Debut author RJ MCBRIEN: My Inspiration for Reckless

Written by RJ McBrien



I became interested in an agency offering ‘discreet’ affairs for the happily married, an embarrassing number of years ago. In the early 2000s, I was sent an article about men who used such an agency with the view it might make the basis for a film. I worked on it for a few months but, as is the way with many film projects, it came to nothing.


However, the idea stuck with me and ten years later I revisited it with the intention of developing a TV series. It was around then - in 2017 - that I heard of the Faber Novel Writing Course and it occurred to me that I could take this idea as the basis for a potential novel which is what it turned into. 


There was, however, a major difference between the film/TV version and the novel: the narrator. Originally, I thought of telling the story from the man’s point of view, although as with most screenplays, not exclusively so. In the novel, I thought it might be interesting to tell it from one view only, in the first person, and to make that person a woman.


The single point of view appealed because it allowed me to play with the idea of an unreliable narrator. I have always been fascinated by characters who tell their own story and gradually the reader begins to question their veracity. Everyone has versions of themselves which they project to the outside world, as well as ones they persuade themselves is true. I was interested in the gaps between these versions, where the ‘truth’ might lie. As a reader- and viewer - I have always enjoyed finding my way through such unreliable narratives, from Wuthering Heights through We Need to Talk About Kevin, to The Usual Suspects and, of course, Rashomon.


I wanted to have a female protagonist as I thought it would be a more interesting exploration of modern sexuality than having a bloke wanting a shag on the side. However, as a man, choosing a woman as my narrator was obviously problematic. I had written a number of screenplays where a main character was female, but trying to write a novel in the voice of a woman was very different. I was nervous I would get it wrong and that she would end up sounding like a man with a woman’s name.


I was very lucky that my tutor on the Faber Course was not only an experienced novelist, but also a woman who was insightful, helpful and robust in her guidance. I was also fortunate that out of my 15 fellow students, 12 were women. I can’t count the times I would submit a passage only to be told that a woman would never say this, feel that or do the other. Their criticism was invaluable and, with their help, the voice did gradually, I hope, being to sound more genuine.




Having run out of universities, I finally settled in London and started to write for TV. Like so many aspiring writers, actors and directors, I was given my first break by The Bill, which at the time went out three times week. Having written numerous episodes with such winning lines as ‘on way, gov’, and ‘you toe-rag’. I graduated onto longer shows and combined writing on existing series with creating original pieces. These included Wallander, Spooksand Soldier, Soldier. My own work included the thriller Trust for ITV and comedy crime drama The Debt for the BBC.




Around this time, I wrote a spec film script called Nautica. The producer of the show I was working on at the time (Red Caps) was married to a writer called Will Davies (a producer, and the writer of Twins, Johnny English and How to Train Your Dragon, among others). Will read my script, liked it and showed it to his LA agent. A few weeks later, I took a flight to Los Angeles on Nectar Points (thank you Sainsbury’s), met a couple of agents, chose one (UTA) and then sat for a week in a hotel room while nothing happened at all.


On my last day, at the airport, I called my new agent from a payphone to say it had been fun but my cheapo ticket couldn’t be changed and it was time to head home. Whereupon, he told me he’d been trying to get hold of me (no mobile back then) and had sold my script to Sony …


This should all have been great - and for a while it was. We got a director attached. Ted Demme - hooray! Then an actor, Ewan Mcgregor - great! Then another actor, Heath Ledger. Wow! This was looking good. I was even flown out first class, without having to sacrifice a single Nectar Point.


Then Ted Demme died, at the tragically young age of 38.


And then Heath Ledger died, at just 28.


Finally, after many attempts to attach new directors and actors, my film died, too. It currently remains unproduced, though now and again producers pop up wanting to make it. Mostl recently, a production company is trying to put it together with Porto Rican pop stars …




Off the back of my script sale, I got into the Hollywood rewrite business. At first, this was very exciting. Several times a week, FedEx would appear with a script. I’d have to read it and come up with a ‘take’ to make it better. I’d then get on a conference call to LA at some ungodly hour and explain how I would change things.


The problem was, several other writers would also have been sent the same script and we’d all be pitching our ideas, and only one getting the job. With up to five scripts arriving a week, this became a full time job - reading, assessing, getting on the call - and the hit rate was not great. If you DID get the job, it could be very well paid, but most of time I, at least, did not.


I did work on a number of terrible scripts that never got made and a few that, amazingly, did. Many were uncredited (uncredited rewrites are a BIG business) and I learned the difference between a credit with and and one with &. If the credit reads Sally and Joe, they wrote it together but if that is followed by & Alice, then she re-wrote the other two. When you get a long list of ands and &s, you can guess the writing process has been a nightmare.


The rewriting business can be dispiriting after a while. Reading scripts and coming up with ideas takes up a huge amount of time, and even if you get the job, the chances are you won’t get a credit. It also leaves no space for your own work. I finally fell out of love with it when I was sent my own script to rewrite.


I had been commissioned to adapt a British TV thriller that I had originally written for ITV (Trust). Like many projects, it vanished after a while - until I was sent it by someone who did not realise I was the original author. They’d love to hear my take on it, a fresh pair of eyes to ziz it up. Maybe I should have taken the job, instead I politely refused, not mentioning the whole thing had been my idea in the first place.


Why a novel?


I returned to writing for British TV and loved writing on Spooks amongst other shows. I also worked on my own ideas but increasingly getting anything original off the ground was difficult and time consuming. Gone were the days when a writer could go in to see a producer at the BBC or ITV, pitch their idea and - literally - walk out of the door with a commission. Now it had to creep through numerous levels of responsibility. Individual producers no longer had the power to commission, everything had to be referred up.


This may have benefits for the broadcasters but is a nightmare for writers. The process doesn’t just take months, it takes years. I had a project at the BBC for 4 - yes FOUR - years. I was assured it would be made, they loved it, just what was needed. It got to the top, a decision was about to be made and …


Oops, the Head of Drama left.  And the new one chucked out all the old stuff. It was Ted Demme all over again.


But no worries, ITV wanted it - and they only sat on it for three years before their head of drama changed and guess what ….


Time to try something else. Time to try writing a novel …




                                               by RJ MCBRIEN

Published by Welbeck Publishing on 24th July 2021paperback original at £8.99


RJ McBrien

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