Once upon a time – a lifetime ago (probably 1999 or 2000) I wrote a novel called Found at Sea. It was about Chris Davey, an actor, who had run away to sea after his wife had died in a fire and he’d been blamed for it. In his new life, he was a Purser on an old cruise ship, the Star Sapphire. The other characters were Diana Wyndham, an aging and eccentric actress who, through assorted edits and rewrites, turned out to be the main baddie; Katey Shawcross, a travel agent who would ultimately become Chris’s love interest; Sally Jones, the Captain’s Secretary; and Des King, a tabloid reporter who was chasing down the real story behind Chris’s wife’s death.
The setting for Found at Sea was the Caribbean. The story and most of the characters came out of my sister’s experiences as a Captain’s Secretary with a well known cruise line. I travelled with her a few times, staying in her cabin, consorting with the crew below decks, and found the whole experience incredibly interesting.
The story was largely an attempt by me to finally deal with a couple of things from my past that still haunted me… my burnout as a travel agent – I’d been one for 8 years, had followed my dad into the business, and realized, too late, that I wasn’t cut out for that kind of job (largely sales) at all; and the death, when I was 19, of my best friend, in a fire caused by someone else, which shook me to the core and made me realize how fragile human life can be.
Found at Sea was a decent novel. I got an agent in the UK who pitched it to publishers, but none turned out to be all that interested.
A few years later, in 2003, I resigned from the fulltime job I’d had for 18 years, took a massive buyout, and invested a little of it in tuition at Vancouver Film School, where I learned how to write screenplays and became a much, much better writer for it.
Found at Sea became my major project – a full length feature script. My instructors thought I was crazy, trying to adapt a novel into a screenplay as my first screenwriting attempt. But I got points for persistence and courage. The main characters were intact – Chris, Katey, Diana, Sally and Des King. The location changed. It became Alaska – mostly because my sister was doing a lot of Alaska trips and I’d been on four or five of them by then, and it seemed an intriguing sort of place to set a story. And the idea of fire and ice as dramatic thematic counterpoints was a good one.
When I graduated from film school, I entered Found at Sea in a local screenwriting contest. I didn’t win – I didn’t even place – but the script caught the attention of one of the judges, who was a producer – and he contacted me and we began a working relationship that lasted 2 years while we tried to develop the screenplay into something that could actually be produced on a Canadian budget. We failed on all counts. But Found at Sea (now renamed Life Boat) did become my first optioned screenplay, and I was paid a fair amount of money for it. So it was actually quite a worthwhile exercise.
For the next 7 years, I tried – mostly unsuccessfully – to make my way as a screenwriter. I should point out here that I’m not a novice. I’ve been writing since I was a child, writing seriously since I was 16, and I’ve had novels and short stories published in the past. I have a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. When I went to film school, it was to try and broaden my talents and skills, to try and stay relevant in a changing writers’ world.
It’s tough trying to break into an industry where there’s very little being produced, and what is produced is dependent largely upon government funding. A small pot, divided up among a small group of active participants. That’s the Canadian model.
The US model is based in Hollywood, and if you can crack that, well… you’re a better person than me.
And as for the UK… wonderful opportunities.. no shortage of possibilities… but unless you live there and are available on short notice for lunches, deals and introductions, it’s not going to happen. End of story.
I had a good run. I optioned 4 scripts, alone and with my screenwriting partner. None were produced, but that’s typical. 99% of all optioned scripts are never produced. And all of the features I worked on would make fabulous novels.
Which brings me to Cold Play. 2012. Found at Sea… revisited.
But first… some background.
Between 2009 and 2011, I had a bit of a meltdown. It blindsided me. I didn’t even know I was having it, which is usually the case with these sorts of things. I thought I was being totally normal.
The reasons for The Great Crash are numerous… age and hormones, being diagnosed as a diabetic and having major issues with medications that were playing havoc with my entire body; huge stressors at work as I dealt with management issues, moving locations, job changes; my mum nearly dying from pneumonia and COPD; my husband losing his job; it goes on and on. Consider the list of all of life’s big stressors, and I had about a dozen of them going on at the same time.
My escape was Twitter. I know it sounds a bit mad – and it was. I’m convinced that Twitter accesses the same area of our brains that controls creativity and probably sanity. I completely lost myself in Twitter, developing not one, but two constructed personalities. The first was a sort of delusional parody of myself, a semi-psychic entity who meant well but was usually completely wrong. (I was, at the time, in real life, involved with a group of people who were exploring their psychic abilities, and although I’m highly empathetic and intuitive, I also somehow managed to convince myself that I was highly psychic – which couldn’t have been further from the truth). My “psychic self” was totally out to lunch, and, well, just plain nuts.
The second personality I developed was a completely loopy character called Astral Traveler. Astral was convinced she could outdo Psychic Winona. The less said about her, the better.
Without going into a lot of detail, I’m going to say that I had some friends on Twitter, that I lost. Some I didn’t really care about – it’s Twitter, after all, and followers come and go. A small few, I cared about a lot. Probably much much more than they cared about me – but that’s me, really me, anyway. I form intense friendships. I always have, throughout my life. It’s why I only ever have a few friends at any given moment in time.
All of these things, together, resulted in The Great Meltdown, which I finally did something about in October 2010… I went to see a counsellor. I poured out my heart and ended with, “I just want this all to stop.”
By way of a response, he looked at me and said, “What have you done in the past to deal with your stress?”
“I’ve escaped into my writing,” I said. “I’ve written novels.”
“Then that’s what you should do now,” he replied.
And it was true. I had always made sense out of my world by putting it into a novel. Nine or ten novels, in fact. Only two of which had been published at that point.
And I realized that in the 7 years since I’d gone to film school, I hadn’t written any fiction at all. Screenplays and tv scripts, yes. But they’re not the same as long fiction. They’re action lines and dialogue, and for me, anyway, there’s little room for contemplation, inner thought, exploration of self, philosophy… the essence and inner heart and soul that I think all creative people know and recognize as they way they deal with life.
Coupled with my counsellor’s advice was the advice from one of the friends I’d lost on Twitter… as I’d descended into delusion and completely let go of any semblance of reality (and probably frightened him half to death in the process)… a creative soul himself, one of the last things he suggested to me was that I try and channel my energy into my writing.
And so, that’s what I did.
Found at Sea became Cold Play.
All of the original characters came along for the rewrite – Diana Wyndham, Des King, Sally Jones, Katey Shawcross…except that Chris Davey became Jess Davey (and then Jason Davey, to avoid gender confusion, since I decided to write the story in the first person, from the main character’s point of view). And Jason was no longer a purser – he was an entertainer on board the ship.
And I added three new characters. SaylerGurl – another baddie, someone 100% inspired by Twitter; and Jilly Snowdon – another Twitter character – a psychic “guardian angel” – you know where she came from!; and Rick Redding, an old rock n roller, who I think actually came about as the result of a discussion I was having with a friend on Facebook, something about Woolly Worms, and Shag Pile carpeting…
I changed the plot slightly, although the storyline is still, in essence, the same storyline I wrote back in 1999 or 2000… and I added Twitter as a kind of thematic thread, stitched in and out of the narrative.
You never actually meet or see SaylerGurl or Jilly. I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers when I say that. You encounter them through their Tweets and their DM’s and their messages. Which is, really, how a lot of us conduct our friendships online these days. And if I say that much of me went into SaylerGurl and Jilly, I wouldn’t be lying. Which aspect of me is something else, though. Certainly not the me that I am now… recovered (mostly), sane (mostly), and finally unstressed (mostly).
So there you have it. Cold Play, 2012. I’ve pitched it to about 200 agents and none of them are really interested. I don’t blame them. The publishing industry’s going through the same kind of shakeup that music went through a few years ago, when everything went digital. I’ll probably end up publishing Cold Play myself, as an e-book.
And that will be a whole other adventure for me, as I’ll have to learn all about marketing and sales. Which takes me back to a few of the skills I learned many many years ago… as a travel agent.
Full circle, in a way.