Inspiration is undoubtedly the main thing to take home with you after attending an event like the London Screenwriters’ Festival (LSF). After all, that’s why hundreds of screenwriters at various stages of their careers, as well as aspiring ones, gather for a three-day full immersion into lectures, workshops, talks, pitch sessions and networking.
The session was “Writing as an act of redemption” with playwright-turned-screenwriter Michael Ashton, whose intense and extreme life experience resulted in an unusual career path and is constantly reflected in his raw, authentic and uncompromising work.
In addition to being affected by Aspergers syndrome, Michael developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in the army and he got involved in financial fraud for which he was sentenced to 18 months in a white collar prison.
During his detention, having a lot of time on his hands, Michael attended a playwriting course held in prison and wound up writing The Archbishop and the Antichrist. The play is a fictionalized account of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s meetings with Piet Blomfield, a murderer who seeks redemption for the atrocities he has committed while he serves a life sentence in prison in post-apartheid South Africa.
Forgiveness and redemption are the themes at the core of Michael’s writing and he didn’t spare himself from openly confessing how his troubled past had led him to hurt people and how he deserved the consequences of his actions. It was affecting to hear him reminisce about never getting a visit from anyone whilst in prison or how he tried to commit suicide since he had nothing left to live for when he was released.
Michael was unaware that his play had been submitted to various competitions by the people who ran the playwriting course. When he learned his work had won the Amnesty International’s Protect the Human prize and was going to be performed at the Royal Festival Hall, among other venues, Michael realised there was still something worth living for. It’s no surprise that those themes come back in his writing. He has gained purpose, embraced a new path and albeit later in life, his newly-found artistic passion for writing has become the opportunity for catharsis and redemption.
No wonder his impulsive and eccentric genius has been noticed by the film industry and he has transitioned into screenwriting. A film adaptation of The Archbishop and the Antichrist directed by Oscar-nominee Roland Joffeé (The Mission, The Scarlet Letter) is slated to go into production soon whilst several other projects are in various stages of development.
The audience responded with empathy to Michael’s singular story, which they called inspiring whilst the whole session was considered involving and more and more gripping as it unfolded.