The Silent Treatment
Years ago, I wrote a one-off TV drama on a fast track programme for budding UK writers, headed by Jane Tranter, then at Channel 5.
The story of an up-and-coming actor stalked by a crack smoking South London cabbie was loosely based on real events. Tranter described it as “dark, disturbing and violent.” And I thought, that sounds good to me. But she felt it was not something she could develop. In fact, it scared her half to death, she said. So much so, that she would “never go to Brixton again.” And that was that. My chances of a career as a budding screenwriter spent. In a later redraft, I changed the location to Notting Hill Gate–in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where I lived. But I never sent the script out to anyone else.
What I remember most about the session is that we were a varied group of ten writers each selected from across the country, based on some degree of success writing for theatre. Their ideas for TV ranged from the return of a lesbian Boadicea charging naked through the streets of England to a crop of gangland shootouts across London’s East End, and the usual bog-standard sitcom concepts that barely drew a chuckle from me. Reading them one-by-one in the comfort of my home, none of it felt real to me at all. No authenticity of people, place or time. But whilst I could talk to them intelligently on any subject and offer my constructive criticism of their writing when asked, they all remained eerily silent in return when it came to any discussion of my work. It was a collective “silent treatment,” as if they didn’t want to help or contribute in any way to my success. I was puzzled at first. “Is that all you have to say?” I’d ask. But nothing. Silence.
Their faces remaining completely blank as if they’d just read something in English when they only read and understand French. It was the same experience years later, on an MA degree in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Being the only non-white student in the entire English department based in ethnically diverse New Cross, my peers listened intently as I discussed the merits of other people’s writing, but had few comments to offer up about my own or the work of any black authors. The same silent treatment had caused me drop out of a BA degree course in Theatrical Arts at University of Birmingham many years earlier. At least this time around, I actually managed to complete the master’s programme. It was really only six months, one day a week, thankfully. Any longer, and I might have got bored.
Can you relate to being on the end of the silent treatment from colleagues or friends? How did you handle it?