To celebrate the release of his new book In The Matter of Isabelle, Paul A Mendelson writes a piece especially for us.
Find the idea that refuses to die! We all have a story in us. Something that we’re burning to tell. We just have to find the right way and the right time to tell it.
For me it took over forty years. I'm hoping it won't take you quite so long.
Before I was a novelist and wrote In the Matter of Isabel I was a TV scriptwriter, creating hit BBC comedy series. I’m still writing for small and big screens. But something kept calling me.
It’s not the facts - it's the essence. I began my working-life as a trainee solicitor. And that's where I met Isabel. Only she wasn't called Isabel nor was she anything like my desperate mother from another continent seeking back her ‘snatched’ child. Yet something must have taken hold. And when I left the law (primarily because of that case), the ‘story’ continued to nag me.
A young man, without experience of any sort, suddenly finds himself the only person who can win back the child of an older and far more sophisticated – yet curiously vulnerable - woman, who has travelled thousands of miles from home. Is he up to the task? And who – really – is she?
If at first you don't succeed… I wrote it originally as a TV play, but I wasn't yet in that world. And when I was, I had become a sit-com writer, a laughter-maker, and the entry-barriers to ‘serious’ drama were more rigid. Then I had some success writing plays for Radio 4, so this seemed a natural avenue. But the slots available were too brief, I felt, to do justice to my story.
And so I wrote it as a film. But I had no movie credentials and no-one was really interested.
Yet meantime something else was happening. It was called life.
Let your life experience shape your creativity. I became a father, to two beautiful girls, and began to understand parenthood in a way I never had before. And to appreciate my own parents, whom I had previously taken for granted. This all helped to rekindle the embers.
Life and sit-com continued. My Hero, starring Ardal O’Hanlon as Thermoman, became a huge hit and ran for years. During it I became a grandfather (I told you it was a long gestation) and discovered a totally new species. Grandsons. Little boys. Another piece of the story fell into place.
Know it when you've found it. Two years ago I knew how the story had to be told. As a novel, both comic and serious, written in the first person. Not by ‘me’ but by a rogue and a chancer, a young man looking back wryly and somewhat ashamedly at the summer that changed his life. The summer of Isabel. And son.
So here we are. Published and mercifully praised. The story that wouldn't leave me.
Good ideas never die. They just go to a better place. I wish you the best of luck.