I’m not sure I buy into the old cliché that life begins at *insert whatever age is applicable at the time of impending milestone*but I can’t deny that a lot has happened since my most recent momentous birthday. The last few months have been busy – filled with creativity and possibility.
I think I’m inclined to believe that opportunity knocks when we actively seek it out. Or maybe it’s when we open the door to allow it in. I am a firm supporter of the notion that we are masters of our own fate, which is something of a contradiction in itself. Fate, by definition, is a thing over which we have no control.
So how can we be masters of it?
To avoid falling down a philosophical rabbit hole, we’ll put a pin in that debate and save it for a rainy day. For now, I’d like to tell you a little something about what’s been happening in my world. Let’s rewind…
As a teenager, I vividly remember telling my Grandma: ‘I’ve decided that if I can’t act, I want to write instead.’ I should, perhaps, point out that Grandma was a published poet and writer of 3 autobiographies, making her response somewhat surprising: ‘Oh, Emma, darling. Don’t. Pick something safe as a safety net. Something you have a guaranteed open doorway into. Not something that’s just as difficult as acting.’
But you can’t choose what you fall in love with any more than you can choose whom. I love acting. I’ve known that since I was 3, which happens to be the same age I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. I also love writing. I have known this second love existed for almost as many years, yet it is only recently that I discovered the extent of my feelings. As it happens, my love of words runs every bit as deep as my love for treading the boards.
What’s my point? In September this year, after a brief courtship over social media, emails, face-to-face meetings, zooms and the sharing of material, I signed a contract with a literary agent. (Anyone who knows anything about the industry will vouch for how big a deal this really is.)
As with acting, having an agent is not a guaranteed ticket to work, though it does make the process of opening doors a little easier. What it really means is that someone believes in me. Someone other than my husband, my mum, my family and friends. Someone who has no pre-existing reason to believe in me. A person who has met me, read my work, then made an active choice to back my horse.
I have been writing professionally since around 2009: monologues, speeches, copy for websites, short films and full scale productions. That said, for some reason, it was not until 2017 that I tentatively added the title writer to my list of jobs. Somehow, I didn’t feel like I was legitimately allowed to use that word because I hadn’t been published. I had received no acclaim for my writing outside the communities in which it had been shared. How could I call myself a writer?
With difficulty, it would seem.
Fast forward to September 2021. All of a sudden, there was somebody independently telling me something I had written was good. Signing my contract with Neil for Xavicus Media somehow authenticated me as a writer. It’s sad that we need external validation to do the things we love, but that’s a different blog post altogether. Representation gave me permission to put the time and energy into writing. It gave me the motivation to work on the play I first wrote in 2017 with the belief that it would be worth it.
Even more important than the praise he gave, which certainly boosted my confidence, was the fact that he made me accountable. In our first conversation after reading the aforementioned play, Neil asked me: ‘So, what are you going to do with it?’
I couldn’t just stuff it in a drawer and pretend I hoped someone would miraculously find it? If I actually wanted something to happen with my work, I had to make it so. Seek out the opportunity. Open the doors. Let it in.
This play is the first piece I have ever written for myself. All previous work has involved creating characters around the performers, writing to commissioned briefs or devising anthology scripts with universal appeal. There is something very different about this job.
Since dusting it off in September, I have done a lot of redrafting. The script is currently on its fourth iteration since then, soon to be ripped apart and remodelled for a fifth time. This latest rewrite comes after a closed reading earlier this month. Just Neil, five actors, lots of tasty snacks and myself in the Audrey Hepburn Room at Spotlight.
Neil calls it a passion project and, in many ways, it is.
Without giving anything away, I can tell you that it explores life with chronic illness, depression and the complexities disability brings. Through the protagonist’s lens, we explore the way illness – physical and mental – can impact those closest to the sufferer. It is a play, obviously, inspired by a great deal of lived experience, first written enough years ago for me to have achieved the required objectivity to develop it. It tells a story of heartbreak, loss, identity, courage, family, love and strength.
Before Neil took me under his wing, the private reading wouldn’t have happened. Nor would the latest four redrafts. I am finding the whole editing process very exciting – far more enjoyable (and, at times, cathartic) than I imagined it would be. Each time I reread the play, I reflect on different aspects of the character’s life. Different aspects of my life. Moments in my narrative which have led me to where I am now. High points, low points, challenges, triumphs, scars, battle wounds, lessons learnt, wisdom gained…all of it because of the illness I have. All of it because of the hand I was dealt.
I had no say in being given Crohn’s Disease but I am absolutely master of how I deal with it.
(Maybe I just settled that philosophical debate – and not a rabbit hole in sight.)
Life hasn’t always been a bed of roses for me. That’s no secret – certainly not since I started this blog. That doesn’t mean life isn’t sweet. Our experiences shape us, for better or worse. The way I see it, we can either hide from the less sunny realities, or we can celebrate the things that make us who we are.
You will often hear writers talking about the fact that we write what we know. That isn’t because we don’t have imaginations – ask anybody who ever watched one of my Next Generation Arts productions and they’ll tell you just how colourful and wacky those scripts were – but when we draw on our own reality, we can write with authenticity. We can write with heart. And we can often use the darker things to inform, educate and support others. With the help of my new agent, that’s a lesson I am learning. Why fit in if I was born to stand out? Why would I conceal the part of me that makes me different?
So, as I carry on down this path and do much, much, much more of what I love, I will continue to own the elephant in my room. And when opportunity knocks, I will open the doors as wide as I can to let it in, along with anybody else who wants to join it. Could it be that I am finally beginning to accept and embrace my elephant? Anything is possible. But it may take some time…