I’d wanted to write a piece of TV science fiction for some time. I thought about ‘The Psychometric Man’ but I couldn’t call it that. In the meantime, ‘Engines of Creation’ by K Eric Drexler, a book that posited the idea of nanotechnology, had gradually been popularised since its publication in 1986. I started to see how the idea of a building that covered the world might theoretically be possible.
I wanted Robert Blair to be cooler. No longer a stroppy graduate, he was now a man of the world and his confusion mysterious, existential. He would be agile and deadly and would wear a light blue suit like the hero in ‘Tokyo Drifter’.
The world he wondered through would be made up of discarded technology and empty rooms, like the lower levels of Hastings telephone exchange. It would be shot in a studio. Tracey Scoffield, script editor for the TV version of ‘Burn Your Phone’, told me that something written for studio production would be much cheaper to produce and therefor more likely to get made.
Like the Jean-Luc Godard science-fiction movie ‘Alphaville’, in which Lemmy Caution drives his car from galaxy to galaxy, (in reality the Paris ring road in the early 1960s), I wanted to do away with the clumsy paraphernalia of space travel, which unlike in Star Trek is not that sexy (poo into a hoover? Don’t think so Buzz). I wanted the hero to walk from world to world, both because I myself am inherently restless and walk whenever I can, very fast and also because the activity is simple, uncluttered, and somehow mythic.
I thought that Robert should have a female companion but I didn’t want her to just be a sidekick. ‘The X Files’ had shown with Dana Scully that it was possible to have a female character who is as interesting, if not more so, than the male lead.
Gradually, as I worked out what this world was and slowly processed every bit of science fiction I’d ever seen or read into something resembling a story, I realised that it was actually about her, not him, and Robert became the supporting character. The main girl became a kind of sci-fi Lara Croft: bold, athletic and mysterious.
I knew she was looking for someone or something, as the original Robert had been looking for Graham Milne. An early idea for the title was ‘The Seekers’. I didn’t know there was a 60s Oz pop-folk band of that name. The 60s again! Grr. The fact that the heroine was always on the move suggested that the word ‘roads’ needed to be in the title somewhere. What kind of roads would they be?
If you could use nanotechnology to create anything you wanted and needed to build something to last then you’d make it out of the hardest substance known, which is diamond. Hence: ‘Diamond Roads’.
The heroine was called Julie Conrad, after Joseph. The first version is full of literary stuff like that. There’s some TS Elliot as well. Thankfully, it’s all gone now.
It was 60 pages of such dense story it barely made sense. However, the ideas were strong and it was good enough to get me a story-writing gig on a Sky 1 science fiction show called ‘Space Island One’. Best of all, Christopher liked it and said it was leaps and bounds better then ‘Afterburn’. He also said that it was too ambitious for TV and would be better as a film.
As the script slowly did the rounds I started work on another screenplay in response to a call for love stories for a BBC season called ‘Loved Up’. Mine was originally called ‘Real Blonde’ but was eventually renamed ‘Cuban Heels’ after a film called ‘The Real Blonde’ was released. A scriptwriting mentor later told me that all writers have a story or film with the word ‘blonde’ in the title. I don’t know why.
‘Cuban Heels’, like ‘Burn Your Phone’, was popular with most people who read it but unlike ‘Burn Your Phone’ never got made. It did get me my first scriptwriting gig however, to develop a short film called ‘The Cutter’ into a feature length movie with European funding. The director, Carl Prechezer, had directed ‘Blue Juice’ with Catherine Zeta Jones and Ewan MacGregor.
The new film was eventually called ‘Deadpan’ and was about a kid who finds out his dad is a gangster. The two of them get lumbered with a psychopath they can’t get rid of. My favourite bit of dialogue is: “How big is Benny’s hole?” “Benny’s hole is small.” Just as we finished the first draft, ‘The Sopranos’ came out, in which the kids find out their dad is a gangster, closely followed by ‘Sexy Beast’, about some crims who can’t get rid of a psycho.
Undeterred, Carl and I adapted a novel called ‘As Good As It Gets’ by Simon Nolan. Unfortunately, this is not the Jack Nicholson movie. The book is about some students who find a load of cocaine. The original twist is that instead of a load of thugs turning up to be the villains, the villain is actually the coke itself, or rather its effect on the characters. Again, this work didn’t lead to a production but I had now been writing screen stories and scripts for some years and knew how to put together a decent narrative.
At a sitcom pitch meeting at Tiger Aspect I mentioned ‘Diamond Roads’. The producer was interested in seeing the script so I got it out of the box where it had been for three years. I realised it needed a scary amount of work and spent six months using my experience of working on the two previous scripts rewriting it.
I had parted company from Casarotto and now had a new agent at Seifert Dench. One of the readers looked through the revised script. Fortunately, he hated it and gave me valuable feedback before I sent it to anyone else. I realised that I had to rethink the whole thing.
I realised I was trying to cram too much story in. I decided to just concentrate on who the heroine was and how she came to get into so much trouble in the first place. I also changed her name.
I heard a radio interview in the 80s with a capitalist philosopher extolling the virtues of a pure free market society with no government. I didn’t quite believe him and he was not uncritical of the idea himself but he did convince me of the dramatic possibilities of the idea. It became another building block in the world of Charity Freestone, as she was now called.
The name indicates her inherent opposition to the pure capitalist state she finds herself in and the yearning she has get out of it. The environment suffocates her, like that of the protagonist in Sylvia Plath’s novel ‘The Bell Jar’.
Instead of a jar however, Charity faces obstruction from a whole diamond city, pressing in on her like the glass world of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’ with the brutality of Orwell’s ‘1984’ and the seductiveness of Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. I’ve always had a real thing about dystopian science fiction. I read ‘The Time Machine’ aged nine and the idea that all the perfect society can possibly do is decay terrified me even then. What is the point of trying to improve things with that prospect?
I struggled to fit everything I wanted to say and do with the story into a screenplay, which at most is sixty scenes over a measly 120 pages. In addition, Charity’s voice was in my head. I mean properly in my head, all the time. I knew who she was and how she sounded. It wasn’t exactly surprising. The first version of ‘Diamond Roads’ was written in 1997 and it was now 2001.
The world of the story had evolved into something detailed and unusual. The building covering the world was now a single extraordinary city, where the last people alive sheltered from a mysterious apocalypse. My experience of living in London brought Diamond City to bold and thrilling life, changing its nature, its feel and even its shape.
Unsatisfied with the screenplays, I realised that like my fictional city I needed a different form.