Screenwriter Amy Rich talks to us about how a serious illness and long-term care for a family member can simultaneously put the brakes on creativity while inspiring cathartic output.
This is the first in a series of stories from our community about caring. If you have something to share with us please get in touch.
Over to Amy…
In 1994, my Dad got ill. He contracted encephalitis – a virus – that got into his brain and caused a brain injury. My Dad changed. He didn’t die, but in a way he did.
My Dad was great. He was a joker, a musician, a dad who took an interest. But like every dad he could be stressed, annoying, seriously embarrassing. He was a whole person – with strengths, weaknesses, and stuff that made him ‘him’.
It’s 2018 now, and even though the doctors never thought he’d come out of a permanent vegetative state, he did. He made an incredible physical recovery, it’s just the mental side that’s lacking. He has no short-term memory. No emotional connection. No real interest outside of his daily routine of scheduling fag times. He’s alive, but, is he really living? He’s certainly not living the life he would have had none of this ever happened.
He’s my Dad, but not really. So, nearly 25 years later, nothing has changed and I’m still going on about it. In a way, I’m stuck. He’s stuck… in this limbo of not being able to let go – and that’s where the heart of my new short film script, CAR KEYS, comes from.
CAR KEYS follows Keith, a council worker, who cares for his bed-ridden mum, Margaret. Keith thinks he’s got everything in control, but he’s barely looking up, and only just coping – until he loses his car keys and everything falls out from under his feet. Now he’s got to step outside of the world he’s existed in for years and accept the help of his neighbour, Kim – who although she’s been Keith’s next-door neighbour for over 10 years, she still may as well be a stranger.
In 2010, straight out of Screen Academy Scotland with an MA in Screenwriting, I won gold prize in the short film category at the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. I loved my script How to Tell if Someone Likes You – a cute, awkward, girl meets boy at a bus stop tale – but so far it’s not been made. With Car Keys it felt different. I knew it was special. I believed in it. I didn’t even know why really when I first wrote it. But over time, I’ve realised it’s completely, wholly me.
CAR KEYS is about the bleak, everyday that we all go through. The head down, don’t rock the boat, just get through the day, and hope no one notices you. It’s safe and comfy not being noticed but it’s no life – especially if you’re trying to achieve something which is what I’m trying to do.
When my Dad got ill, I was 14. I’m now 38. I remember thinking that I could deal with it all because I was 14. I thought I was an adult, I thought I was capable of dealing with this upside-down life-turning drama. I thought I was going to come out of the other side unscathed. Er, no.
What happened to my Dad, to my family still affects me today. I’ve suffered with depression, panic attacks, and low self-esteem. Perhaps without my Dad’s life-changing illness and ongoing need for care, I might now be the confident, self-assured person I wish I was. Or maybe I wouldn’t. I’ll never know.
Either way, when stuff like this happens it sticks with you. It makes you who you are, makes you different from others, gives you insights and understanding into things that pass other people by – that they perhaps don’t even consider. A serious illness of someone very close to you, and their ongoing health complications, their need for care, their need for a different level of understanding – well, it gives you good and bad things to deal with. And you find a way to deal with them, and in some way that has lead me to finally getting my script CAR KEYS out of my head, written down and into the hands of people who can help me make it.
Amy, director David Anderson and producer, Clair Robinson are currently crowdfunding to help raise the budget for CAR KEYS. They are really close to meeting their target and you can get involved to help them cross the line here.