Most writers have a mantra of some sort. This is the story of mine.
Wise words from the amazing street-artist Charles Uzzell-Edwards of Pure Evil Gallery – and my inspiration for the ‘Break-up Club’ – my latest novel (and now TV Comedy Drama pilot)… Below is the very sentimental tale of serendipity and the kindness of strangers…which I’m sharing one week on as an alternative Valentine’s day message, one week on from 14th Feb…
It was some time in 2009, and I was in the middle of a stinky break-up (along with my BUC comrades). I was walking home through Shoreditch in the dark, wondering if I’d ever love again, and other self-indulgent pangs – when I happened to walk past this street art fly-posted to a brick wall. I didn’t know what it was or where it had come from, but I do know it stopped me in my tracks, and gave me a tiny bolt of hope.
Maybe – just maybe – we’d all be OK. I took this photo of it, stuck it on my noticeboard, and started writing a novel about how break-ups might seem like the worst thing ever, but actually, they make you stronger in ways you could never imagine. I put this quote in the front of book, as I thought it made a great opener. My friend Em was also struck by it, and stuck it up on her wall while she wrote the pilot for her awesome TV series (which would later be sold to ITV).
A year or so later, I was walking round a different part of Shoreditch, not quite sure what to do with myself, having just said good-bye to my darling father at the London Heart Hospital. If you’ve ever been blessed with compassionate leave, then you’ll know it’s a strange sort of numb and fuzzy fortnight where you wander round in the middle of the day while everyone’s at work. You’re not sure what to do with all this spare time, but you’re being fussed over with love and flowers from everyone in a way that feels like a weird inverted birthday and you’re infinitely grateful for it…. but you’d swap it in a heartbeat for one more second with your loved one.
Anyway, there I was, walking the streets in a broken-hearted stupor again, when I passed the same poster. But this time it was a framed print, staring at me through a sheet of glass. The door was open so I wandered in, and started warbling on to the man in the gallery about how much I loved this piece of street-art. For some reason, the man took pity on me (It was probably my bloodshot eyes, or my snotty nose), but I told him all about my dad, my silly book about break-ups, and how this quote had been a kind of torchlight. This lovely man – Charley – he said his name was – reached into one of his really long art drawers, and pulled out an original signed A1 print.
As he handed it to me it felt like another bolt of hope that everything was going to be OK. I didn’t realize then that he was the actual famous artist, who is better known by the moniker of Pure Evil. Stunned by his generosity, I took the print home, and my lovely mum had it beautifully framed.
It then hung in my office next to me while I finished the book – which was no picnic when I was pining for my dad most days, and also still undiagnosed ADHD so struggling with burnout and a complete lack of Creative Satnav, so wasted years getting lost in the woods and going round in plot circles. But eventually I made it to ‘The End’ and got a deal with Harper Collins. like my dad always said, what does not kill you makes you stronger. To be clear, he was channeling the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – not Kelly Clarkson!
It’s true of course. No matter how shitty things get, you always rise again from the rubble, more emotionally toned than before. But this episode also taught me something else – that sometimes the kindness of strangers is that last push you need to pick yourself up and carry on. Like when Holly (my character) is on the bus sobbing her eyes out over Lawrence and a kind old lady gives her her bottle of water. Anyway, I finally finished the novel, and it’s out there! I’m probably making far too big a big deal of this, but I just wanted to write this by way of thank you to Charles – kind stranger, whose brilliant words are still right there in the prologue.
And as a final irony in the tale, when I came over to Venice Beach, LA to celebrate my book being released, and to start work on the screenplay adaptation, Charley himself was over there, having an art gallery opening that same night, streets away from where I was having the book launch… Honestly – serendipity really does make the world go round sometimes!
UPDATE: I wrote about this story a few years ago but now, 6 years later, the TV comedy drama script adaptation I’ve written also has the poster itself in the script!
In the final scene of the pilot script, the main character Holly walks past the poster in the final scene, just as she’s on the threshold of a break-up herself. So far it’s been top 4% of BBC Writers’ Room and the Thousand Films Competition (losing to the amazing Extraordinary! Fair enough!)
The script is currently with a channel being read…. please cross fingers that it gets picked up!
Also, series two is set in Venice Beach… where the Los Angeles franchise of ‘The Break Up Club’ gets going…
Anyway, whether you had a happy Valentine’s Day this year – or a crappy one because you’ve recently loved and lost – don’t lose heart. Keep loving, keep fighting… keep writing 🙂
Hello, and thank you for enduring a tsunami of ADHD related content on my socials the last few months. Hope it’s given you some insight into what it’s like to live with a frenetic barrage of scattergun things in your face all day every day! I thought I’d take a moment to put it all in context of what living with ADHD is really like – ’cause the struggle really is real – and it’s not just about little boys on window sills.
Chances are if you’re a woman with ADHD – diagnosed or otherwise – you’ve been ‘masking’ your whole life. Trying to squeeze your lostness, your lateness, your ‘too-much-ness’ (and your brilliance?) into an ‘NT’ shaped mould for so long that you’re probably pretty exhausted by now. All because society hasn’t cottoned on to the ways in which ADHD manifests in women – and that it’s not just a little boys club. I’ve been masking for as long as I can remember. I’d love to see it change for the next generation.
COMPUTER SAYS NO
Here’s the really crazy thing: As I write this, the word ‘Neurodiversity’ is still being underlined with a squiggly red line, like it’s not even a thing.
How are we going to push for more understanding if people think we’re a typo?! Sure, society is slowly becoming more inclusive of divergent brain types, but when Google, Apple and Microsoft don’t recognise the word itself, we clearly still have a way to go.
Take it from me: ADHD is real AF. And it’s funny AF. It’s as close as you can get to everyday clowning without a Gaulier diploma. Leaving the house takes 5 re-entries, minimum.
You lock up. You forget something. You go in to get what you forgot, put something down. Lock up, remember you’ve left that thing. This goes on and on, ad infinitum. (See our sketch ‘Filling’). I truly believe there should be a bell that rings out every time an ADHD-er manages to finally leave the house and start their day.
THE STRUGGLE IS CLINICAL
So ADHD is funny. But having ADHD is also f*cking horrific, and f*cking hard. It affects the brain’s executive functioning and your ability to ‘adult’… in a multitude of amusing yet tragic ways.
Imagine you had a SatNav and you’d programmed where you were going, but it turns out the SatNav is possessed and keeps changing its mind… also the driver is an orangutan on acid and keeps turning the wheel and veering off into B roads. That’s what it feels like to have ADHD all of the time.
Like you’ve gone into a room and forgotten why you went in there.
Like you just cut a huge chunk of text but forgot to paste it and now it’s lost in the sky forever.
Like you’re fighting not to interrupt someone but you know if you wait your turn, the thing you want to say will have melted like a Dali clock.
Like your brain has an air traffic control centre but all the operators are having a nap, so all the thought-aeroplanes and ideas keep crashing into one another.
Like when you have an idea, there’s another four inside it, nesting like matryoshka thought-bubbles which could burst at any time if you don’t act on them that second… so much so that I actually now live in a state of suspended terror of having new ideas.
It’s like you’re writing a blog about ADHD and keep jumping metaphors, or switching medium half way through. This, what you’re reading now, is trying to be a blog, but it has been all of the things. A TV show, a live show, a Whatsapp group, an interpretive dance… a poem, a song, a podcast… and now it’s a blog. again…truly, it can be exhausting.
forgive us – WE DON’T HAVE A BOUNCER 🙂
So if you know anyone that’s always losing things or always late but you’ve never understood why they can be so selfish – spare a thought today for what their brain is doing to them that day: I promise you inside they’re crying inside and chastising themselves for letting you down. They love you really but their brains just work differently. Their brains are rapier sharp, and lightning fast, but in all the wrong directions. They are constantly seeing connections between things, instead of the things themselves. They’re trying desperately to go straight ahead but they can’t because someone else keeps grabbing the wheel.
BUT WE ALL LOSE THINGS A LOT, AND GET DISTRACTED EASILY!
Of course. Of course! The confusing thing about ADHD is that the symptoms seem normal. Lots of people struggle to get out of bed, run late, or struggle to find their train ticket…
But here’s the thing: to live with ADHD is to have the symptoms of inattentiveness that neurotypicals (NT)s identify with occasionally… but dialled up to the power of clusterf*ck , ALL DAY, EVERY DAY to the point where your brain is on fire and you’re curled up on the floor of a supermarket aisle with indecision paralysis. That’s when you’re not just ‘a bit scatty’, you need to seek help.
“You Can’t Have ADHD. You’ve had books published.”
The biggest challenge of ADHD is its invisibility. The second biggest is getting diagnosed in this country as a female: a ten-year Crystal Maze ‘Admin’ zone for people who clinically can’t do admin. ADHD is still dangerously misdiagnosed, among female-identifying people in particular. Far from being just a thing noisy little boys have, it’s a condition that affects approximately 4 % of UK adults, of all genders.
Like many women, I don’t have the ‘H’, and I’ve also been a relative high-achiever, which is why it took me 37 years to get properly diagnosed. I was told I couldn’t have it because I got a First at university and because I’ve published books. Because of this stereotype and misunderstanding of the condition, many girls have ‘lost’ half their lives – being written off as having anxiety or depression. What’s closer to the truth: they’ve probably LEARNED anxiety after 20 years of masking, and trying to live with a square-peg brain in a round-hole world.
Send in the Clowns
Luckily for some of us, the ability to laugh at our folly, or turn it into comedy has been a lifeline, and it’s got me out of some very dark places. That’s why I wanted to write this today – to give a bit of background. After being made covid-redundant with only one month of furlough, from what was allegedly one of the most ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ agencies in the UK, I found myself living in lockdown with my multi-talented best friend from childhood Lauren Taylor, also ADHD but the inattentive type. She’s also ACTUALLY a professional clown among other things.
See Fig A. – taken around the time we both suspected we might have ADHD and began the 10 year process of getting diagnosed. Living with Lauren again in 2021 after Covid hit, she persuaded me to take a year off to focus on comedy… and we started work on this… a whole nesting doll of comedy content from a neurodiverse universe – about what it is to feel like a square peg girl in a round hole world.
‘Life in ADHD’ was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever made, simply because – in the strictly pre-Zuckerberg sense of the word – the ‘META’ ness of it became unmanageable. The attempt to put into words & film the chaos of what the ADHD brain feels like – to make the viewer and reader feel a little of what it’s like – but on film – while also trying to write a book about it (side note must finish that)- well, it turns out that trying to convey the chaos of an ADHD brain on screen, while being in the chaos of that ADHD brain, is a recipe for absolute insanity.
So the actual editing process quickly became so endlessly brain-smashing that Lauren & I nearly drove ourselves utterly crazy, and we had to sound the Meta Alarm. See Fig. B
ADHD + ASD = Organised Chaos
So it couldn’t have been done without the brilliance of Tristan Alice Nieto – who stepped in a year later – around May 2021 when I’d begun to utterly unravel in the edit. Editor & graphic artist Tristan Alice took my swirling pit of creative matryoshka dolls and mixed metaphors and made sense of it all… and shaped it into something a neurotypical viewer can actually process. Truly her ASD superpowers saved the day. I couldn’t be more grateful to her, to Lauren, and everyone else that’s helped along the way. If you know anyone wanting an editor, graphic artist or story-finder, hit up Tristan Alice Nieto; she’s your gal.
The end result – despite being another no-budget venture – is something I’m really proud of. Not least because it was made only with a neurodiverse team – even the beautiful soundtrack by singer-songwriter/angel-voiced ADHD-er Fiona Fey. It was a joy to co-write the lyrics with her – a last-minute scramble of Whatsapp voice-note demos kind of joy – but a joy nonetheless. Hear the track here in the trailer above, which we released 3 months after the film release (obv).
Here’s why I think you should watch the show – if you’re ADHD or not:
I’ve been blown away by the many heart-warming messages and comments from people all over the world that have loved it … that they feel ‘seen’ and it’s ‘every day of their life explained’. Even actual doctors and lecturers in Germany saying they’re going to teach their students with it! And some lovely tweets from Rory Bremner who called it ‘🤣 So true’ and said he has ‘a degree in Filling’.
I’m relieved there’s been only positive comments from the ADHD world and NTs alike… and that some of the sketches have blown up on Tik Tok, Facebook & Youtube already. We also had over 100 new subscribers in a few days which is a lot for us! We also gained full support from the ADHD Foundation & Neurodiversity Charity among others. All this with no budget.
‘K, but what IS ACTUALLY IN THE SHOW ?
Life in ADHD is a mixed-media omnishambles designed to mimic the scattered feeling of the Dopamine-deficient mind. It’s a sketch/character comedy show that goes under the hood of the ADHD brain… exploring its hilarity and horror. It tells the story of a dreamer Lola Mildew trying to do adulting in spite of her executive dysfunction, while her alter ego Prof. Penny, PhDADhD, guides us through WTAF ADHD even is. Truly, the struggle is real.
Much like an ADHD brain, the pilot episode breaks off into little nesting pieces – so you can consume it as inattentive bitesize pieces here as ‘modules’, or watch the whole Cluster-f*ck Matryoshka 25” edit which they slot into here – along with many other bonus scenes.
It’s also a tiny bit educational about why we get tangled up like Lola (we don’t have a fully operation pre-frontal cortex – more of a pre-frontal vortex!). As well as standalone observational sketches there are educational modules like The Science Bit (ish), the ADHDictionary and ‘ADD FML’ (F*CK MY LIFE) – confessions from real life ADHD-ers.
It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but do check it out and take it in the spirit it’s meant: to find a way to laugh at the challenges of neurodiversity, and also to celebrate its power too.
Masters of the Neurodiverse
Because that’s the other thing: As much as it can be a disability, when ADHD is treated and understood, it is also a super-power. Some of history’s greatest thinkers had/have it – from (apparently) Albert Einstein to Richard Branson to Ant McPartlin.
As Rory Bremner put it in his BBC documentary, ‘People living with ADHD are the shark bait, the ones that go the extra mile and warn others of danger… We’re the ones who take the risks… show others where the possibilities are…. that’s great. We’ll have that.”
There you have it. We are trailblazers, not typos
So if you’ve made it this far without someone else grabbing the wheel then thank you, and I hope you enjoy watching the pilot or snacking on the modules… If they resonate or you know someone that they might help, please help share them on any of the socials.
It goes without saying that this has been a no-budget production, so if you enjoy it then please consider donating to our Patreon so we can eat (not that we remember half the time).
P.S. Sorry this post is now two months late (standard ADHD time!). I meant to write it for the last day of #ADHDAwarenessMonth in November, and of course I started it but I got distracted with gargantuan tech issues and overwhelm so it sat in drafts for months while I started a million other projects like a non-fiction book about the hilarity & horror of female ADHD… which amazingly, is now about half-written and I’m really excited by! Just need to pick from the 4 billion titles.