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Dire Straits – Writer-insighter
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Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true…

 

Lions 

A long time ago I took a cat to the vet. He never liked going there even though the vet was kind, competent and did everything he could that I could see to calm down the queue of indignant dogs and cats whose dinner was late and who’d just been bundled into a plastic crate for strangers to stare at. The cat was called Reg; his brother had been called Ron and they were London cats. Anyone of a certain age can guess which one was the clever one with an attitude.

Good manners don't cost nothing, know what I mean?
Good manners don’t cost nothing, know what I mean?

Reg needed two injections, a local anaesthetic and some antibiotics. He’d been fighting a fox for over an hour the night before and judging by the screams and cat threats coming from the garden, he’d been the one objecting to the fox not showing respect. Good manners don’t cost nothing, do they?

Reg put up with the first injection and waited with all his muscles rigid until the vet turned away to prepare the second syringe. Then slowly, but I knew how serious he was about it, he reached for the vet’s neck with his claws out. He was a cat not a lion, on a surgery table, not on the veldt. I said it was just as well he wasn’t bigger. The vet didn’t mind. He said it was just as well, that some animals, there’s a limit to what they will take and after that as he said, ‘we both know what would happen.’ The same way people in parts of London did when the two demented twins walked the streets the first time.

Secondhand Lions

2ndlions

 

I thought of that story today when I saw a picture of someone feeding presumably tamed cheetahs in their kitchen. It’s not the kind of animal I’d like to argue about who gets the sofa with, but maybe they’ve got lots of sofas. That made me think about those two showbusiness brothers in America who had a house and a circus act full of lions until inevitably, one of the lions wasn’t having it any more. And because I couldn’t remember their name I typed lions and brothers into Google and came up with a film I’d never heard of, Secondhand Lions.

It’s an American film. It’s got Robert Duval from just about everything and Michael “Doors Off” Caine, big box office stars. So let me re-phrase that. It’s a Hollywood film. And if it’s a Hollywood film there are strict rules for the script. It will have a happy ending. It will leave the audience believing that love, mom, Gahd and apple pie will prevail. That good will win and evil will lose. That there is hope and truth and justice and bad things will happen to bad people sooner or later and they’re never happy, really.

But for all that dishonesty it sounds like a good Sunday afternoon film. A misunderstood and lonely boy goes to stay with two old men who seem crusty and useless but really they had an exciting life and both have hearts of gold as well as a cellar full of it. There are filmic crises to keep the audience in the cinema and during one of them Duval responds with a piece of his “What Every Boy Needs to Know…” speech, that the actual truth is not as important as the belief in ideals like good winning over evil, honor, and true love. 

Hollywood. Or Claire and Ben, both believing that in Not Your Heart Away, albeit for different reasons, she because she had to with her whole life falling to pieces and Ben because he thought ‘good’ resided within her jeans.

The moot point is the Oxford comma, the issue of where you put the comma without altering the meaning of a sentence, changing Ella Fitzgerald’s despairing “What Is This Thing Called Love” to the utterly fatuously funny, querulous “What Is This Thing Called, Love?” that Terry Scott or Bernard Cribbins might have sung.

“The belief in ideals like good winning over…..true love.” And sometimes, when things go completely wrong, that’s what happens. And it’s the saddest thing, when you know what had to be done had to be done, that it’s better for the person you love that it was done, but it isn’t going to get you closer to them at all. So maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s true. Today, these last few weeks, I don’t know the answer to that any more.

 

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Checking out the movies

For the past few weeks I’ve been working against the clock to get a film script finished. The race was my own fault. I used to check the BBC Writers Room website religiously, to see what competitions were on, how to submit scripts and so on, the way you do. With the whole frenzy of publishing, editing, re-editeing, re-proofing, railing against my own stupidity and re-editing and proofing again, as Clint used to say, I kinda lost track of it in all the excitement here.

When I looked at it recently it was as if Christmas had come again and I was six. A film company, a real one, with offices with chairs and everything, was asking for film scripts with one proviso, which was interesting in itself. Not that they were being picky or anything, but they insisted the scripts had to actually exist before people sent the first ten pages in.

It reminded me of the old Californian joke: Dude 1: Like, I’m writing a screenplay? Dude 2: Awesome! Neither am I!

But I was. There was a strict 9am deadline on it for yesterday, 15th April, so I turned Not Your Heart Away into a screenplay. I hope I did, anyway. The first ten minutes has a shipwreck, Ben the narrator’s recurring nightmare;  a UFO as he lives near Salisbury Plain and a ghostly Spitfire, because of an old factory he drives past, because he’s English, because the film is about England and because. What more do you want while you’re still opening the Kia-Ora?

So we’ll see. I still have to finish the screenplay formatting, which is a time-consuming pain as I didn’t have time to learn any of the script-writing software packages and ended-up doing it in Word, the old-fashioned way. Still. It’s done. I was typing until half past one some nights and trapped a nerve in my leg from sitting still too long, but it’s done.

I also found a line that makes the final scene about a billion percent happier, sadder and just generally rounder, a real snappy ending. The storm that brings harm also makes fertile. I’ve got to get back to formatting. My eyes have gone a bit leaky now.

If you can’t wait for the film to come out, you can buy the book here.

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