Yesterday afternoon I had my first tutorial with my scriptwriting teacher at my university. He teaches the craft of playwriting and screenwriting.
Of course, at 4 pm on the train into town, I told myself I mustn’t get emotional during the 30-minute tutorial but of course I did. Not because I’m a woman (don’t go there). I got teary-eyed because – finally – I was sitting in the presence a mensch. A gentleman, a scholar and a dramatist with work in performance who I felt I could trust in this new process.
Today, I can say with my hand on my heart, I’m experiencing a miracle in my beloved city London. For, London – thankfully – feels beloved to me once again today and that’s a feeling I’ve not felt for a very long time.
When an artist – and I feel all writers are artists – finds someone to trust who respectfully teaches, inspires and helps them with their work, it is something one doesn’t take for granted. At the University of London, the English and Creative Writing faculty provide practising professionals who lead and guide with passion, skill and grace, a most empowering combination. So far, I have not met such people in a commercial or educational environment.
When I was to trying to figure out how to live my own creative life in my mid-twenties – while I sat alone one night praying in a recently purchased studio apartment near Regent’s Park (in a place my parents organised for me) at a time when I had a prestigious job yet I felt unhappy, lonely and on an unfulfilling career path – I imagined a different life, one where I was a published writer and world traveller: a person free to originate and experience life on my own terms in my own way. But, two things were stopping me. I felt I wasn’t allowed to think this way, and I didn’t yet know what I wanted to create to give to the world.
Soon after, I felt compelled to give up some things. This opened up space in my life for a series of unexpected events to transpire that filled my life with many unexpected gifts. I believe this was a result of that night of prayer and communion with the only presence I have trusted – and still, do – since my early childhood, my Father in Heaven.
When I had respectfully returned the apartment keys to my father, I had rented a room in the literary neighbourhood of Maida Vale, Little Venice at the home of Kaye Webb, the former editor of Puffin Books at the British publishing house Penguin and I had secured an opportunity at the news-provider ITN, as an assistant to the Head of News – I was on my way to a new life.
I took a risk, I had to. It was either die a slow death while I still lived as an unhappy well-paid Marketing Consultant or find the courage to explore the unknown. That year my life changed and even though it felt like the worst year of my life, in retrospect I think it was the beginning of something remarkable.
Becoming your own person takes a leap of faith. Living someone else’s expectation is not a way to live unless you embody it as your own personal truth and accept it with love. To craft your own way is to build your own self. To own your own life.
I can’t tell you doing something new at any age is easy, because it isn’t for a lot of people including yours truly. But I can tell you this. After every new fundamental choice I have made, there have been miracles and there are still miracles today.
While I later trained as a journalist at ITN, I did dream of writing stories that would come to life on the page, stage and screen but I didn’t know how to do it. The idea also seemed preposterous.
My workday demanded certain expectations. Creativity, play and the imaginative world of story making were not areas of communication I explored with my words or my own self in a professional environment. All I knew was the realm of reality, non-fiction if you like; facts, true-life stories, also business methods and words I used to inspire people to listen to me on behalf of projects and clients. How to draw on words to originate and craft stories for the page, stage or screen seemed beyond me. It never dawned on me, everything I did know how to do I had learned in the process, in the act of doing; writing fiction could have been just the same. But, I never gave myself permission to write creative work.
Now, I can tell you, nothing is beyond our capability and imagination if we really want something. What’s so fantastic about living in a city of dreamers is that anything is possible. And, what’s so amazing about being a human being is anything and everything is possible if you allow yourself to think this way.
London offers fantastic opportunities for anyone of any age and background to gain an education. Even all those years ago, without the internet, when it wasn’t a matter of googling classes in how to write a stage play or film script G-d was present guiding me and so many others to such places like The City Literary Institute in Covent Garden. For a year, once a week along with a group of men and women, some actors, some aspiring directors, some dreamers like me, I was introduced to the craft of theatre directing and acting.
By this time, I had been reviewing and reading plays since my early 20s. I was familiar with the form and different writers and what I liked; Tennessee Williams being my favourite with plays such as The Street Car Named Desire, Sweet Bird of Youth and A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Then there was The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll’s House. And, then there was one of my all-time loves Truly Madly Deeply by Anthony Minghella who directed the compelling film of the same name as well as that masterfully plotted story The Talented Mr Ripley written by the masterful author of suspense Patricia Highsmith. I better stop here otherwise I could go on forever about the books, plays and particular films or TV drama and writers I admire and every story I have learned from as a writer.
Anything and everything is possible on the journey of your life in a city of dreamers wherever you are in the world.
The magic of life and a city can inspire you to do the craziest things. I am not embarrassed to tell you of the time I rushed spontaneously, with what felt like wings on my feet, from the finale of an open-air showcase of the new talent of the Metropolitan Opera House in Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon, praying with all my heart for a ticket-return to see Jude Law in a sold-out Hamlet on Broadway and meeting outside the threatre a lady – who I feel to this day was an angel- who gave me a front row upper stalls ticket as gift as the 3 pm matinee bell was making its last call. Phew, what a sentence, but what a day, what a performance, and what a lot of gratitude I poured out to G-d in prayer. For surely that day He heard my prayers for He did grant me a sweet New York miracle.
One’s twenties can be full of such magical stories that anyone could attribute to the fearlessness of youth but let me tell you something special. We can make our own magic happen every day of our lives or when we really truly want it. And, that magic can accompany us throughout all the years of our life if we invite it into our lives. If we pray, if we believe, if we – with humility – apply ourselves to our craft, if we invest time and effort in strengthening our faith and trust in G-d, in those we would like to trust, and in our own self, and allow the magic to come to us. Or we simply ask for it and are ready to accept it. But when it comes, if we take it and enjoy it we must always remember to say thank you each time we are blessed for I truly believe when we say thank you this pleases G-d so very much that He just loves to keep blessing us time and time and time again.
Yes, a work life for a salary is a reality for most of us folks most of our lives, but work comes in all types of guises. While I know we have to work to live I have always tried to love my life and looked at life as a labour of love.
If you want to be a good person, enjoy what you do, enjoy your relationships with people, and you want to feel focused, productive and happy every day of your life that requires constant work. There is no payment for this type of work but there are rewards. You reap what you sow. Life can’t only be about the money.
I started working at fourteen only in a part-time job but at 18-years-of-age, I am sorry to tell you I was already busy working all hours to get ahead. And that attitude carried me through my twenties until I decided that if I do not leave London and fly away to some faraway place to marry and have children I would be consumed by work forever. And so I flew and so it was when I was married and I had four children I imagined my dreams of following a life of a writer were forever lost to me. But how wrong I was.
Even in that faraway place G-d must have remembered the prayers of my youth for one night when I was expecting my third child – and I was giving a talk to three hundred women at a fundraising event to raise money to complete a school for special needs children – there was a lady in the audience who would offer me a job that very night. A job that gave me a career as a journalist for the next nine years. This job enabled me to provide for my family. It allowed me to publish one to two articles a week in publications sold the world over. And, led me to mentor writers that are still thankfully publishing today and providing for their families. And, to think I never interviewed for that first job as a columnist in a newspaper. The grace of G-d is something to behold.
And, look where I am now? Not somewhere I ever would have imagined all these years later. I am back in London after a hiatus overseas of eighteen years, taking a scriptwriting module at Birkbeck, University of London, starting over as a new writer in a new genre trying to find my voice in a new form. The mind boggles. But, truth be told, even though it is a scary business starting something new, I love the feeling. It holds so much promise and potential.
Even though I haven’t 100% finalised the storyline of my first piece of dramatic writing, the work is in progress and I’ve entrusted myself to this new process. I am on this new journey with an experienced leader and a group of aspiring writers as peers. That’s why I am showing up here to express my gratitude to my university, my fellow students, and our esteemed teacher David Eldridge.
Yes, we writers learn from the practical application of writing and revising and editing on a continual basis. We learn from craft books, from reading all genres of writing, from writing classes and so forth. But there is no substitute from learning our craft from a published writer or a writer whose work is performed on the stage, screen or radio. A working writer who is also a skilled, resourceful, inspiring teacher who keeps you safe in peer review which empowers you to fearlessly explore new vistas.
To find a mentor in a teacher is a rare opportunity; it’s a bit like finding a priceless gem in this mighty dark universe of ours. For the world can feel pretty huge and overwhelming sometimes so when you find a shining light to guide you it is a gift from G-d.
Writers cannot work in isolation – forever. There comes a time when we have to entrust ourselves to a teacher or mentor or to a forum that will show us the way forward to our audience; the reader, the viewer, the listener. To take this journey we may have to take risks. Go beyond a safe place. Take courage. Let the work be read by others. We need to accept constructive feedback. We have to let others into our world and trust they will tread kindly.
To close here, I want to wish David Eldridge GOOD LUCK tonight. His new play BEGINNING which attained sold-out performances at The National Theatre transfers to The Ambassadors Theatre in the heart of Covent Garden and of course, I want to share this news and encourage you to enjoy his work. The play runs from 23 January to 8 February 2018.
Dreams are made of this.
Born in 1973, David Eldridge is the author of 29 plays that have gone into production; as well as eight adaptations. His plays are published by Methuen; as well as a short story entitled ‘A Whole New World’. He is currently writing new material for the screen.
Agent contact: https://www.independenttalent.com/writers/david-eldridge/
Contact website for ticket sales for BEGINNING: https://www.theambassadorstheatre.co.uk