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Author Podcast: Sheila Hayman

abstract:Sheila Hayman is a force to be reckoned with. In typical British selfdepricating fashion, she describes herself as "the daughter of a German  pure mathematician and a Yorkshire Quaker, who grew up awkwardly with stick-out ears and an appreciation for upper Mozart while [her] friends were still listening to the Monkeys”.

article:

August 17, 2004

A career as a successful documentary  film and television writer and director in London, (on subjects as  fascinating and diverse as: robots, stammering, abortions in China, the symbolism of car design, American corporate culture, and the Los Angeles Coroner's Department), led to the award of a Fulbright Fellowship by  BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts), and named Young  Journalist of the Year (1990). You are now up to speed on how she came to America.

After spending a year at USC in the screenwriting department, which  “utterly spoiled her for reality,” she continued to live and work in LA  producing films for the UK, and has since written four original  screenplays of which The Water Babies has recently been optioned by  producers in London and Los Angeles.  Another commission for a script  called Mrs. P’s Journey from Poisson Rouge Pictures and a recent  directing job for a project titled The Story of Art Deco and you get  the whole “woman-as-force” picture.

Happily, her next production was of the biologic kind—two lovely children, which inspired her to write two hilarious novels in which she, “essentially becomes the heroine of her own sit-coms” by taking the travails of motherhood and turning them into Small Talk and Are We  Nearly There Yet, Hodder & Stoughton (2001) & (2003).

Sheila describes  the process of becoming a mother as happily being indoctrinated into  “the biggest gang” and she enjoys the universality of experience passed down through the ages via this biologic directive.

I drive over to Santa Monica to meet up with Sheila at Pete's Coffee house.  We discuss her first  two books; Small Talk is the "dazzlingly funny and intensely enjoyable" (reader review, amazon.com) story of a woman coping and adjusting to pregnancy and motherhood. Are We Nearly There Yet? is the oxymoron of a relaxing family vacation told in all its gritty, hilarious detail. 

Soon to be distributed for Hodder Headline in America, and curently available on Amazon in the UK.

The premise of Sheila's third book titled, Mother Earth  is, “What would Joan of Arc have been able to accomplish if she’d had a husband and two children?” 

What I fast discover is a woman with the wit and delivery of a stand-up comic, who proceeds to entertain me for the next 30 minutes while we sip our hot beverages.

Follow the transcript and listen along: (.mp3 or RealAudio)

Sheila Hayman is represented by Sheila Crowley at A.P.Watt in London, and  by Lynn Pleshette at The Lynn Pleshette Agency in Los Angeles.

Interview

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Sheila Hayman: This is a diary excerpt from the book...

April 10th, 2000: Have started to tell a few more people outside the family.  Apart from all the people  I told when I first found out, of course, but they'd all forgotten by now. Not everybody as positive as I could wish.  It emerges that almost all my female friends have an inner goul they have been nurturing for just this occasion.  Any more accounts of permanent major hairloss and varicose veins like "office dyke" and I shall definitely begin editing my address book.

The ones who have been through it jump you with their war stories, graphically illustrated with scar tissue, stretch marks and prosthetic genitallia, etc. And the others tell you all the same stories, but replace the personal anecdotes with colorful expressions of loathing and disbelief that anyone could actually go through with this stuff.  Suddenly I feel like a Raphael Madonna, who's been tapped on the shoulder and told, she is in fact, the cow next in line for the abattoir.

Ernestine cheered me up a lot by producing a 10P piece and a grapefruit and saying "This is your vagina, and this is your vagina with a baby's head coming through it!"  How we laughed—not.   

Then she accused me of having lost my sense of humor.  If that's humor, she's probably right. This also applies to humorous emails.  Colim says, "Why fret? In a few months there'll be no time to see friends or read emails ever again."  Excerpt from, Small Talk

BookBuffet: That's fantastic.  Well your comic wit belies this Fulbright Fellowship and all the heavy stuff I've been reading about you; that your father was this German pure mathematician and your mother was a Yorkshire Quaker. 

So tell us a little bit about your up-bringing.

SH: You mean growing up wierd?  Yes, well my father is probably the only Jewish, Lutheran, Anglican, Quaker, Muslim you'll ever meet, having been born, according to Hitler, Jewish, and therefore had to leave the country, but brought up Luthern. He then came to England where he went to a school where he was sent to the Church of England.  He then went to University where he met my mother who was a Quaker, and when my mother finally died, he then married his long-time mistress who was an Iraqi Muslim.  And so he keeps on the last two. She then died, but in her memory, he gets up at five o'clock every mornig to say his prayers—but then he also goes to Quaker meetings; so he has managed to maintain his dual loyalties to the two women in his life, even to the age of 78.

Growing up weird

The other thing was, having grown up always feeling very weird; I was younger than anyone else in my school and I had these ears which stuck-out through my hair, and my parents played chamber music, so I was kind of like "upper Mozart" while everyone else was listening to the Monkeys.  My father was this weird German who never seemed to go to work but was always kind of losing things because he was doing mathematics in his head.  I mean, I think lots of children feel sort of weird, but I continued to feel weird throughout my adolescence and indeed most of my adult life. 

British Television

I used to live here [in LA], what happened was, I was living in London and I was working in documentary television, making all kinds of television programs in London, really.  But I was beginning to feel television, particularly in those days in England, [involved making] incredibly complicated and very beautifully made films.  It was a bit like blowing your nose on an Irish linen hankerchief. You know, you'd weave the linen and then you'd hem it, and then you'd starch it and press it, and then you'd iron it, and then you'd blow your nose in it and have to throw it away and have to start all over.

Where as television, they've realized, is actually a kleenex you blow your nose in and throw away.  So I was getting frustrated by putting all this effort into these essentially ephemoral products, and at that time I happened to be given this Fulbright Fellowship by BAFTA, which is the British Film and Television Acadaemy, to basically come to Hollywood and get spoiled for reality. 

Fulbright Fellowship

So I came and I was a visiting scholar in the graduate screenwriting department at USC for a year, and then I stayed out here and actually carried on making films for television in Britain.  So I ended up living here for about six years.

Things were starting to go pretty well, and I was working for the Academy Awards, and I was working for Sony on a website that I'd invented, and I was playing in this Irish band and, blah blah blah.

Longtime Relationship Consumated

This person that I had gone out with years before in England, a very loyal and endearing friend, started sending me faxes, (there wasn't email in those days) saying things like, "You know that baby you always wanted, you're not getting any younger you know."  Which was my interpretation for "I love you, marry me and have my children." And so I went and got pregnant.

The Motherhood Gang

And [in motherhod] I felt this incredible sensation of sort of having suddenly become part of the biggest gang in the world.  And I just loved the ordinariness of being a mother; I love picking up my children from school, I loved having those kinds of conversations about what sort of cakes we were going to make for the class tea. 

Just the whole business of the universal obsessions and interests of mothers, which I've said that in my particular case, has made be feel that I've sort of centered a place that I belong, in some respects for the first time ever.  I think that has been a very powerful influence on me, and so in a way, the other me; you know, the one that's like the amazon that goes out and makes these incredibly complicated films and drags them back and presents them to people; wears tight black leather clothes, is still there.

Writing Three Novels

Well my books are essentially based on the premise that comedy is just tragedy based on the other person's point of view, [both laugh] generally my own tragedy. I'm essentially the heroine of my own sit-com.  And so if you can get a sufficient distance from the agony of your dark nights of the soul, then you can turn them into somebody else's entertainment.

So the first one was about the kind of nightmare experience of having a child, and second one was about the kind of nightmare experience of going on a family holiday, and the third one is also something that I am quite close to in some respects, which is the business of trying to be a good parent and at the same time, do great things in the world.  It's not just the kind of work/life balance, it's more like the kind of idealism versus realism balance.  So it's called Mother Earth, and the premise is, "What would Joan of Arc have done if she'd had a husband and two children?"   It's this woman who wants to go out and save the world without destroying her family.

 

 

 

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