Guest blog - "Stroke of luck" Part two

Before I had the stroke I was working on a screenplay with the guy who directed this video, The Scientist, by Coldplay. I thought it was the best video ever made. Not because of the song. I can take or leave that. But the way it’s made: backwards, but with Chris Martin singing the right way. They made it by him singing the song backwards, and then reversing the film. Hey presto! After I had the stroke, I showed it to my mother and even she, aged 79, thought it was amazing. It just makes me cry and cry. That’s one thing: post stroke, most of the time, I’m quite emotionally distant. But sometimes I just start crying. Usually it’s because:

1) a stranger has been kind, or

2) someone on the news is in a wheelchair/on crutches.

Even Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, I find ridiculously moving! After the stroke, this video as I saw it was all about me. The guy in the car, Chris Martin, is me. Because he has brain damage, he doesn’t realise that his girlfriend is lying dead on the floor. He just wants to walk off into the woods singing! I don’t know if the director has the same opinion.

Before the stroke I was a screenwriter. I wrote a lot of screenplays and treatments, and was quite well paid for them. Two feature films were made, both got 3 stars in The Guardian, which was right as far as I was concerned. They weren’t very good. They weren’t terrible either. They were 3 stars. Another film was made which I wrote a script for, and was paid for, but they used somebody else’s script. That was ok too because he was a more established and better writer than me anyway! But still, I couldn’t bear to see the film.

Post stroke, I didn’t think about writing at all for 6 months. Just sat looking out of the window with my headphones on. And then I thought: oh, that’s weird, because I’m a writer. Uh oh. A writer who doesn’t write any more. An ex writer. And then I got extremely depressed. I haven’t been able to write screenplays since then.

Screenplays are a very technical form of writing. I was good at them because I was extremely organised. I wrote versions of each screenplay again and again, in accordance with the producer‘s demands. Probably 1% of people know how to write them. So I learned this technical version of writing in my 20s. It lasted me till I was 49. Since then it took me four years of not writing anything, and barely reading anything either, before I thought of something to do. At 25, I didn’t have anything to write about, which was partly why I took up screenwriting. 

Most screenwriters are professional writers rather than people who’ve led extraordinary lives. They make stuff up! But at 54 I found I did have something to write about. My memories. So I just started doing that, in chronological order, and with (to me at least) complete frankness. As people came up in my story, I emailed them to check things.

That’s the whole point for me: complete frankness. Fiction doesn’t do it for me anymore. Sorry. With my memories, I started in January 1991 and have reached August. If I don’t think of anything else to do, it will take me a long time, typing with one finger, to get up to today. 3 or 4 years, maybe. And that’ll be fine, because I don’t have anything else to write, and 36 years to fill!

Read part one of John's blog here.

To read more of John's work please visit his blog: