Writers are traditionally supposed to starve in garrets for their art. I did it in gas stations. And pubs, and restaurants, and anywhere else that would pay the rent and give me enough time in the day, or more usually at night, to pursue the mad dream of being a professional writer. The gas station job was perfect – 11pm till 7am, no-one coming in except taxi drivers and hookers, and many hours of sitting around writing on the back of old stock sheets, before going home and sleeping until the pubs opened at lunchtime. Five years and two unpublished novels later, I accidentally stumbled into animation script writing, and finally achieved my ambition of being paid to sit in pubs and come up with stupid ideas.
Ten years later I was nominated for a Bafta for my CBBC Christmas Special ‘The Tale of Jack Frost’. You’d think life couldn’t have got much better, really, wouldn’t you. Well you’d be wrong. Jack Frost was a massively high pressure production made with a quarter of the money and half the time it should have been given, and by the end of it I was a wreck. But, we did it – we being myself and Zoo Films, the production company that made Jack Frost – it did well, and we got the nom. The next step of course was to capitalise on this and get more shows away with the BBC. Which we almost did. They said yes to a new series idea at the first meeting. Unfortunately the then CBBC boss then resigned, and everything went on hold for a few months until a new boss could be found. When she arrived, she changed everything. Previously you could just take the execs out to lunch and pitch them over a very expensive bottle or three of wine. But now the new boss decided that all pitches had to go into an annual submissions round, in which all shows, from the great and the small, would be considered at the same time. And this didn’t start for another six months. So, we put our show into the mix, and sat back and waited. For another six months. But then finally, at a BBC Worldwide event, they announced that they’d chosen two shows out of the four hundred or so submitted. One was ours, and the other one we were also working on. We were in! No, we weren’t. The new CBBC boss then left, and everything went on hold again. Six months later the new regime, who were largely live action people, decided they didn’t want either show, and pretty much two years of development and many expensive lunches were consigned to the bin.
So, there was nothing for it but to go back to the contract script writing. The problem was I’d been out of that game trying to be a producer for five years or so, and the world had moved on and left me behind. The broadcasters and big producers all had their shiny new teams of writers, and it was hard bordering on impossible to break back in. It was time to Get A Job.
It was then that it hit me. I wasn’t qualified for anything other than writing. Forty seven years old, I was staring down the barrel of the minimum wage. Working in gas stations and bars is OK when you’re young and just starting out on the writing rollercoaster, but I was too old and my CV was too confusing to even get those kind of jobs. Luckily I got a part-time job with a Landscape Design company thanks to my Design degree and my Photoshop skills, which lasted for three years until the company kind of dissolved. By this time I had mostly given up on the whole script writing thing and gone back to the beginning – writing novels, or rather, a novel, my new, soon to be released novel in fact, ‘The Multiverse of Max Tovey’, published on August 31st by EGP. Which meant I needed another job. Any job. But by now I was over fifty, and even less employable. Until I discovered the joys of driving for a living. Six months at Asda as a Home Shopping Delivery Driver followed by a month as a trainee bus driver, which was instantly curtailed last week when I failed my practical test thanks to an idiot on a roundabout, and now, hopefully, a part-time truck driving job. Assessment day tomorrow. All so I can cling on to the dream that started in a gas station twenty five years plus ago.
The things you do for writing…
UPDATE. The truck driving job didn’t happen, but more bus training did, for a week, until I was offered just enough game narrative work to not to have to drive buses. Of course, then the game company underwent restructuring, and all the games I was to be working on were cancelled. So there’s this gas station a few miles away looking for staff…