You’ll maybe have noticed (or not) that I don’t write much these days. I retired you see. Twenty years as a professional writer may not be as arduous as farming or mining or general wage slavery, but it took its toll on me. Mainly in the area of ethical conflict. For a decade I struggled with the fact that every time I got a commission (in layman’s speak, got paid to write) I began to hate what I was writing. I knew the process would go something like this – write – meeting where ‘we love it but could you just change everything’ – rewrite – meeting ‘ we love it but you’ve lost something in the changes could you just change this/that/everything again (repeat ad nauseu) always with the ‘write’ phase happening over a weekend, public holiday or the most inconvenient time imaginable. And the end result was 9 times out of 10 something I wanted to take my name off. Mostly I was very happy when my work didn’t hit the screen. And when it did, I was mostly embarrassed with a side-order of disappointed.
Maybe I don’t play nicely with other children? Maybe I am ‘visionary’, or maybe I’m just have a clear idea of what I want to achieve creatively and I don’t like that being watered down or changed or generally buggered around with on a whim till it becomes something entirely unrecognisable.
I can ‘play nice’ when the opportunity arises. The decade I spent ‘facilitating’ (of which there was a lot of writing, Jim, but not as you’d know it) disability drama groups was an absolute pleasure. Health and ‘the economy, stupid’ put paid to those collaborations unfortunately. But it proves (at least to me) that collaboration is not the issue. Finding ‘likeminded’ people to collaborate with, that is problem.
I realised it was not going to happen for me in the mainstream. So I began my phased retirement - with which I have to say Mr Brendan Gisby helped me immensely. Sometimes even without knowing it, he interrogated my motives, challenged my ethical stances and helped me see that not only could I walk the talk, but that I had to. As a non-capitalist, earning money for writing is not only not high up on my list of priorities, but becomes all too frequently an elephant in the room.
We all have to ‘earn a living’ (or at least survive) but my personal decision was to stop taking money for being creative. Creativity is not an industry, it’s a birth-right. It’s not a ‘hard’ job though it is a skilful one and fundamentally, I believe, it’s about sharing not about commercial exchange. It should be pleasure, not pain. The end result should be satisfaction not selling-out.
The reappraisal of what professional and amateur mean has been part of my personal process. In fact, a reappraisal of most of how we talk about, engage with and create ‘culture’ (for want of a better word) was central to my journey. In 2010 I wrote ‘Brand Loyalty’ which I thought would be my final word on the subject – my crie de coeur mixed with my swansong. Projecting into a not too distant future where the Ultimate corporation has taken over everything, it was a dystopia for the ‘happy, shiny people age.’ Today I still find it hugely ironic that it was a story first pitched to Channel 4 in the 1990s but dismissed as ‘too bleak’ to be told to a TV audience.
I’ve not written that much since ‘Brand Loyalty’ indeed I am a lot happier reading than writing these days. But that doesn’t mean I don’t write. I just don’t write for money. In my personal economy the trading commodity is time not money and so I write when I feel like it, I read when I feel like it, I find ways to earn money when I must and I learn every day how to live well without earning money. Rural idyll anyone? I’ve been learning to run the talk, and I’m ready for a marathon.
So I would like to alert you to my recent writing – in fact you can read it, episodically every week on McRenegades between now and next October. #tobelikeche is a project very close to my heart. I first went to Cuba in 1999. When I came back I couldn’t talk about it never mind write about it. It was the most profound experience of my life. In 2000 I was ‘commissioned’ to write a biopic of Che Guevara called ‘Fighting for Breath’ which I knew would never get made. And I was right. It was shortlisted by Channel 4 but they didn’t have the kind of cash to make a film that would have knocked Gandhi into a cocked hat (time and budget wise). In 2007 I wrote what would today easily be described as an online blog/serial story ‘Otro Mundo es Posible’ (Another World is Possible) which fictionalised and maybe rationalised some of my experiences and feelings about, among other things, Cuba. But it was also about relationships between mothers and daughters and absent fathers and daughters. Che looms large as a mythic iconic figure. It was my tribute to the 40th anniversary of his murder.
But I wanted to write about Che. I’ll come clean, I have always wanted to be like Che. Well, for a good forty years anyway. His quote ‘words that do not match deeds are unimportant’ is more than a mantra to me it’s a determined ethical stance. It’s about walking the talk. And whatever angle I took, I just couldn’t do justice to the man in my writing. I’ve tried a play, I’ve tried a novel. Neither have seen the light of day because I’m not happy with them. But now, with the 50th anniversary of his murder coming upon us, it was time to revisit Che – and I got the opportunity through the eyes of Camilo aka Jejenito – whose diary of the Bolivian campaign forms the basis of the #tobelikeche serial in 50 episodes that I’ve edited. Once again it’s writing, Jim, but not as we know it. And not for money of course. For love, yes, but for something more than that. For the hope that people may start to learn something about a world which has been woefully misrepresented to us for generations.
And after this marathon is over, there is one more project waiting in the wings. Not a word has been written yet, I’m still in the thinking phase, but it’s a kind of companion to Brand Loyalty and it WILL be published somehow or other for 2020. I’ve trained hard, I hope I’ll be up to the challenge but it’s not a competition and there is no prize at the end. As F.Scott Fitzgerald was keen on advising ‘write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something.’
I should give the final words to Fidel. Because I nearly didn’t write this piece at all. I want so much to write about Cuba, about Fidel and about all the lies and nonsense that is being perpetrated since his death a few days ago. But I’ve been scunnered. As I was when I first came back from Cuba, I just don’t know what to say. Maybe there’s a 9 day mourning period in Cuba for a reason. Maybe one day I’ll find a way to match words and deeds in this respect. Not now. For now, I can get no further than Fidel’s most famous quote ‘History will absolve me.’ I would urge you to read #tobelikeche not just as a piece of entertainment but as a gateway into understanding of another world, which is possible only if people walk the talk – and (as the current parlance might say) own it.