This year has been a varied one. Periods of hectic busy-ness interspersed with deadening inactivity.
The big decision at the start of 2012 was to ditch the audio stuff. Well…not ditch it…put it on the back burner. It just became too difficult to produce to a reasonable timescale and since I’ve never really wanted to be a producer anyway the realisation that I was sacrificing writing time for production had started to nag at me. I also began to sense that the “big picture” I had for the audio stuff (several series of one “high concept” show) was becoming increasingly difficult – in that you can’t keep asking actors for favours once it becomes clear the work isn’t actually going to lead to a pay cheque any time soon. I lost one actor and even though I found a fantastic replacement I started to feel like I was banging the same old drum. I could hear myself and I sounded deluded.
I thought the work we produced with Nova Star Hunters was good. It had high production values and was much better acted than the majority of other amateur audio work out there – so I was a bit disappointed by the lack of interest from any professional quarter. I dunno, maybe the work just wasn’t good enough and I’m kidding myself, but I don’t think I am. I’m a harsh critic – particularly of my own work. I think the series showed off several great actors, great production, and some half decent writing…so it wasn’t easy knocking it on the head. But I think you’ve got to know when to quit.
Sticking to your guns is admirable but you’ve also got to be realistic and know when you need to try something else. Re-focus. Take stock. I started out wanting to write, and the audio stuff was a way of addressing the fact that new writers find it hard to get their work produced, so I acted on the advice I (and others) were getting from industry professionals at the time and produced my own work. If I learnt anything from that process it would be, a; producing things yourself isn’t a magic bullet, you’re still faced with the uphill struggle of trying to get people to hear or see what you do, and b; don’t overreach. Do shorter pieces, with a variety of actors, so you’re not locked into one idea that will take ages to complete. The latter is my fault – my mistake in planning. The former is pretty much out of my control. Yes, you can network. Use guerrilla tactics. Social networks to try and get the word out – but the stories you hear about where people have used these techniques successfully – are the exception, rather than rule. You’re a faint voice in a vast digital ocean and the chances of any great number of people finding your work are slim.
But you’ve got to try stuff. And I tried the audio production. At one time the barrier to forward progress seemed to be this, “please someone just let me see/hear my work on its feet”. I now know that production is just the start. So, in that respect, I’ve learned a great deal.
However, the decision to move on from audio production and re-focus on writing left me in an ominously familiar place. Needing help from producers and other theatre professionals to take my work forward. Reliant on competitions, development initiatives, things like the BBCs “Writersroom” or theatres open to new writing as destinations for my work. There’s also the worry that you’ll become isolated. Writing is a lonely thing to do and you need people around you for support and feedback. Theatre provides that – but you have to push to make it happen. Above all else I didn’t want to return to a situation where I was writing and sending stuff to people I would never meet.
Luckily something happened since I was last in this situation. Nothing to do with writing or professional progress – I met a woman.
I used to live in a crappy bedsit where I would scribble into the night, hoping against hope the writing would provide an escape. I never imagined the escape would have nothing to do with writing – instead it would come from a woman I could talk to, who understood me, and would let me be myself. It dawned on me I could trust her…and then that I was in love with her. It took a while. I didn’t know I had a problem with trust until I was faced with it – I always needed a way out in the past. Taking that step over the line was difficult for me…
Now she’s around all the time and I’m a better person for it! Less desperate and angsty. When I’m stuck or worried she comes up with options and she’s made me realise that writing isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. I think now, “you know what, I can only do what I want to do and if no one’s interested, it’s their loss”. I’ve got someone who likes me anyway! I hope I offer things to enhance her life too.
She was the one that suggested I do part of an MA in script writing at Manchester Met. I don’t really have a high regard for courses like this, and I couldn’t really afford it, but she kept banging on! Several friends of mine have done MAs in theatre or screen writing and as far as I can tell they’re in exactly the same position they were in before they spent thousands of pounds. However, this was a short course, only £600 (!), and the thing that ultimately swayed me was the fact it was being offered in partnership with North West Playwrights. Anyone who knows me knows how important this development agency has been for me, and the guidance of NWPs director Chris Bridgman, has been invaluable to me as a writer. Not just in terms of skills and craft but in the company’s grounded approach to the practicalities of writing and the theatre scene in general. Finally, the course would allow me to plug the gap that I foresaw growing in the absence of audio production – access to actors, directors and other proffesionals via a series of workshops and seminars offered as part of the course.
At about the same time as I started this course my friend Daniel Thackeray started to talk about a company called Organised Chaos who were looking for writers to get involved with collaborative theatre – so I jumped into this as well. The brief was to work closely with a director on a piece to be performed at the Three Minute Theatre later in the year on the theme of “Britain, from a positive perspective” – not an easy task! Dan has since mentioned that he views me as a natural cynic – which is why he set me this particular brief as a challenge. I think he’s wrong though – I’m actually a secret optimist.
So, without really planning it I seemed to be addressing the concern for people and places to go – in-between bouts of writing. Then I got a very positive response from the BBCs Writersroom to a script I submitted to their Spring Submissions window. I’ve had some good feedback from the Writersroom in the past but the concrete numbers they offered this time (I was in the top 30 of 2000 scripts) was a boost – if not the development opportunity I was really hoping for. The Soho Theatre also got back – liking the play I sent them and asking to see future work. All sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?
Then the realisation set in about September time. As the MA course ended and the 3MT performance came and went that – in real terms – I’d actually achieved nothing. I was still sniffing around the BBCs skirts for scraps of interest and the all the hard work at MMU had led to precisely nothing. I was told all the pros at the script-in-hand reading of my play were full of praise for it – but none of them got in touch, did they? And the producers the BBC promised to send to both the 3MT production and the script-in-hand failed to materialize.
Add to this the day-job had really started to get me down and I handed in my notice. It was an impulse decision and I’ve been guilty of those in the past – letting things build to a point of crisis before I take action.
Everything I’ve read, and all the people I’ve heard talking, about writing suggest this is natural. These lulls and periods of self-doubt. But it doesn’t help much at the time. And there’s the fact that the people who talk of these periods in their own lives will necessarily be those people for whom they were ultimately transitory. They are successful writers looking back. You don’t hear from those who tried and failed. Perhaps I will be one of those? It occurs to me more and more that I’ve been blinkered from the age of fifteen in terms of what I want to do. It’s writing. Nothing else will do – and if there’s one thing I wish I could change it would be this. To have been more open from the start in terms of what would bring me a sense of achievement and progress in life.
Since this lull I’ve picked myself up a bit. I’ve got two full-length plays in progress, one of which I’ll be workshopping with Davinia at In The Red later this month. And the possibility of more work with Organised Chaos. Perhaps Dan was right and I am a natural cynic, or a pessimist, since my reaction to this is to wonder why? Why on earth would Davinia want to go to all the trouble of arranging workshops on an unfinished play of mine? Why would Organised Chaos want to work with me again? There must be some mistake…
But I also realise that to think such things does a disservice to my friends and colleagues. They’re not fools and they must see something in the writing – so I can’t afford to be too down on myself. I suppose it’s about looking for these objective truths when my status-quo, like many writers, is to doubt myself.
It’ll probably always be this way. But I don’t care anymore. I’m in a relationship that will last – whether something happens with the writing or not.
And I didn’t just worry in 2012 – here’s some pictures to prove it!