Thursday, 10 September 2020

I'll Be Gone In The Dark

April 21st 2016 is a date burned into my memory. It was unseasonably cold. My son's weekly cricket practice had begun despite football having yet to end. Which is why I found myself standing on the edge of a cricket pitch, bracing myself against the elements with my husband standing next to me, already tetchy about how the blustery wind would affect play. He was making polite conversation with another parent when I got a text - 'is this true?' with a link to a site announcing my all time hero, Prince had died. I was certain it was a hoax. But messages on facebook started to ping through  and it the crushing news was in fact true. I started to cry and all I remember is my husband shushing me, mortified that I was acting like such an emotional loon in front of random parents.  It was the day my all time favourite musician died - but unbeknownst to me, an incredible crime writer died that day also - Michelle McNamara. Only later did I discover that not only do we share the same birthday, but she too had loved Prince....

Two years later I chanced upon an article about a woman writer who attempted to catch a serial killer from her daughter's playroom. While her family were peacefully sleeping, Michelle would stay up into the wee hours, trawling websites and hunting for clues to track down the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist,  the Original Nightstalker (EARONS) or as Michelle cleverly coined him - The Golden State Killer.  Michelle called her book, 'I'll Be Gone In The Dark' - a reference to a line that the monster hissed to those he raped: 'Make one move and you'll be silent forever... and I'll be gone in the dark.'

When Michelle was a teenager, growing up in Kansas City, Missouri - less than a mile away from her home, a 24 year old woman called Kathleen Lombardo was brutally murdered while out on an evening run.  She had been dragged into an alley and had her throat sliced. Two days later Michelle walked the same steps Lombardo had taken and picked up the fragments of her shattered Walkman that lay on the ground.  From that day onwards, unsolved murders became Michelle's obsession. 

Michelle was fascinated by the fact The Golden State Killer is the most prolific serial killer that you have never heard of.  She was curious as to why he wasn't widely known and why the cases remained unsolved. Between 1973 and 1986 he committed at least 120 vicious burglaries, 50 violent rapes and 13 brutal murders across California.  His crime sprees each spawned different nicknames as back in the pre-computer days, it took years for the individual police forces to connect the burglaries to the rapes and eventually the murders he carried out. Michelle told LA Magazine : 'However twisted the grins of those killers, however wild the eyes, we can at least stare solidly at them, knowing that evil has a shape and an expression and can be locked behind bars. Until we put a face on a psychopath like the Golden State Killer, he will continue to hold sway over us - he will remain a powerful cipher who triumphs by being just out of reach.'

As Michelle was midway through writing the book, aged just 46, a combination of an undiagnosed heart condition and a home-brewed concoction of anxiety meds and painkillers (including the drug that would cause Prince to overdose - Fentanyl) killed her in her sleep on April 21st, 2016. Her husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, showed incredible determination by helping Michelle's researcher Paul Haynes and acclaimed investigative journalist Bill Jenson to join forces and complete it with the wealth of material Michelle left behind. It is an astonishing read. Michelle is equally concerned with getting under the skin of the determined lead investigators of the case as she is the unnamed killer himself. In her writing, the victims blossom from the page: their living breathing lives and relationships laid out: the person behind the number, the quirks behind the cold statistic. 

There are details almost too raw to read: how the phone rang in the house of a victim, 20 odd years after her attack. She had lived at the address for 30 years. His voice was low, she recognised it immediately: 'Remember when he played?' he whispered.  The 15 year-old victim who was alone in the house playing the piano when she felt a presence behind her. After the rape she no longer played - always assuming that someone uninvited would appear behind her. The plates that the rapist placed on the bound husbands' backs as he led their wives away to another room to be raped.  He would warn them that if a plate dropped he would murder them both. The 13 year old victim who asked her dog 'why didn't you do something dummy?' There is a simple cruelty in taking items which only held sentimental value to the owners; he wanted to infiltrate their lives, destroy them, humiliate them and take from them every last breath of security they ever felt. Blindfolded and bound victims remember lying silently for 45 minutes and beginning to move only to feel the blade of his knife against their neck and his heavy breathing - he had been silent but present the whole time. 

The Epilogue of the book is entitled: 'Letter to an Old Man' - as the killer was then still at large - but Michelle was convinced that he wouldn't remain free. That a police car would pull up to the curb. 'This is how it ends for you,' she promised. She desperately wanted to know his face. 'Open the Door, show us your face. Walk into the light.' Her dogged pursuit of the case kept it in the limelight, helped people to remember, forced questions to be answered. 

I finished the book in April 2018 and as I literally closed the cover and googled some more info, I was stunned to discover that he had just been caught. As predicted by Michelle - it was through a public genealogy website. The police had tracked him down as a potential suspect and raided his bins to ascertain if the DNA was indeed a match.  Joseph James DeAngelo, father of three daughters, was roasting a chicken in the oven when he was arrested. This is how it ends for you. In June 2020 he pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first degree murder and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. While the rape cases had passed the statute of limitations - the survivors were allowed to address the pathetic excuse of a man in court. They did so with tremendous courage. In the documentary of the book 'I'll be Gone in the Dark' (on HBO) many of the survivors movingly gather together - able to rebuild their lives knowing the man who tried to ruin their lives - but failed to do so -  is at last behind bars. The tragedy is that Michelle is not alive the witness this.

Looking at the frail old man, it is hard to imagine that any human being would be capable of such cruelty - and I can't help but think Michelle was right. In seeing his face - bald, wrinkled, weathered - or even the faded photos of how he looked at the height of his crimes - baby faced, thick nose, frighteningly ordinary - he loses his mystery, his power. Relatives in the documentary talk of a sweet man, 'Uncle Joe' and they cannot reconcile the man they knew with the atrocities he committed. Perhaps this is why he escaped detection for so long - he was just a face in the crowd; he moved amongst people, silent, observing, impassive, blank.

He isn't clever - just lucky. In todays era he would be unable to prowl neighbourhoods as he did - CCTV would have spotted him in a heartbeat. Phonecalls would be traceable; DNA lifted at the scene of the first crime. His face would have been captured on a mobile phone; mid attack a child in another room would have called the cops from his iPad; security cameras would have unearthed his every movement. 

Michelle can rest in peace. Something, his dark hollow soul will never be able to do.


Monday, 13 July 2020

Conversations we should have had....

As we come out to this 'new normal' whatever that means - I've been reflecting on what I can take away from this loooong time in the wilderness... Forgive me is this is a more rambling blog post than usual but I put that down to 1. My head is fried. 2. My head may always be fried.

Having spent lockdown watching the wonderful Normal People - it made me realise that there are so many conversations that we should have, but for various reasons, never do. How one little conversation could change the whole outcome of a relationship, even the outcome of a life. We shy away from being truly congruent with another person for fear of offending, or worse, being emotionally vulnerable and then we have to live with the consequences. Just imagine if Connell had told Marianne he had nowhere to live that summer? Or admitted to his mates he was seeing her whilst at school? If she had told him the truth about her tortured family life?

I think over the night the cruel dog breeder texted me asking me if I wanted some of her poxy overpriced calendars - and I refused, lying that funds were tight. She immediately assumed that meant we wouldn't pay her the £600 she had added on to the already eye watering price tag for a pup - which we had agreed to pay after collecting Cooper. Rather than have an adult conversation - saying - sorry to hear funds are tight, but you will still pay me, won't you?' she choose instead to suddenly withdraw the sale causing massive hurt and a whole wealth of recourse where we felt duty bound to report her to the Kennel Club, Champ dogs, the council etc. Anger fuelled me until it left me empty. One conversation - and everything maybe would have been different. It is incredible when you think that we pivot on these moments - that the chips could fall in many different ways, all depending on what people say - or rather don't say...

Imagine if everyone was just a bit more honest? How refreshing it would be. Instead lies disguised as pleasantries: 'We must meet up soon!' 'You look amazing....' 'I'll call you...' we all just said how we really felt. I read a problem page recently where a woman asked the agony aunt about how she should end a friendship - as every time she saw this old buddy, it was fractious with neither party really enjoying themselves and yet they persisted in this merry old dance. Emma Barnett gave some brilliant advice - where she suggested the woman actually calls her friend. I know. Terrifying. I choked on my wine as I thought about how awks this would be - had I been in her shoes. But also how wildly honest... and brave.  Barnett suggested the woman simply tell the truth and wish her friend well, suggesting they no longer labour keeping in touch for the sake of things and cut ties accordingly. All very cheery amicable and sensible. Having wasted years on keeping some folk on the fringes of my life, I think this chop, rather like the haircuts we all desperately need - would be nothing but a bonus; if nothing else lockdown should have highlighted to us the things that are important in life and those that really aren't worth fretting over.

Which brings me to last week when a woman ran into me - sadly, in her car. I was in my car too I should add. It was a rainy tuesday and it was entirely this other woman's fault. I was so delighted that no one was hurt and that it wasn't MY fault for once in my life - that I decided to be to this woman how I would want someone to be to me...  (Or rather how nice neil was to me when I totally his BMW in November '18). I was freakishly calm, I told her not to fret and when I returned home husband said he was surprised I hadn't invited her to dinner... (I would have but we both had just picked up our takeaway burgers).

Instead of being stressed and angry I just told the woman sincerely-  that a car crash is no biggie. It is a hunk of metal and not to fret. I meant it. Anyway, the whole thing did turn out to be a huge pain in the arse - of course it was - with insurance and cars written off and hire cars and car tax and all that palaver - but all in all, I was pretty chilled about it compared to crashes of old. Lockdown has taught me two things - to let go of the stress, because really, most stuff is solvable. Two - be as honest as possible.  During this whole house arrest, I found it nigh on impossible to get a second of headspace. Between home schooling, kids fighting, someone needing something urgently despite having nowhere to actually go, emptying the dishwasher twenty times a day and relinquishing my phone and computer so my kid could house party while robloxing - and screaming the house down as she did so - I got precious few seconds to think a thought to myself. I told my producers and they totally understood. I didn't want to hear about people who learnt french or how to crochet a plant holder or what not - I was surviving goddammit - just about.

If we can have the conversations we should be having rather than the ones we do out of duty, out of fear or out of saving face - then life would be so much simpler dontcha think?  This all might have been born out of the fact that I read over all my old diaries for a project I am working on - and it was truly fascinating. I thought I was wildly mature, cultured and fairly balanced. I am a total fruitcake. Why no one on earth told me to stop mooning over a boy in Manchester who clearly didn't give a flying feck about me and get on with my life, I have no idea. I am tragically deep, boy obsessed, allowed to hang out with a tennis player for an entire night MID A-LEVELs and kiss a male model in London when I am 15. FIFTEEN! Heavens above. My son is now 14 and I am now locking him in the shed for the rest of his life. We are all virtually alcoholics before the legal age of drinking and I spent my life on a bus going somewhere in Belfast, usually The Empire pub, mates' houses and Botanic gardens. It is a wonder I have time for school. Anyway, I wish to god I could have had a word in my shell like and told myself there is a whole world out there and not to mope over a boy and instead to do some fecking revision. I did pretty ok in my A levels but I wonder what I'd have achieved if I hadn't been studying the morning of the exams... for the first time. The moral of the story - is there one? Well it all turned out ok in the end I guess, and boy I had a ball, (too much of a ball it seems) but did I have to write and tell every boy how I felt - begging them to put me out of my misery instead of seeing the writing in CAPITALS on the wall? If they'd had the balls to be honest and not string me along it would have saved a lot of tears and by the sounds of what I have written - a feck tonne of paper as well.

Honesty people. The conversations we never had. I say have them.  Warts and all.

I dare you*.


CM x

*I take no responsibility if it all goes tits up mind. 

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Tuesday is the new Friday





There was nothing quite as sweet tasting as that Friday night g and t - always a double (what is the point of a single?) and that lovely blurry feeling that signalled the end of a working week and the joys of a weekend that lay ahead.

But in this whole covid lockdown malarkey, Friday ceases to mean anything - as the weekend stretches before us - a gaping void with no social activity or children's sports to attend. So I've had to find that fuzzy feeling elsewhere and stone the crows but all of a sudden Tuesday is my new Friday. Why? Well it is all down to one man and his incredible mane of hair. I'm not talking Joe Exotic - (although Tiger King does have a place in my heart by easing me into this new world).  The reason Tuesday is a 'bother to put on mascara and brush your hair to greet your mates on zoom' kind of a day is because of a tennis coach called Stuart McQuitty who each week throws together a stonking quiz for anyone - all from his humble lounge. No disco balls and flattering lights for our Stu - no, he simply pours himself a beer (harp, natch) or a large G and T and settles into what looks like the least comfortable chair and begins...

My schoolmates alerted me to the quiz; there are six in our team (although last night 3 A-level Maths students let us down on the angle question - and they know who they are) and we all chat via Teams, even after the quiz until the wee hours. Meanwhile on another device, we have Stuart blaring out from his live facebook feed, entertaining us with his (dreadful) singing and cheery anecdotes in between quiz questions and refilling his glass. 

The quiz is simply brilliant. I'm not much use to be honest (picture rounds and film rounds are my specialities) and whilst there is the odd low-brow question to make me feel like I have contributed - by and large there are other sharper tools in the box to help with questions on types of hamster, renaissance literature and anything chemistry related. So far,  we have come third and then last night an all time best of joint second; but we have yet to win the coveted top spot. Our team name: 'Anyone Malone?'  comes from the many (school) years spent staggering from the Empire pub to the taxi-cab firm opposite and waiting for the above two beautiful words to be spoken by the controller - to signify we would no longer have to sit in the sweaty, fag ashed room that smelt of piss and burgers but were being thankfully released to pour ourselves into a waiting cab, making our curfews by a whisker. 

The highlight of the quiz is not actually the quiz itself. (Sorry Stu). No, it would be Stuart's hair. Week one and barely a question was asked when he didn't stroke his just-stepped-out-of-a-salon brown locks (Joe Wicks you have nothing on Stu) - so we decided every time Stu caressed his curls, we would shout 'DRINK!"  Necking a glug of our chosen alcoholic beverage. We were hammered by round 2. Our mistake was to tell Stu this (via facebook comments). Next week he saw our game and he raised us - by wearing a HEADBAND. We were devastated. Next week, he teased us with his hair hairsprayed back and oh no - what was this? A kind of ode to Burt Reynolds crossed with 70s cop show moustache. Thankfully last night the tache was gone and the hair stroking was back in full force. Next week he has promised us a man bun. The big tease. I'm hoping he releases a calendar and the proceeds go to the NHS. I for one would buy it. 

The thing I love most about Stu and the quiz is its sense of positivity. It is the shining beacon of hope in my otherwise monotonous week. I applaud him for getting off his butt and bothering to do something that brings folk together, entertains us and gets the old grey matter ticking, in what would just be another 'what shall we find to watch but spend most of the night trawling Amazon, Netflix and Sky and still end up watching Derry Girls repeats' kind of night. 

After the quiz has wrapped Gar and Jo - the mothership of our team - send us picture rounds - as they are UBER quizzers. We are not their only quiz rodeo of the week. Nope they cheat on us with not one, but two, other quizzes and then throw us the picture rounds to test us. This is where I truly shine - knowing one Z lister after another. Then we pour another glass - because it is the new Friday after all and suddenly, inexplicably we look at the clock and it is well past midnight. On a school night. The next morning our daily Joe Wicks is always a bit of a chore and we pray for bunny hops rather than the burpee hell and slump at our desks while the joy of home schooling begins. Wednesday drags but before we know it, Tuesday will roll around again. I simply cannot wait.

If you fancy joining in - and anyone can - from all over the globe - it is 8pm Tuesday nights here

Stay safe and keep her lit xx

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

How to survive the isolation....

... I'm fecked if I know.  Sorry.

I wish I was able to give some wealth of insight here - some mystical wisdom that will make everything better - but sadly, I'm me - so I don't have much. But I'm trying to stay positive - even though I'm married to an introvert that thinks all his Christmasses have come at once. I mean he barely has noticed anything is amiss. He says he is living the dream. If he didn't cook up a storm every evening (I may leave here on a mobility scooter in 3 months) I would murder him. So how am I getting through - bearing in mind it is day 3? (3!!!!Sweet Jaysus)? (Forgive me if this rambles. My head is FRIED).

For the kids: 

So yes, we have made a time table and it lasts until exactly 10:30am. Then they take a break and play football and cricket and do some gardening and beg to camp outside (soon, little do they know, but I'll be so stressed they will LIVING in that tent outside) and all in all we haven't done much studying. I'm not too bothered - because there will be rainy days when all they will do is study and also - dear god, we have sunshine - so we may as well get out in it before it rains and we all weep onto our devices...

But my timetable is as follows:

8am  - Walk
Up the hill and through the forest next to where I live. I'm actually loving this and we actually talk which we maybe last did.... in the summer of 2005 before we had kids.

9am - Joe Wicks PE.
I love him. Bless you Joe for getting us all dressed and throwing mad shapes at 9am. I keep convincing myself that by the end of all this I too will have abs like sweet tiny Joe. But then I delve into the kids' easter eggs at 11am - just the back mind, so from the front they look untouched. How's that for genius?

9:30am - 10am Reading
This has turned into breakfast, the first row between my kids of the day and then they finally they settle down to work. We fight over the computer as the laptop is being repaired. I think - is it too early to drink yet? They make up and giggle at each other and refuse to read. Husband on a work call and we are all meant to be silent as the tomb. This is all going very well. Not. I eye the vodka.

10:30 -11:15 Maths
By the end of this time, my kids run into the garden for break time and essentially don't come inside until 3pm... I try to do some reading/emailing writing and then give up and sit in the garden with a book. Checking on the Guardian Corona Virus update every 20 seconds and unable to concentrate because what if I never get a can of lentils in Waitrose again?? Or Yorkshire tea?? Meanwhile every 3 seconds I hear - 'Mum Mum Mum!!' I ignore them so my daughter has started saying 'Suzanne?'

3pm
We all decide we should do some work just as husband decides he wants to prepare dinner. My teenage son explains his work all has to be done for some time in the distant future and my daughter looks at her home-made timetable and does what she fancies for about half an hour and WHY oh WHY is all of this homework/schooling only done on a device - meaning HOW ON EARTH am I meant to do any work? I look at the laundry pile that is the size of Everest and think - why bother? Not got anything on this week or indeed ever...

5pm
The house looks like a war zone and my children have managed to get changed 3 times today. We try and FaceTime/Houseparty family or friends but there are little boxes with too many people and my god - I have seen myself on screen and I need a LOT of help in the eye area. My roots need done. Oh well, they will be. Next year. We all talk at the same time and no one can hear anything so we all drink like fish and laugh about how insane this all is. Just as it gets interesting the screen goes black and we all attempt a meet again and then give up and finish the bottle of wine. Time to open another eh?

7pm
We eat dinner. Husband bitter about filling the dishwasher 'for the third time today.' The kids have their 10,000th argument of the day.  I ask for a table family meal and my teenager points out that we don't need to ask 'how was your day' because we lived and breathed every minute together.  So we all watch that mad animal man on Netflix and try and decide which one is more mad/evil/murderous... Wine never tasted so wonderful.

9pm
We all have given up on boardgames and head to bed. Because tomorrow - YAY - we can do it all again.


So my top tips:

1. The good thing is - if you avoid the news - it is all quite relaxing. No make up, why shower? I'm living in gym gear and keep promising to go for a run... But they key is - do NOT keep checking in on the news/social media because it is wildly anxiety inducing. Whispers of living like this for 18 months. Information overload. I keep holding the thought of September back to school again. I mean, it's so close isn't it? *Reaches for the gin*

2. Do keep moving. Who knew that a walk was so wonderful. I mean just getting to exercise feels like a treat.

3. Do a clear out. I mean if you can be motivated. My problem is I keep thinking - well, I've got months - so I don't have that kick up the arse I need But if you can  clear out that room/shed/wardrobe. I'm doing the shed of Saturday - because I have to have something to look forward to don't I? *weeps*

4. Do lots of face timing even though downloading Teams has proved a nightmare and don't get me started on Zoom and why can't I hear anything on House Party? But try because isn't it wonderful to see those faces of folk you miss? Just think of a sunny day in a pub garden, cold drink in hand, buddies all around. I mean - IT WILL BE AMAZING. I'm getting my Irish muckers together the second I can. They have no say in the matter.

5. Find a project apparently. Now mine is to get my Fimo out (I ordered a tonne) as I used to sell broaches back at school. Had a slight production problem when the pigs ears all fell off and everyone wanted a refund 'Er... Suzanne, it looks like I'm wearing a potato' - but I aim to take it up again. I haven't made Fimo stuff since I made all my wedding invitations - because I had so much time on my hands in those days... I've also ordered waders and my kids will be clearing the stream of all debris and rubbish... And they will be doing all the gardening I can't be bothered with. But get into yoga/sewing/cocktail making (that I love) or cooking or whatever - now is the time to learn Spanish...

6. It is ok to veg. It is ok to not know what the fuck you are doing. I don't. I mean its easy to have order when you have to be somewhere by X or to meet so and so by Y. But when we stare into the abyss of time, it is hard to get your arse off the sofa. So don't. Watch movies, box sets, read books and CHILL. You deserve it. I know we might not have work/jobs/anything left at the end of this - but we can't control it, we can't change stuff - so just BREATHE.

Get into Friday Night lights, Russian Doll, Glow, The first two seasons of Fargo, Parks and Rec (There is NO better series to watch with your kids I swear. I dream of being Leslie - she is a goddess and my husband is Ron Swanson. Except sadly he can't do DIY). Mind Hunter. Unreal is trashy but fun and I liked The Society on Netflix which is about a group of teens and something weird happens and they are left alone in their town... (Bit like life now I expect. Except they are all young and hot).

Films - Summer 1993, Whiplash, Toy Story 3, The Lives of Others, Me Earl and the Dying girl, '91, Big Fish, Room, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Squid and the Whale, Call Me By Your Name, Boyhood, Custody, Brokeback Mountain, Almost Famous, In the Bedroom, Drive, Little Miss Sunshine, A Hidden Life, The Virgin Suicides, The Social Network, After Hours, Halloween - all my favs...

9. Help your elderly neighbours... Its so lovely to get their shopping and to have a very very brief chat - at a distance - as you drop it off for them. Connecting with community honestly is the way forward and frankly what we all should be doing anyway.

10. Look through old photo albums and diaries and remember all the stuff that you have survived in life - from broken hearts to horrible illnesses to losing jobs to being broke - we've all got through in the end. We are all in the same boat at the moment and no one knows how to get through this or what world we will come out to - but maybe it will be a better one? Where we care less about how we look all the time and about trash reality tv and social media and more about people, being present and all that warm fluffy nice stuff. Maybe we will all be much more appreciative of all we have...

I miss people. The cinema. My college. Cold water swimming. But it will all come back and I will thank my lucky stars every time I get to do one of those things - and I will hug my friends and family so tightly... I always valued them but this has put into perspective the folk that mean the most to me. One sent me a video of us all in a pub when my mate Blair was over from Oz and we all congregated in London (coming from from Belfast, Glasgow, Newcastle etc...). In it we are drunk and being stupid and talking rubbish and it looks like just about the best moment ever. My mate said - 'more good times to come.' There will be. Keep her lit.

(And wash your hands).

CM xx

Sunday, 16 February 2020

UNFAIR

Hands up a writer who has always been treated fairly and with respect? I said hands up? Oh that's right - there are none.

This is a blog I have long put off writing because I felt like 1. Don't be a moany bitch and 2. It is just how it is - SUCK IT UP.

No longer. I'm enraged. So much so I shouldn't be writing this. But it's time people were held accountable for their actions. On Friday - during my counselling course I talked about why my job makes me miserable at times. We - my trainee counsellor and I - worked through why I feel so alive and happy in writers' rooms and why I feel so miserable and alone when I get notes. It is simply this - because when I get notes I have no voice. I am expected to do as I am told or risk losing my job. So we keep quiet, we don't rock boats because the first person to lose out is US.

You don't think that happens? Let me tell you a story....

A few summers ago I was working on a show where from the very start I explained the story in my ep didn't work. The way they wanted to tell it gave no decent character arc and was just bizarre. I said this over and over at every draft and we went from pillar to post on this ep. I went to the director's meeting and we didn't EVEN OPEN MY SCRIPT.  (This is a meeting where normally you just chat through the ep with all involved and cross your 't's and dot your 'i's). The Exec boss lay back, kicked his feet up on the desk and said 'I think we've missed a trick. Let's have XYZ.' Which was what I had said ALL ALONG. The then series producer (who in my mind should have been the exec of the show) looked at me palms in the air - as if to say, I know, I'm sorry. It meant an entire re-write of the A and B stories - within 48 hours. Because a man couldn't make up his mind. I did it of course, but I complained to my agent and he asked for a re-brief fee. From that moment on - according to an insider on the show: CM your card was marked.'

The following year - I do another ep and low and behold - we go round in merry circles on a story again. I have to park the grief of my step-sister dying to adhere to their schedule. Just before half term with my kids I get 10 pages of notes - a B story entirely to be re-written. (As an aside this was because the Exec producer didn't want to clear all the music in the story - my question: then why have a story that is a singing competition if you don't want to have to deal with music compliance??). The replacement story was one an assistant came up with in ten minutes. I slave over this all week. But guess what? There was a crucial factor I was unaware of at the time:  The story hadn't been cleared by the big wig producer. It would NEVER have worked - because it featured the same two lead characters in the previous ep.  I did not know this. Did anyone hold their hand up and say 'oh sorry we got you to waste your time for a whole week working on a story that was NEVER going to fly?' Nope! So I go the director's meeting where we all sit round discussing my script and I fight for my story - like an idiot. A total fool. It was never going to be used anyway. I keep thinking - this is my fault. I am a shit writer and this is shit because of me. I get told - with 24 hours to go - to re-write it all again.  A total new story. I (now know) a direct quote that the Exec producer said to staff: 'She will not be getting the money again like last year.' He rang me and basically told me that if I didn't do their new story they would take the script 'in house.'  (This means they get someone else to write it meaning you lose your credit on the show and potential earnings).  Blackmail.  No apology for the mess up, no sense that if he had done his job correctly and focused on the script and not led me a merry dance just because he could - we wouldn't be here. So I did it. I worked my ass off on this - due to their mistake - and I didn't ask for a penny more. The Exec producer gallingly said 'we've not wasted time.' Really? What do you think I've been doing for 3 months - pissing in the wind???

By the end of this I felt utterly burnt out. I was depressed, grieving, devastated that no-one was sticking up for me - that I was labelled as 'trouble' just because I wondered why my story was being up-ended. I lost my voice. Speaking up for myself - and asking WHY ARE WE DOING THIS - had left me pegged as a person who didn't just take the notes and silently suffer. Only because one kind person decided to tell me the truth of what went on in the background did I get through this time.

I thought about giving up writing. I felt so so gutted to have gone from being one of the first writers they called to work on the show to being someone they would probably never work with again. I couldn't sleep. I suffered with anxiety. I thought: if I lose this job - where will the next one come from? People forget that we are all human beings - we aren't machines just churning out words. We take our work and writing personally - and it is hard to divorce yourself from criticism - even if notes are just 'suggestions.'  In the end, I realised that  I would NEVER work with this Exec producer again - even if they asked me. It simply wasn't worth it. So he fails at his job and yet is still in it. Me? I never heard from them again... You tell me - is that fair? Oh and I quizzed other writers on the show and at least 3 had similar experiences to me....

And this is just one story I have. I know so many more from so many other writers. Invited to story conferences only to be binned the week after. Promised anther episode and then their calls not returned. Axed mid draft even though the previous drafts went well. Axed with no warning. Scripts polished by another writer despite having been on a show for 20 years. After writing on a show for 20 years axed midway through their very last episode. No thank you gift or card for their 2 decades worth of work. Bullying notes from big wigs above - that don't actually make sense (some are just frustrated wannabe writers who don't have the balls to do it themselves). Re-written because the show runner's ego is so great they want to write every ep of the show giving  no one else a voice. Going to pitch an idea at an Indie to having it stolen by said Indie. Having your idea stolen - even when you are a successful writer. I know of one female producer that has so far stolen 3 projects from writers. She is still working. Lauded even. Given notes at 5pm on a Friday as the script ed dashes off leaving you a weekend to solve all the problems - alone. Being scared to voice an opinion because when you do you will be seen as trouble and you will be axed. Ask any writer have they had a bad experience and they will give you TEN.

Yesterday chatting to a good friend who is a writer - he described the job as feeling bi-polar.  One minute you get a great commission - the next ten pages of notes basically saying: give up and start again. He said something so true: when we get rejected, or taken off scripts, or re-written or umpteen pages of brutal contradictory notes - we simply have to pick ourselves up and still have faith in ourselves. We have to show such resilience. There is no other industry where I know the worker is punished for speaking out or for simply asking to be treated fairly.

So as I read about tragic cases of people feeling so alone they take their lives - which in the public eye is a whole other world of pain and intrusion - I think of all the writers I know who sit alone over their laptops and have to find resilience when they feel like they are on the floor. It is time writers were treated better. It is time they were treated fairly. It costs nothing to take responsibility for your own mistakes, to support someone who essentially works alone and to show kindness.

As a postscript I'd add that I'm desperately lucky too: I worked with incredible people on a soap for 5 years who I loved; I've brilliant supportive agents and I'm currently working with the best folk of my life. I've got mentors to turn to and fellow writers who are utter legends and are there to pick me up when I am down. For those folk I'm eternally grateful. Without them, I'd be doing something else...







Monday, 10 February 2020

Reasons not to have a midlife crisis:

1.  It means you are admitting to being middle aged - which in itself is basic.

2. Because it's all so fucking cliched isn't it? I mean - what is so wrong with being middle aged? OF COURSE we all wish we were 24 again and romancing Timothee Chalamet - (as an aside - THIS article on his Oscar look is EVERYTHING) but in reality - your 20s sucked. You were only getting going on the career ladder, no one took you seriously; you met people at parties and discussed The Power of Now or whatever self-help book you were reading at the time and thought you sounded deep; you had dates with all the wrong boys that you were so sure were right and you paid a fortune in rent. You shared houses or flats with people who left plates in their beds and blocked the toilet and who had loud sex with men they had met that very evening and you panicked they would bring crabs to the house...  Also - friendships were torturous as everyone paired off and started inviting you to their weddings and you had to have lots of wedding outfits - most of which lasted longer than the date you brought to the said wedding. Remember - was it fun? YES - but you were so busy worrying about money/boys/career that you forgot to have fun. so no - not that much fun.

3. The grass my friend - it aint greener. It looks it. Oh yes that grass, it looks sexy and lush and wouldn't it be nice to lie on that grass and roll down that hill and just stroke it? But then, that grass would also get old and wither and start nagging you to cut it and all of a sudden you realise - SHIT - I have the same grass I had before - and I thought this grass it was all new and exciting. It is. Until it isn't.

4. There was a time dancing on the tables looked hot. That time was 1997. Just stop it.

5. You know what is so great about middle age - NOT CARING what people think. Because firstly - you can't see their facial expressions without your glasses ANYWAY and secondly - it feels so great to be YOU and be alive. Because lots aren't. So just being alive is pretty bloody great.

6. Getting a dog is the best way ever to have a mid life crisis gracefully. A new child that doesn't involve heavy sanitary pads, leaking breasts and stretch marks.

7. That ex that you think you should still be with? Get a grip. For example -  I think back to my first love. He was great. I mean the best - what was not to love about running off to Berlin aged 17 and being shown the broken down wall, the frothing beers, the cool night clubs, the funky flea markets and the candle-lit smoky restaurants? I was in awe. I still thank my lucky stars that I had all that - but would this work in my life today? Not a snowball's chance in hell because I am no longer 17. I am twice that and then some. What rocked my boat then isn't going to rock my boat now - and things end for a reason. Meanwhile 3 of my exes are dead. Perhaps I am the black widow... One died of a horrible cancer, one drowned in a boating accident and one from alcohol related illness. So frankly if your lips locked mine - get a health check. Or write a will....

8. Because the best is yet to come. Over Christmas a friend told me that her parents said - if you just get through this sticky phase when your parents get old, your kids become teens and work is FULL ON - then you hit a glorious sweet spot when your kids all leave home and you and your spouse get to gad about and become young lovers all over again. I can't wait. Husband doesn't know it yet but I plan on a trip across the USA and learning the tango and going to Paris for lunch. Because we can. There are adventures to be had. I intend to have them.

9. Because all that marathon running and tough muddering is just running away from the inevitable. We all die. We do. It's shit and often painful and shocking - but we have to do it. So why run? Why not sit down, turn your face towards the sun and eat the goddamn cake?

10. Next week I am going with my good friend M to see all 3 of the Before trilogy films. Sunset, Sunrise and Midnight. I feel like I grew up with them - I was at college or roughly there for Sunset, older but pre kids for Sunrise and married with kids for Midnight. I related to them all hugely. I know I will cry because I am no longer the girl that will tell her funny stories to to a boy walking through Vienna.... It is SO intoxicating to be seen as witty and alluring - and so freakin' alive! But I was that girl -  no wait,  I am that girl - and my husband - he still likes my stories (even though he tells me to 'focus' and 'what is the point of this story?' and 'does it have an ending?'). So - as wonderful as it was to be those ages and to have those moments - I'm also really grateful to be here - where I am now. I wish I could tell my 20 year old self - it will be ok. It really will. Oh and you will have the best children in the world - beyond your wildest dreams.

If Gwyneth Paltrow can be excited about her 50s, then hell, so can I. I mean our lives are so similar. Except I don't steam my vagina. (Yet). Last night I booked a trip to Amsterdam with one of my dearest mates for her 50th this August. I'm getting a dog. I'm still getting in cold water every weekend. My chest still stands up without a bra. I mean - what more can I ask for? I aint rich, but I do what I love and I'm also studying to keep my brain active and my options open. I'm working with the best people I have ever had the good fortune to meet/work with and I feel more passionately than ever that women in their mid life need to be seen. Hey, I don't get cat-called in the street any more, I definitely do not turn heads - but I'm still able to throw on lipstick look at myself in the mirror and say - you still know how to have fun. Just wait for my 50th my dear mates - because I am planning it already. Yes, it involves costumes. You may have to come as a movie character. You have 3 years to prepare. So you have no excuse.

So my advice - that you didn't ask for? Ditch the mid life crisis. Look at what you have rather than what you have not. Celebrate all you have learnt. Make a fun plan. Get a tattoo. Buy those crazy trainers. Have those impossible dreams. Make that Old Fashioned. Because it is still all for the taking - and we are all still young. Hashtag - still got it. Hell YES.







Friday, 27 December 2019

Goodbye 2019

And so we put 2019 to bed....

Last night we played musical beds. (Standard in CM house). Husband has the worst cold ever and my daughter is also getting over a cough so we quarantined them to our room. My Mum in the guest room. My son in his cabin bed. I slept in my 9 year old's bedroom and I lay there and gazed at her spanking new desk, her football trophies, her abundance of stuffed animals and I wished so hard that life could stay this sweet. Soon this will all go and be replaced with cool teenage stuff and I will forever mourn her simple, colourful, 'optimistic outlook' (yes that this what the colour is called - it is VERY optimistic and aqua) painted room.

More than ever I try and hold time. Grateful for every day here. How can we be seeing in 2020? I mean, isn't it like 2003 or something? I CAN'T be THAT OLD. So as I say goodbye to 2019 as usual I wanted to mull over the year - what I have learnt, what I have lost, what I have loved, what I have achieved. Because isn't that the point of the end of year interminable days between Xmas and New years - to look back and then wipe that slate clean; new year, new you and all that jazz?

So how was it? I'm not gonna lie - February was brutal. I have never known a more painful time. I've used the trios we do at college as therapy to overcome the after affects and I'm emerging stronger now, if somewhat bruised. When someone your age dies, it feels like the world has got the order wrong. How can someone so young, so full of life, suddenly be gone? Death leaves behind unanswered questions, unspoken ties broken and yet we must pick up the pieces and move on. At college I was told a phrase: 'We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, a new found love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we, that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are forever.'

Ok, I'll get more cheery. Bear with me. Then came house refurb and I GROSSLY underestimated how much head space that took up. Having been dicked around about work - I found I had time on my hands and looking back - I am SO grateful I had it. My 'house ideas' book looked like the one the killer scribbles all over in Se7en. Insane amount of planning and choosing and oh my god, I LIVED on eBay. I have never known such a thrill - sourcing items from all over the place. Cinema chairs from here, old cabinet to put the sink on from there, old puffer fish light fitting from a miserable woman in Surrey. Days went by in a flash, finding ovens, taps, fridges etc. We only moved out for a mere 3.5 weeks and when we returned, upstairs had been completely gutted and everywhere was filled with rubble and dust. I couldn't breathe; I hated walking over the uneven floors and I dreamt of carpet on a nightly basis. Somehow, when we painted the WHOLE house ourselves (4 coats baby!) it started to come together. People kept saying how I must be loving it - when all I could think was - this is HELL. Until the floors came and then carpet and finally the kitchen doors were made and in and suddenly, it was done. I sat back and loved my home. All that sweat and OCD fixation on detail was worth it. I cried when my builders left - because I missed them. Paul, Gary, James, Darryl and Jack were the highlights of my year. Gary - a carpenter genius, helped me solve every problem and had the best design ideas I could have dreamt of. James and I chatted Love Island every day. Darryl asked me: 'any jobs you need doing?' Heaven. If you want details: Paul Hobbs builders. THE BEST.

Then summer was over and yet my outdoor swimming continued - albeit without my wetsuit.  ( Due to a mere 15 litres of paint spilling in our car - thanks Selco - and all over said wetsuit). It was easily the best bit of my year. Total bliss. I have never known such joy as getting into 6 degree water. The water stings, my shoulders ache, my feet are blocks of ice and then... its wonderful. Afterwards, my body feels like it has been through an epidural and I can't feel my feet for about 2 hours, but it is honestly worth it. On reflection this year has really been about embracing difficulties until out of the blue, they become inexplicably wonderful. Thank you Katy for being my swim partner in crime - the sight of you in a bobble hat swimming towards swans shouting FUCKKKKKKKKKKK - This is NOT EVEN FUNNY - still makes me smile.

My son became a teenager and I attended a 50th the same weekend. To combat the feeling of being wildly over the hill, I bonded with the Uni students serving drinks and discussed their love lives - me being all down with the kids and that. Until their free-pouring meant the only thing I was down with, was falling into a privet hedge and flailing like a beetle until I was rescued and poured into a cab by my tolerant husband.

I found that the best pleasure in life is a dog walk. So, after promising our daughter we would get a dog: 'when we move house; when we get planning; after the refurb is done;' we have run out of excuses and our first purchase of 2020 will be a fox red lab.... Stay tuned for the woman who has never had a dog - surviving puppy school....

College: just a joy. We studied all the theories of counselling and I got to learn what a total feck-up I am... before you laugh - er, so are you. We all are. That's what makes people fascinating. I learned why I behave as I do; why it is ok to let people go from your life if they are not supportive and true friends; what narcissists really are; Freud's theories; attachment theories; transactional analysis; Drivers (mine: being perfect); CBT and NATs; Carl Rogers' theories; Erikson's life stages and the triangle of insight. I love love love it. Not so much the studying, but the privilege of hearing other people's stories and working out why they behave as they do. The best thing about my course is that not only do you have to do the work - essays, presentations etc - but you have to do the work ON YOU. I leave class every week thinking 'how am I fucking up my children on a daily basis?' In one journal I wrote about conquering my OCD then realised I had spent the morning tidying the house rom top to bottom before writing. As I said, I'm a work in progress...

What else? Oh yes, I learnt to say NO. I'll never work again for producers that treat you like a dancing monkey. If you screw up and send a writer the wrong story, and they spend their entire half term neglecting their kids to write a new version - only for it to be a total waste of time as it is the wrong version - then admit your mistake! I'm not prepared any more to spend my days going in circles; being treated badly and for it to be seen as acceptable. There is something very 'bad boyfriend I can't quit' about various aspects of writing - and frankly, I'd rather stack shelves at Waitrose than have to put up with it. I may end up poor, but I'll be emotionally richer and for me, that's more important. But the projects planned in 2020 are my most favourite-is yet so here's hoping they go well.

So as I move into this new decade, I think my new mantra is about simplicity. Getting outdoors and into cold water. Eating well and getting sleep. Caring about the planet and about each other. Yes, I am a becoming a bloody hippy... But truly, a little kindness goes a long way. So my aim for this decade, is just to be here as we approach the next one. (DV).

To those that still dip in here to CM - I send love and thanks. I wish you all peace, health and happiness in 2020. Make it count. Keep her lit!

Love CM xx