9 Things part 1: Fun Home

In a nutshell, when Alison Bechdel – of ‘the Bechdel test’, but also of the seminal Dykes to Watch Out For which it came from – came out and came of age, she found out that her Dad had been having affairs with men throughout her childhood.

Her Dad then – maybe – killed himself by stepping out in front of a truck.

This became the basis for Fun Home, Bechdel’s first graphic novel memoir, which then became an off-Broadway musical, which then became a Broadway musical.

‘Ring of Keys’ is the song everyone talks about, a celebration of butch as a legitimate identity as Alison recognises something in a delivery woman who arrives, momentarily, at the funeral home.

Full of sighs and ellipses, ‘Ring of Keys’ speaks to the experience of being young and queer when being queer is something in the corner of your eye that you can’t quite see, something you don’t have the language to talk about, something you know (or have been told) is wrong but feels so right.

My favourite song is ‘Telephone Wire’, which comes at the end of the musical and pastiches 70s radio pop in the best possible way.

Alison wanting to talk to her Dad about the experience and excitement of being queer – ‘Dad, me too! / since like 5, I guess / I preferred to wear boys shirts and pants / I felt absurd in a dress’ – feels so familiar.

2015 has been a stand out year for queer representation, and queers talking across the generations – as much as her Dad can’t quite find himself in her freedom, her pride, Alison can’t find herself in him being closeted and ashamed – is so important.

I’m glad we’re finally at a part in our conversation where it can be part of our stories.

(That, and: familial suicide was a big part of my own coming out experience, and is something I’ve always wanted to write about but never felt brave enough; the first couple of times I heard ‘Telephone Wire’ – which is so full of pathos – felt personal in a way that no other music ever has and, like all the best media, made me cry on the bus.)

Alison Bechdel talks to The Huffington Post about Fun Home’s journey to Broadway.

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Michael Lee Richardson: Annual General Review 2015

5 things I wrote

The first draft of Station Road, which will be my new one hour drama ‘calling card’ once it’s been through another wringer

Station Road was one of those passion projects, the ones where you have a lot to say about a lot of things – it’s The Walking Dead meets Benefits Street, and draws on everything from poverty porn to austerity to the refugee ‘crisis’ – and I wrote it in such a flurry of spit and verve that everything in it feels vital – which is a good problem to have, but it definite needs a bit of trimming!

Another couple of shadow scripts for soaps, so watch this space

The better chunk of The Spaceman, my second ‘novel’ and the first thing I’ve ever written for middle grade readers
I put ‘novel’ in inverted commas because novels feel like something that proper writers (ie. prose writers) write, and I still can’t quite commit to thinking of myself as a prose writer

‘Lesbian Activities’, a sketch-y short film I want to direct in the new year

An episode of ‘W.C’, a web series I’m working on with my bud, Philip

4 things I did (writing)

Helped run a conference for aspiring and early career TV writers in Scotland, which was a lot of fun and – hopefully – something that can become a bit of a regular feature
I met a lot of good people – and made a lot of good connections that are already starting to pay off – and actually felt like part of a community of writers for the first time in a long while

Travelled to glamorous Leicester for Wolves & Apples, a children’s media conference
I met a lot of cool dudes – including the lovely Debbie Moon, writer/creator of CBBC’s Wolfblood – made some really good contacts, and got some really good feedback on The Spaceman, and finally felt comfortable with ‘writing for children’ being a string to my bow

Went to Cove Park, was frightened by highland cows and learned a lot about my own ‘process’
As someone who writes around a part time job and a bunch of freelance projects, my writing is usually done in short ‘bursts’ of protected writing time, so I had no ‘context’ for a whole week of nothing but writing. It took me a couple days to get my head around the idea that, just because you’ve got 24 free hours of ‘writing time’ in the day, doesn’t mean you have to be writing for those 24 hours – I got an outline, the first third of a novel and a short story out of the week, and met some really nice people while doing it

Finished a course on ‘Script Editing for Film & Television’ with Creative Skillset, run by Grand Scheme Media and a fellow called Philip Shelly
And learned more about writing really good scripts than I’ve ever done before

3 things I did (life and other stuff)

Travelled – a lot
From Dublin to Barcelona, to Leicester, Aviemore, Birmingham, London, and several places in Fife, this year has been more about traveling than ever before

Took the sleeper Megabus, because it’s important that this Annual General Review touches on things I will never do again
I managed to bugger my travel arrangements for a trip to London, so had to sort things out at short notice on a strict budget. Traveling on the sleeper Megabus is sort of like sleeping on your friends couch, if your friends couch was a coffin being rolled down the motorway at 100 miles per hour. I was surrounded by a group of – very sweet – teenagers, but couldn’t sleep because I was aware that videos of me snoring and/or farting were going to end up on someone’s Snapchat

Went part-time
I asked to go part time in June, to really focus on my writing and my freelance stuff, and now work part time at LGBT Youth Scotland; I managed to keep the part of the jobs I really love – running Trans Youth Glasgow and coordinating LGBT History Month Scotland – and, even though it’s been challenging, feel much more of a balance at this point

2 things I didn’t do

Drink, throughout the whole of November
And even managed to enjoy three club nights and a couple of networking sessions doing it; there will be more ‘not drinking’ in 2016

Facebook
For 90 days, and they were – inevitably – 90 of the most productive days in 2016

1 thing I learned

That my opinion is important, and sometimes people want to hear it.

But I don’t need to have an opinion on everything.

5 things I want to do in 2016

  • To finish and find a home for The Spaceman
  • To write a second draft of Station Road and get it out into the world
  • To direct something
  • To make something for the internet
  • To spend more time doing good things with good people

How I Write: The Trick is to Keep Writing

I wrote a blog about how I write for the Scottish Book Trust a couple of months ago. I love the sound of my own fingers typing, so I wrote way more than would ever have been useful. While I’m dumping some stuff off my desktop as part of a New Year’s spruce up, here are some of the extra bits SBT weren’t able to use.

We all have two writing lives: our fantasy writing life and our real writing life.

In my fantasy writing life, I write sitting up straight, at a desk, in an office. The office is always, always clean.

In my fantasy writing life, I write the elements of my stories down on post-its and move them around and – aha! – the whole plot is there, fully formed. I just have to join the dots.

In my fantasy writing life, I write from ‘Once upon a time’ to ‘The End’ and only have to check the spelling once before sending something out.

In my fantasy writing life, writing is easy.

In my real writing life, writing is something I do hunched over in bed, with my laptop balanced on my belly (in my real writing life, I have spent a fortune on physiotherapy).

In my real writing life, writing is something I do in-between a full-time job and a part-time job, and a social life that’s made up of haphazard coffee dates, bottles of wine and bad films.

In my real writing life, I suffer from fear of the blank page, and would do anything rather than stare at that little blinking cursor.

In my real writing life – where there is so much to do, so much to be distracted by – I hate writing.

Luckily – in my real writing life – I love having written.

Writing is re-writing. You’ve got to have something to have something to work with.

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned to get my words onto the page.

Thinking out loud

We got our first computer when I was 9, and I was on the internet soon after that, so I feel a certain affinity with the ‘digital natives’ who can’t do anything unless it’s in 1s and 0s.

That being said, I still do my best writing on paper.

For me, there’s something tactile about writing on paper: I need to be in the right space – high ceilings for writing, low ceilings for re-writing, good coffee to keep me sitting up straight – and it needs to be the right notebook.

I always buy fancy notebooks with nice covers and thick paper, and then end up writing in scrappy 3-for-2 jobs I’ve picked up in Poundland because those fancy notebooks are too nice for me to make mistakes in.

If there’s anything worse than fear of the blank page, it’s fear of the fancy blank page.

My notebooks are – to coin a phrase – where the magic happens.

For me, this process – scenes written haphazardly, out of sync, snippets of character and drawings of settings – is about thinking out loud. It’s my way of conquering that fear of the blank page by allowing myself to be messy and make mistakes and get things wrong.

Only when I’ve written something in my notebook – and gone over it a couple of times, taken bits out and put bits in and rewritten it a couple of times, this time with a drawing of one of my characters chasing another down the lefthand margin – am I able to write it up ‘in neat’.

The Snowflake Method

Once I’ve given myself time to think out loud – in my notebooks – I start writing things up ‘in neat’, which means getting everything onto my laptop. Sometimes it means going back to the drawing board, and for that, I use the Snowflake Method.

Developed by the improbably-named Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method is about starting with the bare bones of your story – literally a one liner that tells us the who, what and when – and gradually building from there.

Once you’ve got the one liner, you build to a paragraph; then three paragraphs, reflecting your beginning, muddle and end.

Eventually, you end up with a detailed outline and, ultimately, you end up with a fleshed-out first draft.

That’s when the hard work begins.

Using this method, for me, helps me put all of the work I’ve done in my notebooks in order. My own process is messy and non-linear. The Snowflake Method is ordered and methodical.

Somehow, we meet in the middle.

The Pomodoro Technique

As an almost-‘digital native’, I have an app for most things: running, walking, eating, keeping track of my favourite TV shows.

When you have an app for most things, everything becomes a game.

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, the Pomodoro technique – named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Franky C used when he was a university student – is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility.

For me, it’s about the way that work fills the amount of time you give it.

You set a timer for 20 minutes, then work like billy-oh throughout those twenty minutes. When those twenty minutes are up – no matter where you are – you stop and take a 10 minute break.

Sometimes I set myself a goal for the twenty minutes – a word count, or a scene, or a thought process – usually I don’t.

Half the battle of writing is getting words down on the page. The Pomodoro technique means I don’t stop and go back and check what I’ve done. I don’t have time.

The Pomodoro technique is something I’ve learned to use to make writing a game, where the goal is to do as many ‘turns’ as I can in a day. I always aim to do at least two ‘turns’ a day, and I haven’t broken my streak since June.

I’ve almost finished my novel.