The last couple of months have been a weird time for me. After the insane busyness of the first half of this year, I decided to embrace having a little time off, to relax, come up with some new ideas and basically enjoy myself. When I wrote Springsteen last year I was at a point in my life where I realised that I had prioritised my work over the people in my life, and that play was a sort of attempt to explore that and maybe work out how to change. But the fact of the matter is that I am an inherently creative person and the thing about creative people is that they don’t do well if they’re not creating. Lately I’ve been trying to work out how to balance things; I’ve been doing more sociable stuff, spending time with the lady, going to Sovereign Hill with friends, seeing musicals and whatnot while at the same time chipping away at a few projects.
The main thing that has been taking up my time over the last week is Windmills. I can pretty much hear the collective eye roll from people reading this, but hear me out. It’s no secret that Windmills has long been The Big One, that project I can’t seem to let go of. I wrote it as a novel in my last year of high school, adapted it into my first play the next year, wrote a sequel, mashed them together into one book, self-published that book, turned it into another play, adapted it into a TV pilot script while studying at VCA, won a major international screenwriting award for said TV pilot script and now I’m back to re-writing it as a novel.
What is it about Windmills that disallows me to let it go? So many things. Windmills feels like a melting pot of all the themes and ideas I’ve spent my writing life so far exploring, and as I’ve gotten older and learned new things I’ve found new ways to look at Windmills. I think there’s an inherent power to a story about how a single mistake can ripple through the years, corrupting and destroying as the person responsible fails to learn from his shortcomings, and for that reason among others I never really get tired of this story.
That said, this latest iteration has presented challenges. When you’ve written certain parts of a story this many times, it gets harder to find a new angle. Of course that means you pretty much stick to what works and only shake the narrative up when you reach the new ideas that made you want to return to the story in the first place, but it’s hard to infuse well-trodden material with any new passion. At VCA we were told to ‘write the first draft as though you’re in love, write the second draft as though you’re in charge’. I don’t know what number draft this is of Windmills, but it feels like the first one where I haven’t been head over heels in love with the story. Initially that seemed scary and like a bad omen, but the more I think about it the more I realise that the time has come to write the story as though I’m in charge, to take off the rose coloured glasses and really evaluate what this story needs to be if it is to reach the audience I believe it deserves to reach.
And I think I’m close. I really do. This meant sacrificing some parts of the original Windmills story that I always loved, like the fact that it took place over a decade, in order to focus the narrative, keep it set in high school and make it an easier sell as a dark YA novel. On the one hand this has meant saying goodbye to some beloved characters and plot points, on the other hand it has been a welcome challenge that I think has actually made the narrative more intricate, complex and immediately satisfying.
However when I started on this endeavour earlier in the year I found my interest waning after about 30,000 words. I just didn’t seem to be hitting the new heights I needed to and I was feeling more and more like I was filling the text with lengthy passages describing how the characters felt in order to try and hit the emotional heights of earlier versions. It was only when I re-read everything this week that I realised that the emotions of Windmills are baked into the essence of the story and I need to trust that. So I went through and meticulously removed anything I thought was too waffly and over-explanatory, ultimately binning about 4000 words of text. The result is a novel that feels leaner, subtler and so much more powerful, a novel I’m really excited by. And, without giving too much away, it seems I’m not the only one. The future feels brighter here than it ever has before.
But Windmills hasn’t been my only creative endeavour. Recently I wrote two plays in a week, ideas that have been rattling around in my head for a while. One is called True Crime and tells the story of a failing TV channel that try to fake a gang war in order to improve ratings, the other, The Trial of Dorian Gray, is about a young woman who essentially puts Oscar Wilde’s classic antihero on trial for his decades of crimes, only for things to take some surprising turns. It’s a twisty two hander in the vein of Heroes, and I’m really excited to bring it to life.
And speaking of Heroes, after a pretty well received Melbourne season in May, it’s currently touring the one act play circuit and doing very well for itself, cleaning up Best Drama, Best New Play and Best Production at the recent Gemco Festival. Naturally this doesn’t mean it will continue that success everywhere, but it bodes pretty well, even if we got an abusive anonymous message saying we were too professional to compete. Which it’s hard to take as anything other than a compliment.
Meanwhile we’re gearing up for our next play, The Commune, which opens in November, and my first foray into musical theatre, Moonlite, which will open at the Midsumma Festival in January. Plus, while my head certainly isn’t yet in the zone, at some point I will have to start thinking about Boone Shepard again. The draft manuscripts for books 3 and 4 are finished, so now it’s just a matter of seeing what’s possible when. In the wake of the kick sales got due to the shortlisting for the Readings Young Adult Prize, it feels as though Boone’s time is only just beginning.
I guess I’ve been doing a lot, really, even if no one project has dominated my life. But maybe that’s for the best. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to juggle a few different things and see which one takes off first. And do my best to keep trying to strike that balance with actually living.
Writing words about writing words.