Of all the internet fandoms I hate, I think I hate Harry Potter's the most. There seems to be this growing proclivity in people of my generation to share every irritating Buzzfeed list or Tumblr post pertaining to the boy wizard, always with shrill nostalgia and lots of capitalised proclamations of OMG YOU GUISE HARRY POTTER IS DA BEST!!!111. And considering this is coming predominantly from people in their mid-twenties, at a certain point you have to wonder when everyone is gonna pull their heads in and stop acting like shrieking thirteen year olds.
I always try to maintain that my personal love of certain things is not coloured by the opinions of others, but damned if it isn’t hard to maintain my passion in the wake of the endless social media proliferation of loud mouthed millennial nostalgia for Harry Potter. I almost find myself resenting the whole franchise. Except, of course, I don’t.
When Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was announced, my reaction was pretty much one of “oh yeah, I guess that’ll be a thing”, followed by a mild swell of anticipation when the script book was confirmed, but I was far from jumping up and down in unbridled excitement for it. Then the previews started in London and despite myself I read the plot and, well, it sounded grim to say the least. It didn’t help that the first Reddit synopsis was mostly capitals, mostly misspelt and practically dripping with the aforementioned hyperbolic wailing about how #AMAZING the whole thing was, but then an altogether more reserved description came out and the prognosis wasn’t much better. The plot of Cursed Child reads like bad fan fiction.
But, when I walked past a bookstore the other day to see the waiting cardboard stand that very soon would be filled with copies of the script book, a strange feeling came over me, a feeling that was so odd because it was so familiar; I just hadn’t felt it in almost ten years. It’s that feeling of knowing you’re just days away from a new Harry Potter adventure, that excitement so familiar to anyone of my generation who raced into a bookstore to see that brand new cover soon to take pride of place on your shelf. It’s that anticipation of rushing home, itching to dive into the book and spend time in that world with those characters all over again. And it doesn’t matter that this is a play and that it sounds terrible or that I already know the whole plot; what matters is this profound, overwhelming feeling of coming home.
Because to me Harry Potter was never really about its world, which is fun but doesn’t make a ton of sense (how do wizards learn to read and write?) or plot (look up Joseph Campbell). It’s about the characters. It’s for this reason that the prospect of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which looks a damn sight better than Cursed Child, doesn’t fill me with nearly the same excitement. Seeing photos from the play of Harry, Ron and Hermione hanging out and talking made it hit home for the first time that I will once again be able to spend time with the characters who I considered close friends for a huge chunk of my growing up. I never thought for a second when I turned the last page of Deathly Hallows that I would get that chance again. Tomorrow I will walk into a bookstore, buy a new Harry Potter book and hurry home to spend the day reading with endless mugs of hot chocolate for the first time since 2007. And yeah, maybe all my fears will be realised, but then maybe experiencing the story as written will illuminate new qualities that a one-page rundown couldn’t. Maybe.
Perhaps the real reason I hate all of those social media posts so much is because they actually reflect how much I myself love Harry Potter, and I’ve been labouring for a long time under the delusion that it was something personal to me, not something shared by a whole generation. Although in some ways, that fact almost makes the whole Potter experience better. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter. I am bloody excited for Cursed Child, as much as I pretend not to be.
Now please let it be good.
Last year was by and large a bad time in my life. Coming to the end of film school left me for the first time without a clear and attainable goal I was working towards, and with no real advances on the writing front it became very easy to sink into a general feeling of dreary sadness. I lived in a crappy apartment in which I spent most of my time alone and worked a day job so far away that I had no time to even entertain the idea of a real social life. My writing slowed, my friendships flagged, my headspace darkened and my drinking increased. I think the worst part of all of it was the fact that I was bored. A day off wasn’t relaxing; it meant having to find a way to fill the empty hours, which inevitably meant cheap wine and reruns of TV shows I’d seen a million times before.
But, if there’s one thing I wholeheartedly believe, it’s that things always get better, and every bleak moment of 2015 became okay when my life blew up in new and exciting ways towards the end of it. And pretty much since then it’s been a non-stop barrage of busyness.
Today I wrote down a list of all the projects I’m working on at the moment and seeing them on paper is kind of absurd. It’s possible that I have taken on too much, but I don’t feel that way. Between a comic, a web series, several plays, a musical, rewrites on the second Boone Shepard novel, my work with Sanspants Radio and Den of Geek and the ongoing job that is the Windmills TV Series, I’ve got no shortage of exciting and varied things happening and barely enough time to commit to all of them. Which, by the way, is great.
It’s a weird position to be in. Of the above projects only a couple are actually bringing in any money and while most of the rest have a strong potential for a good payday at the end, nothing is enough of a sure bet for me to actually quit my day job, which leaves me with every waking hour full of responsibilities. I’ve had a meeting of sorts every night this week and as such I’ve barely had five minutes to sit at home and drink hot chocolate to fight off the grim weather. Tomorrow I’ll have a night off and I am stupidly excited to just watch TV and do nothing. One year ago, the very prospect of this would have sent my mood plummeting.
The thing is, I don’t do well with free time. I mean sure, I need it, but my mind goes to weird places if left to its own devices too long and so it’s imperative that I’m always working on something, which means walking a fine line between keeping occupied and becoming stressed. A couple of times this year that balance has tipped; not long ago, during the run of The Lucas Conundrum I got home from a performance to have a friend start discussing another project with me and I almost started crying because of how much I had to do and how little time I had to do any of it. I was tired to my bones almost every day, but even that feeling wasn’t a bad one because, crucially, it meant that things were happening. Things have been happening ever since that life changing phone call late last year that set me on a path to New York and things haven’t stopped happening since. And having seen a part of my life where that wasn’t the case, I know I never ever want to return to that. Busy is better than bored, even if busy is highly stressful.
When I was a kid, the mother of a friend gave me a small, beautiful polished stone, the kind of thing you can buy at hippy stalls at Sunday markets. She explained to me that she suffered from depression sometimes and as such she liked to keep this rock in her bag; every time she found it while rummaging through her possessions she had to think of something she was grateful for. To this day it astounds me that she was able to recognise even as a child that I might need something like that. I still have that rock and I still regularly find it while reaching for a book or pen from my bag, and while a year ago I had to stop and think about what I was grateful for and it usually ended up being something like ‘I guess I’m alive’, nowadays it takes seconds for something to come to mind, and a different thing every time. And I guess that fact alone deserves more gratitude than anything else.
I don’t really believe in lasting happiness; I think that it’s something that ebbs and flows and as long as you can always recognise that the bad times will pass and things will improve you can weather the storm and be okay. What’s more I think it’s better that life is that way, because the more time we spend being happy the less we appreciate it. Last year was tough because as far as bad times go it was an especially long one. But it was worth it because I feel like the wave I managed to catch at the end of the year is somehow still going. And that isn’t a bad place to be at all.
So by and large everything that has happened around the Boone Shepard release has been pretty crazy for me, mainly in that it’s all new territory and I’ve had no idea what I’m doing. Not that that’s an especially new feeling for me, but the stakes have felt especially high this time around, high enough that my own special brand of amateurism has been a bigger hindrance than usual. But, so far I’m alive and nobody has thrown anything at me, written any hatemail or firebombed my house. In fact, the overall reaction to Boone has been pretty warm, and between the first round of royalties and the unceasing thrill of walking into a bookstore and seeing the book on the shelves I’m really happy with the whole endeavour.
But in many ways the endeavour is only just beginning and with Boone having been on shelves for almost three months now, it’s time to start looking to the next step. Right now that is the release of the audiobook.
To be honest, this has been one of the biggest challenges surrounding Boone. In terms of uncharted waters, it doesn’t really get much more uncharted than standing in a studio for days reading your own words out loud, picking up on so many things you want to change but can’t, all the while trying to sound confident and infuse it all with enough verve to make it feel fresh and exciting. And while it was a ton of fun, I won’t pretend that there weren’t aspects I found tedious and frustrating or that there aren’t moments I listen back to and cringe.
But hey, by and large I’m proud of it and I really enjoyed myself. Maybe there was a certain thrill in getting to once again flex my long dormant acting muscles bringing the voices of all of my characters to life, getting to emote during the intense parts, exercise my penchant for dramatic pauses during the action scenes and, of course, use as many silly accents as possible. As such you’ll be treated to the gruff Australian snarl of one character, the Texan drawl of another, a possibly offensive Scottish stereotype, many dopey British accents and my favourite of all, a certain character who is basically just my attempt at an extended Christopher Lee impersonation. I don’t know if any of these will work or if listening they’ll get any response other than derisive cackles, but hey, I had a good time.
I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert in the audio medium, but having done podcasting for a few years now I thought I had a reasonable understanding of what goes into recording. It turns out producing an audiobook is a little more complex than recording a bunch of nerds talking about movies, and catching just glimpses of the editing process was enough to give me a headache. I really cannot thank Joel Zammit and the rest of his team enough for how above and beyond they’ve gone to make this happen. Any time I start to complain about how annoying re-recording parts was or how sick I got of reading my own words, I’m immediately shut up by the thought of how much worse it would be to have to sit for hours listening to my gaffes and bad accents over and over again in an attempt to make the whole thing sound half decent. But I suspect it will be worth it, because it means that what we will end up with is a quality product that can stand head and shoulder next to just about any other audiobook you care to name.
Given the chance again, I probably wouldn’t be so quick to nominate myself as the voice of Boone. Recently a very talented actor friend of mine sent me an audio recording of him reading part of the book, and he gave it way more gravitas than I ever could have. As flattered as I was, it did get me thinking that maybe the audiobook would have been better in the hands of a real actor. But all that aside, I’m looking forward to having another crack at it when we eventually get around to recording An American Adventure and hopefully the rest of the series.
The audiobook comes out very soon, so you’ll be able to judge for yourself if it worked at all. In a lot of ways I’m feeling the same pre-release anxiety I got from the novel all over again; the audiobook will be potentially reaching an audience of thousands due to its release through Sanspants Radio, so if it’s rubbish I’ll know quickly and words will not be minced. But if it’s good? Boone will meet a whole new audience, and that’s a pretty exciting thought. So for now I’m optimistic.
Writing words about writing words.