Years ago, a friend and I sat down to write a screenplay together. That was the kind of thing we did in our bold twenties, when we did not understand how the world worked and the word no had little meaning for us. He was an actor and I was a novelist and we would write a brilliant film and make our fortunes and Working Title would be banging down our doors for more. That was the plan.
Of course the thing went absolutely nowhere, but we had a blast doing it, and we mostly sat in his tiny upstairs room in Peckham and laughed and laughed and laughed. I adored him, and still do, even though I now mostly see him on actual television. In the process, we invented lots of catchphrases and in-jokes, the origin of which I cannot remember. For some forgotten reason, the phrase ‘there is no road’ reduced us to hysterics. We repeated it to each other in sonorous voices and fell off our chairs. There must have been a context which made it funny, but I can’t recall it. Anyway, the line stuck in my head, and I can still hear it now, as if it were yesterday instead of twenty-five years ago.
Sometimes, there is no road is not so funny. Sometimes, I feel like I have run out of road, or crashed off it, or can’t find it in the dark. Once, I drove through Glenshee in a sudden snowstorm, and the road did literally disappear before my eyes. I at last realised what those odd metal poles were for. When everything is white, you have to navigate from pole to pole, and pray the engine does not seize up.
Three years ago, I lost the road. There were things beyond my control which induced a catastrophic career crash. I did not talk about it much or write about it here, because I didn’t want to whinge or complain or be a bore. It happens to everyone, one way or another. I was not special. It was emotionally and professionally difficult, and I had to grit my damn teeth and bugger on like I’d never buggered before.
That was what all the secret projects were about. I had to come back. I had to do something else. I had to produce. I was out of contract and on spec, almost as if I were starting all over again. The only advantage I had was that I now knew how to carry a tune. I could write a decent sentence at least; I knew how to craft a paragraph. But still, a whole book carried its old challenges. I’m fairly good at the prose side of things, but structure and tension and narrative and pace are as hard as they ever were.
On I bashed, hoping, hoping, fearing, dreading. What if it were all for nothing? What if it were no good? What if this new road was a mere figment?
I just spoke to my agent. Good, good, good. Both of the secret projects are a go. Bloody Thunderbirds are go. I now appear to be writing two books which she thinks are viable entities that may one day exist in the world. I cannot express to you what this feels like. It is terrifying and galvanising and liberating and almost unbelievable. (At least, I think, as I write these words, I have not grown jaded and blasé with age.) I have to work like a crazy person to my new deadline of the 15th September, and then, perhaps, with a little luck and the light coming in the right direction there may be a contract, and I shall be back.
There is a road.