When my mum died in 2013, my brother and sister posted their heartache on Facebook for the world to see. I wrote a TV drama series called Running Home to say everything I wished I had said when she was alive. I wanted it to be the story that launched my writing career and showed the world how much I cared, but this passion project remains an unseen tribute to mothers, runners and hometown nostalgia.
Set a year after the 2012 London Olympics, it’s about a mourning son who was three seconds too slow to become an Olympian. He returns home to keep his promise to his dead mum. He will reform her once-famed running club to save his family and defeat their enemies. A tale of redemption that explores the cost of victory, forgiveness and escaping your past to be the person you want to be.
While 60 pages and a series bible to reach a sense of closure was good for my soul, Running Home is not an oh, woe to me weepy. It’s funny and sexy with character-driven stories and emotional depth, all learned from studying the dramas of the golden age of television. I want people on the edge of their seats, just like my mum used to be when she was cheering on athletes, giddy from the excitement and passion of competition.
An introspection of my fantasy life as a famous runner and writer who smashes into the real me, a creative 40-year-old HR professional who found inner peace through amateur running and creative writing. This hybrid protagonist has an insatiable need to succeed that burns through him and everything he touches.
When I am writing, I can live somebody else’s life and control what happens on the page. But I cannot rewrite what happened in my real life. It was an unexpected death, no one saw it coming. My mum was not fiddling with her car radio while driving through busy traffic, dancing on the edge of a balcony, or facing down baddies in the line of duty. Deep vein thrombosis fired an arrow into her heart and it was all over.
Like my protagonist Lloyd Eagle, I ran to the office that fateful day. Something felt amiss when I received the call from ‘Home’ and it was my dad on the other end of the line to deliver the bad news. While Lloyd’s exit from work was a dramatic escape from his tyrannical manager, I worried if I had time to send an email and write a detailed out of office reply before rushing off to my hometown.
I couldn’t accept she was dead until I saw her. What hurt the most was not getting the chance to say goodbye. “Hello, can you hear me? Please wake up.” A one-way conversation that ended when undertakers politely coughed to signal their arrival and take away the body. Just like that, it was all over.
But it wasn’t the end, it inspired my fictional story. In Running Home, Margo Eagle’s famous running club produced elite runners for two decades, but Lloyd’s rivalry with the fearsome Trent brothers sent him and the club into a spiral of self-destruction and created a class war in his hometown. Years have passed but the tension remains.
After Margo dies, Lloyd must battle the Trents once again to win the Olympics Legacy funding for a new sports academy in town. Frustrated by boardroom politics, Lloyd and the Trents decide to settle it by a race between their two clubs. Winner takes all, but what are they prepared to sacrifice to win?
That’s what people don’t understand about writers; they don’t want fame and money, they want to know their stories were worth the sacrifice. I have to get Running Home made to make my mum proud and show my kids that if you work hard enough your dreams can come true. It’s my way of keeping my memories alive by turning my triumphs, disappointments and vendettas into home entertainment.
My mum worried I was wasting my life by writing stories that no one wanted to read. That may have been true at the start, but I have paid for my crimes against writing to produce an impressive portfolio of TV and film scripts. Unfortunately, despite all my hard work and near misses with literary agencies, they are still desktop fantasies for an audience of one.
It doesn’t have to be this way as there is a target audience for a running club drama with approximately 6.8 million runners in England (statista, 2018), along with all those who wonder why we do it and whether they can join us.
My mum was so happy that I found salvation in running, meeting new people and achieving personal best times, not pacing the house wasting my time. After reading the book The Talent Lab which explores the psychology and coaching of elite athletes, the line “every sports person will have something in their past that gives them the need to win” is the underlying theme in Running Home that should resonate with everyone whatever their athletic ability.
My protagonist Lloyd asks his sports psychologist girlfriend to neutralise his weaknesses to make him a winner, but I would rather be happy than successful as I don’t want to be “frozen in time” like some of the best athletes described in The Talent Lab who forsake everything to get what they want. But if I don’t have the talent to make it as a writer, would I have wasted my life?
Although I have been trying to be a writer for 20 years, I may be able to blame the coronavirus if I don’t succeed in 2020. The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain told the BBC that studios would want “more scripts than ever”, but a “bottleneck” in production would mean less established writers having to wait longer to get projects started and receive payment (BBC, 2020).
Whatever the challenges, I have to keep going with my writing ambitions until I am on stage dedicating my award to my parents who are the beating heart of Running Home. While I wish I could turn back the clock to avoid my darks times and save my mum, it is these experiences that have made me who I am today and allow me to write with empathy and compassion.
I just need an agent or production company to give me a chance.