Monday, 13 October 2014

Best Laid Cunning Plans

my gran's typewriter

I think everyone who writes, has a trigger thing...a reason they started writing, a memory of the first time it made sense to take the voices of out of their head and put them on paper. And for me, it was because my Gran wrote stories and poems (and Very Angry Letters) on her typewriter and I just wanted to try that too. She would let me borrow her typewriter for a week each month, until gradually, it spent more time in my house than her house. I still have it now. It wasn't until I was a wee bit older that I understood writing was a thing you could "do".

In 1989 we were studying the First World War in school, and we were asked to write a letter home style essay from a soldier on the frontline. When I went home that night, instead of doing my homework, I scribbled and then typed up a script for my favourite TV programme, Blackadder, set during the First World War. This was actually before Blackadder Goes Forth had been on telly, but it just seemed like a very likely place for the character to end up. And then, instead of handing it in for homework, I sent it off to the BBC and got a punishment exercise for my troubles.

I had never written a script before, or even really shared my writing with too many people, so I was a bit taken aback, when a month or so later, Richard Curtis, the co-writer of Blackadder (and many more things since then of course) phoned me at my house to talk about the script I'd sent. He phoned a couple more times over that year to give me polite and helpful pointers and suggestions for how to script things. In retrospect, I realise I never really understood or made enough of those opportunities; I certainly did get to be a paid teenage scriptwriter for a few brief years, and that was nice - got to spend a lot of money on gigs and Smiths teeshirts thank-you very much. But I didn't pursue it with enough belief I don't think. So ultimately, I stopped doing it.

This year though, for the first time in ages, I found myself thinking about 1989, trying to remember what I had written in that script, mostly because of the irritating things Michael Gove was saying about Blackadder's take on the First World War, that there was some sort of distasteful unpatriotic agenda there, and that we should all be more proud of the wholesale slaughter of generations of young men.

So I went up the loft at my mums, to try and find my scribblings from 25 years ago. I found lots of old secondary school essays and some school reports which broadly suggested the ways in which I required to try harder. But no script. It could never have been as good as the one I still have typed up in my head though. In reality, I imagine the script hasn't aged well, a bit frayed around the edges, its maybe not actually all that funny and...I think you see where I was going with that punchline. That's why my career in stand-up comedy was short lived.

I Am Forty this week, and I remember sixteen year old scriptwriting me thinking about how awful that would be, but in imagining whatever dark middle aged future I thought I would be trapped in, I always still saw myself writing. I was wrong about many things, when I was 16, from haircuts to how bras unhooked, but I was thankfully spot on about that. I write more now than I ever did then, and not in pursuit of anything other than telling and sharing stories. It's not about the gigs and teeshirts for me anymore. What I gradually came to realise, over the last few years in particular, is that for me, rather than writing being a thing you can "do" it might more accurately be "a thing you can't not do". I'm less happy when I'm not doing it. Who wants to be less happy?

Even now, most of those stories still involve history in some way or another. I'm involved in writing a comic about the First World War at the moment, and I'm lucky enough to be getting a children's book published by the wonderful Kelpies next year, which is chock full of old buildings and places.

Grandparents are great obviously. And we were really lucky with ours. I was always closest to my Gran though. She laughed a LOT, treated us to the Panto at Christmas, always had lots of sweets and comics...but of all the gifts, across all the years, writing was the best.

Sadie and Wilf