First 10 Pages: Monster

Writing knock backs are weird.

Writing knock backs are weird because they’re not personal. They’re not the kind of thing we’re looking for at the moment, they’re we already have something similar in development, they’re it’s comedy drama, Michael, and we don’t make comedy drama in the UK (always, that).

Getting something into development is about being in the right place at the right time with the right idea and the right amount of bravado to think you’re the right person to write it.

Getting something into development – to borrow one of my favourite Buffy lines – is like trying to hit a puppy by throwing a live bee at it.

Writing knock backs aren’t personal.

But writing is personal.

Monster is a script I wrote a couple of years ago. I wrote it for BAFTA Rocliffe’s New Comedy Forum, because I wanted a new comedy spec and because I needed a deadline.

Like all the things I’ve written that I’ve been pleased with, the genesis of it – the idea, the characters, the shape, a lot of the best jokes – came out in a week.

At the time, I thought it was this silly comedy about a trickster who comes along to mess with some guy’s perfect life; when I took a step back, however, I realised that it was really about men and mental health, internalised homophobia, shame, family and the way we relate to each other.

It’s about a guy called Will who loses his job and suffers a nervous breakdown. He moves in with his Dad and step mum to find that Puck – the monster who used to live under his bed when he was a kid – is still there.

Will’s uptight, a perfectionist, with his heart set on putting his perfect life back together; Puck’s a slacker, a trickster, who comes to represent Will’s fragile mental state – Will’s never sure whether Puck is real, or whether he made him up himself – and seems to thrive on getting Will into trouble.

It also has some really, really good jokes.

It did the rounds a couple of times – people like it, but weren’t sure what to do with it – and I get it. It’s a hard sell.

But it’s a script I’m really proud of, and a script that I feel like is part of a conversation we’re – finally – having about mental health and masculinity.

In the interest of putting stuff out there in order to get it in front of the right person – or people – here’s the first ten pages (click-y click-y).

Let me know what you think.

Here’s another First 10 Pages blog I wrote about the script that was runner-up in the Trans Comedy Award.

 

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Gender

Context: I am not a poet. I am not a performer. But I wrote and performed this ‘poem’* as part of Eilidh MacAskill’s Gendersaurus Rex workshop, exploring gender, sexuality and queerness in children’s performance, and thought I would post it here before it became too weird and embarrassing to share.

Gender

Gender is a question without an answer
Gender is two days of discussion and barely scratching the surface
Gender is colour and noise
girls and boys
and everyone in between.

Gender is a princess, a pirate, a polar bear and open to interpretation.

Gender is black and white
and pink and blue
and purple.

Gender is a unicorn, a walking phallus.

Gender is hashtag problematic.

Gender is a performance, a judgement, unconscious.
Gender is a reservoir, a floodgate, a dam.

Gender is invisible to itself.

Gender is empowering.
Gender is harmful, reductive.
Gender is prescriptive.

Gender is complicated, gender is impractical.

Gender is an imaginary rule book that is constantly changing.

Gender is a toolbox.

Gender is yours.

Gender is not something to feel guilty about.

Gender is not your fault.

* there’s those inverted commas again. Because – as a children’s writer, and a TV writer – a poem feels like something a proper writer would write, and I’m still not sure I’m there yet.

But that’s another story, for another blog.

Parts 4 and 5: The Last Podcast on the Left and But You Cain’t Use My Phone

Last Podcast on the Left

I’ve listened to The Last Podcast on the Left for a few years now, because a bunch of funny, schlubby douchebags talking about witches, ghosts and serial killers is and always will be my jam.

A lot of this year’s Last Podcasts have focused on contemporary, era-defining events that I remember happening, and the standouts for me have been the Columbine and 9/11 episodes. It’s been interesting to hear the Last Podcasters – who’s style is usually snarky but irreverent, never taking any of this stuff too seriously – talking about these things that happened with a sense of gravitas.

The ‘found sound’ of the fireman’s alarm in the first 9/11 episode will stay with me for a while.

The follow up ‘conspiracy theory’ episodes are a good palette cleanser, too.

Other podcasts I loved this year: The Read, The Allusionist; RuPaul’s What’s the Tee? (the Henry Rollins episode is a corker); Pop Rocket.

Erykah Badu – But You Cain’t Use My Phone

11 tracks – some of them songs, some of them scraps of songs, a couple of them covers, and a monologue about bees that ends with a meta-punchline — all of them about phones, including ‘Cell U Lar’, Ms Badu’s funnier, funkier cover of ‘Hotline Bling’. This has been a year of Instagram pop – pop with a filter on it, softening everything, blurring the edges so everything looks cool and acceptable – and But You Cain’t Use My Phone trucking up with a sense of humour was the best antidote to see in a new year.

Part 3: Steven Universe

In my post about Ms Marvel, I said it was important that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read and see.

Steven Universe has been a revelation, on that front.

You’ve already heard about the super cool gender and sexuality stuff – feminised boy hero, all the superheroes are women, canon queers all over the place, and it’s way cooler than even that – but sometimes what’s missing from that commentary is the fact that Steven Universe is actually a really good television show.

The stories Rebecca Sugar and co are telling in this big, mad sci-fi world are so tiny and well-observed; like all the best stories, there’s often a sense that you’ve seen this before and you know where it’s going, but it takes you off into another direction and does stuff that I genuinely never thought you could get away with on children’s TV (it’s on Cartoon Network, but honestly these stories are more nuanced than a lot of Grown Up Drama).

The series is doing such interesting stuff with mental health and human relationships – the characters are allowed to be jealous, spiteful, detached – in a way that I’ve never seen before on television.

It is hilarious and brilliant, starting in media res and seeding a complex mythology as it goes.

I see a lot of myself in Steven, a feminised boy hero who’s strengths – and weaknesses – come from being empathetic and protective; I wish this kind of TV had been around when I was a kid.

As a ‘big’ person – not just fat, but big – I’ve often struggled with the fact that I take up space, that my body is different to the bodies of people around me. Steven Universe has been a revelation on that front, too, and I’ve found a lot of comfort in its diverse range of body shapes and sizes.

Beautiful, trippy animation, music and voice acting; popstar Estelle as Garnet is my highlight, and Nicki Minaj turns up at one point.

I wish all TV was this good.

9 Things part 2: Ms Marvel

My friend Josh still laughs about the time I said I didn’t like the first Avengers film because ‘it had too many superheroes in it.’

What I meant was: it had too many white guys ready, willing and able to save the world.

For me, the best superhero stories – X-Men, Runaways, Hellcat – have always been about people struggling to come to terms with who they are and what they’re here for. Less superheroics and splash pages, more internal drama with the odd bit of allegorical whacky monster knacking.

There have been a lot of diverse teens with super powers in the last couple of years – and more on the way (I really enjoyed the first issue of Marvel’s Moon Girl) – but Ms Marvel has been the stand out.

With diversity narratives, it’s the done thing to say the character’s protected characteristics don’t define who they are – ‘he just happens to be gay!’, ‘she just happens to be Muslim!’ – but that feels disingenuous.

Yes, stories that feel like after school specials are boring, but those kind of stories tend to come from the point of view that being a minority is a source of constant sadness, that we are all aspiring to be part of the mainstream.

Spoiler alert: we’re not.

For me, it’s important to tell stories that incorporate a character’s identity, something that informs who they are and where they come from. It’s important that kids see diversity in their stories, and that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read or see.

It’s important that people other than straight white guys ready, willing and able to save the world are celebrated.

Kamala Khan’s identity as a Pakistani American is integral to who she is as a character, and her Muslim faith is front of centre of her journey; a couple of times, she even outright quotes the Qu’oran (‘Whoever kills one person it is as if he has killed all mankind’), which shouldn’t feel as brave as it does in 2015.

Ms Marvel is as interested in exploring Kamala’s identity as a young Muslim and a second generation immigrant as it is her identity as a superhero; it’s not an accident that – after being hit by an alien mist that gives her shapeshifting powers – she chooses the busty, blonde Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel in her old thigh high boots costume.

Rather than obvious slurs, the first couple of issues introduce Zoe Zimmer, a frappe-drinking basic white girl ‘concern troll’, who disguises her discomfort and ‘Othering’ of Kamala and her friends as an interest in her culture.

It’s in these sort of specifics that Ms Marvel finds it’s strength.

Kamala’s constant iteration that she’s ‘Kamala Khan from Jersey City’ is one of the most interesting ongoing explorations.

Kamala is a second string superhero in a second string city, and that informs as much of her story as anything else.

Ms Marvel exists slightly outside of the rest of the glossy, shiny skyscrapers of the rest of the Marvel Universe – this is Jersey, not Manhattan – and Adrian Alphona brings a stylised griminess in his art that makes Ms Marvel one of the most distinctive comics of 2015.

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.

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