A soap with a happy ending

'This Life's creator, Amy Jenkins, has good news for fellow writers
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Last year, the venerable producer Tony Garnett asked me to develop an idea for a TV series that would deal with the lives and preoccupations of young aspirationals. A child of the have-it-all Sixties generation himself, he was fascinated to know how I felt about my prospects, how I felt about the fact that the older generation no longer moves over for the younger, that every desirable job is the proud recipient of 2,000 application forms.

I myself had very much felt the weight of all those other application forms. I'd always wanted to work in television and film but the general feeling was that it was "impossible" to get in. Apocryphal stories went round about producer's offices with scripts literally piled up to the ceiling. People, including me, were known to have sent letters to film directors offering themselves as free slave labour.

In the end, I decided to be sensible and trained to be a lawyer. But after a year on the job I realised I just couldn't fit myself to the mould. I gave up the law and set out to pursue my dream. This sounds very brave and determined but it wasn't like that. To start with I was extremely wobbly, easily distracted and embarrassed about my pretensions. I wrote a script and put it in a drawer, showing nobody. I got myself a Saturday stall at Portobello market. Sometimes I thought perhaps I'd expand, become a businesswoman. Other times I thought maybe I might meet a rich man. Of course I didn't and when a couple of years passed like this my prospects began to look distinctly dodgy. My least favourite question in the world was "What do you do?"

One way or another I went on writing scripts, showing them to one or two people but never sending them out. I didn't think I could stand what I felt would be inevitable rejection. Then one day I was standing in the kitchen having just got some milk out of the fridge when I suddenly knew in a way that I hadn't known before that this was what I did. I was a writer whether I was paid or not. I also knew that I would go on writing for the rest of my life.

Something changed that day and after that when people asked me what I did I said I was a writer. Soon I found that I was believing myself and then, to my amazement, that other people were believing me, too. My break eventually came when a director who liked my work recommended me to a producer.

It's true, I'm afraid that people rarely get discovered from those piles of unsolicited scripts. Encouraged, I sent one of my scripts to a production company that was looking for new, untried writers. I got a one-line rejection letter. I say "one line" because a screenwriter friend of mine got a paragraph and that was considered a triumph. Later, I sent the same script in - to a different person - and was hired to write This Life. From outside it seemed impossible. From inside, well, the view is very different. It seems to me that the British film and TV industry is gasping for new and talented writers. And there's lots of work, think of all those hours of Kavanagh. The moral of the story is don't give up: if you have talent, you will, with perseverance, get there in the end.

Comments