This is a mess. I’m going to sound like I’m drawing parallels and that I’m making connections, but it’s not that, it’s just a mess in my head. Last night two very good things happened, two completely different things that could not possibly, could not conceivably, fail to lift your heart.
One was the 20:00 applause for the NHS. We stood out on the stoop outside our house and applauded along with so many neighbours. Admittedly including one man who’d missed the news and was wondering what we were all doing while he was putting the bins out. But my street stood together, and we haven’t always done that. There are Leave voters further up the street to my right, a possibly ironic direction I’ve just realised. And I don’t know the political leanings of the street directly opposite me, but I do know that’s where all the local murders take place.
That happened and this other thing happened. I am not comparing them. They are just in my head and I don’t know where my head is.
Lies. I know where my head is, it’s that I don’t like where it is or where it has been, or where it goes.
I’ll just tell you. At 19:00, there was a mass watching of Rose, the first episode of Doctor Who’s wonderful revival. Doctor Who Magazine’s Emily Cook organised it, writer Russell T Davies tweeted throughout it, and I was split down the middle, finding this whole thing simultaneously and precisely equally joyous and miserable.
The precision of that 50/50 split was new. Maybe because for the first time I was happy to read Twitter while watching a show, maybe because that was splitting my attention, but joy/unhappiness was precisely split. It didn’t feel like it was 50/50, it felt like it was 100/100. Every minute.
And it was the split that was new, not the feeling.
Even when this first aired, back in 2005, I remember being incredibly lifted by the episode. Not particularly because it was Doctor Who, but because it was right –– and it was alive. I adore television drama and in fact I truly am a writer at all because of the show Lou Grant, but so much of it then seemed like it was written by people sitting down. Rose was on its feet, moving, carrying me along, it had breath and heart and vigour.
It was truly joyous and for the length of that episode, just watching it made me taller.
And then the credits ran. It’s not as if I have anything against the credits or anyone in them, I’ve come to know a few of the people over the years, but 15 years later I remember my total certainty that I would never be able to write something that good. I don’t want to copy it, I have no interest in mimicking Russell T Davies, although if you had to mimic a writer, he would be a fine target.
But that life, that ecstatic energy, I wanted that. I think I’ve got it, I actually think I’ve written scripts that at their best have this electricity in it. Television drama is what made me become a writer, and yet in what I must call a successful writing career, I’ve only ever written about half an hour of TV that got made.
When Rose aired in 2005, I was still working for Radio Times and I loved it there. I was surrounded by people who knew television better than I did, who loved television even more than I did, and yet who appeared in every other way to be perfectly normal. For the very longest time, Radio Times felt like home to me. There are extremely few moments in my dozen or so years with them that I would rather hadn’t happened. Even though I’ve been freelance since 1995, when I eventually lost that RT gig in 2012, it was a knife in me.
Now I wish that they’d had those budget cuts years earlier. I wish I could’ve done everything I did there, but a lot faster. It’s now eight years since I left and I can point to books I’ve written, plus genuinely a couple of million words of online articles. I can point to radio drama I’ve written –– including Doctor Who dramas for Big Finish –– and because for some reason I count these things, I can even point to 719 workshops or public speaking events I’ve done.
Beyond those, I can point to theatre events I’ve produced, and I wish I’d thought to count those too because thinking of an event and then making it happen turns out to be the only thing remotely as satisfying as writing. I’m Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and if that is a daily surprise to me, by far the most deeply rewarding part was when I was involved in bringing the Guild’s AGM to Birmingham.
But then I watched Rose last night. I’m not saying that my mind doesn’t often go to where it went then, but this show, at this time, in this world, it brought back the utter joy and the chasm of depression, all at once, just as it did then.
Except not quite as it did then, because now it’s 15 years later and I am still not writing television drama.
There is one thing. I do not know and I cannot tell if I’m actually any good a writer, but I do know and I will tell you that I am infinitely better than I was 15 years ago. That is something to hang on to, and the hope that the curve continues upwards is something to work for.
Whereas the overall sense of maudlin self-pity I appear to be showing you now is something to say sorry for and to get rid of this moment.
You know that in any drama you put a character into difficulty, but to my mind there is no difficulty, no jeopardy, no drama even, like having it all be that character’s fault. Something bad happening to a character is one thing, them causing it happen is geometrically more arresting for me.
And in this case, I can say that it’s Rose that makes me think this, but the truth is that it’s me. I’m the one who needs to fix this joyous misery, and the way I have to do is to pull my fucking finger out and write.