Listening to the Universe

You’ll likely think I’m mad by the time you’ve finished reading this post (my boyfriend certainly does), but as the threat of public ridicule has never put me off posting my opinions before, I’m figuring: Why stop now? So if you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin….

I mentioned in my last post that I’m currently reading a creativity-unblocking self-help book called The Artist’s Way. In it, the author talks about the importance of opening oneself up to what she refers to as ‘God,’ but which I prefer (despite being of Christian persuasion – albeit not exactly practising) to think of as the universe. She says it’s important to listen to the guidance that it offers and pay heed to clues that you’re travelling along the right path.

Admittedly that sounds a bit far out, but in the past couple of days I’ve begun to wonder if it really is. Because all of a sudden I’m noticing the very clues she mentions, or at least I think I am. Take this for an example: Many years ago I woke from a dream with what felt like an entire screenplay in my head – a comedy screenplay, about two men who lived together, Men Behaving Badly style. Their names were Jeff and Pear (!), and I was so enthused I wrote a description of the show – and even drew the floor plan of the flat – before I could forget it (but then obviously did).

Fast forward to a few months ago when I stumbled across one of my old NaNoWriMo novel drafts – a light hearted chick-lit style story about a woman who owned a flower shop and got caught up in an accidental snogging session with a fifteen year old boy at the Hammersmith School Disco. I didn’t remember the story being particularly good, so was surprised to find myself laughing as I read the first chapter. But then, as with the Jeff and Pear screenplay, I forgot all about it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stumbled across the City Academy website and its range of creative arts-related courses. Seeking some creative enlightenment, I signed up for the taster classes in stand up comedy and sitcom writing, not believing either would be something I’d pursue. The stand up one was fun, but as predicted not ‘my thing.’ Then, last night, I did the sitcom writing one.

[Interlude: I’m just interrupting this story to add that, last weekend when I saw my Mum, she told me that she thought I was really funny; a naturally humorous storyteller. Obviously she’s my mother so I paid no heed to her generous but biased encouragement. Okay, now I’ll continue.]

So I went to the sitcom taster class and I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t sure. The teachers seemed fun and slightly off the wall, but the other students largely more experienced in sitcom writing than me (though admittedly that wouldn’t be difficult given that the sum total of my sitcom writing experience amounts to zero). But over the course of the two hours something interesting happened. I felt the familiar feeling of my imagination stirring into life from its often dormant state. And I found the theory on structure and characterisation of sitcoms both fascinating and logical. I can’t explain it better than to say it was as if something was finally falling into place. Which is ridiculous really because I hardly watch any sitcoms, though I remember now I think about it how much I loved them when I was young: One Foot in the Grave; 2.4 Children; Fawlty Towers; Absolutely Fabulous. And when I think a little more I realise I’ve loved them more recently too: Friends; The IT Crowd; The Office; The Inbetweeners; Peep Show. What I don’t like is the shows with canned laughter, but those are only a subsection of the larger sitcom field.

After two hours of sitting in a room in Farringdon with eight complete strangers, this strange epiphany unfolding inside my head, I went home. And no sooner had I turned on the television than a sitcom came on – the new one about people working at the BBC (the name of which I forget, but it’s very funny). Whilst I watched it I absent-mindedly looked up the sitcom writing course page on the Internet – and I swear I didn’t click on the ‘book course’ button and it took me to the payment page anyway. Which is when I started to join the dots together and re-visit all the happenings I’ve mentioned in this post.

I decided to sleep on it because, let’s face it, £345 is a lot of money to spend when you don’t actually have £345 of your own money to spend (close your ears Mister Bank Manager). Then, this morning, I posited the potential plan to my online writing group to garner opinion. The result was unanimous encouragement, with the lovely Emma Darwin providing these wise words: “I think one way to think about these temptations is: It would be great to get a script out of it (or a later script) which was bought, but we all know that there are all sorts of reasons why things don’t get bought. What else do you think you’d get out of the course, that would feed your writing and your life and so on? I think that learning to write drama is fantastically good for prose fictioneers, so I’m sure it would be worth it.”

So I was sold, figuratively and literally. And the final nudge from the universe? Well that was someone else from my writing group deciding to sign up too (unfortunately not to the same dates as me, but still…) and her saying how happy she was I had brought it to her attention, as she had written scripts many years ago and wanted to get back into it.

To cut a long story short, I start the eight week course next Tuesday, and I can’t bloody wait. Thanks Universe – I think. Although if I don’t love it you’ll have a lot to answer for…

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Sadness, and new friends

Sometimes in life things happen that shake your faith in all that’s good in the world in ways you never imagined possible. One such thing happened last weekend, when a new friend was tragically killed in a car accident. I say “new” friend because we had only met him and his beautiful girlfriend two weeks previously, at the wedding of a mutual friend in Scotland. As fate would have it Travelodge had overbooked and as a result the four of us were selected by the bride and groom to share a luxury lodge in the grounds of a 5* hotel. The lodge overlooked a golf course and was absolutely charming. Needless to say we had a wonderful weekend, not only at the wedding itself but also at the hotel the next day, where the four of us made full use of the spa facilities, sitting in the jacuzzi and sauna for an age and even sampling the kids’ water slide (!) and the mini golf in the grounds (or rather, the boys played mini golf whilst Sarah and I faffed around in the changing rooms-standard female behaviour). When we said goodbye we vowed to meet up before Sarah and Paul went back to Australia, where they’ve been living for a year. Though we hardly knew them we felt that exciting spark of possibility, the likes of which become rarer with age. We sensed we might just have met friends for life, and it was a lovely feeling.

To say it was a shock to hear from Sarah last week and find out Paul had been killed in an accident the previous weekend would be grossly understating the breadth and scope of emotions that accompanied such tragic news. A tidal wave of sadness washed over me. Then, as the flood waters began to recede just a little, came a powerful aftershock of anger. I’ve struggled with the concept of religious faith for many years, and this has rocked the foundations of my fragile beliefs more than anything I can remember. I always felt deep down that everything happened for a reason, but now I’m floundering and at a loss for what possible reason there could be for such a wonderful human being to be taken away in the prime of his life, leaving a trail of sadness and a gaping hole in his wake.

If there can be any solace at all from this utterly tragic loss it is that we have gained a wonderful, warm-hearted and genuine friend in Sarah, and that we have seen true friendship in the coming together of Sarah and Paul’s friends over the past few days. With what little faith I’ve managed to cling onto I am praying with all my might for Sarah and all of Paul’s friends and family, that they may find the strength to get through this awful time. And I’m thanking God for having brought Paul into our lives, even though it was for such a painfully short time.

You had me at first click

There are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. The first time Johnny Barker picked up a camera he couldn’t have known he was setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to his.

July 1981. Great British Summertime is in full swing, and eight year old Johnny is sitting on the wall outside his terraced house in his grey flannel shorts, watching as his mother, sister and a cacophony of other female relatives and neighbours prepare for the annual street party.

“Come on Johnny,” his sister Sally scolds as she simultaneously pulls a string of brightly coloured bunting out of the front door and sets off down the road. Johnny watches open-mouthed as the bunting keeps on coming out of the front door as if by magic, until Auntie Pauline appears at the other end of it and delivers a well-aimed kick to Johnny’s behind as she passes by.

“Oh good Lord, Pauline!” Johnny’s mother exclaims, running back into the house with the enthusiasm of an athlete. “I’ve clean forgot about the trifle!”

Johnny slides off his perch and scuffs his shoe against the wall, loosening some pebbles which tumble in a mini avalanche onto the Tarmac beneath. He shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs.

“What’s wrong with you boy?” Auntie Pauline asks with a less than playful cuff around Johnny’s ear. Not a slight woman, the body weight behind the gesture almost sends him flying, and an expression somewhere between shock and satisfaction briefly registers on the old woman’s pinched face.

“Nowt,” Johnny says with a shrug, “besides being having ‘owt to do.” He dodges yet another swipe and half skips, half runs down the road to his friend Terry’s house.

Two hours later and the street party’s in full swing, with crackly music blaring from Tom Warner’s old wireless radio. The scotch eggs, sausages and cucumber sandwiches have all but been devoured and the small children are tucking into the jelly and ice cream.

Distracted by the sight of an unfamiliar man in their midst, Johnny pushes his plate to one side. The man sidles up beside him and gives him a wink. He is wearing a long cream mac that is completely at odds with the warmth of the day, and in his hand he holds the biggest camera Johnny has ever seen.

“You like this?” asks the man, his mouth widening into a crooked grin. Johnny nods, and the man holds the camera out in front of him like a prize. “Why don’t you have a go at taking a picture with it?”

Johnny gulps and looks down at the camera. He takes it from the man and gingerly removes the lens cap. Holding it to his face he squints and looks through the viewfinder, pointing the camera into the crowd of people.

And then he sees her. She is sitting at the far end of the table, her hair in blonde pigtails tied with red ribbon. She is wearing a blue gingham dress with a lace collar, and a smudge of her mother’s red lipstick stains her lips pink.

As I said at the beginning of this story, there are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. And that day when he set eyes on Jenny Warner, somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Johnny knew he had met his.

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I couldn’t think of a better shot than this to accompany this post. It’s one of my favourite pictures from my travels, taken of me and my boyfriend (before he was my boyfriend!) on the beach in Borneo. Looking at it makes me very happy.