Sunday, August 28, 2005

We All Live In A Yellow Submarine

We All Live In A Yellow Submarine

I don't know that much about school tie networks, not least because my school didn't have a tie, let alone a network to go with it. And I'm not sure how much I subscribe to an Oxonian equivalent - despite that rather pointed suggested of such a thing in my college alumni society membership information. This, of course, does not exempt my defending Richard Curtis on fellow Oxonian grounds. But that's not a network, that's blind, unquestionable solidarity which becomes expected of you from about the point when you promise not to burn the library down. But if I haven't really seen the network in evidence (possibly because I'm not stretching my legs in the houses of Parliament or the civil service it must be said) then I've come to expect that Oxonians pop up in the most unexpected of places (if that isn't an oxymoron). My winner so far? On a tube in Budapest I bumped into a fellow Stanner. Budapest. That's a whole other country and on one of hundreds of trains (and carriages).

So maybe I shouldn't have been as surprised as I was when the panel entered the lecture theatre at Nottingham University last Friday and I recognised one of their midst. Maybe it shouldn't have been as much as a surprise as the Budapest thing, Oxford drama circles aren't huge and - let's be realistic - British theatre circles aren't much bigger. It soon emerged that the girl who I recognised was now Assistant Literary Manager and Writer on Attachment at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. In short she has my career. Not the Liverpool bit - I've no pressing desire to move to a city which every time I have visited I have been rained upon - but the rest of it. Oh yes. And if I did feel a teeny tiny bit jealous, it did provide a little bit of encouragement. Because the girl in question was a Cam Mac finalist the year I was on OUDS committee, only her play was a bit lower down the pecking order than SSoB was. Which does kind of point to the fact that there is no reason why I can't aspire to at least a similar level.

Once I'd gotten over the general weirdness of the encounter, the discussion proved to be interesting if not mindblowing. It was presided over by a man from the Writers' Guild who shared the same name as a particularly useless England goalkeeper and who could have out-camped the entirity of this years Big Brother cohort. His reason for not being able to remember the other panelists names? "I took a lot of drugs in my youth". At least you can't fault his honesty. He also managed to get an almost obligatory David Hare dig in as "the famous leftie" isn't part of the Writers' Guild. I wish people would stop doing this. I love Hare's plays. And I don't think I can over emphasise just how much love I have in the Hare room. But people kee talling me what a horrible person he is. The tutor who commented of my Paddy encounter "of course he was charming but did he say anything useful?" had Hare round for tea once and consequently developed a lifelong dislike of his work. Good writers give you a little bit of themselves in their work, you get to peak into their souls, and in turn comes the possibility that you fall a little bit in love with their created, hazy self. And I'm definitely in love with Hare's. So I'm going to have to make a stand and live in ignorance about how much of a cranky old man he may now be. I'll be sticking my fingers in my ears from now on.

Obviously, for all the impression that I'm giving, the focus of the talk was neither David Hare nor former Oxonians. 'Making A Living In Drama Writing' it was titled. I suspect that it really should have been subtitled 'You can write exclusively for the theatre but you will most likely be very poor so don't knock a side job of writing for Holby City'. Which, realistically, wasn't something that I needed to be told. I know Paddy still gets a large chunk of his money from Alan Partridge, it's certainly not from Howard Katz. What was nice to hear, however, was the undiluted enthusiasm which all the panellists had for new writing. Both the BBC's writersroom representative and the guy from the National were unashamedly interested in developing writers. National Guy put it rather nicely in that he said his job was like being an elephant's midwife, the gestation period isn't short.

Maybe the most telling comment, however, was a remark National Guy made very early on in the discussion: "you don't want to be the person who missed the Beatles". Maybe you've just got to go into the whole experience believing that you are going to be the Beatles. Maybe that's what everyone who chases their dreams, all those boys I affectionately call my minor popstars but who in reality I have overwhelming respect for, believes.

It's rather Byronic, I think we can agree.

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