Jaws was shown on ITV 8 October 1981, its UK television premier. A Saturday. I was 9 years old. 23 million others watched it the same night. Almost half of the UK population.
I came to Steven Spielberg's first film very late. Only a couple of years ago. I might have seen some of it on TV as a kid but I never sought it out and its fame was obscured by the mega-fame of the subsequent Jaws. But The Sugarland Express is a beautifully shot tragicomic road movie with a surprisingly dark undercurrent.
TV movies come with their own constraints. The budget is low; the schedule, tight and the ambition, narrow. Steven Spielberg got his shot with a Richard Matheson script based on Matheson's own experience driving home from a golf game the day JFK was shot. But Duel broke through a ten day shoot and the threat of Gregory Peck - his casting would have seen Spielberg booted off the project - to become one of the best TV movies ever made.
I remember reading in one of Bob Woodward’s books about George W. Bush that the man’s idiocy was overstated and that actually he was a very clever man who simply had difficulty expressing himself, especially when he was called on to do improv. As proof was a challenge he had with Karl Rove to read one hundred books in a year. It rocked me on my heels to think about Bush reading that many books and still claiming his favourite children’s book to be The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was published while he was already an adult. So when I saw on GoodReads that you could challenge yourself and your friends to a reading competition I flung myself into it but hating to lose aimed for the decidedly lower figure - by about 50 percent - of 50.
You know things are bad when everyone you meet tells you that you've lost weight.
At the end of October I visited China for the first time and I wanted to write a post about it. So I guess this is that post. I was there to participate in the first - year zero - edition of the Pingyao international film festival. I’ve already written reports for Sight and Sound and Film Bulletin and Il Manifesto, about the festival itself. And I wrote a piece on the politics surrounding China in the time I was there for Tim Marshall’s The What and the Why website. But I wanted to do something more personal. All of the observations that I found interesting but don’t quite fit in with those particular forums.
These blog posts have been desultory to say the least. Though a word like desultory can’t exactly be thought of as the elast. I think I need to rethink the idea of the blog and use it more as a public diary, a blog if you will, rather than anything grander. After all, if I get an idea to write something specific, I like to pitch it to a publication and preferably get paid for it. So consider this paragraph a mission statement for the rest of the blog posts going forward.
I have to admit it. Faced with a Tory landslide and all the terrible things that would go with that - the dismantling of the NHS, the reintroduction of Fox Hunting Grammar Schools - I flinched. I thought: I like Corbyn, I agree with him on many issues, but if there was a way of painlessly swapping him for someone more electable... I flinched.
It's always a drag dealing with failure. I've been trying to write properly for twenty five years. I wrote my first novel when I was 18 years old. I hand wrote it. I hand wrote three novels. None of them particularly good. None of them that I actually read. Writing them seemed work enough. Then I typed another three novels when I was at university. I sent out a couple of them. I sent out a crime novel that got taken to pieces in a reader's report I still have somewhere. It wasn't very good. My PhD dissertation was the book I managed to finally write and I tried also to publish but they wanted to have a long revision and I couldn't face it. Looking back that seems like a missed opportunity but I was done with the material. I got some stuff published here and there, but the dissertation was dead. Shelley and Laughter it was called.
When I got to Italy, I had plenty of time to focus and so I wrote a great deal. I've managed more or less a novel every year I've been here. Sometimes more. I snagged an agent about ten years ago. This was a huge encouragement. I still remember coming home from Venice on the train and basically feeling I'd already made it. I was a published author and it was only a matter of time before the world caught up. They didn't. And I wasn't.
My agent helped me a huge deal and I developed as a writer. Everything I wrote was better and better, but rather than a publishing deal our progress was marked by a widening circle of contacts and ever-more flattering rejection letters. We even went in to meet an editor at a publishing house and who wanted to talk and encourage, but again it came to nothing.
There are several side effects to failure, leaving aside the obvious stuff about self-esteem and despair. One is that time becomes the enemy. A success in your 20s and 30s and you've time for a long career; time to enjoy it. And your success will be burnished by your youth. A bright young thing. I'm 45. Secondly, failure effects what you do. At times you become willing to change anything - write anything - and your risk losing your identity. Plus no one wants anything, so this willingness to compromise erodes whatever voice or talent you have. Thirdly, your familiarity with your goal becomes increasingly shopworn. It's been in the window too long. Yellowed by the sun light, a bit tatty and no longer new. When you finally get it, if you finally get it, you already feel it is going to be a let down, in no way compensating for the work and sacrifice that it cost you.
Of course, this is a dump. I will feel relieved and a bit smelly and then open the window and the latest draft of my new novel and get to work - Winter Truce (5th draft). Maybe this will be the one. But I honestly don't think it will. Failure develops a muscle memory so I know the ropes now. The waiting, the silence, the email. The twinge of acid in the pit of your stomach. Your stomach? My stomach I should say. I keep wanting to put a nice little uplifting thought at the end here. A note of encouragement. An ah well, and onward to tomorrow. But the honest truth is my life is an abject failure.
I was in Rome when the first attacks took place. There were three in total before I got an email from an old friend in CID asking me to come in for a consultation. I’d been following on the news, so he didn’t even have to tell me what he needed me for. On the flight a little girl – she must have been two but I’m bad with ages – was running up and down the aisle. Her mother was telling her not to but she whined ‘I want to see the people. I want to see the people.’ The man holding the card with my name almost correctly spelt was wearing a kilt. He didn’t offer an explanation so I didn’t ask for one.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.