You look stupid, and who the fuck is David Bowie?

– quote from John the Christmas cracker who took 1st place at the Boys’ Brigade fancy dress comp 1988.

Okay, let’s travel forward in time a bit…

On the evening of September 3rd, 2016, I found myself at the London Screenwriters’ Awards. My short story, Shenanigans, had been nominated for best story, and as I sat in a hall packed with incredibly talented people, some of whom I’d admired for years, I wondered for a moment, how the hell had I ended up here? And the honest answer is – I’m not smart enough to learn from my mistakes…

In 1988 I was nine years old, and on one night in December it was the Boys’ Brigade fancy dress party. It had been left up to me to decide what I went as (foolish, maybe) and I chose Jareth, the Goblin King from the film ‘Labyrinth’, played by the amazing David Bowie. In retrospect; it was an unwise choice (mainly due to budget restrictions) and I rocked up to the hall looking less like the leader of a goblin horde and more like the world’s least convincing woman – a blonde wig slapped on my head, and my small frame lost in an XL leather jacket. Despite looking a bit shit (no other way to put it), I was sure this was a fantastic idea, and I’d be applauded for doing something different … turns out, not so much.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t win, and I had wildly overestimated my peers’ appreciation for my choice of fancy dress. This was evident when John, a 5ft tall Christmas cracker (who took first place) shuffled up to me and asked who I was supposed to be. “I’m David Bowie. You know, from Labyrinth,” I said, gathering my jacket’s long sleeves back over my wrists for the hundredth time.

John drew a blank. “You look stupid, and who the fuck is David Bowie?” It was clear that I had gambled and lost, not just the bag of Mars bars up for grabs, but face too.

Now, we all know that you learn life-shaping lessons when you’re young. For instance – the drainpipe on the side of the house is not a load-bearing structure; just because you’ve seen ‘Enter the Dragon’ six times doesn’t mean it’s going to help you in a fight; and of course putting your creative side on display isn’t always a good idea. Lesson learned right?… not really. As I mentioned, I’m not that smart.

Many years later, in 2015, I discovered Create50 and their Twisted story competition – I’ve always loved horror but never really had much opportunity to write it. I set to work on a few ideas, all pretty safe, nothing risky. After all, I didn’t want to pen anything too horrific – wouldn’t people cross the street to avoid me? Shun me at parties? It could be like Boys’ Brigade all over again… yeah maybe, but then I thought ‘sod it’. What’s the point of doing something if you’re going to hold back?

I ditched ‘safe’ and wrote something dark and posted it. It turns out I was amongst friends (other weirdos), and the feedback I received was really encouraging. I discovered a community of incredibly talented people and some fantastic stories which were all free to read and comment on. It was a horror anthology that was constantly updating with work from people who were passionate and who were happy to share ideas and give feedback – awesome!

A handful of other entries, new friends and a short-listed story later, and we’re about up to speed, back at the London Screenwriters’ Awards – I gripped the arms of my chair as the runners-up were called out one by one, then… Shenanigans was announced the winner. I was totally shocked and made my way towards the stage (not an easy task when you’ve had enough Dutch courage to put a medium-sized donkey to sleep) where I stood with other entrants whose stories I’d read and admired (they were a lovely bunch, too).

It was a fantastic evening. My point is, sometimes when you take risks, things don’t always go your way. Sometimes, you end up in the corner wearing a wig, fighting to stop the arms of an XL leather jacket from swallowing your hands. But sometimes when you put yourself out there, it can pay off – if you want my advice, always go the full Bowie.

Chris Jeal //Builder
I joined Create50 in 2015. I have reviewed 163 projects.
Rubbish at school, but I once came second in a talent contest singing Vanilla Ice’s hit ‘Ice Ice Baby’, so it all turned out well.

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