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 🙂