorded a radio play about a village in North Derbyshire in deep snow. It worked.
So, yes, there are great freedoms in radio, and the world can be transformed, but there are a few enormous drawbacks too. The budgets are very tight which means we can’t, for example, stretch to commissioning new music, or pay musicians. Because of employment law and insurance and necessary things like that, we can’t accept gratis performances either. And for my latest play I want to have a whole HOST of angels, a whole ARMY of supernatural beings singing an UNEARTHLY anthem of amazing praise…. I want to make the listener catch their breath, transported to the miracle of two thousand years ago, when the age old pattern of the sky was broken by a new star and history was split in two (as it says in a hymn). I want this fabulous, physical and historic, amazing and bloody wonderful surging crowd of powerful angels to make listeners all over the country pause for a second… lost in thought as they stand at their ironing boards ( it seems that at least half the radio audience listens as they do the ironing!).
I don’t want the greatest night in the history of the world to sound like layered audio tracks of 7 actors in a concrete studio in West London.
Fortunately our sound engineer is a gifted musician and a whizz with effects, so I am not alone. But on Monday I must send off the scenes featuring the angel choir so that he can start thinking about them… and I haven’t written them yet. It’s all a bit ‘HOW????’ in my head at the moment. All I know is what I want the overall effect to be, but how to achieve that, what it will sound like….. how many question marks can I add??????? How do I describe it to my colleague? What words, what imagery, can I use?
You know what I want? I want a steel drum band, of joyous young, lusty voices. I want. I want…. I want the philharmonic with a new composition – a cross between Vivaldi, Johnny Cash and Wagner. I want the clarity of Maxine Sullivan and the resonance of Bryn Terfel. I want. It’s all about me.
And I can’t even tell the engineer what I want in any half-coherent way. It’s all going to go terribly terribly wrong.
Oh, hang on. No, it isn’t. Because it really isn’t about me at all. It’s all about the God who makes himself known in the weakness of men. The God who used Moses who was “slow of speech and slow on tongue” and Jonah who was so reluctant to preach the word of God that he ran away, and David who sinned and killed and sinned again, and Paul who murdered Christians with gusto. It’s about the God who took a shambling chaotic group of fishermen and peasants and through them proclaimed a revolutionary truth throughout the world and through the ages, across all cultures. Even ironing boards.
So, maybe I shouldn’t be fretting about the how and the question marks, maybe I should turn first to God and put my trust in Him, ask Him if this is what He wants, and while I wait for the answer maybe I should pour a glass of red wine, find that bit of cheese …. read a few Psalms….. or watch Masterchef…. wait for inspiration. Not from me, but from God.
Does that sound bonkers? I can’t help that, my sugar lumps. That’s how it is.
So… once again….. at the risk of repeating myself, “You’re in this script, and you shouldn’t be. Good writing is not about the writer. Good writing is about the truth.” Listen to what you found yourself saying, Luce. Get out of the script. Trust. Submit to God, walk with Him, sip your wine with Him, know that He can do what you can’t. Give yourself a Masterchef break.
Right, listen. I read an article today about killings many many years ago in the Irish troubles. A car bomb in Birmingham. I half remember it, one of the many atrocities along with the Omagh bombing, the bomb at Westminster, the knee cappings…. My family is Anglo-Irish and yet as the child of a British Army NCO I grew up loathing both the IRA and the Irish, trained at an early age to mistrust every Irish accent and to view my own culture with suspicion. I know the satisfaction of hating. When you hate someone there’s release of adrenalin, a pleasurable glow of righteousness and rage. I know what it is to hate. It’s a love affair. And it’s deadly.
I read that article today and felt heart-sore for those who need to reach back nearly 50 years to avenge historic offences. Some of the wrongs and hurts are certainly grievous, this one killed 22 people in Birmingham and maimed many others, and that deed can never ever be condoned. Does that mean we should still be seeking ‘justice’ at such a distance? I don’t say that the people who are pursuing the murderers are wrong to do so, but I have heartfelt sorrow for them. Forgiveness is such a wonderful gift. It frees the person who has wronged and it frees the person who has been wronged. It creates an amazing lightness of spirit, and love.
I haven’t always found it easy to forgive, but oddly, the people I found it hardest to forgive were rarely the ones who had hurt me; There was a doctor in, probably, 1960. This youngish bloke tried to tell my step-mother that I had been damaged physically and my step-mother was so angry that she stormed out of the surgery, grabbing me as we went, and we never went back. The treatment he recommended was never pursued, and he never referred me onwards. The priest I went to asking for help, did nothing. The child psychologist, brought in to discover why I would enter a mute phase for months on end, did nothing. I spent a long time, as an adult, being angry with these people – much angrier with them than I was with the people who had damaged me – odd! Or maybe not so odd, maybe because they were at heart well-meaning, so it was natural to think that help would come from them, and the sense of abandonment and worthlessness when it didn’t materialise was just crippling. Wow. That word ‘crippling’. That’s exactly what it felt like. That’s a good word to describe a child with no one to turn to. ‘Crippled’.
My anger didn’t last, and I do thank God that it didn’t. What good would it do me or anyone else to still hold onto the hurt and the wrongs of so long ago? How pointless and damaging would that be?
If you’re not a Christian, don’t separate yourself from this argument. It’s not a goody-goody, holier-than-thou thing. Even in a worldly, physical, entirely now-based philosophy, what the hell is the use of holding onto hatred and hurt?
I want to mourn those 22 people killed by that IRA bomb, to feel sorrow for the lives that were blighted, just as I want to mourn my Mum who died in a sweat of ill feeling and hatred, I want to grieve for my divided country… I want to find some sorrow for my father…. but that means loving. Not hating. Grief is not bitter. Grief is love remembered.
None of us are ultimately wise, none of us are flawless, and we have no right to demand that of each other. We live in a fallen world, a broken world, and we cannot begin to love each other until we forgive.
There was a man, a shabby man in a brown overall, who told me, a six year old child, “I hope your mother dies in agony.” I think he gained some satisfaction from seeing my reaction, and I am so deeply sorry for him. When a man is so damaged that he can say that to a child, when men are so damaged that they can kill 22 strangers, when someone is so empty and cruel that he can spray a mosque with bullets. Pity. Pity. Pray for them. Forgive.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
** I wrote all that an hour ago, but as I was trotting off to bed, I remembered my brothers and realised that Peter, the younger of the two, was a lesson in un-forgiveness, a perfect example of what it does to us; both my brothers were scarred by our early years, but although Martin never resolved his problems and never had even a short term relationship, he was a gentle soul. Peter was never gentle – he couldn’t forgive. He couldn’t forgive anyone anything, ever. He couldn’t forgive our father, our relatives, he couldn’t forgive our childhood, the lost years. And he couldn’t forgive God. He was furious that there could be no justice, no retribution for what he saw as the wrongs done to us. His rage and bitterness pursued him all his life. He died, alcoholic and lonely, in a house fire.
Forgiveness, it’s the only way to peace and love, to joy.