Every now and then I ponder whether it would be a good idea to abandon all this Hooting Yardery and instead devote my energies to writing a blockbuster. In my mind’s eye I see the shelves of airport bookstalls groaning under the weight of sundry copies of a thick paperback with gold-embossed lettering on the cover. I further imagine staring at a computer screen on which my earnings from royalties and commercial licensing deals are continuously updated, the numbers growing huger with every passing second. Meanwhile, the telephone does not stop ringing, as calls come in from Hollywood agents desperate to obtain the film rights. And then I think, why bother writing the blockbuster? Why not just go straight to the film script? I have never actually attempted to write a screenplay, but it can’t be that difficult. Well, maybe it is, but needs must when the devil drives.
The Devil Drives might have been a good title for my film script a few years ago, when Hollywood was enamoured of Satan and all his works. But I suspect the time for a road movie in which Beelzebub drives across America wreaking fiendishness at every turn has passed. Vampires and zombies seem more the thing these days, but that is a furrow well-ploughed.
So I decided to play a game of Protagonist Location Literary Reference, or Prolo Litref for short. This is a pastime I devised myself. You get a set of bleached blank playing cards, and divide them into three. Readers with their wits about them will know what to do next, but for any clots and dullards drooling their way through this, the idea is that on one set of cards you write the names of various protagonists, on another a variety of settings or locations, and on the third some interesting literary bittybobs, be they names of authors, or book titles, or anecdotes, or what have you. You then splat the cards face down in three groups upon a large flat surface, such as an ice rink, and pick one card from each.
That is how I arrived at the idea for my screenplay, which involves an underpants bomber on a submarine, also aboard which are Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. This seems to me to have the potential to be a surefire multiplex hit. I have heard that Hollywood producers sometimes like to have a “wild card” element in a plot, some little thing to differentiate the film from a thousand others. In this case, I think that, having Ted Hughes aboard the sub – actually, it might be a U-Boat – we could introduce a stowaway crow. This would add so many frissons I can’t begin to count them.
Already I am carried away with enthusiasm, and imagining scenes which I will somehow have to fit in to the script. Ted and Sylvia kissing and drawing blood from each other, as they tended to do. The underpants bomber being revealed to have a morbid fear of crows. The U-Boat captain, who I suppose will have to be portrayed negatively, shouting orders in German, with subtitles, while water from a leaking pipe drips from the brim of his captain’s cap.
Maddened Plathists would no doubt complain, and even picket the cinemas, if Ted got to hang out with a U-boat crow without Sylvia’s enthusiasms being equally catered for, so perhaps she could have a box full of bees in the cargo hold. I realise that we would be skittering a little close to Snakes On A Plane territory – Bees In A U-Boat – but that is a risk I am willing to take. It could also provide the pretext for a scene in which the bees somehow get into the underpants bomber’s underpants, and either trigger or disable the bomb. What the crow might be up to at the time I have not yet worked out – probably perching atop Ted’s head, cawing.
Though it would be tempting to portray the underpants bomber as a beardy jihadist nutcase, I would like the film to be a little more subtle. I am also bearing in mind television showings, where, at least in Europe, the Muslim character always turns out to be innocent, even saintly, in spite of being a prime suspect early on. Perhaps we would need to cast someone like Tom Hanks as the terrorist. The details of why he has a bomb in his underpants can be worked on. Perhaps it was placed there against his will? By Sylvia? Or by Ted and Sylvia working in unison? There are various possibilities, and the great thing is they are all packed with thrills and spills.
I have mentioned that there has to be a lot of water leaking into the U-Boat, which is old and riddled with metal fatigue. Seals and bolts creak and strain under the pressure as the sub dives ever deeper. It might even be heading into an abyss, a previously unknown trench on the sea bed wherein, billions of years ago, superintelligent aliens beings formed a colony… no, no, I am not going to go there.
Actually, why make a one-off film when surely a twelve or twenty-four episode television series would prove more lucrative? This would necessitate having all the actors speaking Danish and wearing chunky knitwear which might get sodden by all that leaking water. But there would be time to insert all sorts of subplots and also to explore the complex pasts of, and the relationships between the characters. Is the captain an old flame of Sylvia’s? Is the underpants bomber a failed poet with a grudge against Ted? Is the captain a secret Muslim? I don’t know if the Danes have, or had, U-Boats, but a little tweaking of history is forgiveable.
Clearly I have a lot of work to do pulling all the strands together, but quite frankly I can’t see this failing to be a popular success.