Jaci Stephen: 'In the UK I am usually wiping someone's vomit off my dress at new year'

Way Out West

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Did everyone go to Barbados for New Year? Simon Cowell, Sir Philip Green, Emma Forbes, Michael Winner ... Oh, no, I forgot: Michael Winner decided, for the first time in 30 years, to spend it in Miami, with Michael Caine. Knowing that neither of them would be in Barbados was the only thing that made the island sound remotely appealing to me, both men having been appallingly rude to me at various points in my career; but still, I was happy to be spending the festivities in LA.

I can't ever remember a New Year's Eve when I have been so hot, I thought I would have to don a bikini. As my friends froze in temperatures of minus six back home, I delighted in texting them to inform them that I was off to Santa Monica to celebrate in Ye Olde King's Head, a British pub near the beach.

Transport is so ridiculously cheap, not to mention efficient, here (the buses run 24/7), I still have no need of a car. The journey from Beverly Hills took just under half an hour and cost $1.25 (about 75p), and as a bus is going to be sitting in the same traffic as any car, it still seems to me the best way of getting around. I also ensure that I make friends only with people who come to Beverly Hills in their cars, or who are on my bus route, or within walking distance of my home. So far, it's worked out rather well.

Ye Olde King's Head was so packed, I had to beg to gain entrance. It's the place to go if you want to watch sport, too, although I didn't make it to their 5am showing of Leeds United's 1-0 FA Cup victory over Manchester United on Sunday morning. A pity. I am a lifelong Leeds United supporter and remember their only FA Cup final win over Arsenal in 1972. I adored Eddie Gray and when I met him in southern Spain last year, spent an hour reminiscing about the good old days. It's just a pity that it was Andy Gray to whom I was chatting, and when I later realised my mistake, Andy confessed that he had been a tad confused as to why I had been banging on about Leeds for so long. Clearly, after my Gareth Edwards/Tom Shanklin case of mistaken identity two weeks ago, I clearly need to pay more attention to sports personalities' photographs.

The sun was streaming into the YOKH as customers counted down the last minute to midnight/4pm local time, and that was really weird. In the UK I am usually wiping somebody's vomit off my dress by that time, but YOKH was a very civilised affair.

I returned to Beverly Hills, thinking what a strange, unexpected year 2009 had been. I came to LA to do a writing course in March, and, encouraged by the screenwriter and teacher Blake Snyder, moved here on 1 April. Under his guidance and support, I felt more creatively inspired than I had done in years. When he died suddenly on 4 August, I felt, and continue to feel, a hole in my life that makes me breathless with the disbelief of losing what once filled it with such joy and love.

I can only attempt to work as I know Blake would have wanted me to, and try to fulfil the potential he recognised and which had lain dormant for so much of my pre-LA life.

Blake's third book on screenwriting has just come out (Save the Cat! Strikes Back), and I know that it will inspire me just as much as his first two did. I've also been reading Rilke (not in the original German, I hasten to add), a poet whose verses and prose are full of such wisdom and insight, it is impossible not to feel the stirrings of optimism, even in the face of grief. In Letters to a Young Poet, he writes to Franz Xaver Kappus on the nature of sadness, a "new thing" that enters our hearts and changes us "as a house changes into which a guest has entered". It is these moments, he says, in which "our future sets foot in us", "in order to transform itself in us long before it happens".

Blake believed in the power of transformation; it is what predominantly informed his life and the screenwriting techniques that he so brilliantly taught. At the end of the decade, I regard my coming to LA and meeting him as one of the most transformative, blessed, and, yes, lucky, experiences of my life.

The American Dream may not be all it's cracked up to be, but there are still some pretty good slumber parties to enjoy.

Welcome, 2010.



To read Jaci Stephen's blog, LA Not So Confidential, in full, go to: LANotSoConfidential.blogspot.com

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