A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post eulogising Chris Hawkins, a character I created when I was fifteen who went on to feature in about eight angsty teen drama stories of minimal quality. Despite the generally awful nature of those stories, writing about Chris Hawkins was the first time I wrote something actually personal, something that used my own experiences and feelings to build a story. And as embarrassing as that stuff seems now, it doesn’t change how important Chris was to my development as a writer. But I had to accept that I was done with him.
Except I wasn’t.
I had always wanted to revisit Chris, but I’d decided that as his stories were very much a product of my being a teenager when I wrote them, he no longer had any real relevance in my life. But, nine years on from when I first wrote about him, I couldn’t seem to get him out of my head. Maybe it was the fact that I had recently been seeing a lot of the people who inspired his stories in the first place, maybe it was the fact that it had been nearly a decade, but it was starting to feel more and more like it was time to see Chris again.
Revisiting characters isn’t rare for me. Rob Ryan, the protagonist of my first play One Year Ago recently turned up in a six-part TV show I wrote called We Are Adults, while Boone Shepard originated as a high school story too. But while Boone Shepard the novel was a reworking of the old story and Rob Ryan always existed more as a surrogate version of me than a character in his own right, picking Chris’ story up canonically from the last time I wrote about him was bloody weird. The last time I saw him in 2008 everything was wrapped up extremely neatly. Telling a new story about him meant either unravelling all the development he went through or writing about him as a boring adult without any of the terrible flaws that made him interesting. The ideas of a Chris who either hadn’t actually changed or had settled down were respectively sad and boring, and so for a while it seemed like I wouldn’t be going back.
But I couldn’t shake the thoughts of where he might be now. And finally it occurred to me; something had to happen to him, something big that shook him to his foundations and changed the life I had left him with. It would mean that the lessons he learnt when I was a teenager could be relevant, but the happy ending I had trapped him in no longer had to be. Very quickly a story started to take shape, and almost as quickly the doubts crept in. I love my characters; destroying Chris’ happiness for the sake of a story that nobody except me really wanted just seemed kind of horrible. And with the story taking shape in my head possibly the darkest I had ever come up with, dragging Chris out of retirement started looking more and more unpalatable.
So I went back to the original teenage dramas and read them through from start to finish. And man, that was an experience and a half. There were moments where I groaned out loud, there were moments where I was surprised by how good what I was reading was and, most surprisingly of all there were moments that made the new story I wanted to tell seem not only worthwhile, but inevitable. It almost seemed like this new idea I had come up with in 2016 was clearly set up by material I wrote in 2008. Which was really, really weird.
So I wrote it, a play called Chris Hawkins that takes the shape of a very dark drama. It lacks the operatic scope or Machiavellian string pulling of Windmills or the tenderness of something like Hometown or Regression. It’s a bleak story about flawed, damaged people and the terrible mistakes they have to live with. As a narrative, it’s completely standalone; hardly any of the backstory that is important to the events was drawn from the original Chris stories, and the supporting characters who do return aren’t the ones who were central back in the old material. Basically it walks a fine line between being a logical sequel to a bunch of old writing that will never again see the light of day, and its own story. To me it’s exciting because it’s unlike anything else I’ve written before, a chance to delve into a different kind of darkness to the glorified bloodshed of the Babylon trilogy or the Shakespearean drama of Windmills. Even though the character who underpins the story might be old news, the material is very fresh for me.
Going forward, it promises a pretty varied slate of plays. Next up is Regression, the dramedy about a guy dealing with his fifteen-year-old self, followed by The Critic, a comedy about a high profile theatre critic who is forced to review a friend’s terrible play, then this, a story that is highly personal to me because it represents the return of the character who signified the real beginning of my life as a writer, revisited through a very different perspective. Personally? I think it might be a bit alright.
Writing words about writing words.