Restored to life

Confession: I backup everything I write, everything that lands on my Mac, everything. But I rarely go into the backups to restore anything. Until this week when my arm was twisted into powering up my last computer again and doing some work with it. I’m going to claim that it doesn’t matter what the work was but really, I just cannot remember – because of what I found instead.

Every five or six years I buy a new Mac and take a minute or two to bring over all my current documents. I also promise to sort out the pile of hard drives I have inside some of these Macs and outside all of them but I never do.

This week I did and it’s been like data archaeology. Let me just tell you this first: here on my old Mac Pro I found I’d got 44 feature films. They appear to have been ripped from my DVDs but I don’t remember doing that.

Then there are 279 whole episodes of TV series. Some DVD rips, some iTunes purchases, I don’t know.

And 15,768 radio or other audio tracks.

I do understand that one because I used to have my Mac Pro automatically switch itself on to record the Afternoon Drama on BBC Radio 4 every day so there’s a pile of those. It’s a pile with titles like ‘Afternoon Play -ep723.m4a’ and no other way to work out what each is but to listen.

Then, too, I’ve made a lot of radio on my Macs so there’s surely a thousand or more tracks to do with that.

One more thing. Somewhere in that Mac Pro’s folders there were also 3,336 scripts. A thousand or more movie scripts plus entire series of television ones. Oddly few radio, for some reason.

All of this is now on a drive connected to my iMac and Backblaze, my online backup service, is sweating as it uploads the lot to cloud storage to make sure it is never lost, that it is always available to me wherever I am.

And that would be where I’d stop. Look at this, I could say: I’ve found all this glorious material and that it will of course occupy me, enthral me, distract me.

Only, this digging into a massive personal archive turns out to be a delicate dig into the past. It’s delicate because at first you see a photograph and alongside it there’s the date. It’s a file on your Mac, there’s the name and there’s the the Date Modified. It’s putting a pin in a memory – but then opening that image, looking at that document, just glancing at it changes the Date Modified to today. It’s like grasping at something that crumbles in your hand.

Now, if you dig slightly to the left and down a bit there is way to show the Date Created. But I didn’t think of that until I’d go into paroxysms about the ephemeral nature of even digital memories.

And as I write this to you, I’m actually back by that old Mac Pro because I wanted to get that screen grab of its display looking whitewashed. (When did I take that whitewash photo? Apparently Sunday, 8 September 2013 at 11:12.)

But I’m looking for that date and the drives inside this Mac Pro began giving out a little scream.

They’re going to die. And I’ve already plugged in one ancient external drive that I pointlessly struggled to find the right cables for because it’s dead.

We use these machines to do our work and to do everything, but along the way we are inadvertently documenting our entire lives in sometimes minute-by-minute detail. It’s not always great detail. It’s sometimes scraping when you find an old email and the text comes along with a tsunami of upset.

It’s not great detail when you learn what open wounds you still have. But it is great detail, it is the greatest of all details, when you a To Do list from 2003 that has hopes for the future that you’ve since achieved.

I’m not saying you should dig through your old computer documents and I’m definitely not saying you should do it without a strong mug of tea beside you. But I am saying you should backup everything. I’ve said that for years and meant it in very practical terms but today I mean it in emotional ones too.

Depth perception

I’m not going to name someone here because I don’t want to embarrass them. But also because I think it might apply to you and I’m hoping it does to me.

It’s about how we see ourselves and how others see us. Let me give you the example that prompted me thinking about this, that prompted me to want to talk to you about it.

I ran a pair of workshops last Saturday, back to back things all day with mostly the same writers across the two. All sorts of writers, all sorts of experience, but every one of them professionals. And afterwards we got into a topic that for some reason is a recurring one in this job: the discussion over when and whether you can call yourself a writer.

I don’t know why we have this: maybe it’s an arts thing as perhaps it happens with painters too yet there’s no engineer who’s ever been in doubt what their own job title was. It’s a tough world, there probably isn’t an engineer who hasn’t doubted whether their job would continue, but they knew what it was called. When asked on a form they don’t have heartbeat’s hesitation over what to write as their occupation. Writers do.

I used to. These days I’ve come to accept that I’m unemployable in any other field.

But there was this one person on my workshop who was talking about this and about the genuine relief that she’s recently felt able to call herself a writer. There’s a deeper issue here about identity and I think also self-worth but this particular writer saying this particular thing was a jolt.

She’s not only published, she is a publisher. She has a poetry imprint, she runs events, she runs workshops. Now, to me that’s all writing: she disagrees, she calls them writing-related jobs and of course she’s right but to me it’s all the one thing. You use the same muscles in producing an event as you do writing anything: there’s a lot of actual writing, for one thing, but also you’re communicating, you’re persuading, you’re trying to inform and to do so entertainingly. You’re trying to learn, too, which is a big thing in this lark.

A year or two ago, a mutual friend asked me to meet with this same writer to tell her how to do a particular thing – and I laughed. The notion that I could tell her a single thing she’d hadn’t already done and wasn’t already doing. We did meet, we did have tea, I had a good time and fortunately there was something she hadn’t happened to have tried. Or so she said. She may have been being kind.

But the fact that it’s only recently she has felt able to call herself a writer means she didn’t think it when we met that time. There is absolutely not one single question that she wasn’t a writer then, that she isn’t now: she’s a writer and she’s a pro.

I’m glad and relieved that she now accepts it but I’ve been thinking about this workshop conversation all week. The disconnection between how she was seeing herself and how I was seeing her. I’ve been going around impressed with her and she’s not seen why.

This isn’t exactly a new thought in the world but it resonates me with me this week: if she could be so wrong about how good she is, perhaps we all are. Even you.

Maybe even me.

What writing gives you

One thing that writing and being a writer has given me is that I got to speak at the launch of this year’s Birmingham Literature Festival – and I got to say something that matters to me. I got to explain why the same company’s year-round programme of Young Writers’ groups gets me invigorated and just a wee bit passionate. Some of these groups are for 8-12 year olds, some for about 14-16 and with two minutes to describe what they were all like, I got to say it like this:

Just let me say that first that I feel privileged to be the one who gets to talk with you about this tonight. With 21 groups, that means there are 21 professional writers like myself running them, then there are 21 assistant writers plus everyone at Writing West Midlands. Each month we must work with something like 300 kids between us.

We all do it differently but we all want the same things and – actually – we get it.

We want young people to be able to explore writing and reading. We want them to express themselves. Sometimes we’d like them to be a little less exhausting.

Two of my Burton kids told me – about a year after we’d started – that they’d been afraid it would all be like school.

It’s not like school.

In our sessions they write underneath the tables. They write while actually running around the room. They write stage plays that we then stage. Really, we get in actors and we stage them. Forget the kids: can you imagine how exciting that is at my age?

They write film scripts – that we all then film. They write books, poetry, short stories.

They write.

No exams, no Ofstead. Writing. Creating. And talking. So much talking.

I want to give you one example. Well, actually I want to talk to you all evening but I am allowed one example. I worked with such a quiet, shy little girl once. Eight years old, very scared. Wouldn’t speak. Wouldn’t. If she ever did, you could barely hear her.

Yet a few sessions along… The last time I saw her, she was on her feet, calling across the room, horsetrading with other kids: I’ll write this bit if you write that. Imagine this: she was the shyest little child I’ve ever met – talented, I think, but shy – and I watched her say… No.

No, she said. I’m not writing that bit, I’m writing this bit.

So proud of her. And I do hope she becomes a writer. But whatever she does, writing has given her this. The Young Writers’ Groups have given her this.

Confidence, expression. Now you can give her that too. You can help the next shy little girl or shy little boy. In fact, you can help the next kid who is just like you and me: interested in writing and only needing a little encouragement to bloom.

The Young Writers’ groups are by Writing West Midlands, a charity which you can – and I do – help by becoming a Friend. This is a particularly good time to do it if you’re near the West Midlands, too, as you also get discounts for events and October’s Birmingham Literature Festival is replete with performances, readings, workshops and countless things happening.

Plus if you’re nowhere near it and can only dream from afar, bung Writing West Midlands some cash specifically to fund these Young Writers’ groups. Text WWMS15 £2 / £5 / £10 to 70070.

Writers and technology

The writer and poet Jonathan Davidson said this to me ages ago and I have stolen it regularly since: writers went digital first. Everything is digital now and if you’re a writer you can feel like the world is changing – but we’re not left out, we’re not left behind, we just went digital so long ago that we’ve been here, we’ve done it. The world is finally catching us up, that’s what’s happening.

It was back in the 1980s: word processors came out, we saw them, we said we’re having that and we never went back. Not one of us. Not ever. There are writers who prefer pen and paper but there are no writers who don’t have a computer and a word processor.

Yet we do keep this strange duality in our heads: it’s as common to find a writer who is genuinely afraid of technology as it is to find one who isn’t but is actually a rubbish writer. Stop looking at me like that.

I’m in pain here. Four days ago I agreed to take off my Apple Watch for a week and write about what happened. This is for MacNN.com and next Tuesday there will be a feature and it will tell you what I missed, what difference it made. It just might not include all of the wailing. I’ll want to at least try to look professional there.

Here, I’ll tell you. I’ve wailed.

The thing is, more is going on. I don’t have my Apple Watch – well, I do, is right next to me on a stand but I’m not wearing it or switching it on for another THREE ENTIRE DAYS – but I do have a new iPhone 6. Only, I didn’t want to buy it.

I didn’t buy the iPhone 6 when it came out last year because I couldn’t afford it then and I wasn’t sure what it gave me that my existing iPhone 5 didn’t except for a larger screen that is more difficult to hold. This is the first time since 2007 that I wasn’t interested in buying the next iPhone and I still wouldn’t be. But my iPhone 5 finally died, a trooper to the end but a trooper that had been through wars. I try to take care of things but I don’t half use them too.

I can’t run my business without a phone and it can’t now be run without a smartphone. I’m hardly going to switch to Android: it’s cheaper but you really do have to be interested in technology to enjoy those. So where buying a new iPhone has been genuinely fun and even, I’ll say it, exciting, this time it wasn’t. This time I left one speaking engagement, went into the Apple Store, spent the minimum time and the minimum money, came out with an iPhone 6 and went on to my next meeting.

Technology as a writer’s essential tool but no more than that. And that’s probably right. Technology is a bit boring. I am glad to tell you that eight days on I’m coming to really like this phone but I have this second, this very instant, realised that I’ve left it in my kitchen. Hang on.

Right, I fetched it and a mug of tea. Do I go on as much about tea as technology? Nearly.

But there is something else. I’m working with a company on a thing and just seeing how they work and some complex problems they’ve got, I know a software tool that would help them. For their size company, it’s free too. Yet I don’t know how to convince them to try it: it’s more software on top of the tools they already have and don’t especially like.

Nobody there, I don’t think, would rush to try it just for the fun. Most would loathe the idea of taking on something new when they are stretched to a limit already. Some would be actively against using yet another piece of software.

There is an attitude across companies, across people who like this stuff, that here is a tool, it does this, you need that, it will work, off you go, what’s the problem? Perhaps usefully, perhaps empathetically or perhaps just pointlessly, I think software is amazingly personal and that no size fits all. What works for me won’t for you and vice versa.

I said you need to enjoy technology to like Android phones. I think that’s true and it’s the same with PCs. If you enjoy fiddling and setting up something or other and solving problems then it’s all hog’s heaven and a for a short while that was me. I clearly remember the feeling of true accomplishment when I got a new hard drive to work in my PC. Every night for a week, that PC open on my desk and my working hard to understand it. I learned a lot about jumper switches, to this day I swear it’s where I learned to swear. But the satisfaction when it switched on. That was great.

Only, not long afterwards I installed a new hard drive in my Mac and it just slotted in, worked right away and I got back to what I was writing.

You can tell that I preferred the Mac, you can guess that I preferred writing to fiddling and you can assume I never bought another PC again. But sitting there that day, so long ago now, I think what I realised was that writing is down to me. My effort, certainly, and my talent, hopefully, are what make the difference between the blank screen and something to read, something to perform.

Whereas fitting a hard drive and installing Windows drivers is down to following other people’s instructions and learning to swear because those instructions are wrong. At the very best, there is a creativity in puzzle solving because Microsoft or whomever can’t be bothered to write down what you actually have to do. But it’s not a creativity that satisfies me in the long run, it’s not a creativity that counts.

I’m going to tell that company about this software but I’m going to tell them what problems it will solve rather than how it works or what you do with it.

After all, nothing else matters. It’s a quick shorthand to tell you that OmniFocus is an application that I depend on, that my working life runs through my iPad, and I will discuss the difference between Microsoft Word 2016 and Drafts 4 at length. But it is our work that matters and whether these digital tools help us do it. The right ones just help me so very, very much that it’s hard not to be enthused by them and it’s impossible not to be glad I tried them.

You need good people

It is shockingly hard to get good people and so when you do, you hang on to them. I was in a phone call just now with a producer who admitted that this is a thing with him, that loyalty is precious. Now, I liked that conversation because I am loyal to this guy and he’s been loyal to me back. But it’s weird that it should’ve come up now because I thought I knew this yet I think I re-learnt it this week.

I’ve been doing a bit of work with the Royal Television Society, popping in to some of their school education days. They’re there to show kids that there are more careers in media than you would imagine, that there are skills you need for media work that help you in every type of job. I go in as a writer, I mock my own old school and praise the one we’re in – as invariably, just invariably, these schools are better than mine was – and I help out during the day’s main exercise.

Oh, you would wish your school had done this exercise. By the end of the day, the kids present a pitch. This time there were 65 kids and they were divided into 10 groups. There have been more, there have been fewer, but that’s the usual group size. All of the kids are typically aged around 14 so they’re just at the point where they’re really looking at their future career prospects.

The pitch is for an eight-minute feature to be made for City8, the forthcoming television station for Birmingham. Des Tong from City8 and Jayne Greene from the RTS brief the kids on the types of ideas needed and how to pitch. Each group of kids has to come up with an idea, then assign roles – writer, producer, designers and so on – then prepare and present a pitch to a little panel of judges. Des is always the head judge, on the days I’ve been there I’m chuffed to say I’ve been a mini-judge too.

But for me the kicker, the thing that makes this not just a fun and good idea but a vividly great one, is that it’s for real.

This is not some paper exercise, it isn’t some classroom contrivance, it’s real.

If your group has a good enough idea, if it’s viable and workable for television and if you present your pitch persuasively enough, City8 will do it. Now, they’re committing to doing one – I think it’s only if there is one that is good enough – and with the RTS they’ve been talking to a lot of schools. Each school’s best idea goes forward to a final next month and after that, City8 will produce and broadcast the feature.

Do this right and you’re on air.

I know adults who’d kill or at least maim for a shot at doing this, so to have it offered to schoolkids along with help to get it right, I’m deeply impressed with the RTS and City8. I’m deeply proud to sometimes be there and I take this seriously. I speak to the kids at the start, I go around every group listening to the ideas and asking questions.

But this time, on the last of these sessions and for the first time, I interfered.

There was this one group that at first were so clearly on the ball that I sat down and practically got right back up again immediately. They hadn’t got an idea yet but they were discussing it like a professional production meeting and I thought the young woman acting as the group’s producer had a real handle on all this.

There were ten groups today so it took me a time to get around all of them but on my way looping back, I stopped by that first table and things were very different. On the good side, they now had an idea but on the bad, it wasn’t going to happen. They were not going to win this because they were not going to be ready to pitch.

I need to be a little circumspect here because this was a school and I don’t want to identify anyone. But what had gone wrong was this particular group. There was a small set of kids who didn’t want to do anything at all, there was a small set who wanted to work but refused to pitch. It was nerves and shyness and you see this, you understand it, you try to help these kids along. Sometimes – fortunately rarely – you recognise that there is nothing you can do in the time, so you just have to leave them to get on with it or not. There are groups you can help, who will take the help. Naturally, then, you help them.

But this time was different because the young woman producing was doing so well. That’s an odd thing to say when she’d lost control of her team but the unfairness of that rankled with me. The school picked the groups and there was a specific plan to break up friends and thereby get everyone working with new people. That’s more than fine, that’s a good idea but in this case, it just seemed strongly clear to me that she was saddled with a tough group. I could see the frustration in her and it was just wrong.

So I took her to one side for a chat and we discussed what she was doing so well, we talked about the problem with the team.

As she gets older and if she wants to do this more, she will need to learn how to control a group better. But for now, I split her group up into two. Her one had all the kids who were willing to work and I created a second set for all those kids who didn’t. That splinter group didn’t get to pitch an idea, I have no clue what they did for the rest of the session and actually I didn’t even think about that until right now. Talking to you, I wonder what they did. But at the time, they were out of my head because they were out of the game.

That’s what happens outside school, that’s what happens when you are pitching for real. You can cut yourself off from consideration, you can waste opportunities.

It’d be great to tell you now that this young woman’s team won but they didn’t. It’d be great to tell you that she has a career waiting for her in the BBC if she wants it – and she does. Except she doesn’t want it. She’s set on a completely different career and I know she’ll get it.

The group that did win deserved to. I voted for them and it was right that they came out top. They had a good idea and I’ve seen before how that can carry you over many a bumpy hurdle, but they also just worked together very well. They rehearsed well, too: got the idea on its feet and used the time they had, used the space they were given to perform in.

You can’t be sure what teams will and won’t work well together but you can be sure what a difference it makes when they do.

Lots of people are involved in this Royal Television Society work but for the days I’ve contributed, it has felt as if I were part of a good team myself. You often don’t get that as a writer, you often don’t get that feeling because you can be finished with your work before anyone else starts, because you can hand over a script and be on to the next project. So I’ve enjoyed this a lot and it’s mattered to me. I hope I get to do it again next year.

Fortune and glory, kid

I’ve only been thinking about this for two weeks. There was a book event at the Library of Birmingham and I was listening to the speakers, half wondering if I could steal how funny and charming they were, when a guy asks a question.

Actually, no, it was more that he stated a fact but added a question mark. He said to these authors: “But the point, the aim of it all is to write a bestseller, isn’t it?”

There are two answers to this and they are both no.

You can have the very short ‘no’ or you can have the longer, more considered, let’s have some tea, kind of no which you already know is what’s happening here. He stated this fact and every part of me thought no. It was that immediate, that certain, and it has not taken me two weeks to think about it. Because I haven’t finished thinking about it yet. I’m hoping that talking it over with you will sort out my head.

I think all that I’ve been churning over comes down to a split between people who write and people who don’t. There are two types of people in this world and they both intend to write novels. I suspect that when you don’t write and therefore don’t know what heavy spade work it is, you only ever hear about writers when they are interviewed. Writers are interviewed almost exclusively only at the point when they have a new book out. This would be because perhaps the only thing more boring than watching video of a writer typing is watching a video of the much longer periods where they aren’t.

But still, the result is that we see writers when they have something new out and inescapably, then, it looks pretty easy to have something new out. They were only on the telly the other day with the last thing, weren’t they?

Then because news wants facts and because there isn’t a gigantic amount you can ask a writer about their new work that won’t spoil their new work, we get the topic of money. This is especially true when the writer has earned some amazing amount.

So.

It’s easy and they make a lot of money.

Maybe it’s natural, then, to think that the point of writing is to make money.

Now, certainly, I write for a living and I like to eat occasionally, I prefer sleeping indoors. And actually I have very often been described as a commercial writer because I like thrillers and Doctor Who and magazines. But I used the word ‘like’ there. I could’ve said “because I write thrillers and Doctor Who” but I said ‘like’. I am a commercial writer but it is because that is where my tastes lie, it is not because I have a spreadsheet saying these are more lucrative jobs than publishing five lines of poetry every ten years.

I do make a living and writers can still make a lot of money, even today, but the answer is still no.

If you go into writing to make your fortune, it is conceivable that it will work, but it is bloody unlikely. So unlikely that doing this for that reason is simply stupid.

Plus, it’s a funny thing, writing: your secret intent has a way of becoming very apparent to the audience. If you’re doing it for glory, we can tell. I interviewed Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight the other week and he was talking about how he as all these film and TV projects that mean a lot to him but there are also these many others where he’s been the writer for hire. But, he said, whatever it is, you have to do it as if it is the most important thing to you.

That’s not a definable thing. You can’t have a formula that says 10% more effort equals 10 times the success of a piece. Yet hack work stands out very clearly.

So you have to write what matters to you and you have to hope that it works out enough that you can survive.

Maybe the real barrier between writers and non-writers is that the nons can’t comprehend that anyone would be so stupid as to do this. They’re right. There’s no question but that writing is a stupid thing to do.

Yet I’m okay with being stupid. I’m used to it in everything else, I might as well enjoy it here. And it’s not as if I seem to have any choice in the matter, but I am glad that I am over here on this stupid side. Because it pains me, it actually causes me pain, when I hear someone being surprised that, say, JK Rowling has written another book. The genuine incomprehension you hear sometimes, the idea that she’s daft when she’s done all those Harry Potter books and made her fortune.

She is daft. We all are. Of course she keeps writing. How could you not?

Don’t lie to me

I must be on my own here or The Usual Suspects wouldn’t be so popular. But there is an issue in that film that came up to an extent in a play I just saw and unfortunately is also pressing on my mind over a project of my own.

There are spoilers here for The Usual Suspects but I won’t tell you the name of the play. That hurts me more than it hurts you: I enjoyed the play very much and I only saw it on its opening night, there’s a fair chance you could still see it – and I am certain it will tour and tour and tour. Nonetheless, I ain’t telling.

Let me get the Suspects spoiler out of the way: if you’ve not seen it and you want to, look away now.

The twist in the film is that Kevin Spacey’s character has made up the whole story.

Fine. As twists go, it is enormous because it transforms the entire film and reveals the baddie to be the one person who didn’t or at least were not supposed to suspect. And it’s a lie: I like being lied to in drama, I love being misdirected. That’s true in the production as much as it is in the story: I even wrote a Self Distract once called Lie to Me.

But.

I was really enjoying The Usual Suspects up to that revelation. It was written by Christopher McQuarrie, directed by Bryan Singer. The cast was impressive. (Well, you keep hearing stories that the actors didn’t know who the baddie was in the story and it’s a little hard to remain impressed if none of them could be bothered to read to the end of the script.)

Still, there I am watching this film in the late 1990s and I was quickly into it, into the story, engrossed by these characters. But that’s the problem, I was engrossed by the characters. And then told they didn’t exist.

It’s a funny thing: characters in a drama never exist, it’s just a story, yet being told that they don’t, told that within the drama itself, that makes a difference.

All these characters I’d followed and invested in and believed, they didn’t exist and they never did. All a lie. I was meant to be jolted and I was, I was meant to be blown away by the twist and I wasn’t. It’s done cleverly, I should write something that smart, but instead I solely found myself thinking oh. Okay. That’s clever. What time is it?

The twist gave us a surprise but it took away every single thing, every possible element that I had been interested in, that I cared about, that had got me into the story. I don’t think that’s a fair trade. I would’ve come away enthused but instead I left that cinema annoyed and clearly I wasn’t alone because it only won two Oscars and another thirty major film awards.

The Play I Saw Recently included two characters that we join as they are first meeting, first getting to know and to like each other. It’s a funny, touching, growing relationship necessarily conducted in little slices as these two happen to be in the same place. You quickly suspect they are both going out of their way to get back there when the other is likely to be around, but it’s sweet and believable. You want them to get together and that is quite a hard thing to pull off in drama. It’s done well and seems to be the sole light in a bleak story. Except toward the end you learn that their meeting was not an accident and that one of them has been explicitly working to get revenge on the other.

That revelation fits the play perfectly and I am vastly more satisfied with this PISR than I was with Suspects.

However, because we aren’t supposed to guess that this is happening, we only learn very late on that there might be a reason for anyone to want revenge on this person. It’s a big thing that’s happened. I envy how the writer has crafted something that we can be jolt-appalled by yet also feel for the person who did this big thing, how we can understand how it could happen.

But we get that for a moment and then we learn the reveal. The enormous thing is uncovered and dispensed with in a thrice and that reduces it. It doesn’t make it trivial, but it makes it smaller because we don’t get long for us to see how it affects that character. Something enormous is revealed late and the plot moves on instantly so the enormous because dispensed with. It therefore becomes smaller. So the revenge that comes immediately after that feels out of scale. The fact that we haven’t suspected anything – that may well be my fault, the script may well be riddled with hints and as I say it all fits in with the gorgeously bleak story – also changes things. We didn’t suspect this person had done this thing, we didn’t suspect that the other would be there for revenge.

So we’ve spent this time getting to know these two characters and really we didn’t get to know them.

I think it works better than The Usual Suspects, though, because I think we can feel that what we’ve seen is the real character beneath the plot. What we’ve learnt of how these two feel and think is real even though what we’ve learnt of how they act is not.

I’m not sure. Maybe this comes down to how I love stories and I don’t like puzzles. The Usual Suspects is a fundamentally different film if you watch it a second time. This PISR is a drastically different play if you go see it again. Jagged Edge is a taut thriller unless you know whether the guy did it or not, in which case it’s a bit empty.

All of which would be fine, I could do the critic dance and say McQuarrie and the writer of PISR aren’t as good as I am, QED, except that I am tussling with this issue in a project of my own and, oh my lights, it’s hard.

I have a tale that doesn’t exactly depend on you thinking a key character is something when she’s really something else, but it helps.

She’s lying her teeth off and of course I want the moment you realise this to be enormous. But I’m trying to make it so that everything you’ve learnt about her is still true, she is still this same woman going through these same issues – those issues are just gigantically bigger than you expected and they are profoundly more her fault than you thought. I want you to be truly shocked but then immediately feel for her.

Easy.

I know that moment, I can see that exact instant when you are to realise and I know to the pixel where it will come in the story. Unfortunately, it has to be instantly followed by another shock that I fear is about as big. The revelation causes the second shock, I can’t see a way to even separate them by a minute. So whatever part of my brain it is that just does plots for me while I sweat about characters, that’s tapping me on the arm and asking me to ponder this. To ponder a lot – such a lot – whether an immediate second shock diminishes the first one. You want to get the most value out of something, especially when you’ve worked hard to get us to that point, so it’s an issue of whether I am throwing away some of the punch. Whether I am making this enormous thing feel smaller and out of scale.

I might be turning this into a puzzle.

But I am clear on this one thing. Even when you learn the truth about this character, she will still be the same character you’ve come to know. She’ll just have this whole other issue and I hope to make it that this hurts.

I’ve said this before but I think drama is like running your hand over a piece of wood. Go one way, stroke against the grain and your skin gets cut by shards, it stings and you bleed. That’s what a story should do as you go through it. But the way when you then stroke back, stroke in the same direction as the grain, it’s all smooth. Stories have to work in retrospect; take us somewhere new and most certainly, definitely, unquestionably, undoubtedly take the characters somewhere they don’t want to go but they have to be the same characters.

I think.