I was trying to think if there was ever a moment in my life when time actually stood still. I couldn’t think of it. I mention this because since whenever it was this virus thingy kicked off, I haven’t been to the theatre, I haven’t been to the cinema, I haven’t been on a train, I haven’t visited the West End and the times we’ve been out to eat must have been cut by two thirds at least. If there was ever a time that time should stand still, then it’s been through this virus thingy. But it hasn’t. Time has flown by and continues to do so.
When I was a kid there were times when I wished I was older, because older folk seemed to have so much more freedom, and freedom seemed very attractive at the time. I think that continued until I probably reached 40, then I started to wish I was younger because those folk seemed to have so much more freedom.
I mention this, because this blog is a bit late in coming and that’s because I’ve been so busy. I’m feverishly trying to finish off two pieces of work, one for television, a twelve-part serial, the other is my third novel, which although I haven’t finished it, nowhere near yet, I did come up with a title.
For me titles fall into one of three creative bands. The first is … ‘you’re never happy with the title’ classification. You go round and round and eventually settle on something, but it never knocks you for six. I did an eight-part thriller in the 90s which I originally entitled – Brighton Boy. Okay I grant you – not terrific, but in my defence, I probably thought of it as just a working title. However, the title stuck, well that was until we were given the green light to make the project and a new producer came on board. This was the unique, Maverick Barry Hanson. A man who loved writers, loved scripts and was highly creative. He was responsible for such classics as The Long Good Friday, arguably the best British gangster movie ever, The Naked Civil Servant, one of the break through dramas about homosexuality, and Out, a real innovatory TV serial written by the brilliant Trevor Preston and staring Tom Bell as Frank Ross, an ex-con out of jail, determined to find the person that got him put in there. If you haven’t seen it, you really should. Made in the late 70s, it was a piece way ahead of the game. Funnily enough each of those had a great title, so when it was decided to change the title of Brighton Boy, I was hoping we’d come up with something as equally iconic. The final decision for a title came I think out of desperation – Resort to Murder. Personally, I was never enamoured with the title, to me, it felt like a sub-standard Agatha Christie play only available for performances at weekly reps. But nevertheless, that was what it was called, despite the fact that I don’t think anyone was bowled over with it. I always thought it needed to be darker, the piece being very dark and quirky. I like it more now, than I did then, but I liken that to listening to record that you didn’t particularly care for when it came out thirty years ago, but now you love because it’s nostalgic. Still I would class Resort to Murder in the ‘never happy with the title’ category.
The second category is the ‘that’s okay’ title.’ This title can come to you at any time during the process. It could be a working title, that eventually persuades you it’s an ‘okay title.’ I think a good example of this is Holby City. I didn’t come up with the title, but I did come up with alternatives, all that were eventually jettisoned for the uninspired title – Holby City. In a way it does the job. The returning drama is about a hospital called Holby City Hospital. So fair enough, let’s call it Holby City. And sure enough I now think it’s an okay as a title, when for years I thought we could have come up with something better.
Then the third category comes under the heading the ‘perfect title.’ Now the perfect title can also come to you at any point in the creative process, and at that moment, you know it’s on the money. You have it – a perfect title. Examples that worked for me were Headless, you’re pretty sure what you’re going to get. Then there’s Silent Witness – The World Cruise. One of those titles the audience have to work at to get, but once it’s got – it becomes a ‘perfect title.’
I can’t help wondering if various programmes would have fared differently if they’d had a different title. EastEnders was originally called East 8, would it have done as well as it did under that title. And Eldorado – the ill-fated drama that told the tale of ex-pats abroad, was originally called Little England – would it still be on our screens today if it had stuck with that original title.
And so back to my third novel and its title. I was about a third of the way through the first draft, when it jumped out and smacked me between the eyes. Up until that point I’d had the working title – Deception. Nothing wrong with it, in fact I liked it, but without even checking, I was pretty sure that there would already be a number of novels with the same title. When I was working on my first novel, it originally went under the title of Dark Waters, again a title I liked, but when I checked to see if there was another novel of the same name, I discovered there were numerous. The last thing you want is someone buying the wrong novel. So, I went for Beck le Street, the name of the fictitious village where the majority of the action is located – I was pretty certain there would only be one Beck le Street and I was right. The title for this latest novel came as I was coming to the end of chapter, a chapter that revolved around the turning point of the two main characters. I wrote … The evening of his mother’s funeral was their moment of epiphany. It was the evening he came clean to her about the rapacious guilt, that had eaten away at him ever since the night he lost his sister. They both knew that his confession was their opportunity to start a new life. A new day one. The ground zero and hypocentre of their connection. It was their baptism of freedom.
I was probably about to write ‘baptism of fire’ when I realised it wasn’t actually about these characters metaphorically catching fire, it was about them being set free to move forward, hence ‘baptism of freedom’ and that is now the title of the book.
The time I’ve spent working during this virus thingy pandemic, as I’ve already said, has flown by, but it has often felt less productive than normal. That might simply be because I’ve been less productive than normal, or it could be this virus thingy creates a malaise that seems to permeate and invade not only the air we breathe, but also the thoughts in our head. Perhaps I’m just looking for an excuse to be lazy. Whatever, time is flying by at a rate of knots, and it’s made me realise that time creates history and history creates experiences and memories.
The memories are plentiful as are the experiences. I believe I’ve lived through interesting times. In 1964 Bob Dylan released The Times They Are A-Changin’ and I remember it well. We were all wandering around wearing our Ban The Bomb badges, worried that the world was about to end any minute. (Sound familiar?) We’d survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was just 12 when that happened, but I sensed at the time it had been a near miss. And looking back – it was uncomfortably near. But the generation post the collapse of the Berlin wall probably have no real concept about the threat, perceived or real, that the USSR and Communism presented to the world. Did I? I’m not sure. What I do know is that my parents’ generation had lived through six years of war and it seemed the USSR were advancing on every front possible. Of course, there was a lot of sympathy for Communism, but few people really knew how it operated. As a concept it seemed the ideal political movement for the working man, but like many ideologies it didn’t take into consideration the one uncontrollable element that continues to be the permanent spanner in the works of any ideology and that’s human nature. I can’t say I was ever a communist, but perhaps because of the work I went into, I studied human nature rather than political dogmata. I think being brought up in a two up, two down house of six people, where money was always short, probably gave me the incentive to try and at least get to the point where I didn’t have to worry about the gas bill. I hasten to add I never thought or considered us to be poor or badly done to in any way. I had friends whose families were better off and others that were worse off. Stephen Walbank, a friend from those days and still a good friend today, had a father who had his own building firm and kept alcohol in the house. The only alcohol we had in our house was a bottle of sherry, which was the same bottle that kept appearing, but never drunk, for at least five consecutive Christmases. Stephen had a smart bike with drop handlebars, I had my dad’s old bike, to which he’d attached wooden blocks to the pedals, because I couldn’t reach them. I have no recollection that this concerned me in anyway – I had a bike and that’s all that mattered. But we had no car, no fridge, no phone and for a few years no TV. But I knew other people had them. There was a couple on our street who had a gleaming new Hillman Minx, but they were the only people in the entire street with a car and we were told they had a car, because they didn’t have children. We still didn’t feel unwanted – because we weren’t. I suppose growing up in the 50s and 60s aspiration wasn’t frowned upon. It wasn’t looked on as being greedy, it was just natural. Most working class/middle class people, wanted to improve their ‘lot.’
So in the late 60s or it could have been the early 70s, when my younger sister Gwynneth was going through her communist phase, I explained to her that the notion of all men being equal, being paid the same and all living to the same standard didn’t appeal to me. I glibly said that one day I wanted to own a Rolls Royce (that moment has well and truly passed by the way), she replied that when capitalism was finally dispensed with, then everyone would own a Rolls Royce. My riposte was – “Then I’d want a Mini.” Which is actually true and true to this day. I have no desire to be like everyone else. And those were the days when the Mini wasn’t half as nice as they are today.
It seems as time goes on everything changes, while at the same time nothing changes. Okay ban the bomb is a thing of the past but the youth are still marching to save the planet. Okay there’s no wall dividing east and west Berlin, but Russians spies are still causing damage and death. And everyone seems to have a TV, fridge and a phone, but everybody still wants more – it’s just the aspiration that’s disappeared.
I was talking to my eldest grandson Harry, about time and how things have changed, and he said his generation, he’s 22, have lived through the most amazing time. I don’t dispute that, I’m a great believer that every time is amazing, but I pressed him on what he meant. He picked up his iPhone and started saying how amazing it was that when he was born the mobile phones were nothing like they are today. They couldn’t do a tenth of what the new phones can do – the technological advancements were like nothing else before and he couldn’t ever imagine a technological revolution on that scale ever again. I couldn’t deny the whole phone, computer, tablet evolution is staggering brilliant, then I thought about my grandfather’s time on this earth. He was born in 1888, survived two World Wars, six monarchs and over twenty Prime Ministers. He worked his entire life and was a character in the village where he was born and bred, lived and died. But probably the most amazing thing about his 87 years was the fact he witnessed the use of horse and carriages as the normal mode of transport to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. From horses to moon landings in one lifetime. That is serious technological advancement! Of course, he had a long life, dying in 1975, and who knows by the time our Harry is in his eighties he maybe be using teleportation to get around, à la Star Trek. Whatever you have to try and appreciate every moment you spend on this earth, because the experience is yours and only yours as the time flies by constantly changing the times.