'The inspiration behind my story was my chronically ill partner'

His dying partner was the inspiration for David Gledhill's screenplay about bereavement. Here, he describes his labour of love – and the moment he realised he was making the film while living the script for real

In January 2012, I sat down one day and started to write a film script. It wasn't something I had planned to do. It just happened. Ten days later, I'd finished it. The inspiration behind my story was my chronically ill partner, Tracey Wilkinson. The title of the film, her mantra for life: We're Here For a Good Time, Not a Long Time.

It's now autumn 2013 and, miraculously, we're just about to complete post-production on the film. But sadly, Tracey didn't live to see it made.

I met Tracey in the spring of 1997; 18 months after she'd had a double lung transplant. She was born with cystic fibrosis, which, among other things, slowly destroys the lungs, usually leading to death before the age of 30.

But she was one of the lucky ones; she'd got a transplant. And when I met her, she was the healthiest she had been for a long time. We spent 15 wonderful years together. Her health slowly but surely deteriorated as her body rejected the lungs several times, and this led to many other complications. I think in the 15 years, we actually spent a whole year in total in hospitals.

It's hard to explain to people just what an extraordinary human being Tracey was. She was the most spontaneous, sociable and happy person I have ever met. What she had to go through physically and mentally was immense, but she never gave in. Having to watch her slowly deteriorate eventually took its toll on me. But in our last years together, as she grew weaker and weaker, Tracey spent a lot of time talking to me about her death and what it would be like, and what I should do in the year after it happened.

I remember once she was in hospital with a nasty chest infection. She wasn't very well, but still wanted to make a list of eligible single women that we knew, who might be appropriate for me to go out with once she was gone. Even in her darkest hour, she was more concerned for my welfare and how I would cope after her death.

Based on these conversations, I wrote a script about a bloke called David and what happens to him in the year after he loses his soulmate. I suppose to most people it would seem strange to write about a future that I feared, but knew was coming. But it wasn't something I consciously planned. I think I wrote it as a way of coping.

I'm a musician and have no experience of the film industry. But I had recently got back in touch with an old friend who I used to play with, Kerry Harrison. He was now a successful photographer, but he'd also branched out into video work, so I thought what the hell, and sent it over to him.

Within an hour, Kerry called me. He loved the script and wanted to meet. So we met at Bretton Hall Sculpture Park in February 2012. And the first thing I said was: "Well, from what little I know, we are gonna need at least £50,000 to make this film." And Kerry – with no doubt or hesitation – instantly replied: "Why?" From that moment, he was relentless in his approach. He didn't care how other people made films or how much they spent on them. He had an incredibly skilled and intuitive way of working, which resulted in us being able to shoot this film for a tiny amount of money.

In March 2012, I finally plucked up the courage to show the script to Tracey, who had been quite poorly for the previous six months. She read it, and, thankfully, loved it. But she also pointed out, in her usual upfront way, that I had messed up the final scene, which she soon rectified.

A few weeks later, quite suddenly on 6 April, a day before her birthday, Tracey became very ill and was rushed into A&E near our home in Sheffield. And then onto the cystic fibrosis ward in Leeds, and finally on to the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, where she'd had her double lung transplant 16 years earlier. They attempted a very risky but hopefully life-saving operation on the morning of Friday, 13 April. But her little body was so ravaged by organ rejection and infections over the years, that it finally gave in. Tracey died peacefully, with me at her side, at 11.26am on 17 April. She was 47.

She had tried to prepare me the best she could, but nothing could have prepared me for those final days of her life and what was to come afterwards. I had lost my soulmate. We always knew she wouldn't live for very long, and there were many times she had come close to the edge during our time together. But I had almost become accustomed to Tracey surviving everything that was thrown at her, like in one of those old TV shows where you see someone drive off a cliff at the end of one episode and then the following week you are shown them leaping out just before the car goes over the edge.

After the funeral, I realised that if I carried on making the film, I was going to be making it while living the script for real. But I knew Tracey loved the script and I needed something to keep myself occupied. So I decided to continue.

Kerry and I agreed we didn't want to wait around for funding or compromise our artistic vision, so we put in £5,000 each, making a budget of £10,000, which most films would spend just on the catering for a week.

We had friends in the film industry who thought we were crazy to think we could make a film with such a minuscule budget. But we were determined. And with a crew of six (including me), two main actors and a chihuahua, we set off to the Lake District in November 2012, our task utterly daunting: 12 days and 22 locations. We had only seven hours' daylight each day and the schedule was insane. But through everybody's hard work and endeavour, somehow we did it.

We decided early on that we wanted to have some real elements of Tracey within the film. The character of "Liz", who David meets in the Lakes, is loosely based on Tracey, so we decided to use lots of Tracey's amazing wardrobe. This was a little weird for me at first, seeing the actor Kelly Wenham dressed in Tracey's coat, hat, skirt, tights and boots. But I think it definitely adds something to the character.

David also carries a necklace around with him that has two sleeper earrings on it. These are actually the earrings that Tracey was wearing when she died. We only show the necklace once in the film, but I think the connection brings such power.

The other narrative element of the film is David's counselling sessions, which are loosely based on the therapy I have had. We shot these scenes at a friend's house in North Yorkshire. And we decided to use a couple of Tracey's paintings when setting up the room. In both paintings, she actually painted herself into the picture, which we zoom in on a few times. The paintings, which she did in the last few years of her life, are the creative expression of the pain and sadness she was feeling, knowing her life was slowly coming to an end. We hope these real connections to Tracey within the film give the narrative more depth.

Ultimately, making the film has been a very cathartic experience for me and definitely helped me get through that first year after Tracey died. And now, as we near completion, I can't really believe we've pulled it off. And for £13K too (yes, we did go over budget).

We've just submitted it to the Sundance film festival. So fingers crossed they like it and give us an invite to show it. We've already had some amazing responses from people within the film industry who've seen a rough version. And ultimately, Kerry and I just wanted to make something we were proud of, which we both are.

Tracey always said that knowing we are going to die is the greatest gift we have. Because if you truly know this, then you will grab life by the balls and live every day to the fullest. And I like to think I have followed this philosophy in making this film while grieving for my soulmate.

Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own