Home » Culture » From a Police Detective to screenwriter...It’s never too late (and do it your way).
From a Police Detective to screenwriter...It’s never too late (and do it your way).
by Startacus Admin
Some years back, I sat at the Edinburgh Book Festival listening to an acclaimed novelist and short story writer as he told the audience that anyone who wanted to become a writer must give up the day job and devote themselves totally to the craft.
Those who were too timid or afraid to do so would never achieve their goal; it had to be ‘all or nothing’. I did harbour a desire to write, but I also had a mortgage, a young family, bills to pay and mouths to feed. His pronouncement was deflating; it was the long suspected but denied truth, the energy sapping realisation that I was kidding myself and didn’t have a hope. Thankfully I was lucky in that I loved my day job; I was a police detective.
Years passed before I had the good fortune to meet an exceptional man who literally changed my life. His name was Frank Deasy, a professional screenwriter, who at that time was researching his acclaimed television drama, Real Men. Over time, Frank and I became good friends and I mustered the courage to show him some small pieces I had written. Frank was encouraging and suggested that I should try screenwriting. With more than a little trepidation, I enrolled in a night class, and although I was (almost) the oldest person in the room, threw myself into it. It was just the basics, a taster if you will, but I loved it.
This period coincided with my retiral from the force, and still being relatively young, I had a choice to make; find another job or commit to writing, and screenwriting in particular. This was, of course, an easier choice for me than for many in that I had the security of a pension (and a working wife). Nevertheless, the choice was to earn money or work at something I had come to love. I chose the latter, and decided that as I didn’t have time to waste, I had to approach it as seriously as possible. I enrolled on the MA Screenwriting programme at Screen Academy Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University. The course didn’t teach me how to write, but it did place me in an environment where I was able to meet industry professionals and mix with like-minded students. I enjoyed my time on the MA so much that I continued on to the MFA programme.
Three years ago I had my first short film produced. Since then there’s been three more, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to have actors of the calibre of Peter Mullan and Jason Flemyng play the characters I’ve written. My films have played at festivals across Europe and the USA and as a result I was approached by a theatre director who asked me to write a play for his small company. The play was produced for the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival Fringe before moving on to the Byre Theatre in St Andrews. At the moment, I currently have two further shorts in pre-production, I am developing two more for producers, I have been developing a crime/thriller feature script with industry support. And I’ve recently been approached to work on two further features.
Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak to people who are starting out. I always make it very clear that, despite my grey hair and wrinkles, I’m only a couple of steps ahead of them. Another thing that I try to get across is that the little achievements I’ve made have been the result of working hard, and by that I mean being committed and actually writing (and rewriting and rewriting). Many people I’ve come across fancy the idea of writing, but don’t realise that it’s actually hard work. Frank had a strong work ethic and would often say to me that it was pointless to wait on the ‘muse’; you have to just get your arse into the chair and get on with it.
If I’ve anything to pass on to someone who wants to commit to anything as a creative self-starter, it’s to do it in a way that fits in with your life. I’m sure the near-evangelical, ‘all or nothing’ approach of the author I referred to earlier works for some. But for most people it’s about balance: paying the bills and creating the time to do what you love. But it can be done. And it’s never too late. And one more thing – avoid negative people like the plague.
Sadly, after a long illness, Frank passed away in 2009. On my study wall I have a framed copy of his Scotsman obituary, which includes a photograph of him holding the Emmy which he received for the Prime Suspect final series. If ever I need a little extra motivation, I look at Frank and can almost hear him telling me to get my arse in the chair and just get on with it.
Thank you Ronnie, and a really inspirational way to end your article too. Find out more about Ronnie Via IMDB and his own website too.