Friday, 16 January 2015

ROCLIFFE STORIES: A SCREENWRITER'S PASSAGE - JOHN HICKMAN


This is a brand new strand in this blog, by our featured writers, telling their journey. We begin with John Hickman. The BAFTA Rocliffe selection process is completely anonymous, so we never get to know who the person is behind the voice until we decide upon the winners. We first met John after the panel cast their votes, his script THE THINGS was entered into the Writing for Children initiative. Here's his story: 

I won't just go on about the difference BAFTA Rocliffe has made to my professional life beyond saying I've got an agent now – Georgina Ruffhead at David Higham – and people want to see my work! I will take a little bit of time to go over how I got here. Wherever “here” is.

I've been writing for years. Around 8 or 9 at this point. At the start, I was an angry, frustrated young man. I'd discovered my passion: writing. It was all I wanted to do. I was so angry that I wasn't allowed to do it. Time and money were in my way. If only I could get paid to do the thing I loved, everything would be OK. I'd be happy. But I couldn't. I didn't have any industry connections. I grew up on a council estate. My dad was a labourer and my mum was a cleaner. Writing for a living was never going to be for someone like me. That made me angry.  

I had to harness my anger, focus it. It took time, but eventually I came to the conclusion: I didn't need to make money from writing to write. I just had to write. It didn't matter that I didn't have connections or creative theatre-loving parents. It didn't matter where I came from. Nothing could stop me writing. Once I realised that, I felt a lot less angry and frustrated and I started to feel OK. All I had to do was make a plan: how could I write more? I sat down and I came up a 5 year plan:  
  • Train as a social worker – 3 years. 
  • Practise as a social worker full-time – 2 years.
  • Go part-time as a social worker and write part-time.

Looking back, it wasn't the most efficient of plans. I didn't need to earn money from writing. I could do something else, like say, be a social worker. I love working with people (I was a support worker at the time) and not only would I be doing something useful, I'd be learning new skills, and gaining life experience. All that good stuff that I could pour back into my writing.

I stuck to my plan. I trained as a social worker, all the while writing whenever I could. I practised full-time, writing for an hour each morning before work as well as weekends. I learned a lot from the job. Most of all, to be empathic, and see things from someone else's perspective. Which in turn, gave me a real sense of perspective.Then I worked part-time and I wrote part-time, writing for more than half of my week. I wasn't making money from my writing, but I was writing. Because it felt like I was losing money to write, I made damn sure I wrote on those days. I sat down from 9 to 5 and I wrote like it was my job. Well, my part-time job at least. Because of my social worker job, I valued my writing days even more, I looked forward to them, enjoyed them. If you think writing's hard, try being a social worker. Or a nurse. Or probably lots of other things that matter.

That's how it went for a while. I was enjoying writing, and I was getting better. I was also doing lots of other things to make me a better writer. I joined a writing group. I did a Creative Writing MA. I put on plays, made films with my mates. Year-on-year, I could see my work developing. I was learning the craft, finding my voice, everything that writers who know what they're talking about, tell you. I knew that if I kept on writing and getting better, that one day someone would notice. One day someone would pay me for all this hard work. One day, this would be my job. In the meantime, I didn't care about that, because I was writing and improving. Then I realised, I wasn't angry or frustrated any more. Far from it. I was happy.

So I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote, until my scripts were all nice and shiny. Then I sent them out. Competitions mainly. In September 2014, I got a call telling me I'd won the BAFTA Rocliffe's Children's TV Writing Competition, and a couple of months later I won the BBC Writersroom Scriptroom 7 competition. I was really happy. Over the moon, in fact. Although I’d have been happy even if I hadn't won, because I was writing. And that's what really makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, there are days when it's tough. I think about being a social worker, and all my friends who are still social workers, and everyone who doesn't get to do what they love, and I crack on.

When I look back now at that angry, frustrated young man, I know I wasn't ready. I hadn't learned the craft, I hadn't found my voice, I wasn't enjoying the ride. So thank you BAFTA Rocliffe for noticing my work. The competition really has made a difference to me. Now, I'm ready.

Bring it on.

~ John

6 comments:

  1. Been lucky enough to read THE THINGS and it's a cracking script, well deserving of all the attention it has gotten. Kudos for Rocliffe being among the first to spot that talent, and for the support Rocliffe gives to all its winners.

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  2. This is very inspiring and motivating! Even when people do get time off to write, discipline is an issue with the distraction of social media.

    I think this is real lesson of self belief and that even if you don't have connections (because in media, it really is not what you know, but who you know, which explains the copious amounts of awfulness that gets commissioned and can you imagine the talent that gets overlooked by BBC scriptwriters room - but I digress!), you can make it and you will!

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  3. Wonderful read and you are right about that anger! Though its worth seeking out the poet David Whyte and his take on the word anger and what it is. (From his new book 'Consolations') Thanks for the inspiration.

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  4. John, you have no idea what a shot-in-the-arm it was to read this. Excellent!

    Mike

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  5. Thank you for share this informative post.

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    ReplyDelete