Okay, that subject heading has nothing to do with what I want to talk to you about. But it’s on my mind. Yesterday I was working in a school, doing the usual thing of coming in, causing a ruckus and getting out again. But at one point, a young girl of either 10 or 11, said to me: “You are quite amusing.”
I took it as a giant compliment, but I was also supremely tickled by the word ‘quite’. You were, too.
Anyway, I was there running a writing session and she wanted to ask me about a story problem she was having with a book she’s working on. We talked during a break, I think her story is delightful and very well worked out, and then I went back to my hotel room and learned what had been going on with Brexit.
I’m not going to talk to you about that. I just can’t. Last night I was able to forget about it quickly because I was working on a thing, writing late into the evening. Yet maybe it’s because this young woman’s story problem was to do with plot and maybe it was because Brexit is insane, but something made me change my mind about drama.
It used to be that, without exception, I knew, I just knew that the very greatest drama comes when you have two strong characters in a room arguing – and both of them are right.
God, but that’s hard to write. Both characters equally smart, intelligent, passionate and equally right about an issue that is complex, challenging and vital.
I’m not sure I’ve ever pulled it off myself, but you know it when you see it. For some reason my mind is leaping to The West Wing and its first seasons with writer Aaron Sorkin.
That’s fair because he and his West Wing writing staff were very good at this, but it’s also appropriate because that was a political show and it is specifically politics that have changed my mind.
I’ll still and forever relish the kind of drama where you have these two characters who are both right.
But now I am forced to wonder if it isn’t more dramatic, much more dramatic, when you have two strong characters arguing passionately – and they’re both wrong.
I think that’s what we’ve got here with Brexit as all these votes, all this posturing, all this bollocks goes on. All we’re missing is strong characters.
But to make up for it, while these arguments are going on, it’s our futures that are going to be affected. That are already affected. Maybe that’s what makes this dramatic, that giant consequences are resting on the shoulders of a government and opposition that prefer to pose instead of look us in the eye.
I said I wasn’t going to talk to you about this and I didn’t intend to. I’ve reached the point where I can’t always actually understand the headlines on BBC News – last night I had to keep re-reading one before I could work out the double negatives about not voting for a no-deal – so I’ve taken to reading the New York Times instead.
That paper is covering this but with the detachment of being based in a different country, even if admittedly a country with its own problems. When the New York Times writes about Brexit, it does tend to be well written and clear, sometimes with helpful diagrams, but it also has this unintentionally bemused tone.
Which can be quite amusing.