Aylesbury writer Jon Teckman on how the film industry inspired his novel
PUBLISHED: 11:58 20 August 2015 | UPDATED: 11:58 20 August 2015
Aylesbury writer Jon Teckman tells Jo Neville how working in the film industry inspired his debut novel
They say you should write about what you know and Jon Teckman has done just that. His funny, grown-up comedy, Ordinary Joe, is set in the crazy world of the film industry and throws light on what happens when the cameras stop rolling. In one of the local coffee shops that Jon writes in he told me about the inspiration behind his novel.
“Many of the things that happen to the main character, Joe West, are based on my own experiences on the margins of the film industry (first as an advisor on film policy to various Government Ministers and then at the British Film Institute) albeit greatly embroidered for dramatic or comic effect. During that time, I was fortunate enough to meet many of the gods of the industry, those both in front of and behind the camera.”
A voting member of BAFTA, Jon was Chief Executive of the British Film Institute from 1999-2003. The BFI plays a key role in preserving film archives and restoring classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Some Like It Hot.
Joe West, a happily married Jewish accountant, is an unlikely hero who views himself as a bit of an outsider. Why did you write about him?
“The original inspiration for Joe West, an ordinary man on the periphery of movie stardom came in 1995. As a civil servant, I had rather foolishly tried to impress Anne - my then fiancée and now wife - by hiring a limo to arrive at the premiere of Restoration. As the photographers lowered their cameras and looked away disappointed, I realised that only the talent should arrive in this way and I certainly wasn’t the talent, just an ordinary person - invited to the event but still, in the eyes of the paparazzi, gate-crashing the party. That feeling of being visible but invisible clearly stayed with me and became one of the key themes of the novel.”
Which fictional scenes are based on real life?
“The novel opens in a makeshift studio in Queens, New York where fictional director Arch Wingate is filming pick-up shots. Back in October 2001, I found myself in Queens watching legendary real-life director, Martin Scorsese filming Gangs of New York. Scorsese is fascinated by film heritage and I was meeting him to deliver reels of film that he had helped the BFI to restore. Standing about 30 feet away but so heavily made up that I didn’t initially recognise them, were Leonardo di Caprio and Daniel Day Lewis working their way through a fight scene.
All the scenes in Cannes are based on locations I visited during the late Nineties and early Noughties. During that fortnight you can hardly move without bumping into one of the top names of world cinema. I once passed a strikingly tall and attractive blonde woman in a hotel corridor only to realise moments later that it was Daryl Hannah. At a party to celebrate Trainspotting, I met Ewan MacGregor in the gents, where he was, like me, lamenting the lack of available facilities. It’s quite a surreal place to be but I hope the sense of excitement in this small provincial town at Festival time is evident in Ordinary Joe.”
Joe West is propositioned by the beautiful actress Olivia Finch. Are there any secret encounters we should know about?
“The closest I ever came to an encounter was one afternoon at Shepperton Studios. The gorgeous Sandra Bullock mouthed ‘Hi’ at me but I could only grunt ‘Hello’ towards my shoes in reply! I also once had a lovely chat with Helena Bonham Carter at a reception in Downing Street but I was obviously enjoying it more than she was as she made her excuses and left – to go and talk to Charles Dance!’”
You had the idea for your novel in 1995, what finally motivated you to get it written?
“In 2007, my wife Anne bought me an Arvon Foundation writing course as a tenth wedding anniversary present. She has been so supportive and encouraged me to keep going through the times when I felt like giving up. Without her and my two amazing sons, Joseph and Mathew, this really wouldn’t have been worth doing.”
How did you get published?
“Luck and perseverance. I always felt my story was strong but, after initial rejection from agents, I had to find a way to tell it better. After two unsuccessful applications, I was accepted onto the CurtisBrown Creative six month novel writing course in January 2013 and emerged with a novel that was ready to present to agents and publishers. That makes it sound easier than it was. I have 28 different versions of the novel in various stages of redrafting. Then, in 2014, Ordinary Joe was one of only two novels (out of more than 400 submissions) to be selected for publication by The Borough Press following an Open Submission window.”
After so many years, how does it feel to see Ordinary Joe in print?
“Being told that my book was to be published was like hearing Anne was pregnant; seeing the cover for the first time was like seeing the scan images and then comes the delivery! For me, the overwhelming feeling when Joseph was born – after a long labour – was relief rather than joy and it was a similar feeling when I held Ordinary Joe in my hands for the first time. The more emotional moment came when I gave copies to my Dad and siblings a few days later and saw them reading it – similar I suppose to that movement when the grandparents first clap eyes on your new offspring.’
What do your family think of your book?
“My dad is very proud but also quite surprised that I have the imagination to write a book. As a child, I used to keep a tally of letter distribution rather than read books! My brother Pete is a stand-up comedian and it made him laugh which is a good sign, I think. My mum, who died five years ago, was an avid reader and I know that she would have been thrilled.”
What are your future writing plans?
“Well, I have secured an option on the film and TV rights with Trademark Films. David Parfitt, Oscar and BAFTA-winning film producer (Shakespeare in Love, The Madness of King George) is one of the principals there. With his input, I am currently working on the second draft of the screenplay.”
Jon’s favourite places in Bucks
• The King’s Head - The pub in Aylesbury (pictured above) – where better to enjoy award-winning local ale than this historic coaching inn?
• The Grand Union Canal - From the centre of Aylesbury the canal takes you out into open fields and the sound of birdsong in minutes.
• Lions of Bledlow - This 16th Century pub is a great place to stop for lunch mid-walk.
• Regiment Fitness in Aylesbury and Aston Clinton - Fantastic training sessions run by motivational ex-Army guys.
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