In 2019 Raising Films launched our report We Need To Talk About Caring at an event in London, we were hosted by Equity and welcomed guests from Carers UK, the Society of Authors, the Film and TV Charity, PiPA, Times Up UK, the BFI and Directors UK.
Straight after the launch the Society of Authors (SOA) spoke to Ming Ho, a member of the Raising Films’ Advisory Board about her own experiences of caring for her mother. To mark Carers Week 2020 we’re sharing a transcript of this interview.
SOA: Today we’re with Raising Films at the official launch of their We Need To Talk About Caring survey report, which acknowledges and recognises the caring people in the screen industries do, and have done in the past. Raising Films wants to know how best to support people who are also providing care; to work, have worked or want to return to work within the screen industries. Today’s launch event unveils the survey findings and primary research, that we need to engage with the screen industries for recognition, change, and for establishing support structures and mechanisms for those providing care.
We’re here with Ming Ho who joined the advisory board at Raising Films earlier in the year to tell us more. I know Ming’s work as a script writer through your Radio 4 drama, The Things We Never Said which [debuted in 2017] won the Writers Guild of Great Britain Awards Best Drama in 2018; [it would be] great to talk about that later. But first, maybe you could just give us a little bit of an introduction as to how you started to become involved in Raising Films.
Ming: Yes, I’ve been a writer for quite some time, I worked in development before. I was a script editor and script executive in development. From the early 2000s onwards I’ve been a writer on mainly long running series TV, and then my caring role with my mum kind of began to take over. So, I had a few years out involuntarily, it wasn’t something that I planned, it just happened that way. During that time, I continued to be involved with the Writers Guild. I’ve been on the TV committee there, mainly, again, trying to help encourage better working practices that make life easier for everyone because there’s a lot of very high pressure, high stress environments there and sometimes unnecessarily so. I think there’s a lot of things that have become ingrained practices that don’t really have a reason anymore. They’re just observed because of habit.
Trying to help encourage better working practices that make life easier for everyone because there’s a lot of very high pressure, high stress environments there and sometimes unnecessarily so. I think there’s a lot of things that have become ingrained practices that don’t really have a reason anymore. They’re just observed because of habit.
I’d already been involved in trying to formulate documents, like the Best Practice: Working with Writers Guide for TV for the Writers Guild. And through that I met Line Langebek, who was one of the founders of Raising Films and she was on the film committee there. She invited me to get involved with Raising Films. I did an interview for them a couple of years ago, talking about my return to work because during the time I was working doing things for the Writers Guild. I managed to keep up some contact with the industry through that because I could make meetings, I could do stuff in between from home. But it wasn’t as if I was actually doing a contracted job where there was the constant pressure of having to meet deadlines and go to meetings and stuff. In the late 2000s, I was beginning to re-enter the world of work and reinvent myself. That’s the point at which Raising Films asked me to talk a bit about that. What that had been like, how I was coming back into the industry, what kind of work I was doing now, and how caring had impacted on the time I spent out, and how I am right now.
SOA: And what would you say is the significance of today in the context of the campaign? The reports, for example, Carers UK issued in 2018.
Ming: I think it’s going to be a great tool because Carers UK has already been doing some work in the wider world surveying carers in general industries. I think Raising Films recognised that there was a need to do some very specific work about creative industries because we have a lot of pressures that are not shared by people who are in conventional nine to five jobs. We don’t have any HR, we don’t have fixed term contracts, we don’t have staff jobs. We don’t have holiday pay or pay leave or pensions. So a lot of us are very vulnerable to fluctuating conditions in the industry. And if you’ve got to competing 24-7 responsibilities, very often the most urgent thing has to take priority. And if you’re a carer that might well not be the thing that you’re being paid to do.
I think Raising Films recognised that there was a need to do some very specific work about creative industries because we have a lot of pressures that are not shared by people who are in conventional nine to five jobs… So a lot of us are very vulnerable to fluctuating conditions in the industry.
I think it was very good for Raising Films to be able to pair up with Carers UK to build on the work that they’ve already done, but to drill down and make it more specific to our own industry. Because evidence is always the tool that you need to change policy. I think, anecdotally, a lot of us will look at this report, and there’s some great stuff in there. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of great stats. But [anecdotally], most of us who are carers are not at all surprised at what we found in there. But the [key] thing is that people outside that world, need to know about it. And we need to have a document that we can say ‘this is the evidence, we’ve done research’. It’s not just us moaning. These are things that are shared by a whole sector of people. And they are people who could be you tomorrow. So if you haven’t experienced it yet, it doesn’t mean that it’s only experienced by somebody else. It might well be you, it might well be somebody that you love and care for. And I think it’s having the evidence to take that message out and build on it.
SOA: And one of the findings of the Carers UK report in 2018 was that they found that people who were in this position didn’t necessarily know that they were, that they needed to take these measures to protect themselves. To what extent did that lie behind your decision to draft your experiences into the drama that was The Things We Never Said?
Ming: I think my favourite thing about The Things We Never Said is that it’s not specifically about caring, it’s not even specifically about dementia. I should say; I’m an only child, my mom has dementia. She is now in quite an advanced stage. She’s now been in residential care now in nursing care for nearly eight years. But prior to that, those symptoms have been coming on her very gradually for up to 20 years, maybe even more from the very earliest. And I think that’s a situation a lot of people find themselves in, it’s not like an acute incident where someone has an accident and they’re suddenly disabled and you as a family have to go, ‘Oh, well, I have to decide to be a carer’. Or even if someone has a diagnosis of cancer that means there is a finite point where somebody has given you that diagnosis and you know what the likely prognosis is. For dementia it very often isn’t like that and other types of degenerative illness. For a long time, we just cope, we get on with our day. And it’s only when you look back kind of ten years later you think, gosh, I saw the signs of that a very long time ago.
And I think that’s a situation a lot of people find themselves in, it’s not like an acute incident where someone has an accident and they’re suddenly disabled and you as a family have to go, ‘Oh, well, I have to decide to be a carer’.
My play isn’t specifically about daily caring and it’s not about my mum’s symptoms of dementia, but it was inspired by the emotional and psychological effect that that had on our relationship. It’s actually a play about the mother and daughter, it’s a two hander. It was produced for Radio 4 with a wonderful cast of Lia Williams and Sian Phillips, playing me and my mum, (couldn’t wish for better!) And it’s looking at how your relationship changes when one person only knows the present moment. That is something that I’ve been struggling with for a long time.
At the time that I wrote it, it was a process of finding something really personal, that I could create something really emotive that was totally not looking at structure, and the often quite mechanical way you work in long running TV for instance. Just as I want to evoke a feeling, I want people to understand how it feels to be inside the heads of these two women, what it’s like trying to connect with somebody who is always just a step away from me. Dementia is never mentioned in play. It’s not about an old lady going around being dotty, the mother in the play doesn’t think that she has dementia at all, she is just herself. And that self changes from moment to moment, and her daughter has to accommodate that and try and find common ground with her from moment to moment too. It’s quite an abstract play and it’s written rather like a song cycle.
My mum used to be a singer so it ended up being like a cycle of moods, where we start from one moment, and we go thru a whole relationship, kind of a whole lifetime really, of experiences. And we come back to the same moment because that’s how it feels for you with dementia is that you might go through a whole load of experiences through all the ups and downs of emotion in a single moment, and yet you can never really move on through it. It was an experiment for me and trying to do something totally outside my previous structural experience and find a new form for saying something. It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done.
SOA: And going back to the work with Raising Films, is it possible to summarise the key findings or the key asks of industry at this stage?
Ming: The big thing that the report is working towards, is getting some pledges from companies in the industry. So obviously, the report is going to be shared with people. We’re going to be talking about it today and revealing the findings. But already some pledges have started to come in from companies who have had an advance look at some of those issues. We’re looking for commitments for people to say, ‘this is what we’re aiming towards for our best practice’ and then going on from that. Raising Films will be launching a Ribbon Award, which is a mark for best practice, to acknowledge companies who are meeting those standards. I think it’s twofold. It’s getting people to acknowledge what the issues are, and to make some commitments to say we will aim to do these practical things that are going to help. And then in the longer term when people have achieved that they will receive a Ribbon Award from Raising Films to say, ‘hey, you’re great! We love you!’
We’re looking for commitments for people to say, ‘this is what we’re aiming towards for our best practice’ and then going on from that Raising Films will be launching a Ribbon Award
SOA: And would you have any other words of advice for writers out there who belong to this societal group for example, that may be struggling to enter into the industry, or maybe struggling on dealing with these issues between the demands of the industry and actually preparing to re-enter?
Ming: The big one that I would say is don’t try and struggle on your own for so long, because I think a lot of people don’t realise that they are carers, [they] very often you just kind of cope from day to day, and you do; just firefighting all the time. I think another thing which is good about this report is that it will give people evidence that says you are not alone. There are all of these things that you’ve been going through that you might think ‘I can’t cope with this, but I can’t say so because it’s gonna make me look weak in comparison with everyone else’. If you know that you’re not alone. It’s not because you can’t cope it’s because you’re facing an unreasonable set of circumstances that could perhaps be made better by people being more flexible and understanding in the outside world. That’s a useful tool.
The big one that I would say is don’t try and struggle on your own for so long, because I think a lot of people don’t realise that they are carers, [they] very often you just kind of cope from day to day, and you do; just firefighting all the time.
For a long time, I didn’t ask for any help because there was a huge barrier with my mum not recognising that she had any needs. For many years, I was covering up for her essentially, trying to preserve her dignity and not upset her. I think looking back had I understood ten years ago, for instance, or even five years, halfway through, that she never would be able to acknowledge. I always thought that I don’t want to upset her, but surely when things get bad enough she will say, ‘well, look I’ve recognised that I’m not quite as I was, and maybe we should have some people coming into the house to help’. I was always waiting for that moment.
I think probably a lot of people wait for a crisis, because they’re too busy. They can’t actually think about engaging with services. And also they don’t want to upset the person that they’re caring for, so they just carry on carry on until something awful happens. Like someone has to go into hospital or, somebody has a fall or somebody goes missing. And I would say if you have warning signs, if you think that you’re feeling so stressed, that this is not a normal situation; try and ask for some help from outside. I acknowledge that it’s often not there. But at least, I think, if you give yourself permission to say, ‘I can’t do this by myself, this is a situation which is not within a normal daily experience. And if we can get some people from outside to help, that would be good, if we can at least get people to know that we’re here, make allowances for the fact that maybe we need a slightly different time scale to do things or that kind of thing’. That is step one.
There are lots of issues to do with engaging with services and trying to get funding for things, which are big issues for carers in general. But I think number one is give yourself permission to say that you need outside help. And don’t try and cover up because a lot of people do. And I think that’s when you get into crisis.
Since The Things We Never Said, which has been a great watershed for me in having something personal, because I spent a lot of time working firstly on development on other people’s projects, and then working a long time in long running TV where you’re always working on a formatted show. In some ways, it was useful for me to have some time out to reassess where I was going and to say, ‘well, look, I’ve got things to say that are particular to me, I want to have a stake in what I’m making’. Because a lot of time in those big shows, you might get paid quite a lot of money, but you are treated like a slave a lot of the time. To have some time out to do some things I believed in and to have proper input into them, I felt that experience working in radio. I’ve done another radio play since and have another radio serial in offer at the moment again working with a very great producer I first met on Casualty but we now both work in radio because it’s a much more direct experience. It’s just you and the producer director who’s often the same person. It’s very straightforward. You pitch your idea might take a long time to go through the process, but if they commissioned it, it’s pretty much what you want to write. It’s giving me back autonomy.
Obviously [there’s] a huge financial drop in salary, if any [money] at all. That’s another big issue for everyone, let alone carers.
Obviously [there’s] a huge financial drop in salary, if any [money] at all. That’s another big issue for everyone, let alone carers. But I’ve enjoyed doing that. I’m doing some more radio, off the back of that I was commissioned to do a live audio drama called Citizens of Nowhere for Chinese Arts Now, which was premiered at the Southbank Centre last October. And then it was in their own festival in January this year in a Chinese restaurant called Doubles in London Bridge. I just heard that that’s going to Edinburgh this summer. Off the back of that it’s has spawned so many other projects, because again, it was a really quite short notice thing where I had a lot of autonomy to write what I wanted. I’m British Chinese myself – I’m mixed race. And it was about being British Chinese in 2019. And Brexit Britain. So that was a live audio that we did; 45 minutes, where you listen in as if it’s a news doc conversation in a public space like a cafe.
Off the back of that, I’ve also got a short film, which has just been commissioned for a project called Uncertain Kingdom, which is a series of 20 short films about Britain in 2019. That’ll be shooting this summer, and [I’m] also doing a residency during this period in Mould at the end of this summer, which is to work on a stage project.
I’ve got quite a few things on the go and they’re all nice projects that give me autonomy, which is what I really wanted. Though it’d be nice to have some money! I think that’s the big thing is you have to find something that actually pays the bills and TV really is still the one that does. But in an ideal world, you would have a mixed economy where you’re able to do a bit of both, so fingers crossed.
If anybody wants to read anything more about my experiences with dementia, and indeed about my play, I’ve got a blog called Dementia Just Ain’t Sexy
If anybody wants to read anything more about my experiences with dementia, and indeed about my play, I’ve got a blog called Dementia Just Ain’t Sexy which is out there. I don’t really add much to it nowadays, because I said a lot of things that I really wants to get off my chest when I first said a few years back, and now I don’t have that much time. I will add to it now and again. But the thing is there’s quite a good archive there of topics for carers about social care, about policy, about emotional and psychological issues. I’ve collected quite a good archive of help and advice links on there as well. If you go on there, you might find some useful information that might help you as a carer and also help you to understand dementia. Particularly from an emotional point of view, which I’m very keen to talk about, always, because I think the impact on the carer is not really understood.
There’s quite a good archive there (on Ming’s blog) of topics for carers about social care, about policy, about emotional and psychological issues.
I’m also involved with another organisation called Dementia Carers Count. So if you are a dementia carer in particular, do get in touch with them because they are a specialist charity, which is set up specifically to support family dementia carers, and they run support courses at the moment based in a hotel in Birmingham, but within a year or two, we’re going to have a national dementia carers centre which will also be in the Midlands.
They do three-day courses which are to help people build resilience as a dementia carer to understand symptoms and behaviours, to have information about benefits and services, to learn how to look after themselves. There are various topics there are various specific sessions which are for people looking after young onset dementia, or people who are facing the move of the person they care for into a care home, which is my situation, or people who are looking after partners which is again, a different dynamic.
I started becoming involved in dementia related charities from about 2012, my mum went into care in 2011. There was the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge and David Cameron, back in the day, did actually make it a policy priority back in about 2010. Which did have an effect putting it on the agenda for a lot of policymakers. Frustratingly you go through all these consultations, and nothing much happens. But I think that’s why it’s become a lot more visible. There’s still a long way to go on actually delivering on it. But I think there was a policy decision to try and make it more visible. And that has been positive in some ways.
I think well, we have a responsibility to try and speak up for everybody because there are people coming after us too. It’s too late for us, but we can help them.
There are lots more people like me who are carers who are advocates going out and talking about it. Yes, of course, the people who are still stuck at home with it, as I was ten years ago, don’t have time or energy. When I was at home, I wouldn’t have been able to even probably even go online that much. Whereas now that my mum’s in care, I think well, we have a responsibility to try and speak up for everybody because there are people coming after us too. It’s too late for us, but we can help them.
In memory of Ming’s mother, Glenys, who died peacefully on 8 January 2020.
Raising Films acknowledges the wealth of experience and insights Ming brings to our ongoing work and extends huge thanks for her involvement as a member of our Advisory Board.
How you can help Make Caring Visible
Carers Week is brought to life by individuals, groups and organisations coming together from around the UK. This year, people across the country are continuing to face new challenges as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Many people and current carers are taking on more caring responsibilities for their relatives and friends who are disabled, ill or older who need support. And now, more than ever, it’s important that we highlight the challenges that the 6.5 million people caring, unpaid, across our nations are facing.