British Screenwriter Frank Boyce on Saints, Writing, and Imagination

Brilliant and hilarious lecture by Frank Boyce on the conversion of John Henry Newman from Anglican to Catholic and what spurred Newman to leave the ivied towers of Oxford and take up the life of a Catholic priest in Birmingham. Well worth reading Boyce’s newman-lecture-2011, especially if you want a look at the side-splitting, seedy side of Catholic saints. But below is a nice section on the surprising power of stories. Happy All Saint’s Day.

[Writers] have our mission though we may not know what it is. We commit ourselves to something without knowing how it’s going to turn out – but isn’t that also true of parents, of cooks, or teachers, of anyone who starts any project that seems to be failing but which they keep going? Maybe he should be the patron saint of anyone who keeps going in spite of doubt and failure? The patron saint of anyone who can marry strong belief with a toleration of others?

There is an ecology in the World of Knowing things. An Ecology that is often forgotten or undermined. Intellectual rigour can only thrive if our other means of apprehension – imagination, faith, emotion, pleasure – are all at work too. These are all intertwined and when we try to unravel them, we lose. In the current face off between fundamentalist science and fundamentalist religion, for instance, one group has switched off their intellect, the other their sense of wonder.

We think in stories. Before you can build a rocket to go to the Moon, you have to dream of being able to do so. Before you can sail across the Atlantic to America you have to dream of Hy Brazil or the Happy Isles. Think of what an important part of your mental equipment the story of The Ugly Duckling is, or Frankenstein, Cinderella or the Prodigal Son. These stories are like scientific discoveries – they name something that exists in the world but which we couldn’t see clearly – or feel clearly – until we were told the story.

The truly creative act – I’m speaking about writing because it’s what I know but it’s also true of parenting, teaching, evangelising, engaging with others – is a kind a scientific experiment in which all our different ways of knowing are fully engaged. It’s a voyage of discovery. Every voyage of discovery has to begin with the possibility of failure. Almost every discovery made in the history of thought was not quite the discovery that the discoverer was hoping for. You have your definite purpose. You may not know what it is. But you do have your definite purpose.–British screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce, Inaugural Cardinal John Henry Newman Lecture 2011

Read the whole newman-lecture-2011.

1 thought on “British Screenwriter Frank Boyce on Saints, Writing, and Imagination”

  1. I am seeking to find out, or maybe become the advocate for a patron saint of screenwriters. It is too easy and facile to lump us in with writers in general, no offense to St. Paul, Francis de Sales, St. John, and Catherine of Alexandria. I once heard of an ancient saint, a Greek or Roman playwright if memory serves me correctly. He was a persecutor of the Early Church, circa 33 to 300 AD. Anyways, as the story goes, he put quill to papyrus to compose a satire critical of our Christian faith. However, his pen and hand would not obey his persecuting designs. His “revisions” (now there is a word for a Catholic screenwriter) had the same Holy content. Astonished, he was converted by this artistic miracle. I read about this saint years ago but have forgotten his name. Does anyone know of whom I write? He would be a great candidate for the patron saint of screenwriters. This may be gist for a movie script! Please advise, and keep up the noble work.

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