The 2013 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
I had a heart-stopping moment this year when I thought I’d lost the contents of two hard drives, containing all my photographs, and all the work I’d ever written. With a bit of technical magic, I managed to recover it all, and in doing so disturbed the digital dust in my computer attic; I dug up a pile of old projects from my youth.
Last year I talked about writing. I can remember writing as far back as the start of primary school, and aged seven or eight I was bought a typewriter that I wrote a good deal of ‘Chapter Ones’ on. There are odd bits and pieces that stick in the memory of what I wrote. I can remember one stapled-together booklet that featured the unlikely adventure of my brother and I discovered smugglers sneaking contraband through a tunnel they had dug from underneath Flamborough Cliffs… to France. My childhood best friend and I were determined that we were a secret crime-fighting organisation (of two) called the SS (think Secret Seven, with a bit of James Bond fantasy) and I obviously decided to record our daring adventures in the novel form. The first novel of the series started, memorably, with the line, ‘”There it is!” James said.’ And yes, I know that isn’t actually what you’d call memorable, but nevertheless, I can remember that that was the first line of the story–a story I wrote only slightly under twenty years ago. Gloriously, in our last year of primary school, our English classes for the whole year involved writing on long story. The front cover was a patchwork of photocopied Hardy Boys books, and the story was pretty much the same. At one point, I got the names of two disposable thugs mixed up, but I didn’t want to rewrite a hand-written page so they paused to inform each other that they could probably stop using their fake aliases now, and swap back. Problem solved. At Easter, they bound and laminated our stories and voila: I had actually written a book.
That book is still in a box in my bedroom. Sadly, most of the other stories I wrote are lost to time and the obsolescence of floppy discs, but I did come across a wealth of other old projects.
After Blyton-eque adventures I moved onto reading epic fantasy (Tolkien, Feist and Jordan were my touchstones.) And as most writers can probably remember, you start out with imitation, and so I began to write my own epic fantasy novel. It was entitled Emissary to the Dragon, and featured a castle of magicians called Celestar, above a fishing village called Radnor (before I realised that’s an actual place). I never got much past the opening–there was a slave ship, and a magical ordeal, and the nasty death of the main characters father–but I knew where the whole things was going. I wrote roughly nine or ten chapters, which was the longest thing I had ever written consecutively. It was probably also the first thing I wrote that I let other people read–namely, two schoolfriends in Maths class, Sam and Joanne, who proof-read it. I promised–and will still uphold the bargain if it ever comes to pass–that when the novel was published, I would thank them in the acknowledgements. I abandoned Emissary to the Dragon sometime after the characters had contrived to leave Radnor and I realised I hadn’t actually invented any more story, but I uncovered it–not on the hard drive–but printed in a folder, with a printed cover that (at the age of fourteen) I considered far more important than the actual content. I’m not sure if that was naive or cynical.
Early on in college, the creativity bug seemed to have spread, and naturally, the logical decision is to make a rip-off of the Matrix in your local woods. Dream World was a full film, for which only the opening scene was written, and was master-minded by a college friend with whom I have traditionally never seen eye-to-eye. We enlisted a friend to play an incredibly mis-cast ninja warrior, borrowed a camera and a sword, and took to the woods. In fairness, I don’t think what we produced is dreadful, although the concept of lighting was a little lost to us: you can see night fall in the space of under three minutes. The tradition of antagonism between myself and the writer-director probably stems from there: it was bloody fun to be creating something, with more than just myself, and with tangible results, and I’d have loved it to be something I’d created myself.
So I did something similar. Forgetting novel-writing, I decided to create an entire TV show. Even better, I did it as a form of literary revenge. In previous advent calender entries I’ve talked about my experiences aged sixteen and seventeen, of a thorny mess of religion, first love and coming out, and I transformed it all into a TV show called Exorcist. Picture something between Buffy and American Horror Story (or that was the intention). Set in Whitby, it featured a bunch of teenagers trained as exorcists by their local church, who tangle with demons on a regular basis. Planned episodes included banshees, witch burnings, and an entire episode that took place inside someone’s head. The two main characters, Aaron and Elliot, were incredibly badly disguised cyphers for myself and Duckboy.
I was completely obsessed with the project: I planned out an entire twenty-four episode series, wrote the entire first episode, filmed a credit sequence, and even built a scale model of the main set. Quite certain of my masterpiece, I sent it off the BBC Writers Room. Six months later I received an unsurprising polite rejection.
At university, I dug it back out, convinced the episode I’d written (entitled ‘Genesis’) was gold, and gave it to John to read. It was not gold–it was dire. But for all that, the whole project is still buried very deep in my heart, and in absent moments I constantly think over and over how to revive it–rewrite the script, cut it to an eight episode storyline, adapt it to a novel, adapt it to a graphic novel. Someday, I will complete it, and it will be everything I pictured when I was sixteen.
Back to the idea of the writing as literary revenge, or, alternatively, a method of coping with my circumstances by turning it into fiction, the experience of first love was clearly a fertile area for storytelling. My second-year Film Studies coursework required the writing of a short film, and I wrote a script in which God and the Devil make a bet over a newborn child, as to whether they can sway him to their respective sides through his life. The character was named Elliot–I didn’t even bother disguising the cypher of the cypher. What I had completely forgotten about was that I also began to change the script into a comic, drawn, as usual, by Kat in the Attic.
Lest you think that this post is a shameless boast–look! all my wonderful projects!–I would suggest otherwise. Writing has always been a part of my life since my earliest memories, and its fascinating to look back at the things you produced, as both a record of the gradual honing of ability and an artifact of my life. Objectively, Emissary, Exorcist, Dream World, are all pretty terrible–but that’s so beside the point, because what they make me think of is pencil-written typo corrections in Maths class, and photocopying pages of library books on the supernatural as ‘research’, and trying to light an entire scene with one torch… I’m glad that I can open a metaphorical box and find the artifacts of a youth spent creating things, with joy.