March 2009


messyoffice2

Distracted by business in the real world and a huge pile of scripts to read to deadline, a return to my own beloved laptop was a bittersweet experience this week.

I felt like one of those people who returns home from holiday to discover – horror! – that they’ve been burgled, only to realise that they’re simply one messy bastard.

I booted-up – do computers still boot up, these days, or do they simply switch on? – to discover my desktop plastered with files. From the top of the screen to the bottom.

First drafts, seconds drafts, fragments of drafts, final drafts, second final drafts, final final drafts of numerous projects. FDRs, PDFs, DOCs, DOCXs. Scripts, novels, play fragments, log lines, treatments, scene-by-scene breakdowns.

All sitting there on the desktop just so I know where to find them. All there because I don’t have the patience to file them properly. And now look, I can find them alright, I just have no idea which version I should be working on. And, oh my christ, look – half a dozen flash drives full of updated work. But which are the most recent?

I’ve no idea, so I reach into my bag, and onto my shelves, for hard copies.

They’ve all been scribbled over, with various stuff underlined once, twice, three times – just so I know, you see, that that was absolutely my last word on the project – and then, oh shit, four times. Bits of paper, receipts, newspapers, post-it notes, various notebooks, folders full of old scripts plastered with copious thoughts, all mixed up with other business. Old ideas mingling with new ideas. Yes, I was very much his favourite once upon a time, dontchaknow, until you came along. 

And I think, this really can’t go on. It just can’t. So I’m going through it all, bit-by-bit, so I can sort the old from the new, the work-in-progress with good notes from the work-in-progress with the extra bad notes. 

The waste paper bins, both virtual and real, are gaping. The shredder is at my feet. I’ve chosen one loyal notebook who shall travel by my side until I lose him or he strays too far, and I’ll be forced to pick up another.

Tomorrow, I’m going to five serious consideration to picking up my clothes from the bedroom floor. But, better not get ahead of myself. After all, tomorrow is another day.

I’ve been tagged by the marvellous Laurence. The Meme: Impossible…  to mention “six things or habits of no real importance” about me, so here they are…

I’ve been mentioned in three published books. In one of them you’ll find me just above Adolf Hitler in the index, in another my fictionalised-self is eaten by a giant, mutant pig.

I’m allergic to the wonder-drug of the age, penicillin. Ironic considering my aunt was one of Fleming’s test-samples. I fear that if I’m ever in a car-crash this fact will actually turn out to be quite important, but hey-ho.

Growing up, I wanted to be Quincy M.E., and I think I still do. I can take or leave the day job, with its cadavers and gruesome injuries, but there’s a lot to be said for enjoying a cocktail with a pretty lady on a houseboat.

My father was a professional boxer, and rather a good one. I can’t punch my way out of a paper-bag.

I’m a lucky so-and-so who really shouldn’t complain about the hand that life has dealt me, but that doesn’t stop me trying.

For eighteen years I’ve written down every book  I read in a little notebook so I know how many I read over the year. Every year the total makes depressing reading, and this year has so far been spectacularly dispiriting. However, only yesterday I added ‘Lush Life by Richard Price’ to the list. If I read a more brilliantly written book this year, I’ll be surprised. If I manage to read another book this year, I’ll be surprised. 

I won’t tag anyone, because I’m actually sure anyone reads this blog, but feel free to compile your own list.

For a few months me and the missus have languished in the world of Lovefilm, churning remorselessly through movies and TV series popped into our letter-box with the bored energy of people who have been starved of top quality drama.

That’s not to say that we don’t watch Holby and Casualty and the Bill and Waterloo Road – and Mistresses, which is on particularly fine form this series – or any of the other staples of British television. EastEnders and Corro and, yes, Emmerdale, all provide occasionally dazzling drama.

Lately, we’ve also enjoyed The Devil’s Whore and the patchy but stylistically enjoyable Red Riding, and Criminal Justice  – oh, I’m sure you can name them all. I’m also a keen consumer of those two – recently, three – parter dramas that seem to motor ITV’s schedules – Unforgiven, that was terrific.

And although I personally leave my mum to keep me up to date on the New Tricks and the Lewises of the world, they’re perfectly fine specimens of the UK television programme eco-system.

I don’t want to sound like one of those tiresome blog bores who thinks UK television is inherently inferior. But although all of these provide solid,  meat-and-potatoes drama, none of them seem to have any of the amazing character work or the unpredictability, subtlety or empathy of any of the US series that have recently returneed to the schedules.

I’m talking your Damages, your Losts, your Mad Men, I’m talking your Battlestar Galacticas and your Dexters and your Shields. These, for the most part, are not network shows in the US – and, of course, they’ll be hugely expensive – so perhaps we shouldn’t expect our own equivalents over here.

But I still find it incredible that, in this day and age of sophisticated storytelling we can’t seem to be able to write and commission stories featuring compelling, layered, deeply complicated characters like Vic Mackey or Patty Hewes or Don Draper.

And, of course, it ain’t going to get better. As British television struggles to apply old business models to a new media environment – what a fucking cock-up it’s been, some of these channels should really be ashamed; but that’s another story – it looks like I’m going to be stuck popping those dvds into the post-box at the end of the road for some time to come.

Anyone know when Breaking Bad is due for release?

My writing has been somewhat neglected again, this week, which makes me nervous, as the wide world of proper, honest-to-goodness, money-in-the-bank work has continued to eat into my time.

It’s been a great experience having some work come in and the whole thing has been undeniably exciting and nerve-wracking in turns.

It’s boosted my confidence and my spirit, and I’ve met some nice new people, and some old friends, but it’s taken up most of my practical and thinking time this week, and I’ll be glad when all the building blocks for the project are in place, and I can cut back my commitment to allow me more time to write. 

If it works out, I’ll be able to spend a good portion of my week writing, and a couple of days working, but the sudden change to my routine has been unsettling.

I apologise for the lack of posts, but I also apologise for my lack of creative endeavour. But sometimes I’ve got to put food on the table.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

No, no, no.

Just no.

This week, although enjoyable in many respects – Work! People! Commuting; ah, well, perhaps not that last one – has been a horror show for the writing, with barely a word written in anger.

I’d got my writing ‘space’ into a fairly solid, if plodding, routine, but a disruption to that routine, and one that’ll continue over the next for weeks and then hopefully settle down into something more regular, has thrown up a number of questions about what I do, and the way I do it.

So what have I learned? I’ve learned that a rigid routine has made me a little complacent in many ways and that I’m not working hard enough at what I do.

I’ve learned, furthermore, that if I’m to make a go of this – of writing scripts, of being a writer – that I can’t live in a bubble all the time. I’m going to have to be more flexible. I’m going to have to throw off that guy habit of thinking about one thing at a time.

But I’ve also learned that I’m a lucky man, and that I can have my cake and eat it. I can close off a small portion of my week to do something I’m good at doing, and for which someone is willing to pay me.

It’s already given me an interesting insight to how I work, and how I can improve the use of my time. Instead of presuming I’ll be writing same-time same-place the following day, I should make the most of the writing period I’ve got.

And it’s taught me that Pret sandwiches and zero visits to the gym are a bad combination.

Been busy, busy, busy this week – many apologies.

I’ll write another ‘busy’ for emphasis so you don’t think I’m lounging around on our *new* sofa. 

Busy.

There, that should do it.