29 September, 2006

Paper tigers

Sitting in a corner of my bedroom in one of many similarly-dusty, similarly-unassuming cardboard folders are a couple documents I wrote in the late 1990s.

One is a screenplay, the other a script. They hail from a time when I thought the sort of thing I should be doing with my life was getting stuff down on paper, regardless of merits, regardless of consequences. I was at a crossroads, between university and a proper, full-time job; I was also at several loose ends.

I don't think I've looked at either finished works for a good five years or so. Their presence simultaneously annoys and taunts me.

They symbolise concrete evidence of how I used to be and how I used to think when I was quite a bit younger and far less rational than I am now. As such their contents, from recollection, are embarrassingly self-righteous and unashamedly polemical. They were my attempt at putting the world to rights with a pen rather than, well, a sword. They were completed in part for expediency, to prove I could do it and to prove to others I could do it. But they were also, and remain as such to date, the last pieces of creative writing I ever did.

Throughout my early childhood I was always dreaming up stuff and committing it to paper, be it in a formal capacity at primary school or to pass the time at home. At secondary school I sort of lost my way and got too embroiled in the business of studying for the sake of it, devoting far more time to the business of homework than any sane person should and throwing away part of my teenage years as a result.

Later on again, especially during my A-levels, the process flipped back and I rediscovered the joy of creating, be it prose, poems or songs. That feeling and passion persisted through university and out the other side, culminating, you could say, in these two epic productions which, in fact, are neither epic and have never been produced. But still.

One, a screenplay entitled 'Illusions', was a preposterously ambitious art-mirroring-life affair, tracing the fortunes of five former school-friends forwards and backwards in time up to the start of the new millennium.

I stuffed it full of allusions to real events and people, crammed it full of my favourite songs, and shoehorned into it every technical camera and staging trick I'd ever seen or read about, including a scene where characters spent two minutes walking towards a static camera, another where the camera spent the entire scene moving slowly into a café then out of it, a third where proceedings turned into an episode The Avengers, and so on.

I showed it to three friends, each of whose personalities had been shamelessly imported into the script. I don't know what kind of response I was expecting; none mentioned the liberties I had taken with their own characters, which was very gracious of them. Equally, none ever made reference to the screenplay ever again, which was probably just as kind. I wrote the entire thing in the summer of 1997, just after graduating from university.

The second document, a play script entitled 'Hustings', was a shorter piece but no less pretentious. All the action took place during one night - the night of a general election - and once again featured an ensemble of characters with various affinities and affiliations squabbling and falling out and making up and mouthing off.

I wrote the thing in 1999 when I had lost all patience with New Labour and its machinations of government and when I was perilously interested in writing about politics and nothing but.

Both pieces are now relics, echoes from an earlier age when I thought I could see the world for what it was and everything was black and white.

If they were conceived to put a full stop on the end of my life as, for want of a better word, a writer of fiction, they certainly did that job. But where they failed was to sufficiently wrap up enough unfinished business, answer enough questions and resolve enough internal and external dilemmas for me to put them and their concerns behind me. Maybe it's time for a sequel, an update, a 'reunion' of the characters - after all, it'll be 10 years next year since their creation.

Except of course that's not true. The characters have been with me in one form or other all of my life, and putting them onto paper was just an artifical means of preserving them in a form which, as I once thought of myself, would and could never change.


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