We writers do like to bang on about writing don’t we? How many of the heroes of novels are in fact novel writers? From Death in Venice to London Fields we insert our own occupation into the mix for a little post modern intrigue. We even like our fictional detectives to be writers from Jessica Fletcher and Castle to the poet Adam Dalgliesh, created by PD James.
It is very tempting to follow that over used dictum to ‘ write what we know,’ and write all about us. Thus far I’ve avoided that trap only because my fictional characters have to be as unlike me as possible in order to fulfil their role as adventure hero or heroine. The urge to write about a woman just like myself is strong though I am still fighting it, which makes me an unlikely convert to a script about a script writer. Of course I used to love those Hollywood films like ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ about making a film, but the recent 'La La Land'which seemed to focus on the undiluted narcissism needed to fulfil your dreams, made me somewhat sceptical about ‘going to see the recent film, 'Their Finest’ which is, in many ways, even more self referential. I am pleased to say I was wrong.
The film tells the story of a woman script writer in war time London, getting involved in writing the ‘slop’ the woman’s dialogue in a propaganda movie. Sure, a writer is the hero, but a rather self deprecating one. It seemed to me that the film is less a self aggrandising story about the writer as ‘star’ and more a reflection on the intersection between fiction and life - contrasting the deliberate construction of the one against the unpredictable chaos of the other. It is inevitably a romance, but more than that it is a story about a woman who was saved by work, by writing. This happens literally; in staying at the office to save the script and her relationship, she is absent when her flat takes a direct hit. It also happens metaphorically so that when life gets in the way of the predictable happy ending the solace she finds in her work provides some kind of alternative. I also loved the way the camera returns to the structural story board for the film within the film, drawing attention to the way the main story mimicked the fictional story's peaks and troughs.
I may, in consequence, revise my view on self referential writing. We all adapt the peaks and troughs of story telling into the narrative we tell ourselves about our own lives. It is not just writers, but all of us, who cast fictional versions of ourselves in the dramatisations we construct: our own stories are always fed by the fiction we consume.
In tricky times maybe we need more that is heart warming, inspiring and optimistic, so that we can all cast ourselves as plucky heroes and heroines, keeping calm and carrying on.