Friday, 29 May 2015

My friend Anthony - John Dougherty

When I first met Anthony, he was - well, to say he was a struggling author would be a stretch. Truth to tell, he was probably one of the more successful authors I came to know in my new home-town during that early settling-in period. Some years back, he'd co-written a play which, as he put it, paid his mortgage and enabled him to go on writing.

Still, his career wasn't thriving. Despite a number of books, plays and films to his name, he was having trouble keeping a UK publisher. His books were good - I mean, really good - but they weren't selling in the sorts of numbers that made publishers desperate to publish them.

Something that impressed me enormously about Anthony, though - even apart from his readiness to break out the barbecue and a bottle of cava if I dropped round after his writing day was done - was his unwillingness to let the vagaries of the writing life get to him. Once, for instance, he reacted to being dropped by a UK publisher by knuckling down immediately and writing a new novel. It was called Death of a Superhero. It was published in the UK and, some time later, turned into a film starring Andy Serkis.

His work began taking him away from here more and more - book tours in Germany, working on films not only as a writer but as a director and producer. Still, we tried to meet up from time to time for a beer when he was in town.

On one such occasion, about a year and a half ago, he told me that he was working on a film about the life of Stephen Hawking. He'd written the screenplay, and was co-producing. It sounded interesting, though not necessarily the sort of thing to set box offices alight.

And then, a year later, I noticed that one of the big posters that frequently adorn our local cinema  ahead of a big release bore a picture that looked like... well, like Stephen Hawking. I wonder if that's Anthony's film, I thought.

It was. And you probably know the rest: The Theory of Everything was one of the big must-see films of last year, as it well deserved to be; it's a great film. When I saw it in the local cinema, the audience broke into spontaneous applause as the closing credits rolled.

I haven't seen much of Anthony since The Theory of Everything was released, but we managed to catch up in London a couple of weeks ago. He was looking very well, and feeling very lucky; the success of Theory has opened doors to him that he couldn't have imagined a couple of years back. At present he's juggling seven projects at one stage of development or another, including one with George Clooney. We chatted about work over a cup of tea, and he let me hold one of his BAFTAs for a selfie. It was lovely. Seeing Anthony, I mean; not holding the BAFTA. Although that was nice too.

I'm hoping we can get together for one of our increasingly infrequent pints before long; but I'm not likely to forget about him in the meantime. I keep bumping into display stands full of his DVDs everywhere from Primark to Waitrose.

Is there a point to this story? Probably. Perhaps it's about perseverance; battling on even when your career isn't going brilliantly. Perhaps it's about talent. Perhaps it's a callback to my last blogpost, the one about copyright - after all, without the continued royalties from his early play, maybe Anthony would never have been able to write the film that has well and truly made his name. But for me, more than anything it's about celebrating a friend who has encouraged me as a writer, and who deserves to enjoy every minute of the success he's worked so hard for.


John's latest book is the extremely silly Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Evilness of Pizza, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP.


Heather Dyer said...

One day...! :)

Nicola Morgan said...

What a wonderful story, John! I'm delighted for Anthony and he sounds like a grounded, decent man, too - with Cava. Hooray! Thanks for sharing that story with us. Really inspiring - even if nothing like that ever happens to me. And I think your analysis is spot-on - perseverance and talent, yes, but also taking time to celebrate a man who did more than just take or wait for success but also shared friendship on the way up.

Sue Purkiss said...

Geat story, marvellous film!

Penny Dolan said...

We all need friends and useful role models like that. Lovely post!

Katherine Roberts said...

What a lovely post, John - after seeing (and absolutely loving) "The Theory of Everything" last year, I wonder how many lives would have been emptier if your friend had given up writing because of the pressure of finances?