I don't know quite how this is going to work but, sod it, let's give it a go. You'll understand what I'm babbling about in a minute.
"Do you write?" he asked me. Oh, God bless him. I must have had a big neon sign flashing above my head saying WRITER in big pink letters.This is a very big book, at 511 pages, and it's bloody heavy. I think I've got RSI just from holding the ruddy thing and I'm only three chapters in (I'm half way through Chapter Three with it's wonderful title of "Bastards"). It will come in useful as a blunt instrument. To begin with, the purchasing of this book has been an emotional battle too. I originally had it on order with Amazon at a very reasonable 50% off but then spotted it in various bookshops on my travels and quite frankly was so eager to get my hands on it (perhaps not now they're bruised and battered from actually trying to read it) that I cancelled the order and scuttled off to Waterstone's and grabbed a copy. I was served by a lovely fella, very cute, who asked me " Are you a fan of Doctor Who or Russell?" after he saw the gleam of glee in my eye as he processed my sale. "Both", I replied not knowing quite what being a fan of Russell might actually entail. "Do you write?" he asked me. Oh, God bless him. I must have had a big neon sign flashing above my head saying WRITER in big pink letters. I mumbled something about "I try to. A little bit" and gave him a big smile.
Ten minutes later I barracked myself "I try to!" What the fuck was that about? I am a writer, of course I am. Why am I embarrassed by that claim? Isn't what I do 'proper' writing? Y'see. Self-doubt. Thinking what you do is rubbish.
Anyway. Much later, eyes straining at 2.30am I'm nodding in recognition at a particularly insightful piece from one of the many Russell emails. The whole book is one vast email and text conversation between him and Benjamin Cook. An electronic stream of consciousness that's now in print, in a book beautifully designed, chock full of photographs, cartoons and the like. Yes, it's about Doctor Who but it's actually more about what's going on in the peculiar brain of Russell. A writer's point of view, most definitely. And Benjamin, his email correspondent, asks some bloody hard questions. The bit I was nodding at was an email on Page 54 where Russell succinctly describes the way that panic and desperation has set in because he hasn't even started writing the script and he's entered a downward spiral;
"I don't know why I do this. I even set myself little targets. At 10am, I think, I'll start at noon. At noon, I think, I'll make it 4pm. At 4pm, I think, too late now, I'll wait for tonight and I'll work late. And then I'll use TV programmes as crutches - ooh, must watch this, must watch that - and then it's 10pm and I think, well, start at midnight, that's a good time. A good time?! A nice round number! At midnight, I despair and reckon it's too late, and stay up despairing. I'll stay that way till 2 or 3am, and then go to bed in a tight knot of frustration. The next day, the same thing. Weeks can pass like that."Russell, I think I've been doing that for the last 25 years and I still haven't written that novel, that script. I've managed a sodding blog and some dry as dust articles on design and, just lately, some nice bits and bobs for DWAS' Celestial Toyroom (thanks, Tony) but what strikes me is that this is actually a universal experience. What Russell is saying there can be applied to most of us, especially writers. It just needs someone to point it out now and again. The process of writing is not formulaic and both Russell and Ben spend much of the first three chapters looking at how Russell processes his ideas with the stress on this is how he puts together ideas and writes a script. What's revealing is that he misses deadlines all the time, leaves pretty much all the writing to the very last minute.
What emerges is a kind of Russell T 'Valeyard'...a darker distillation of that jolly Welsh poof that you see on the telly...Whilst he's also contemplating his navel, which is actually rather a brave thing to do in a 511 page book - lots of navel, he'd probably admit, he's gossiping about all sorts of things: Kylie, Dennis Hopper, Skins and about his wild past off his head in bars on all sorts of substances, probably. What emerges is a kind of Russell T 'Valeyard'...a darker distillation of that jolly Welsh poof that you see on the telly, grinning at press calls and awards ceremonies. It's fascinating because you do get a glimpse of a driven man who does pause in moments of self-doubt, is often quite ruthless too and doesn't suffer fools gladly. And is very, very funny with it.
So that's just an impression of the first two and a half chapters. It's compelling, candid and very honest. There isn't enough honesty in the world, everyone seems to have an agenda these days, so this is really refreshing. So much so that I'm going to review it a bit at a time (don't nod off at the back, there!). Handy sized bits of commentary as I work my way through which is where I came blabbing in about at the top of the post. Only 450 pages to go...and I'm loving it. See you tomorrow...unless there's something good on the telly.
THE WRITER'S TALE - Russell T Davies & Benjamin Cook (BBC Books ISBN 9781846075711 Published 24th September 2008)
Cathode Ray Tube A Writer's Tale Russell T Davies Benjamin Cook Doctor Who