What I learned in School

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Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in Schools

I recently left my job. Resigned, to be completely transparent. And it’s sparked a lot of thinking. There are many positives.

1.) I am able to focus for the first time on writing, which for the most part feels amazing rather than terrifying. Trying to make a living as a freelancer is increasingly more and more difficult and financial worry is not character building for any artist, even though unhelpful depictions of the ‘starving’, but tortured “genius” are common, and there has been plenty of thoughtful and eloquent writing on this. Hannah Khalil wrote something fantastic earlier this year about this.

And Lyn Gardner also wrote about this in The Stage in July.

So there is an enormous privilege that I want to acknowledge (that being that I am for the first time stable-ish financially and was able to even QUIT in the first place) and I don’t know what I would have done in the same circumstances if I hadn’t had the luxury of so freely being able to walk away.

2.)  I am sleeping better.

3.)  I’m not as stressed. I am less irritable, anxious and tense. A weight does feel like it’s lifted. As Elphaba would say, something has changed within me.

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What was my day job?  I was a teacher. Not always, I have had plenty of day jobs (including ushering at West End theatres, bar jobs and some questionable market research gigs), but for the last four and a half years I have worked in an education setting.

I started out as a Teaching Assistant (some of the BEST PEOPLE in the world are TAs), soon became a HLTA (Higher Level Teaching Assistant) and went on to be employed as a UQT (Unqualified Teacher) in a primary school in London. I was asked whether I wanted to complete a SCITT programme and train, but felt like committing in such a way would mean writing was placed on the back burner.

I worked at the same school, with various iterations of senior leadership and governing body. I mainly taught Upper Key Stage Two. Before I left, I was in a job share across two classes, teaching full time.

Let me just make one thing clear: teachers are amazing. They are passionate, enthusiastic, hard working, crucial, under-appreciated, influential and often herculean in nature. I mean that. My mum is a teacher. I am biased, but she works harder than anyone else I know and is BRILLIANT and engaging and the kids are lucky to have her on their side.

(This is Cameron Diaz, not my mum)

(This is Cameron Diaz, not my mum)

The Guardian wrote in January this year that a YouGov survey commissioned by an education charity in 2017 found 75% of teachers in the UK reporting symptoms of stress – including depression, anxiety and panic attacks – compared with just 62% of the working population as a whole.

Suicide risks for primary and nursery school teachers in England was 42% higher than in the general population between 2011 to 2015, according to the Office of National Statistics. Some 102 suicides were recorded as primary and nursery school teachers in the period.

So, to make it clear, this is not an attack on those who work within the profession. Good.

I have written three blog posts about my half a decade working at a primary school. The fourth thing my resignation has afforded me is time to reflect. I wanted to talk about workload and expectations and how that has impacted my colleagues and friends, as well as discuss how continued austerity is affecting young people in the education system.

But first let’s talk about bullying.

Image taken from the campaign for LGBT-inclusive education in   Scottish   schools #EducatetoLiberate

Image taken from the campaign for LGBT-inclusive education in Scottish schools #EducatetoLiberate

This might not be an easy read for everyone, and I will discuss the subject frankly from here on out. My experiences are also very specific in regards to homophobic bullying, but both biphobic and transphobic bullying are common place and I will go on to talk about this later.

To understand why I quit my job, let’s go back to my own experiences at school.

The first time I kissed another boy I was 13. I was in year seven. This is the most accurate representation of what I looked like. LOL.

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Apologies for the sheer size of that terrifying image.

So, the first kiss. I was in year seven. I thought he was gorgeous. He was 15. He had blue eyes, a wispy beard and a lip ring. I kissed him during a game of spin the bottle at a friend’s house. I was pissed on Strongbow and he tasted of beer and cigarettes. Sexy. I was fucking terrified. It was something I had thought about for a LONG time and it felt like fireworks. It felt natural. It might sound daft, but something clicked. I let go of something I’d been carrying around and I could suddenly breathe.

The next day, we all woke up on a very sticky (through alcohol not bodily fluids) living room carpet and I had the benefit of being thirteen and hangover proof, so bounded out the door with a huge smile on my face.

And then Monday came. And it was all anyone could talk about. There was no use denying it. The boy in question shrugged it off as being pissed, but for some reason I couldn’t do the same. Maybe I wasn’t convincing. Maybe I didn’t entirely want to deny it. I don’t know. Either way, people wouldn’t let it drop.

The name calling started. Faggot, bender (this one was a favourite due to its interchangeable nature with my first name), fudge packer and poof. “That’s so gay” was already part of the everyday vernacular at this time and, according to Stonewall’s Tackling Homophobic Language Teachers guide, 99% of gay young people still report hearing the casual use of these phrases in school.

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I was also constantly asked if I was gay, and I took the approach of simply answering yes as this seemed to end the interaction abruptly and meant that I could get on with my day. This wasn’t always easy to do.

 

After a while, I started receiving physical abuse to, usually accompanied with a homophobic insult. I lost times of how many time I was punched in the ribs (or the balls) by other pupils in the corridor. Personally, I didn’t feel like I could tell an adult as this would mean coming out and I didn’t feel able to do that with a relative stranger at this point.

 

Additionally, my mum was also working at the school as an LSA (Learning Support Assistant) and people would often ask her if they knew I’d ‘snogged a boy’ and she fielded a lot of questions about whether or not she knew I was gay. I did tell my parents I was gay around this time, too. I never let on what a shite time I was having, we did talk about some idiots, but I bottled up a lot of the bullying I was getting. In hindsight, I wish I was more open, but that’s easier to say at 26 than 14.

 

The worst incident I can recall is two girls following me into the toilet in the science block with a pair of scissors and trying to cut my hair off. My hair was quite long then (which obvs added fuel to the fire as it was assumed I was deliberately choosing to look girly) and I had to lock myself in a cubicle until they fucked off.

 

When I moved up to my next school to complete my GCSEs and A Levels (Leicestershire’s school system is three-tier for some inexplicable reason) things got slightly better in some ways. I found a group of female friends, who didn’t give a shit and I could make laugh. I spent many a free period watching Loose Women and musicals instead of going to Film Studies and it was glorious.

Most of my problems came in P.E. Many boys accused me of ‘perving’ on them and ‘getting hard’ looking at them, which wasn’t true. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I don’t have standards. And in lessons where I didn’t have a friend for back up, I was isolated and teased.

I lost three stone and was quite unhappy.

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I became mean and bitter. I wrote, a hell of a lot. I did find a boyfriend via myspace, and that meant that I was able to begin exploring who I was in a much more safe and meaningful way (which I wasn’t always doing, taking MANY risks early on). Things did come to a head one day at school when I was summoned to the Head of Year’s office as my form tutor had picked up on the way I was being treated. Note: she didn’t address what she saw with me directly.

The Head of Year offered to see whether there were any organisations who could help with my problem. I initially thought that she had meant the bullies. She didn’t. She meant my sexuality. It was the problem. She was saying I had brought this on myself and when I asked her to speak to some of the more regular perpetrators, she said that she couldn’t stop boys from being boys.

At a time when school was hell for me, when I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone else, an adult undermined my experience. My truth.

There are many, many stories that are similar, and in lots of cases, much more complex, violent and heartbreaking than mine. And there is plenty of evidence and research that shows just how damaging bullying like this can be, the recent death of nine year old Jamel Myles, being particularly harrowing to read about. His mother has previously said she hopes her son's death can raise awareness of the effects of bullying.

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In terms of the big picture, Homophobic Hate Crime: The Gay British Crime Survey 2013 found that one in six gay people had been victims of hate crimes and hate incidents, rising to one in five amongst 18-24 year olds. Half of these victims reported that the perpetrators were aged under 25, highlighting the dangerous progression from homophobic language and bullying in school to homophobic hate crime.

Other worrying statistics, provided by Stonewall, indicated that 64% of trans pupils - are bullied for being themselves in Britain's schools. Furthermore, just above one in three bi pupils (35 per cent) are bullied at school. At school. Which is meant to be safe. Sometimes the only safe place for some children.

For more detail on this, Stonewall commissioned YouGov to carry out a survey asking more than 5,000 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people across England, Scotland and Wales about their life in Britain today and it can be found here. The report is from 2017.

Stonewall go on to say that only 10% of teachers make a challenge every time homophobic language is used. Consistently challenging is the only way to help young people see that it won’t and can’t be tolerated. In a conversation had in the staff room at the school I used to work in, a teaching assistant  remarked on this as ‘ridiculous’ as it happens far too often for it to be dealt with all the time.

This leads me on to why I resigned. Some slight context: I was out to all members of staff. I was out to the Year Six class I taught last year, but I was not out to all pupils. I do know teachers that are, but I had MAJOR reservations. Some of these may probably have been unfounded and rooted in my own experiences of school, but they did seem real to me. Also, I would often walk around school like this, so I am sure lots of the kids drew their own conclusions.

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 As well as dealing with the same issues many LGBT+ students face, LGBT+ teachers also have to contend with resistance, even abuse, from senior management, co-workers and parents. Those that do come out can find an already challenging job becomes even harder.

My personal reservations about coming out to the students was that if I had to assert my authority, some pupils may have met me with a 'I'm going to hurt you with what I know about you,' reaction. I was scared of that happening if I’m honest. I do regret not being brave enough to be fully out, with so few role models of people who are different for students to look up to, teacher visibility is essential. We need it more than ever. But what’s preventing them from coming out in the classroom?

During my time at the school as a member of staff, I was referred to as the 'lady boy teacher' by a parent, called a faggot by a pupil, repeatedly called “too emotional” by a staff member and have had staff members refuse to sign a card celebrating my marriage to my now husband as they didn’t agree. Additionally, I had a big issue with a parent who didn’t want me taking their male child to the swimming lessons and wanted a different male teacher to do it. Go figure.

In the end, I couldn’t consciously make a decision to work in an environment that triggers things that I have worked hard to avoid in my life. The current head (and other members of SLT) worked hard to take these incidents seriously, but that didn’t happen always throughout my time working there, and I was not always in a position to walk away when I felt like I needed to. Many people are not as fortunate.

Essentially, I didn’t feel  like I had the respect of  some of the parents that were a part of the school community and couldn’t see how to maintain positive relationships with them. It all came to a head when I was having to deal with a behavioural issue and attempted to discuss this with the child’s parent, who mocked my “high-pitched” voice and my “feminine” hand movements. She also swore at me and allegedly branded me a batty boy in the reception area in front of staff and other parents.

 What really stuck the knife in, was to hear that other staff had been gossiping and joking about me being called a ‘batty boy’ and therefore I found out this information second hand. When the head rightfully tried to get to the bottom of this, there was a closing of ranks, and the staff who witnessed the parent saying that about me weren’t willing to back me up.

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Our schools HAVE to be environments where this sort of behaviour is absolutely stamped out. If I, as a what I considered to be a relatively “liked” and valued member of staff, dealt with this, then what else goes on in schools on a day to day basis that people aren’t prepared to talk about? Is it nerves? Do we not want to rock the boat? For me, we need a seismic shift in the way schools tackle this. If staff members are feeling this, then the students are definitely suffering too.

 Heterosexuality isn't an excuse for shifting the responsibility for tackling homophobia and transphobia. Before I left, I was asked to deliver all of the lessons to another teacher’s class surrounding GEORGE, a children's novel about a young transgender pupil written by Alex Gino. Why the reluctance to tackle the subject themselves? Lack of knowledge or experience? While bigotry no doubt plays a role, it is lack of confidence and ignorance in staff that is what needs to be tackled.

 

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The situation is also complex for trans teachers, especially those that transition while teaching. In 2016, BuzzFeed News spoke to three teachers about their experiences, and they discussed what has changed since the death of Lucy Meadows, and what they think needs to happen next. 

Schools can be terrified about the response from parents, the response from pupils, of all the practical things. But until this fear is trained out of schools, nothing will change. Schools need to deal with the language, report and record all incidents of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and have clear policies on how consequences escalate for repeat incidents.

Explaining the language clearly to younger children can often help. Asking ‘do you know what the word means?’ can lead to a conversation of clarity, context and reflection for the young person.

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It’s about being brave, about having a script as a school for how you define the word, and having a collective approach and voice when tackling the behaviours. Assemblies, targeted lessons and events to celebrate LGBT+ History Month would also help to conquer barriers.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 places a duty on school governing bodies in England and Wales to promote the safety and wellbeing of ALL the children and young people in their care. Tackling the issues that make school such a difficult environment for out LGBT+ young people (AND ADULTS!) needs to be a priority. It’s gone on for too long. OFSTED have framework (from 2013, I couldn’t find anything more recent but I may be wrong) about this, but it is still going on in our schools every single day and more needs to be done. It’s simple as.


Stonewall’s Train the Trainer course gives pastoral, anti-bullying and personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) leads the knowledge, tools and confidence to train colleagues on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and celebrating difference, as well as meeting the requirement of the new Ofsted inspection framework. However, there is still so much to be done. We participated in this training as a school, but not everyone was willing to get on board and make the necessary changes. There were cries of ‘snowflake’ and ‘one more thing to deal with.’ But we have to deal with it. Today.

I wasn’t brave enough to always take my own advice, and didn’t always feel able to celebrate my own differences. I worry that this is because I hadn’t properly dealt with what happened to me at school, but I am talking about it and working through. The school I worked with now has a brilliant headteacher, who is determined to change the school’s culture. He even made me a rainbow cake for my wedding. There were many people who worked there who treated me with respect and who are great friends. Things will get better. It all just became a bit too much. And I am lucky I had somewhere to run to. I am looking at ways to help be part of a change. Now I’ve had time to reflect. Now I can breathe again.

 

Thank you for reading. 

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Amazing People:

School’s Out- their over-arching aim is to make our schools safe and inclusive for everyone.

Just Like Us- an LGBT+ charity for young people. They work to people from the classroom to their careers  

10 things I've learnt about TV Development

A little while ago, I had a slight twitter-vent about the script development process and my early experiences of it. I hoped that it would be instructive / constructive and helpful for people and Philip Shelley kindly got in touch and asked whether he could use it in his Screenwriting Newsletter. I have re-posted the blog here. 

 

‘I want to share some thoughts because I wish someone had said all this to me a couple of years ago, so I may as well say it now.



This isn’t intended to patronise or tell grandma how to suck eggs. But I think it’s important to be more honest and open with each other about how we, our work and our ideas are treated so we can be better prepared.



When you first start having telly meetings, you will meet a lot of people at great companies who are making exciting stuff.



This is especially true if you are privileged enough to have completed a scheme such as 4screenwriting, or won a prize, or gathered attention from a really great play etc. It is true across the board, though. If you’ve got a good script acting as your calling card, you’ll be invited in to see what other ideas you’re working on.



I was lucky enough to be on a scheme that people respected and that helped me get through lots of doors. I am so grateful that I had this experience. This isn’t about those schemes it is about what happens after.  

I pitched lots of ideas, some good, some terrible. Lots that were probably average.

I got a few things optioned.  I was excited that people had shown interest in me. Wanted to work with me. Wanted to PAY me for my work. The holy grail.



But development can be hard. Really fucking hard. Your work should be interrogated and asked difficult questions of and it can take forever for a project to get from one stage to another. Some never make it off the ground at all.



Which is why you should find the right people to work with. Precisely because it can be so difficult and so long.



I believe I made some mistakes on those early projects. And I say I made them and not anyone else because I was new to all this and didn’t actually know any better. But there are things that I wish I had known.

 

Here goes…

1.) I wish I had known it was okay to ask more questions. How exactly will this process work? Why is it they want to do this project with you? What show are we all making? What exactly do these documents you want me to produce look like?  


2.) It is okay to speak up when you feel yourself drowning or you don’t understand. It just is. Your idea and opinions have worth. 


3.) It is okay to ask people to explain notes, politely. Don’t confuse this with not listening to notes. You should. Many are excellent. But if you don’t understand, then you have to make sure you do. Clarify. Don’t get wires crossed.

 
4.) Hold on to why you wanted to make the thing in the first place. That should always be at the heart of it. If it isn’t, you’re beating a dead horse. What is at the core of the idea that everyone loves and should be kept hold of?


5.) Find people who you trust to confide in. Other writers. Someone who isn’t in the industry as they’ll often put things into perspective. Your agent. TALK TO YOUR AGENT. At this point it’s probably worth stating don’t say anything to an Exec down the pub that you wouldn’t want repeating to a room full of people.


6.) People can’t take you for granted just because you fought hard to get into the room. And for minorities this fight is more than twice as hard. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You are allowed to take up space and oxygen. 

7.) You will get asked to do far too much work for free. You just will. But you should be strict with yourself about how much you are prepared to do. The working for free problem is a whole separate issue, but I wish someone had drilled in to me how much my time is actually worth. If you feel like too much is being asked of you, it is okay to have a conversation about money. It’s not a dirty word. If you’ve grafted and they’re still not willing to cough up, it’s probably better to walk away. Again: TALK TO YOUR AGENT. 

8.) Get work off your desk and on to someone else’s. Don’t let the grass grow too green. If you’ve done your part of the heavy lifting, it means someone else has to step up. 

9.) Speak up sooner rather than later. This is probably the most difficult thing to hear and to put in to practice in the real world. But I can’t stress this enough.  

10.) It is okay to have things fail and make mistakes. It’s more than okay. That happens sometimes because some ideas just don’t work. 


But it should happen because the idea is bad or the project isn’t suitable; not because of any of the things I’ve just listed. Just because new writers don’t always have the confidence or experience doesn’t mean they can be treated badly and then blamed for a failure.



We need support. Nurturing. Otherwise we are just going to burn out before we’ve even got started.



Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of people out there in telly who are AMAZING. And to be honest, shady people don’t deserve your best ideas.



Find the people you’d go for a drink with. Who get excited by your jokes. Who make good telly. Who respond to your emails. Who you like. Who you trust.



Over and out xxx

3 Reasons Why We Should All Be Watching Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Anyone who has asked me what I'm watching on the tellybox over the past 18 months has usually been met with a stream of consciousness about how brilliant Crazy Ex Girlfriend is. Most of the time, people are less than convinced by my incoherent babble. But I've decided to write a little bit of a love letter to CXGF because everyone should be watching it. 

For anyone who hasn't seen it, the show revolves around Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a lawyer who leaves New York and heads towards West Covina, California,  after a chance encounter with ex-boyfriend Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). She snaps up a job at a West Covina law firm, rents an apartment, and flushes all her depression and anxiety meds down the sink. And...with the help of new bezzie m and co-worker Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) vows to win Josh back.

Sounds generic. Tired. But it's not. Because this precinct gives ways to an avalanche of darker elements  (in particular its portrayal of its lead character who has no awareness of her own destructiveness). At first glance, you can dismiss this show and not take it seriously.  It’s a comedy: goofy and odd-ballish. Tonally it's all over the place. It's a sitcom, a melodrama, a sketch show, a satire and a drama.

But its characters are complicated and their flaws are explored with the clarity of great shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Its power lies in its ability to skewer stereotypes. Yes, the show is loud and brash and, at times, completely bonkers. For example, there is an entire episode narrated through song by the Santa Ana winds, which blow through the San Gabes Vals. Yes really.

However, it takes risks and has made a habit of shaking things up just when you thought you knew where it was going.  It leads you into a false sense of security, egging you on to assume that it couldn't possibly be as deep or as layered as your favourite TV Drama. But it's more than that. Because it has intelligence, fucking awesome music, genuine pathos, and filthy, filthy jokes. CXGF gets lumbered with all of the stigma that comes with being a TV Comedy. But it's the best thing on telly right now.

And here's 3 reasons why:

1. Rebecca Bunch

Our main character, played by co-creator Rachel Bloom.

She's an incredibly funny woman who jokes about her breasts being sacks of yellow fat and how uncomfortable a thong is. She's a brilliant lawyer (when she wants to be) and she's got pipes. Girl can SING. 

She's also a hot mess. In two short seasons, we've seen her go from 'crazy' ex, to a monstrous bridezilla to a vengeful, vindictive femme fatale. Now, the one note I hate getting from TV people is: are they likeable? And CXGF makes a virtue of the fact that Rebecca is one of the most irritating individuals you could ever meet.  She frequently makes morally dubious and problematic decisions, which could de-rail her life. She's rash. Impulsive. Incredibly self indulgent. Needy. Some might say neurotic. Every time you think she's seen the light and she might change, she makes ten incredibly ill-advised choices that make you wanna smash your head against the wall. 

And that's the fun of it. It's also at the core of what makes it heartbreaking. Because you root for her. You want her to be happy and be able to love herself. You scream at the TV when she puts her mental health on the line. She has an inability to confront her underlying issues. But don't most of us?

The show is at its best when it begins un-bottling all the lies she's been frantically holding in. As Rebecca tiptoes closer and closer towards the edge, the world she's constructed for herself begins closing in and eventually, there won't be anywhere left to run — even from herself. She's written to (eventually) see her faults, and she is redeemed in the end. It's refreshing. We don't have to like her, but the show does a great job of making sure you can't give up on her.

Because she's an addict. A love addict. A true-love enthusiast who has had the disney princess fantasy embedded into her from childhood and these expectations are also part of the fabric of the show. Rebecca knows the feminist theory, she talks eloquently about it and calls people out, but she still is constricted by the lies she’s been sold about the aspirations of women.

I think Rachel Bloom sums the whole thing up perfectly: 

 "I have never given a shit about people liking her because she's meant to be somewhat, at times, a bubbly antihero. What I care about is if they understand where she's coming from. I don't really care about likability, but I want people to understand why she's doing what she's doing. ... I think that's what I would say is: Any moment where the audience doesn't like Rebecca, Rebecca also does not like Rebecca."

Rebecca Bunch is one of the most fascinating characters on television right now. And I tune in for her.

Sidebar: It's worth nothing that Rachel stars in, writes and co-produces CXGF. Oh, and  co-writes and performs original musical numbers every week. Rachel Bloom is a goddess. 

 

2. The Writing

The show is a musical comedy that's filled with weird and memorable characters who we think we recognise, until they turn out to be something completely different. The recurring characters are a mish-mash of sexualities, races, backgrounds in such a 'get over it' way that it further hammers home the question of why are we not seeing this EVERYWHERE.  

It's got razor-sharp dialogue. Everyone talks at a million miles an hour and it really has a grip on its storytelling. It's a camp romp, sure, but the writing is at its strongest when the curtain drops and we realise that the show we're watching is actually about the damage we suffer when we live a lie. When we're not honest about what we want in life. When we become addicted to our version of what makes a Happy Ending.

The show is smart because it places Rebecca's friendship with bezzie mate Paula (I could write a whole separate blog post on how much I adore Paula) at the heart of it. The gooey middle of the show is a strong friendship between two women of different generations. That's the true love story of CXGF and it warms my dead insides.

3. The Music

THE SONGS. THE SONGS.

They pastiche musical genres. They're hilarious. They're perfect. They take taboos and twist them.  They have wit.

God, they're awesome.

Some person favourites include: The Sexy Getting Ready Song, I'm a Good Person, Let's Generalise about Men,  Heavy Boobs, You Stupid Bitch and I'm the Villain in my Own Story.

All exceptional. All funny.

Oh and don't forget Period Sex. 

Put down a towel and party ‘till it’s dry with some period sex.

______

To conclude, I love Crazy Ex Girlfriend and it's time everyone else did.

Peace Out

xxx

Getting Paid To Write

Hello,

 

This is my first Blog post. I have never written a blog before, so you may be able to sense my inexperience. I’ve tried to make this as coherent as possible and to not to cause any unintentional offence. I would have included regular pictures of cute baby animals as a way to make up for if this is shit, but I couldn't work out how to do that on SquareSpace.

I will also try to not start all of my sentences with I. Fronted adverbials are our friends. Homophones are also a beast I struggle to manage, so apologies for the incorrect us of hear and here etc.

Full disclosure: Money has never been a strongpoint of mine. If I have a tenner, I will spend it (usually on port). If I have a hundred quid, well you get the jist. I’m also terrible at talking honestly about it because it’s uncomfortable.  Additionally, my dad tried to teach me about not spending more than you have, but clearly it didn’t work.

Before I get too far into this, I think it’s also necessary to acknowledge my privileges. I’m white. Male. I’m degree educated and my family is now what I’d call relatively middle class. My dad is a consultant for IT things, but none of us are hundred percent sure what exactly it is he does, and my mum is a primary school teacher. Both of them went to university (for free!).  I went to drama school in London. I’m also one of five kids. All of this, I believe, affects my financial position.

I also work in the arts. Or try to, at least. I am aware that also makes me lucky. Not all people get to have the opportunities I have had. It also brings its own unique set of challenges.

 My aim is to completely financially support myself from writing. I guess that means paying my rent, bills and transport. Food. My drinking. All of that stuff.

That’s never going to be easy. But it’s the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do because I reckon I’m quite good at it.  Or could be, at least.

In a few weeks, I think I might be able to do that for the first time. For a good few months at least, maybe even three quarters of the year. This is because I recently got two script commissions for the telly (it’s actually quite staggering how much money you can make in telly without actually getting anything made) and I’ll be getting the commencement fee up front. HURRAH!

I think at the age of 25 (yes, I’m aware I look much older. It’s the unbelievable amount of grey hair) that this is good going. There are lots of writers out there at different ages and at different stages of their career, and lots of them want to say they can just write for living. I’m pretty pleased with how I’m doing.  Most likely, I will still moan like hell because I’m an impatient arsehole, but I’m trying to be more spiritual. A bit.

However, I’m in a shit load of debt. Of course student loan debt (lol!) but like a load of other debt. I’ve racked up about 4.5 grand worth of overdrafts; I owe family about 1500 quid; I took out a couple of payday loans which are worth about 1300 quid (I had a couple more, which I paid off) and I have another loan of 800 (because I already paid some of it off). All in all, let’s call it 9000 pounds.

That’s actually made me feel a bit queasy writing that all down.

I can pay it all off when that telly money lands in my bank account. Which will make me feel less queasy and will probably make me cry a bit from relief.

So, I have a day job! I used to usher, but stopped for my mental health, and since then I’ve been a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. Despite my questionable personality and dubious morals, I am pretty good at the job. And like it a lot more than I liked ushering. Although it can be stupidly hard work, at times, for a salary that doesn’t quite match. Just like the whole teaching profession. But that’s another blog post.

The school are exceptionally good to me. They are pretty flexible with (unpaid) time off, which they give me if I need to leave early for a meeting, or be in rehearsals or whatever. So my situation is unique in this way; I no longer have to work for an agency, which means I get paid over the holidays and no longer have to do bar work during the summer. This means I get 13 weeks off a year (totally deserved, obvs) and I can use this time to write.  Most writers would kill for this and it has meant that I can block out time to write a play a year.

ANYWAY. So that was how I was supporting myself in London whilst trying to juggle my pursuit of something vaguely resembling a writing career. Like any new writer, I was being asked to do a shed load of stuff for free before any money exchanged hands, or just working entirely for free because I should be happy for the exposure and at least it’s a credit on the CV. This is an excepted part of the profession. (I think this should be accepted, but I am really bad with homophones.)

Working for free is a slightly separate debate, but I think this factored in for why I did take some loans out or requested more overdraft. Whilst I wasn’t being paid to do writing work, I was having to take time off from my actual day job and lose out. I’d have to find this money from elsewhere.

I know I could have taken a second job. And I did for a little while. I did take on extra work during the summer, and did some tutoring. But it still wasn’t enough.

And then I wasn’t doing any writing work and that was the whole reason why I was still in London and it’s what I really want to do so of course I wanted to take the unpaid writing work over the second job, so I did that. I made that choice to do that and turned elsewhere for the cash. I don’t know if that was right or wrong. I didn't want the stuff I was turning in to be shit and I knew I had to give it at least the bare minimum amount of time. I was already over-stretching myself as it was.

And when I was getting paid for writing work, it was nowhere near enough because it was profit share, or not as much as an established writer because you have to build trust. That’s the industry.

Sidebar: I did a hell of a lot of work (for free) for quite a big independent production company. I wrote treatments, pitches, script(s!) and character breakdowns over months. All with the promise of eventually them paying out. And they never did. That is my lesson to learn but if other writers are being treated like this then that is wrong. I had to turn down what could have possibly been paid work from someone smaller, but felt like I had to play with the big dogs. My mistake.

Everything seemed to become more expensive the past couple of years. My rent has soared and bills are stupid. I just found myself with less and less and I’m not quite sure how or why that happened. But it did. I just seemed to have to borrow more and then I owed more and it became a really vicious cycle where I didn’t have enough to pay my rent with what was left after the loans had been taken out. So then I took more loans and one day I couldn’t get any more loans because my credit was SHITE and then I was in quite a big mess for a little while.

Sidebar: Like I said, I am also very bad with money. And I did spend money on alcohol during this time and I did go to the theatre and stuff. Because I am shit with money and I clearly have a problem I need to address. But I did see a lot of theatre for free too.

I could’ve also left London. And people did say that to me. And maybe I should have. But I just felt like if I kept holding on. Kept pushing. That something would eventually happen for me and I could hopefully start paying some it off.

And now it has. I feel very lucky. I don’t know what would have happened if the situation had carried on. But I feel like I can actually breathe for the first time.

I guess there’s not much point to this blog post other than me to vent a little bit and to try and list all of my excuses as to why I was a bit stupid with money. And say I can’t believe how close I got to the edge when it comes to my mental health.

I am not that much of an idiot, I know payday loans are very bad and shit, but I did do what I did. I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I felt like I had run out of options and I was so fucking mortified that I was in so much debt that I didn’t wanna bring it up. I felt like I had to carry on living like I’d got money as I didn’t wanna admit I’d so royally got myself into a mess.

Maybe I could have gone to the bank of mum and dad and asked them what they could do for me. But that option was always soaked in quite a lot of shame for me. Also, I always knew whatever they could do would be a drop in an expanding ocean.

Go figure.

What I am trying to say is that I want it to be okay (for me) to talk more openly about money. And I guess in a wider sense for me to talk about not being okay. Or to say if I’m struggling. Or if I need someone to tell me to stop being such a fucking dickhead. But maybe other people are shite with money too. Or are struggling to do the thing they really wanna do so are making stupid decisions. It would be good to know.

I am very lucky that the commencement fees will pay off my debt. And I can quit the day job soon. The most helpful thing to say would be that I am here if anyone is also having a shit time because I guess I can talk to you about it. Or buy you a port.

I’m not sure. Apologies if this really didn’t make any sense.

This is the end of my first blog post. We should all talk more.