Having resisted the lure of the BBC iplayer for long enough (what’s the point in not having a TV if I can’t grumpily claim ignorance of popular culture in conversation?), I was persuaded just before Christmas to watch an episode of Charlie Brooker’s review series, Screenwipe (BBC4, so at least it doesn’t count as popular culture). I usually enjoy Brooker’s Guardian column (such eloquent venom, though he does occasionally ruin the effect by lapsing into crude aggression at the end) but I wasn’t as keen on him as a TV presenter. The difference of course is that the written word can (and should) be honed and refined, whereas even an interview with pre-written questions, filmed in multiple takes has an element of spontaneity about it.
OneMonkey has been known to say to me ‘you’re a writer, you’re supposed to be good with words’ when I’m beginning my fourth attempt at explaining something, realising each time that I’ve left out something vital, or interchanged two events. My usual response is that I’m OK as long as the words are written down, and here, if any were needed, was my vindication. A columnist I admire (and believe me, that’s not a sentence likely to spring from my keyboard again in a hurry), out from behind his written barricade no longer seemed as intelligent with well-ordered ideas, and without my preconceptions he is unlikely to have left much of an impression on me. Proof that I’m not just fooling myself, and it is possible to come across as a confused word-fumbler in person (that’s more a description of me than Charlie Brooker, I should point out. He made me feel better but he’s not even in the same league as me for verbal idiocy) while still being able to write well.
As if that were not enough buoyancy for the evening, the interviews themselves made me perk up even more. Writers of sitcoms, sketch shows, soaps, drama and Doctor Who spoke of their love of or lack of routine, their espousal or rejection of traditional ways of writing, their slow crawl or sudden breakthrough into professional screen-writing. Two of the writers I’d heard of and watched some of their output, and I’d at least heard of some programs written by some of the others, so I was convinced that these people were all successful even if I couldn’t always say whether I thought they were any good. No matter how much advice writers absorb about writing, it will inevitably come down to doing whatever feels best for the individual, but that doesn’t stop the thought that somehow we ‘should’ be doing it this way or that way because that’s what [insert name of your most-admired author/playwright etc here] recommended. To paraphrase a popular advert, there’s probably no God-given writing manual so stop worrying and enjoy yourself.