Tag Archives: spring

Letting Go of Your Baby

Although it’s still only February a whole load of green shoots are beginning to poke through the earth, promising that spring will soon be here.  At this time of year, I begin to get really fed up with the cold and damp and start longing for the weather to warm up a bit.

Crocuses

Cheery crocuses and anemones are the first signs that things are changing.  However my favourite winter blossom belongs to the Christmas Box.  I love it not for its flowers, which are pretty plain and uninteresting, but for its fabulous perfume, which fills the air outside my front door at this time of year and always seems to promise wonderful warm days to come.

Other exciting things have been afoot, not least the filming of my short screenplay.  It’s a comedy – not a particularly sophisticated one, I have to admit – about a young photographer who finds himself saddled with the flat-mate from hell, and after being driven to his wits’ end, comes up with a very novel way to get rid of his tormentor.  It’s a situation many, many people can identify with, so I’m hoping that will give it some fairly universal appeal.

Not as fun as it looks

The process of the filming itself is a lot less glamorous than you might imagine and involves endless repetitions of the same lines and scenes from different angles and viewpoints.  As the writer, it’s quite hard to get a sense of how it will look once it’s finished.  It all seems very disjointed at this stage, but the director seems pleased with how it’s shaping up and clearly has his own plan for it.

While I was writing it, I had a very clear image in my head of what the characters were like, what the settings would be like and how it would all play out.  What is very clear as we make it, is that the director has a completely different mental image of the story and so do the actors.   And then you have to take account of what’s practically possible to film with the resources and locations we have.

Too many cooks

What will emerge will be a synthesis of all these things – our different thoughts and ideas about the story, modified by what we can actually get down on tape.   With any luck, a bit of magic will happen that will transform it from being a series of mental images existing only in the imaginations of those who’ve read the script into something richer and more interesting than any one of those involved had conceived of.

Screenwriting, more than any other form of writing, is a collaborative process; the articulation of a shared vision for the film is essential to bringing the project to life.  As the writer of a film, you have to be prepared to let your baby go, and let others get fully involved in shaping it and making it as much theirs as it ever was yours.  It can be hard at times and the annals of film-making are full of stories about writers who were no longer allowed to work on their own films.

Personally, I really enjoy that collaborative creative process.  I like the idea of making something that’s more than any one person could produce.  Yet as the writer, you also have the satisfaction of knowing it all started with you, and your idea.  Without that, there would have been nothing.

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Blooming Marvellous

It’s a fine spring day. Sunshine and showers. Tulips, wallflowers and muscari blooming in the garden and a mass of feathery fluff from the pussy willows at the end of the road blowing every which way. It’s the time of year when gardening begins to compete with writing for my attention. I love planting things and seeing them grow. I love the force with which shoots of delphiniums and peonies and rudbeckia pierce the earth, the urge for life that makes them rise so irrepressibly from the cool, dark earth and the joyous sense of the world being made anew. I dare say it’s a cliché, but there really is something miraculous about the way a tiny, hard grain can sprout into something as gorgeous as a nasturtium or geranium or sweet pea.
Last year, I grew vegetables for the first time. My success was mixed. I did well with potatoes, tomatoes and courgettes, but the onions failed to fill out and the bugs and slugs made short work of my lettuces and carrots. The beans got off to a slow start, then suddenly took off and rambled all over the pear tree, with the result that I had to risk life and limb climbing right up to the top of it to collect my crop. A couple of years ago, I bought a Victoria plum tree. So far, it hasn’t borne any fruit, however this year, to my delight, it’s been covered in a mass of creamy blossoms. I know there’s still a long way to go before I can expect bowlfuls of delicious plums and it’s still possible there’ll be a late frost, but at least it’s got off to a good start.
As well as flowers, I love the wildlife that the garden attracts. The plum blossom brought an early influx of Peacock butterflies and we get a terrific range of garden birds – blue tits, chaffinches, robins, blackbirds, magpies, wrens and even the occasional green woodpecker. The pond has played host to newts, frogs and water snails. Of course, the garden has its challenges as well as its pleasures. The soil here is very heavy and full of clay and it’s a job to keep it soft and crumbly. It tends to get water-logged in the winter, while in the summer it has a propensity to bake into hard, concrete-like lumps if it isn’t kept well irrigated and mulched. The one upside is that roses love a clay soil, so I can always count of a good display of those if all else fails.
One of the nice things about gardening is that if something doesn’t grow well one year, you can start again the following year having learned from past experience. And if something really fails to flourish, there’s nothing to stop you trying an entirely different plant that’s better suited to that particular spot. There isn’t a patch of ground on which something won’t grow – it’s just a question of finding the right something that will flourish in the conditions you have. I think writing’s like that too. If something doesn’t work, then you just have to keep on trying alternatives until you find what it is that does work. Sometimes a story just doesn’t seem to come together and it’s only when you come back to it much later that you can put your finger on what’s needed to make it come alive. Like a shoot sprouting from a seed, the richest, most compelling stories grow from the germ of an idea in ways that are surprising, unexpected and never less than miraculous. If you’re lucky, a strange and magical alchemy will take place that transforms chains of letters and words on a page into something truly beautiful.

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Sunshine and Cream Cakes

It’s been lovely here this week – a cornucopia of crocuses, daffodils and pulmonaria bursting forth, wood pigeons squabbling in the trees over prospective mates and enough warmth in the sun to be able to sit and read in the garden. You know what I’m talking about – spring is here. It’s amazing how a few rays of sunshine can lift the spirits. I travelled into London yesterday and at Finchley Central station, a few stops down the line from where I live, one of the station employees has turned a strip of disused ground into the loveliest of gardens. Every time I rode past it last summer, it brought a smile to my face along with gratitude that someone had taken the time to dig and plant for no reward other than the pleasure of creating something beautiful. Already, the first blossoms are re-appearing in the station garden, with every sign they’ll provide just as much pleasure this year. As Camille Pissarro once said, blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places.
Usually I read on the train, but sometimes it’s just nice to reflect, maybe let an idea or problem marinate in my head and see if any solutions emerge. Giving space and time to let the subconscious mind resolve problems is really important for a writer and it took me a long time to lay aside anxieties about my work and trust in that process. I usually find it all but impossible to appraise what I’ve written with any sort of objectivity for quite some time after I’ve written it. Even re-reading some of the posts in this blog, I can see now they’re overwritten in places. Sometimes it helps to sleep on it and a new day can often bring a completely new perspective on what I was writing the day before. At times it can take much longer; on occasion, the eureka moment happens months later – sometimes too late to be useful! It’s only recently that I’ve managed to identify ways to solve problems I couldn’t really even diagnose in a screenplay, I was working on it last year. The question now is whether it’s worth going back and re-writing it from scratch, or whether it makes more sense to chalk it up to experience and start on something new.
While in town, I took the opportunity to watch Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a carefully constructed, conspicuously artificial confection, a vertiginous cream cake of a movie always teetering under the weight of its own pretentions. Like cream cakes generally, it was a bit rich for my tastes, if I’m honest. There’s no question that the script was very witty and Ralph Fiennes was pure comic gold as the charmingly oleaginous hotel concierge, M Gustave, who’s saved by his own impeccable manners. The story, however, was completely farcical – a choux bun, containing nothing more substantial than air and as such, it totally failed to engage on an emotional level. By the end, it was all becoming a little tiresome. I found the box-in-box-in-box framing device quite annoying too. All in all, it was something of a disappointment after Moonrise Kingdom, which I loved.

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