Martin McDonagh has a new film coming out soon. It’s called ‘Seven Psychopaths’. I suspect that it is going to be really really good and that I will enjoy it very much as I generally do with his work.
That means it will start all over again, The Haunting. It starts every time he has something new and marvellous coming out. To be honest, I think it’s started already.
You know who Martin McDonagh is, right? Of course you do. He’s the writer/director of Academy Award nominated and brilliant ‘In Bruges’ as well as the Academy Award winning short film ‘Six Shooter’. He also has a highly-impressive range of theatre plays including ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ ‘The Pillowman’ ‘The Cripple of Inismaan’… I could go on, I really could. At one time he shared a distinction with William Shakespeare as being the only playwright to simultaneously have four plays running consecutively in London’s West End. That’s who he is.
And, yes, I think I am haunted by him.
Years ago, when I lived in London I used to read radio scripts for a couple of very good radio play competitions. I had won one of them myself and then dropped a hint that I liked reviewing so I got a gig reading and reviewing scripts for short listing. I wasn’t the judge or anything important like that, I just pared the list down to the best few and they were then sent on for judging. It was sometimes fun, sometimes depressing, and always beneficial to my own writing.
I used to get a big fat package in the post and that would contain thirty-or-so radio scripts and they all would have to be read and a review written about each of them. Then I got to pick the best three and send them onward to the big boys.
In one of these big fat packages, I got two scripts by the same writer. It was some guy called Martin McDonagh. They were wonderful plays, head and shoulders about everyone else so, when I got to pick my three plays, I picked his two and sent them on. Before I sent them, I noted there was a phone number for the writer on the front of the scripts. I wrote that number down. Of all the scripts I have ever read, this was the only phone number I ever bothered to write down. I just reckoned the guy was that good.
Martin won the competition with one of his two plays. It was the one I had written most glowingly about. The other play, about which I was a bit less glowing, did not feature at all.
I met Martin at the prize giving ceremony. We script-readers didn’t usually identify ourselves to the winners but I couldn’t resist introducing myself and saying how I had read, reviewed, and admired his two plays. We had a frank discussion about the plays, which I hugely enjoyed. I felt that he tended to push his dialogue exchanges several beats too far and he confidently disagreed, asserting that he actually had it just right. I felt that the right play had won the competition and he again effortlessly disagreed. In his opinion, the other play was infinitely better.
We had a grand afternoon. We positioned ourselves in the corner, watching the room, making fun of people, bantering in that ‘I’ve raised the stakes, now it’s you turn’ way that some Irish people like to do. He was a nice guy. He was hugely confident is his own ability and in his own future success. I told him if he ever fancied doing a bit of co-writing to give me a call. He laughed politely and that was pretty much that. We never met again.
And now he haunts me.
Shortly after our little meeting, Martin exploded onto the world of theatre. Gary Hynes of The Druid Theatre Company took on his Leenane Trilogy of plays and wowed, first Ireland, then the West End and then Broadway with the work. Meanwhile Nicolas Hytner at the National Theatre in London took on another of his plays. He appeared in all the papers and famously told Sean Connery to ‘fuck off’ at an awards ceremony. His star ascended and it hasn’t stopped ascending yet. In his newest film, which he wrote, he directs Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell and my all time hero, Tom Waits, to name but a few.
Perhaps it’s because I saw his work before anybody else did, I saw the potential in him and I was right. Perhaps that’s what haunts me.
But, no, it isn’t that. Not really.
The truth is that his is the writing career I believed I would one day have. I have always felt that I have some talent for writing and I have studied and read and watched and generally soaked up everything I can to further my ambition. And I have written, always written. I believed that my talent would, eventually, out. But I am nearly fifty now and I am coming to face the rather interesting possibility that I am not destined to succeed. Oh, I will have things put on, here and there, and I will love and treasure those, as I always have, but the big game is perhaps not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to keep trying until I die, it’s in my blood, I have to, but I have to start facing the facts too. I’ve never been a fool.
The fact of the matter is that Martin McDonagh has earned and deserves everything he gets. When he had nothing but the faith in his ability that I had, he was brave and bold enough to take the plunge. He lived very poor and worked extremely hard, producing radio play after radio play, being rejected hither and yon. He didn’t give up though, he kept at it, he kept his faith in himself and ultimately he won through. I respect that enormously. I envy it but I respect it too.
I was never brave enough to do that. There was always work that had to be done, real life responsibilities that took precedence over the writing that I burned to do. My writing was always (and still is) done late at night when all my other duties are fulfilled. When my energy is low and I am perhaps not at my best. I was never really brave enough to starve myself in the attempt to find success.
But there’s more to it than just bravery. Much more. The fact it took me longest to face is this one. Martin is just a better writer than I am. It’s hard to even write that down. There was a time when, in my head, nobody was better than me but I’m older now and wiser. There are levels of talent in all things and, in fairness, I believe I am on a level which is a bit higher than quite a lot of other writers. I belong there because I’m pretty good. But I’m not the best. For a while there, I thought I was but I’m not.
In the early days, I thought myself rather clever to have ‘spotted’ Martin McDonagh from deep in my slush pile. “I must be pretty damn good to pick him out of the pile,” I thought. Not at all. There’s no talent in seeing pure talent, it will shine out of any heap of scripts for anyone. A fool could have found McDonagh in that pile. It’s just that I happened to be the fool who did it.
But, just because I touched greatness on its way up, that’s never any reason for me to equate myself with it, to say it should have been me. It shouldn’t have been me. For two reasons. One, that I didn’t put everything I had into it and, two, that I probably wasn’t ever quite good enough. Maybe if I’d covered 'number one’ then 'number two’ might have looked after itself.
In the meantime, as soon as I get over this little bit of wallowing that my Haunting inevitably evokes, I’ll be back on track, writing, submitting, trying my best with whatever time I am able to allow myself.
I’m looking forward to Martin McDonagh’s new film, I think it’s going to be great.
Who knows? Maybe someday mine will be too.