You know the old cliché. “Oh, it’s been such a roller-coaster of a year!” Well, clichés are clichés for a reason, and 2019 has been a HELL of a year. Ups, downs, loop-the-loops. For me, the past few months have been the dizzying plunge that makes your stomach lurch and crawl up into your lungs before you slow down and come to a rest at the end of the ride. This makes a retrospective pretty hard, as it’s difficult to see the world without the filter of negativity that my depression has slapped on everything lately. But I’m going to try.
This will be a long post, and it’ll probably get quite emotional at times. To keep things breezy, I’ll try to pepper in some pictures to break everything up. I’m also going to split into sections to make it all a bit more manageable, though things in those sections will be in roughly chronological order.
I’ll warn you now, it gets political towards the end. It has to, given the date I’m writing it. PLEASE: don’t debate me on the things I say. Don’t assume I HATE YOU SPECIFICALLY if you voted for the government we’re getting. I’m disappointed in you if you did, but I don’t hate you. You don’t need to defend yourself to me, I’m just zis guy, you know? Just let me get some fear and anger off my chest and then we’ll both go our separate political ways. I know at least one close friend who might have voted this way and I don’t to lose them over this. As long as they don’t want to lose me over it too.
Anyway. Pull that bar down across your laps and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.
Best New Films I Saw This Year
I managed to see more films at the cinema this year, which I’m thankful for. A writer needs to read and a scriptwriter needs to read and watch films. Here’ my favourites of this year, in the order I saw them in.
One Cut of the Dead : A Japanese comedy about a zombie film set that’s infested with zombies – or is it? About 40 minutes are shot in one long take, and it’s the most wholesome fun you can have with severed limbs and buckets of blood.
Captain Marvel : Doesn’t take itself too seriously, is packed to the gills with 90s references & music and has a great hero arc.
Booksmart : Achingly funny, smart and relevant. This was criminally underlooked at the cinema but it’s a must-see.
Midsommar: The director said it’s not so much a horror film as it is a breakup film, and it’s a HELL of a breakup film.
Knives Out: Daniel Craig’s country-fried accent is only the tip of a hilarious and supremely well-crafted iceberg. Another must-watch.
Work and Writing
I started this year reading scripts, having quit my job for mental health reasons in 2018 & vowed never again to work in a call centre. My condition has ruined me for customer service/public-facing jobs, so I’ve had to think very hard about what I can do. If anyone happens to know what I’m good at, answers on the back of a postcard, please.
The script-reading was great at first. I was reading on a volunteer basis for the Ojai Film Festival (still am, if they have me back for next year!) and had a paid gig reading for a different international festival. Unfortunately, the pay wasn’t great, amounting to around £8 per script for 30 scripts a month. For reference, UK average at the time was said to be around £20-30. With the amount of work required to write comprehensive and useful writers notes I found I couldn’t balance my time well enough and had to step away. I haven’t been able to find paid script-reading work since, which is a shame. I’m always happy to help other writers when asked, though.
Last year I got involved with Beeston Film Festival, joining the Programming team and helping select the films for acceptance. In the run up to the festival this year I helped set up and staff the pop-up shop and helped shift heavy stuff around when needed. The people involved are all lovely, and it feels so good to be part of an organisation dedicated to bringing international films to people who otherwise would have no chance to see them. They’re growing and growing, and I’m currently helping set up a tentative limited-series-run podcast to promote the festival and the film-makers from around the globe. It’s an exciting time!
Speaking of podcasts, remember Celluloid Scrutiny? That fell by the wayside as personal problems got in the way over and over, so it’s sadly on indefinite hiatus. BUT! This year I joined forces with my friend Panicky to start work on a brand-new podcast (actually two, but the fiction one is proving tricky to crack). I mentioned it in my last post. It’s called Mixed Pictures, because we’re mixing up our rather different film tastes and seeing what common ground we can find. The first episode compares/contrasts Upstream Colour with Robocop. We got three episodes in and, once again, personal life got in the way – but I’m not letting this die, not this time. I’ll drag this project into the light kicking and screaming and riddled with audio glitches if I have to. It’s worth it. Panicky and I are FUNNY, damn it. We’re FUNNY and INTERESTING and you should LISTEN TO US. I’m as MAD as HELL and I’m NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.
Sorry, got a bit angry later. Got to save that up for a later section. You know what section I mean. More on that bloody later.
Anyway, what about my writing? Well, I did some writing for Cultured Vultures and Midlands Movies, but due to mental health issues yet again I let that slip. I’ve started writing again for it recently, and I’m determined not to let things get in the way of making a living from my writing, be it from fiction or non-fiction or anything at all.
This year I shopped my feature script, The Bride Wore Blood, all over the place. I submitted it to the BAFTA Rocliffe competition (declined), TLC Free Reads (great notes), BBC Writers Room (denied), Shore Scripts (denied), The Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship (quarter-finalist), The Finish Line Script Competition (quarter-finalist and great notes) and Sheridan Smith’s production company (won’t hear back from them, sent it on a whim!). As you can see, it was a bit of a mixed bag. But I’ve had some great notes from them and from writer friends, and I know how to proceed. I was going to do that in the past couple of months, but things got on top of me – more on that later. I have however renamed it Hen Party Massacre and come up with a good pitch hook – it’s Bridesmaids meets Friday 13th. I just need to work on the first act and the tone and I’m confident it’ll be a career-movement-conversation-starter. Mostly confident. Well, pretty confident. I think.
And of course, as you may know from me never shutting up about it, I wrote a script for my friend in film-school which has been filmed (apart from two scenes I think?) and will be released next year for festivals! Whoo! My first real proper non-amateur credit. I’m so excited!
I applied for a few things this year. I applied for a work experience day at Channel 4 (turned down), a media open day at an agency (turned down) and a script doctor role with the BBC (turned down). Part of me thinks I’ve set my goals too high, but then part of me consistently undervalues myself and my skills so I just don’t know what to think about myself and my work. This will be a tough nut to crack in 2020. I know I need to work on my pitching skills, perhaps even getting confidence and speech training of some kind? I just don’t know. BUT I attended a BFI Workshop on developing a feature treatment and I attended a Screenskills Open Doors event, so there has been progress and movement. See? I can be positive. Later today I’m finishing up an application for a trainee position with an organisation involved in exhibition and distribution of independent film – cross your fingers for me, folks, I need all the luck I can get. And to paraphrase those merciful sisters, I need all the luck that I can’t get too.
Finally, my friend Susan lent me a metric fuckton (much more than an imperial fuckton) of books and films and series to consume as research for the fantasy detective series I want to write a pilot for. Expect progress on that in 2020 too.
I turned 35 in January. As with anyone, the closer I get to 40 the more I start to think about what I’ve done with my life. It feels like I’ve done nothing, because materially I have next to nothing. I have no income. I have no job. I have no owned house, kids, pet, summer home and two holidays abroad a year. Without going into too much detail, I live in fear of not being able to afford food or rent, because thanks to my mental issues even the thought of applying for a job gets my feeling tight-chested and short of breath. And thanks to recent events (more on that bloody smegging later) I’m terrified I’m going to lose what little we’re able to have that help us live as we try to sort our psyches out. I want to work again, I’m just afraid of getting back into a toxic atmosphere and dealing with the public and falling to pieces all over again – it might be third time unlucky, and I might not come out of it alive this time.
And yet when asked by my parents if I need money, I’ve always said ‘I’m fine, thanks’. Because in reality, we do have enough to pay rent and eat right now. We just don’t have disposable cash or any real buffer. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t have to choose between eating and paying bills. We’re OK for now. But it’s not sustainable and it won’t last. If you read my last blog post, you’ll know I went to therapy. I won’t go over it all again, but it really helped me put some things in perspective and get some weighty emotions off my chest, baggage I’ve been carrying since I was a child. I came out of therapy with a spring in my step, confident that I could work on myself for a good few months and maybe think about going back to therapy some time near the end of next year.
Then my mum fell ill.
She’d struggled with emphysema (COPD to the white-coated and medically minded out there) for years and years, at first believing it to be just a tendency towards chest infections and bronchitis. As she got older, it got worse and worse. Her wheezing chest was a constant soundtrack to films watched with the family or books read while she watched Netflix on her laptop. A few years ago she had a stroke that severely limited her mobility and pretty much annihilated her appetite. She could speak and think fine (aside from a few memory issues, especially in recent months). She just barely went anywhere and barely had any exercise.
So when she got a bout of recurring chest infections she had to be hospitalised for muscle pains in her back. The hospital were alarmed at how frail she’d become – and so had I. It’s not until you see your mum tiny like a bird amongst the sheets and pillows on a hospital that it really hits you. She’d become hunched and weak and her breathing was so shallow. We basically lived in the hospital the first week, then managed our time and spent less time there for our own health. I got a cold, which limited the amount of time I could spend with her. I agonised over symptoms, second-guessing every day. “Sore throat but no coughing, is that OK, am I still infectious??”. She started to recover and they moved her to a small community hospital, and then she finally came home.
For about two days.
She had a massive relapse and went back into hospital. That day she came home was the last time I had a conversation with my mother, who could barely speak after being told to walk up the stairs by the paramedics, instead of using the chair specifically designed for stairs, which she said they talked her out of using because “it’s a faff”. She stopped eating. She stopped drinking. And, to make a long story short (too late), I was with her when she finally stopped breathing.
Remember how I said I wrote a film that’s being released next year? In it, a family is dealing with the loss of their wife and mother Nancy. After a year of silence and grieving, youngest daughter Eva finally opens up and says something that sums up pretty much exactly what it’s like to me. “It’s like there’s a hole,” she says, hand on chest. “And it’s just empty. And it’s never going to go away.”
That’s how I felt at the time I wrote the script, because I was I in mourning.
For my dog.
Yes, 2019 took my dog and my mum from me in the same year, and by cruel irony made me ascribe the pain I felt at the time to a fictional circumstance I’d be going through myself a few short months later. I lost my mum and my dog in the same year. If I’d lost a pickup truck too, then I could write a great country song.
Sorry. I’ve been getting darkly humorous intrusive thoughts for a while now. Things like “you can’t expect me to wash the pots, I’ve got a dead mum”. I’ve always processed my emotions with humour – but as Tonks is quick to point out, I deflect with humour too, so it’s damned hard to tell which one I’m doing at any given time. I like to keep her on her toes, you see.
So that was this year’s absolute low point for me (though not the last of them, more on that bloody smegging bollocking later). BUT there have been highs too. This year was my fifth wedding anniversary with Tonks. I credit our success to communication, compromise, empathy, love and me not swinging a massive masculine ego around every five minutes. I went to the Malt Cross pub quiz regularly with Panicky, Helen and Rachel, and once we even came THIRD. THIRD, people. SO CLOSE. And there are good things I can’t tell you about because they involve conversations and consent before I can reveal them, but one thing I’ve learned is that life is too short not to revel in the love you have.
I’m going to try not to vent my spleen too much at this, but I have a lot of pent-up anger that could well leak out into this here section. If you’re in a privileged enough position to be sick of politics or to think that nothing ever really changes anyway then A) I envy you and B) feel free to skip to the end bit now.
So things have been… hectic. This year. On the political front. Over the pond there’s the Orange Man and his cages full of children (which has been happening since LAST year). And now, in the final months of 2019, there’s a ray of hope as impeachment is going ahead.
But over here… well, Mrs Theresa May tried to get her Brexit deal through, and Parliament turned it down. She eventually, finally resigned, and we got Mr Boris Johnson. The first couple of months of his reign were littered with hilarious incompetency and failures, as he failed again and again to get his deal through parliament. He suspended Parliament to tie Parliament’s hands so he could try to force a No Deal Brexit, but it was ruled unlawful so it had to be re-opened.
Long story short (too late again), a General Election was declared. And a campaign of disinformation began. The other parties engaged in the usual mud-slinging, focusing on opponents’ weaknesses more than their own policies until the manifestos came out. But the Conservative Party was, again and again, caught out in lies and attempts at manipulation. 88% of their Facebook ads were deemed misleading (the other parties were not immune to this either).
The NHS was never going to be part of a UK-US trade deal, except it was, but maybe it wasn’t and maybe it was. They promised 50,000 new nurses when in fact they only planned to gain 31,500 new nurses. During a televised debate their press office Twitter handle pretended to be a fact-checking service to counter opponents’ claims. The PM refused to attend a debate on climate change and when Channel 4 replaced him with a melting ice sculpture, the government insinuated that they will look at having the company’s broadcast license revoked if they’re voted back in. The PM refused to attend a BBC interview and be subjected to the same scrutiny as the other leaders. He had to be cajoled into looking at a picture of a boy on a hospital floor after taking the interviewer’s phone and putting it in his pocket. A campaign of disinformation claiming the photo was fake sprung up soon afterwards. And the day before the election he ran away from a surprise interview with Good Morning Britain, but I can hardly blame him for that one, I’d hide in a fridge rather than talk to Piers Morgan too.
News came seemingly every day about Tory candidates in hot water. One candidate said that disabled people can’t understand money (and also apparently has in the past shared a blog post about a Muslim conspiracy to make people transgender). Several candidates were accused of Islamophobia. A candidate near me said he wanted to set up labour camps for problem neighbours to be held in (and was caught setting up a supposed-to-be-random doorstep interview with a friend). And my own constituency’s candidate said that poor people haven’t managed their finances properly and should consider payday loans as a solution.
They lied, cheated and showed the voting populace the utmost contempt, insulting our intelligence every step of the way. And we voted them in, in landslide numbers. All the candidates mentioned above got elected.
I was going to write a post about it yesterday, but I was shaking. I was shaking with fear but more so with anger. Because they got away with it. Just like the Trump campaign and, indeed, administration. They pissed on our heads, told us it was raining and sold us umbrellas. They got away with it, because we allowed them to. 9 years of austerity (proven to be ineffective and based on a mistake), 9 years of cuts and disabled people dying and homelessness & child poverty skyrocketing. And we voted them back in, seemingly because the biggest opposition party dared to suggest we should pay more to help the people who have the least.
I’m sure there are other reasons, and I’m sure I know a few people who voted for them. All I can say is your reasons for voting are your own, but just know that the party you’ve aligned yourself with doesn’t care about you. They’ve made it clear that they only care about making money for their friends. And the Brexit that they’ll bring about has the potential to be ruinous for the country. There’s already rumblings of Scottish independence, and with so much of the country voting SNP it’s not exactly unlikely.
It saddens and angers me that people across the country seem to have looked at the priorities of the Conservative Party (Brexit and making sure people with money keep making money) and looked at the priorities of the other parties (cancel or re-ask Brexit, make sure people with money pay their share to help people without it) and chose to look after themselves and those who have the most. To say nothing of climate change and the environment.
Perhaps the Labour manifesto couldn’t have been funded (or perhaps it could), but it could be adjusted and still provide the most help for the most people. The Conservatives as they are now will only ever care about themselves and anyone poorer than them can go hang.
More people are going to die. The most vulnerable among us are going to die. I might die. I depend on the NHS for my sanity, and if changes are made and we’re moved to an insurance-based system, I won’t qualify. Unemployed and pre-existing condition. I won’t be able to have my medication, and I’m not strong enough to keep working on myself without it.
2020 and Beyond
BUT. BUT. BUT that hasn’t happened. And I’ll do everything I can to ensure that it doesn’t. I’ve been surviving thus far, and I may not have the resources to do much living, but next year I’m going to fight. There will be marches and protests – I’ll be there. There will be people that need feeding – I’ll be there, even if only to staff tables because I can’t donate myself. I can’t give money, but right now I have the luxury of giving time. I’m going to look at local grassroots organisations and see what I can do to give my time to them and use it wisely.
And I’ll keep working with Beeston Film Festival, because I admire their globalist and inclusive values. Film tells unique stories, but all stories are ultimately human, and we all have a common ground. Basic human values and needs. People need to see stories through a different frame of reference than their own if they’re ever going to start thinking of other people as worth helping.
And I’ll write. My God, how I’ll write. No matter what 2020 and the next decade throw at me, I’m going to write if I have to scratch it out in the dirt of the irradiated wasteland that used to be the town centre. I’m going to write if I have to get one of those special pens that lets you write underwater. I’m going to write even if I have to do it in my head and tell my stories verbally around the fire.
Because I’m sad. And I’m scared.
But above all, I’m angry.
And as Anansi once said in a rather different context, angry gets shit done.