I’ve been asked now and again why I don’t write scripts – plays and what have you. I’ve never tried for the simple reason that I don’t really like the theatre. Never have much.
I will go now and again – mostly when my beloved drags me to god-awful musical theatre productions when we visit That London for romantic weekend breaks. I feel a mounting sense of dread as we approach the West End and then I sit through interminable hours of boredom and annoyance as people mug and grimace and moon about on stage.
The last time I went we were up in the gods, my legs lost all feeling after five minutes, I got bored and frustrated after ten and at the interval I made my excuses and left – telling my Mrs I’d meet her in the pub at the end. As an aside, it’s strange how the character of Soho changes when you are a bloke on your own – within five minutes after I poked my nose out of the door of the theatre unchaperoned by my other half I’d been offered two lots of hard drugs and the opportunity to come upstairs to meet some ‘lovely young girls’. Crikey.
Of course – that’s musical theatre – lots of men dislike that right? It’s not really aimed at us. But I dislike other types of theatre too – I can sit through a serious play by a serious author if I have to and if it doesn’t go on too long – but the only types of theatre I’ve watched with any degree of enjoyment over the last few years are Shakespeare and pantomimes.
Why do I dislike theatre so much? It is after all a harmless thing, a pillar of the arts and aimed only at bringing people joy. I think basically it’s because I find it embarrassing. When I watch people on stage I feel embarrassed not only for them – but for me as well. I squirm. What are they doing up there – pretending to be other people, right in front of us? It’s not natural.
Film’s ok, and TV – those people aren’t really there. I expect I like Shakespeare and panto because they are the least ‘real’ types of theatre, their artificiality reduces the squirm factor for me so I feel comfortable watching them. Also, Shakespeare’s the boss isn’t he? Never trust a writer who doesn’t like him.
So that’s why I don’t do scripts, which is a pity really as it might open up that whole world of writing for television and so on which might actually make some money. The truth is though, if your heart’s not in it you are better off not doing it. The only honest reason to write fiction is because you feel you have to – that’s the reason you start and the reason you continue. The opportunity to make significant money doing it doesn’t come along for most of us, and even if it does you have to weigh things up and decide if you are being sent in a direction you really want to travel.
I know a writer for example who has written serious plays, very successfully. As a result she became attached to an agent, and that agent immediately set about offering her work writing scripts for Eastenders and other similar television soap operas. She said no. It wasn’t what she wanted, not where her interests lay. Economically that was probably an unwise decision but I really respect it.
In my own small way I’ve also tried to be true to what I am about as a writer. From time to time agents have shown an interest in me – on their own terms, not mine. What they tend to say is: “Write us a thriller – a conventional one, obeying all the rules – give us something we can easily sell.”
What I say to them is this: ‘You’re looking for a horse to enter in the Grand National – and I am a camel.”
The way I see it, rather than trying to become the race-horse they want I’m better off trying to be the best camel I can be.