Last night I introduced my 16 year old granddaughter to The Sopranos. We watched the first two episodes and they stood the test of time for me while completely engaging her, although I may have been a bit distracting, laughing in anticipation of favourite lines and crowing every now and then, “Oh! This scene’s so good – watch this!” (although she already was). Never watch telly with a dramatist, we will ruin it either with our criticism and sourness, or with our enthusiasm.
I love the title sequence of The Sopranos so much that on a trip to New York 5 years ago I hired a huge luxury 4×4, and a driver, and we followed as much of Tony Soprano’s route as I could recognise from google earth and maps. I had my iPad with me playing (over and over) ‘Woke up this morning’ and it was just glorious! We came through the Lincoln Tunnel, the New Jersey turnpike (recognisable only by the huge overhead signs) saw the great span of that ‘skyway’ (can’t remember its name) and the industrial area, the many bridges and fly-overs, some great old advertising hoardings and then to top it all, we passed the ‘statue’ of the bloke with a carpet! It was great. The driver was Moroccan and he said I reminded him of his mum so he drove us to some of the places he took her, including a tiny park where we had a great view of The Statue of Liberty and then, although I’d paid for only two hours, he drove us to a coffee stand and all round the centre of New York. He was lovely. A warm memory.
The Sopranos. Fargo. Frasier. House of Cards. All unforgettable. I can remember huge chunks of dialogue and sequences, images, shots. Not a lot of TV is so memorable and exciting and I should know – I’ve spent my life writing instantly forgettable drama. What a shocking admission! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and all that stuff. But now, almost without deliberately setting out to do so, I’m aiming for one more shot at getting it right- that rustling sound you hear is me girding my loins, the scraping sound is my feet pawing the ground, the whinny is my excitement…. 2020, the year of return.
Ah, but the writer can’t decide on her future, not really. I could have the very best idea in the world, write the most amazing script (unlikely) and yet not be able to find a producer or I might find a producer and together we might go on to fail to find a broadcaster. Most of the TV and theatre world think I’m dead because I’ve been so quiet for so long, so it’s going to be a challenge, but in the week before Christmas I started reminding them all that I am still extant, and full of loin-girding, hoof pawing and creative excitement. Why? What has taken me back into drama?
I gave up telly five years ago, slowly and falteringly, not absolutely sure that this is what I was doing, until it was done! Does that make sense? After a couple of years, I realised that I had said ‘no’ to every offer that came my way, and to every enquiry about my availability, I had read books sent to me for adaptation and turned them all down, I’d met producers and actors who wanted to get projects going but I had remained uninspired. I wrote to my agent a couple of times excusing him from the job of representing me, but he wouldn’t let go. He’s a good friend. I wasn’t sure what was happening or why, and I questioned every negative decision I had made, but after those two years I realised that I was turning away from drama and towards God.
But you know what? God didn’t have a job for me. I was completely irrelevant in my church, in the practical day-to-day stuff. My life became about reading the Bible, praying, and erm… reading the Bible and praying. That’s what life has been for the last five years, falteringly at first, often losing my way, but with growing enthusiasm and joy. Once my ego and emotions had accepted that there was no structure or ministry within the church where I was needed, I found unexpected reward and delight in prayer and study.
So, now, what’s happening? Am I turning from God back to drama? Looks like it.
This year my autobiographical novel will be published (not quite an autobiography and not quite a novel. Whaddya expect? I’m a script writer) and I realised just a few days before Christmas that it could be adapted as a film or series. I wasn’t sure what form it would take, where the narration would sit, how the structure would adapt to the demands of drama, but I knew that it could be done. Somehow. Just had to wait for the answer to arrive.
Why? Why do I want to return to the exhausting and fickle world of television? Several reasons, and over Christmas and the New Year I’ve realised how surely I’ve been led to this point;
I’ve had the most unexpected, unusual, rich and rewarding life. When I wrote the first few series of Peak Practice, Soldier,Soldier and Bramwell we would get audiences of 18 million, overnight. Those were the days when there were only 4 TV channels, so the water cooler talk the next day would be about only one or two dramas the night before. Even later, when a few other platforms came along, my single films or mini series would get 12 million. All those words, all those words, and none about the Gospel! Not one. In an hour’s drama (just looked up an old script) there might be thirteen thousand words…. all those hours I’ve written and not one word about the greatest story to be told, until this last year or so when I’ve written two radio plays…..
The ‘why’ of my return to drama is quite simple; I want to tell the world about God. I want to tell them how He has shaped and saved my life. The title of the book is The Amazingly Astonishing Story and I hope it’s lively and funny, and certainly not serious. In the book my story ends at 17 when I left school, when I still didn’t know that God was all to me, was to be all to me in the rest of my life, that everything is about Him…. but the drama (if it gets made) will take me on from 17 and make sense of it.
Repeating myself: So, now, what’s happening? Am I turning from God back to drama? Not flippin’ likely! I am going back to drama with God.
I’m praying so fiercely that the adaptation will make sense of my life for the person on the outside looking in, because God has done a wonderful thing in my life. He is my hero. He is the centre of everything. Not the church, or feel-good, or do-good, but Him.
My life really is an Amazingly Astonishing Story, but it’s His, not mine. My prayer is that the adaptation will show this, very very clearly. If you have room in your prayer life, will you join me in that hope?