The Road to Obscurity: Jon Spira’s Publishing Adventure Part One.

I wrote a book. I hadn’t ever written a book before. I had written a lot of other things, though. I worked for several years as a screenwriter, I’ve been an active blogger for more than a decade and, as a Huffington Post blogger, I suppose I’m as professional a blogger as a blogger is able to be. I have also written a lot of reports, as a script editor – both freelance and, for the last few years, for the Writers’ Workshop, I’ve written an awful lot of reports. Writing is a big part of my life, yet it took a good thirtysomething years until I felt I had a project which lent itself more to a book than to a screenplay or blog (or script report – but in fairness, anyone who paid me to write a script report and received back primarily a polemic on an entirely unrelated manner would probably be disappointed and critical reception is, of course, a hugely motivating factor)

I wrote a book about video shops. I had good reason to do this. An obsessive film geek, I spent my whole life in video shops. As a child, my mother used them as a free creche facility. As a teenager, I spent endless hours scouring the shelves trying to make the connections that would fuel my obsessions like some kind of analogue imdb.com. I spent my whole twenties working in a huge number of video shops around the nation; from big glossy chain stores to the skeeziest porn-filled independents. Finally, I achieved my lifelong dream and opened my own small chain of indie video shops. A couple of years ago, as the video rental industry crashed, I had to close them but I thought the story of the humble British video shop was worth telling and I wanted to document the journey I’d been on  as part of that history.  I had no greater ambition than to get it on paper. My memory fails me and I didn’t want to lose the stories and observations I’d had, I wanted to be able to pass something on to future generations of my family to whom the very notion of a ‘video shop’ will undoubtedly seem kooky, impossibly outdated and fantastical. To me, the world of VHS rental was not just a service to be utilised, it was a culture. An aesthetic. A way of life. It deserves to be preserved anecdotally.

I took a few runs at it, not sure whether to present it as a  straightforward non-fiction history, as a novel or as a memoir. The idea of a memoir filled me with dread. Firstly, I am of no public interest, my memories and observations are as welcome in the global consciousness as any other nobody and the notion of asking people to read them struck me as cringe-inducing arrogance. Then one of my friends pointed out to me that, as a blogger, I’d been doing that for years anyway so… really.. who cares? It was my rediscovery of the book Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain which finally gave me the confidence to follow this path. The world itself is an interesting and little-documented one, so even if the guide is not in himself worthy of a book, to be lead through an unfamiliar culture by a well-informed perspective is worthwhile. [Tips on non-video related memoirs also available here – ed.]

I got the book finished, or at least to a point where I was basically happy with it but didn’t really have any further plans. I thought about whacking it online or getting a small run printed to sell in the indie record shop which currently occupies the space that was once one of my indie video shops and shares much of our old customer base but, you know, inactivity won out.

Then, in September, I was asked to film the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York. Since my shops closed, I’d been making a living doing various freelance filming gigs and they hired me to make a promotional film about the festival. I saw it very much as a job but, as the weekend pressed on, I realised that the talks and workshops I was sitting in on were having a profound effect on me. I had a manuscript sat at home that I was rather proud of and here were a lot of industry types – agents and publishers – explaining to the delegates that this is what they were looking for. So, I decided to take it a bit more seriously. To be Continued…. [Can’t wait? Read more on how to write a book. Or take the course.]
Jon graduated from the Scottish Film School in Edinburgh in 1999 and went on to spend several years working as a jobbing screenwriter. He was a staff writer on cult Canadian sci-fi show LEXX and went on to write various shows for Thames TV and the BBC. He has written feature film scripts for Manga Live, Palm Pictures and a multitude of shady independent producers. He also wrote the short film Dust which was longlisted for the 2011 BAFTA. He has taught the UK Film Council Screenwriting course since 2004, has also taught for the BFI and teaches screenwriting for Ruskin University in Oxford. Jon has owned a chain of independent DVD rental stores, a comic shop, an independent DVD label and a couple of film production companies. He is a working filmmaker and his feature documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar was released in cinemas at the end of 2011.

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